When the Mayor and the Editor are Feuding

15 06 2009

Only in a small town like Gallup does this happen.

Joe, the editor and publisher of one of the two newspapers here in town, has an ongoing feud with Harry, the mayor. It was recently exascerbated when Joe ran a poll in his paper alleging that nearly 60% of people in town are dissatisfied with the mayor’s job performance.

So when Joe showed up at a recent City Council meeting to make a complaint, he got a little more than he bargained for.

First, some quick background. The other newspaper here in town publishes a list of people who haven’t paid their utility bills. This is hilarious to me; I guess it’s supposed to shame people into paying up since their nosy neighbors will know if they haven’t paid their bills. I can’t imagine a real newspaper in a large town doing something so unbelievably tacky, but out here it just doesn’t seem all that unusual.

So Joe, the publisher of the other newspaper, went to the City Council with a complaint about the Skate Park. His argument was that the park is falling into disrepair and that the city should really assume some responsibility to fix it.

Harry, the mayor, who undoubtedly still has that poll (the scientific validity of which is questionable) in the back of his mind, hopped up and said, (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Well, Joe, I noticed in the paper the other day that you’re on the list of people who haven’t paid their utility bills, so maybe if you were responsible enough to pay your bills, the city would have enough money to fix up the Skate Park.”


For an extra level of tact and class, I read this story in the other newspaper, which I’m sure was all too excited to have some dirt to report about their competitor. I’m relaying it here primarily because it’s such a classic example of the way that the bigwigs in this town seem to get along with each other.

It makes me glad I just run a little coffee shop.


Getting Back at the Man

9 06 2009

So many funny and eventful things have happened that I haven’t blogged about. I know better than to make more promises about blog frequency, so instead I’m just writing one blog post with no promises attached. Here you go. Enjoy.

I had waited almost 15 minutes in an extremely long line at Albertson’s grocery store. A cashier came along and opened the lane right next to me, offering to help the next person in line.

When this happens, common courtesy dictates that if you hop in the new line, you stay in the same order in which you already were in the other lane. If you’re at the back of the line, it’s impolite to rush to be the first in the new line, cutting ahead of people who have been waiting longer than you have.

And that’s exactly what happened. I was the “next person in line” that the new cashier offered to help, but as I started moving toward her lane, a man from the back of the line literally pushed his way past me and plopped his groceries on the counter. It was so ridiculous that, unbelievable though it may sound, I was temporarily at a loss for words.

I found my tongue quickly enough, and my voice came out louder than I intended. I try to be gracious, but I also live in the real world, and in the real world I have a particularly low tolerance for rudeness. I can deal with ignorance, stupidity, or cluelessness all day long. But if you’re intentionally rude to me or someone else, you had better believe I will call you out on the carpet.

“Don’t you think you should let people who were here before you go first, buddy?” I said to the entire store.

It is at this point in the story that I must point out that this man was Navajo. I try not to make a big issue out of race, but his response to me can only make correct sense in that context. And what he said totally floored me.

He turned to me and declared to everyone within earshot, “My people don’t answer to you anymore.”

This time I didn’t find my tongue again. I pride myself on having a comeback for just about everything (in elementary school, I was the younger, picked-on kid which resulted in a sharp wit by the time I reached adulthood — a worthwhile tradeoff, I’ve decided) but I had nothing to say back to He Who Cuts In Line. There is nothing in my deck of responses that tops the Persecuted Indian trump card.

All I could do was laugh. And I wasn’t even laughing at him, I was laughing at the fact that I got beat by an Indian in a verbal conflict and I knew it.

What’s funny is that, with his response, the wave of irritation that had flared up so quickly inside of me dissipated just as fast. I have come to realize that I will let people get away with a lot of crap if they can make me laugh, and I mean really laugh, not a polite, “that-wasn’t-funny-but-I-don’t-want-to-hurt-your-feelings” laugh.

He Who Cuts In Line cracked me up with his audacious response, which in all fairness, I should point out is so horribly nontypical of my overall experience with Native Americans. Most are very polite, well-mannered people. But for this nontypical guy, I stepped aside and waited my turn to check out.

If getting to cut in line at the grocery store makes him feel like he’s able to get back at the man a little bit, more power to him. It’s a hell of a one-liner, you have to admit.

I wonder how many people he’s used it on.

Two Discoveries

19 02 2009

I made two incredible discoveries this week, both of which involve the grocery store Safeway.

The first discovery was that there is, in fact, a place to get sushi in Gallup. This is a huge deal. Up to this point, I have been thinking the absence of sushi is one of the reasons I could never stay in Gallup forever. This week, I found it at Safeway. Now, do keep in mind that grocery store sushi is kind of like the equivalent of getting a steak at the Golden Corral versus a steak at a real steakhouse. But the point is that when you’ve lived for nine months in a town completely devoid of one of your favorite foods, even a cheap imitation is extremely exciting. The grocery store sushi is strictly limited to California Rolls, which contain no raw fish but rather fully-cooked imitation crab, so there’s not really a freshness issue. But just having access to the magical combination of seafood, sushi rice and seaweed is beyond exciting to me.

