ABQ RIDE Celebrating its 50th Annual Luminaria Tour
Albuquerque, NM – For 50 years, ABQ RIDE has been making Christmastime memories with its annual Luminaria Tour. The then, newly-formed Albuquerque Transit System first began its Christmas Eve tour for city residents in 1965, to help cut down on cars going through the Country Club neighborhoods. For 50 cents, tourgoers were bussed from the old City Auditorium in Downtown (where Heart Hospital now stands) to luminaria-adorned neighborhoods.
However, it wasn’t the only luminaria tour in town. Since 1955, the Chamber of Commerce had been operating another Christmas Eve tour free for out-of-town guests. And this granddaddy of all Luminaria Tours actually began as a simple act of kindness by a Good Samaritan in 1953.
According to an account in the Dec. 24, 1969 edition of the Albuquerque Tribune, on Christmas Eve, Mr. and Mrs. Roscoe Ruch took pity on a young Army lieutenant and his pregnant wife who were forced to stay in town overnight on their way to Illinois. Their car had been in an accident and was being repaired in the Ruch’s Downtown auto shop.
“Our research shows that the Ruchs felt sorry for the stranded couple and couldn’t get them out of their minds. So they drove to the couple’s motel and invited them to see the luminarias,” said Bruce Rizzieri, Director of ABQ RIDE. “The couple was very thankful and said so in a Christmas card the next year.”
Mrs. Ruch happened to take that card, along with other personal mail to a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce’s Tourism Committee. As she read it out loud, it piqued the interest of committee chairman Rex Borough, who reportedly said “Say, why don’t we do that this (coming) year?” So in 1955, the Chamber of Commerce began a free Christmas Eve tour for hotel and motel guests. A caravan of cars would meet at 14th and Coal SW (now Broadcast Plaza) and then wind its way through luminaria-filled neighborhoods. The tour grew so much, the Chamber eventually began to charter buses and drivers from the privately-owned Albuquerque Bus Company, the forerunner of ABQ RIDE.
“We got volunteers who boarded the buses as guides and hosts,” said Mary Kay Cline, who began working for the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce in 1970 (and is a former president and CEO of the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau). “There were people who were volunteer guides for years. It was part of their Christmas and our Christmas.” This free tour ran until the late 1970’s. That’s when rising costs and traffic issues in the luminaria neighborhoods ended the Chamber’s participation.
But the Albuquerque Transit System, later called Sun Tran and then in 2004, ABQ RIDE continued the Christmas Eve tour. The base of operations went from old Civic Auditorium, to the streets adjacent to “The Pit,” and then to the east parking lot of University Stadium. Tour operations finally moved to the more weather-friendly Albuquerque Convention Center in 2009.
Retired driver Sammy Duran (who drove city buses from 1959-1984) remembers those early years of the Tour as a special time. “Nobody was unhappy; it was Christmas and we were young!“ said Duran. “And we’d get off early enough to still come home and be with the family. It was enjoyable.”
“For the past 50 years, we’ve been honored to be part of Albuquerque’s Christmas tradition,” said Mayor Richard J. Berry. “And we look forward to providing Christmas memories for the next 50 years.”
ABQ RIDE is Albuquerque‘s principal form of public transportation. It boards 13 million passengers a year and logs a daily average of 160-Thousand Passenger Miles on its buses.