It felt like some sort of punishment. Karma, or penance from some long-forgotten misstep from my past. Sure, the project itself is going to be amazing….one of kind…. but 21-months in a place called Hobbs, New Mexico? Does anyone even really know where this place is? Am I dreaming?
It was real. I, Matt Greer, the city boy from Southern California; my home City of Orange – a concrete jungle surrounded on all four sides by a Major Highway – and my surrogate City of Phoenix – fifth largest metropolitan area by population in the Nation — was being assigned to manage the construction of a massive recreation center in what amounts to the middle of the heart of Nowhere.
Hobbs, New Mexico – Population 43,000. I couldn’t find a single person in Phoenix who had ever even heard of Hobbs, let alone been there, and now I was going to live there for almost two years.
My first real day in Hobbs consisted entirely of trips to Walmart and Big Lots, furnishing my home away from home as best I could, trying to turn my cramped apartment into something that feels like home. It’s strange to say that politeness was a jarring experience, but when five different people make eye contact, smile, and say “Hello” to me within 10 minutes of being in Hobbs, I was truly taken aback. I still feel sorry for that first beautiful soul who must have gauged my reaction as hostile, when in fact it was just shock and surprise, as I can only guess that I uncomfortably looked away, pretending not to notice while pushing my shopping cart to the next aisle. You see, where I’m from, someone saying hello to a random stranger for no other reason than to be pleasant, is to be avoided. Surely they want something, or have an angle. In Hobbs, I was quickly educated that this was more the norm. People are just genuinely nice. The Word “Sir” is the customary salutation, and “thank you” is a mandatory part of the lexicon. As I settled into my shopping experience that day, and acclimated to this strange, new world of pleasantries, I found myself instantly smiling and saying hello back, and actually enjoying this new feeling of welcome.
As the months went on, I got to know my adopted City of Hobbs. I joined the local Cross-Fit gym, frequented the local eating establishments, golfed at the amazing golf course, sat in absolute awe as the Hobbs Eagles basketball team trounced Clovis High School in front of a raucous crowd that rivaled that of a major Division I college atmosphere elsewhere, and even saw a play at the local playhouse. This little town was quickly becoming home.
While its residents or neighbors might define the City of Hobbs by its most important commodity – oil – Hobbs for me is defined by its people. The people of Hobbs, diverse in their backgrounds while alike in their pleasant demeanor(s), are a smart, warm, yet rugged and resourceful bunch. If everyone in this city doesn’t know everyone else, it sure seems like they do. It is not uncommon to hear one complain that they can’t stand living here, yet for some reason they have been here all their life… or in the case of many I met, have left for greener pastures, only to return after coming to the realization that they have it pretty good here. Hobbsans (as I’ve come to affectionately refer to the locals) are amazingly resilient. I mean, is it me, or does everyone in Hobbs have at least two occupations? The guy who helped me find my apartment also offered to sell me a car, or haul material from my job site. The guy who offered discounted hotel rates for our workmen, also worked at the local hospital. This resourcefulness and resilience makes the residents of this community strong-willed, agile and adaptable. I imagine this has much to do with an ever-changing economic landscape that for most, would prove too volatile to navigate.
While the overall economy of Hobbs may be beholden to the whims of the cost of an individual barrel of oil, the city itself always seems to hum along in its quest to remain a family-first, God-fearing community of genuinely good people.
Often operating in the shadows of their larger surrounding cities, the City of Hobbs succeeds where others fail. The passion and perseverance of this city is intoxicating and seems to permeate all that the she does. The CORE facility itself is a major testament to this perseverance. Not many towns of 43,000 people can pull a feat like this off. The major difference I see in the decision-making process that happens here, is summed up by one word – pride. The folks that live, work, and run this city, do it all with a sense of pride and ownership. For some reason, this city called Hobbs, becomes a source of pride for all of those who are lucky enough to call it home – whether for 21 years, or 21 months.
As the CORE project winds down and I face the real prospect of leaving Hobbs for possibly the last time, I get a lump in my throat thinking of all the people I’ve met and how much they have changed me over the course of these past 21 months. This city, and its people, has become as much a part of me as those that I’ve lived in and known for much of a lifetime. I often tell people in Phoenix, that unless you’ve spent time in Hobbs, you can’t really understand what she is, or how she and her people affect you. I may go back to Phoenix and live out my days in that jungle I call home, but I will always consider myself a proud Hobbsan and will never forget my time here. Much like the Prodigal Son must have felt during his time away, before his inevitable return to face his past, I will always feel Hobbs tugging ever so gently at my heart.
To my fellow Hobbsans, I offer this parting thought: Your city is one of a kind. Keep her safe. Keep her strong. Most of all, stay proud of her.
Matt Greer was the Haydon Building Corp project manager during the construction of the CORE.