The second discovery came on the same trip to Safeway. They’re in the middle of remodeling the store. They had cleared out a large space along the front wall of the store. I assumed they were putting in a supermarket branch for a bank, but it’s so much better than that. This week, they put up the sign, and immediately I could taste the Caramel Frappuccinos and Toffee Nut Lattes.

That’s right, folks. On March 23, 2009, inside the Safeway on Highway 602, Gallup will celebrate the opening of its very first… Starbucks.

Two Funnies

26 11 2008

Every so often, I see something out here that I feel truly epitomizes the mentality of life in Gallup. Here are two of them so you can continue to refine your mental image of how things work out here. Both made me laugh.

Instance 1: I saw a Navajo teenager at the store this week. He was wearing a t-shirt with a funny saying, which is pretty normal in any city, but this particular saying was quite apropos. His shirt read, “I run on Indian time. That means I’m never, ever late.”

Instance 2: Gary, the man for whom I am now working, had me start consolidating contact information for all of his employees. This proved a bit difficult, as the method for contacting some of these people is a little circular. Let’s say you want to reach Emma. It goes like this: “You have to call Pauline so she can go to George’s house, and then George will find Emma and have Emma call you.”

I mentioned this to Gary and he laughed. “Let me tell you how it works out here,” he said. “One time I called trying to reach Fred Begay. A man answered the phone, and I said, ‘Let me talk to Fred Begay.’ The man said, ‘Never heard of him.'” Gary pauses for dramatic effect, then finishes, “I was speaking with Fred Begay.”


14 10 2008

I don’t think anyone who lives in Zuni has a car.

Every morning and evening, I see people hitchhiking on the 602 to get to Gallup and back. If I pass a hitchhiker on my way to work or on my way back home, chances are good that I’ll give them a ride if they’re headed the same direction.

I’m not going to lie — it’s a little uncomfortable sometimes. These hitchhikers aren’t usually the best-looking or best-smelling, either, and sometimes they remind me a little too much of the clientele at the homeless shelter back in Denver. But I feel like if I’m fortunate enough to have transportation and fuel to get myself to town and back, it’s a bit selfish to hoard that blessing all to myself.

But I try to be careful. I’ve adopted my own mental set of rules for picking up hitchhikers, and they get revised as time goes on. Right now, they goes something like this:

Rule 1 – I don’t give rides when my wife or daughters are in the car. It’s one thing for me to put myself outside my comfort zone, but I do my best to shield my ladies from uncomfortable situations.

Rule 2 – I don’t give rides to more than two people at a time. I figure one person is manageable, but a group can jump you. By that same token, there are times that someone looks a little too drunk, or like they might be able to physically overpower me. Even though I feel a little bad leaving them on the side of the road, if something just doesn’t feel quite right, I pass them by.

Rule 3 – (This one’s kind of goofy, but it’s just how things are.) I don’t give rides if I have more than twenty bucks in my wallet. So far, every person to whom I’ve given a ride has been nothing but friendly and thankful, but if (God forbid) something should ever get weird, I really can’t afford to be out more than $20.

Rule 4 – I only give rides if my wife knows when I’m leaving so that she knows if I should have been home already.

Rule 5 – I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in the car. I have no problem shaking their hands when they introduce themselves or when they thank me for the ride, but after they’ve gone, I also have no problem de-germifying my hand.

Even though it can be a little bit awkward, it can be equally rewarding as well. There’s a really delightful aspect to driving these people back and forth because most of them are fascinating, and they’re almost always eager to strike up a conversation.

There’s a Zuni man named Wally who has ridden with me a few times. I remember his name because of how he introduced himself: “Wally, like Wally World.” His English is pretty broken, but he manages to communicate if you take the time to listen. He works in construction, and he’s really excited that it’s pinon season. One day, I turned off the radio when he got in the car, but he pointed at the radio. Then he pointed at himself, thought for a moment, and said, “Elvis.” “You like Elvis?” I asked. He nodded, and then burst out in song. I honestly have no idea which Elvis song it was supposed to be, but it was an adventure to listen to Wally trying to sing.

The Davy Crockett Rock, as pointed out to me by a hitchhiker

The Davy Crockett Rock along the 602 heading south from Gallup, as pointed out to me by a hitchhiker

Another time, two old Mexican men rode with me. As we rounded a bend, one of the men said to me, “Davy Crockett.” I wasn’t sure what the implication was supposed to be. He responded to my confused look by pointing at the rocky top of the hill to the right, and saying again, “Davy Crockett.”

I drive by this rock twice a day and had never noticed it before, but when he pointed it out, the rock really does look like the profile of a man’s face with a coonskin cap. Now I notice it and smile every day.

This morning, I hadn’t planned on giving anyone a ride, but halfway along, I passed a Navajo man and woman who looked so cold I couldn’t help myself. I was going too fast to stop close enough to where they stood, and when they saw me pull off to the shoulder and start to reverse, they both ran as fast as they could to reach the van before I could change my mind. It was one of the more difficult rides I’ve given as they both reeked of stale urine. The woman had a trash bag full of aluminum cans to redeem at the recycling center. They didn’t say much until we got to our destination, at which point they both thanked me profusely and said they had been outside for over an hour trying to get a ride.

I guess I don’t feel like it’s the safest or most convenient thing to do, but it does seem like the right thing to do. I like to imagine that it’s not for the selfish reason of convincing myself that I’m better off than they are because I have a car and money for fuel, but rather that it really is a gesture of goodwill toward someone who’s having a rougher go than I am. If nothing else, it’s what I would hope someone would do for me if I were in a similar situation.

And it’s interesting. Each of these people bring something unique to my day that I would have otherwise missed out on.

Like Davy Crockett.


23 09 2008

In all fairness, I only exceed the speed limit when I have a good reason.

At the children’s “Back to School Night” at David Skeet Elementary several weeks ago, we were about fifteen minutes late. It’s not very often that we’re on time to places these days. One of the highlights of Back to School Night was that there was food provided. And it was good food, too: Subway. We love Subway. Imagine our dismay, upon our late arrival, to discover that all of the food was already taken. Apparently, people out here take their “free food” very seriously, enough to show up early. And it was especially painful watching children who had eaten three bites of their sandwiches throwing the rest in the trash. (We ate just fine when we got home, but it just wasn’t the same as free Subway, you know?)

In light of this, when they subsequently announced they would be having a parent information night (suspiciously misrepresented as “Family Fun Night”) and when I learned that there would be free banana splits on that occasion, I wanted to make sure we got there before they ran out.

All of this is to explain the compelling (in my mind) reason why I was flying down the Zuni Highway with a minivan full of family while going 70 miles per hour in a 55 mile-per-hour zone.

I got pulled over.

It kind of surprised me, too, because the policeman was driving toward me. Apparently they can detect your speed even while their car is in motion. He flipped on his flashers as he approached, and then as I pulled off to the shoulder and stopped, he flipped a U-turn and came up behind me.

I started to panic for several reasons. First, the obvious: The banana splits would probably be gone thanks to this unwelcome delay.

Then, the other, more alarming reasons: For one, the temporary registration on this minivan of ours is expired. I’ve been meaning to go register the vehicle here in New Mexico, but it hasn’t happened yet. Two, we have Esurance, which means you have to print out your own proof of insurance cards. You can imagine how wonderful I am at remembering to print them out when the old one expires. So, for all practical purposes, it’s going to appear to the policeman like we don’t have insurance, either.

He tells me that he’s stopped me for going 70 in a 55 and asks for my paperwork. I give him the expired registration, outdated insurance card, and my license.Two or three minutes later, he comes back with the dreaded extra document in hand.

And then he blows my mind: He says, “Okay, this is a written warning for speeding. Please keep it under 55.” I’m shocked. Then, he adds, “Oh, by the way, did you know your temporary is expired?” I tell him I’ve been meaning to take care of that. “Okay,” he nods, “Have a good day.”

We made it to the school in time for banana splits. They tasted even better after having feared we would miss out.

And now I don’t speed anymore, either. I figure I owe it to that kind, generous man for being so forgiving. Coolest cop ever. Seriously.

I love Gallup.


21 09 2008

I had one of the funnest days today that I have ever had with my family.

A traveling carnival came to town. I didn’t even realize that those things still existed. It’s a total throwback to the days of gypsies and tent circuses. This whole crew of people live in trailers and travel around the country all year long with their transportable carnival. Their show, the Frazier Carnival, was set up this weekend in the parking lot of the Rio Grande Mall here in Gallup.

The original plan was to go yesterday, which was Saturday. When we got there, I was overwhelmed by the price. I know that things like carnivals aren’t really known for being a great value, but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so over-the-top. Most of the rides cost 5 or 6 tickets, and tickets are $1 each. Plus, most rides require that an adult accompany younger children. That meant we were looking at roughly 20 bucks per ride, and I just don’t have money like that.

Then, thankfully, we discovered that if we came back today, Sunday, they would be running a deal from 3 to 6pm where a $15 wristband gets one person unlimited rides for that three-hour window. Much better. So yesterday, we played a few carnival games and the kids won prizes, and we ate some cotton candy and went home. Today we came back after the church potluck, and in that three hour window, I’m estimating that we rode about 30 rides each (which would have cost about $600 in tickets, but cost $60 in wristbands instead, much easier on my wallet). It was money well spent. My kids thought it was about the best day of their lives.

My poor wife couldn’t ride anything, even the slow rides. Something about the carnival company’s insurance policy preventing them from allowing pregnant woman to ride anything. She therefore became the official photographer of this event, and she got some great shots. I’ll post the link to the album on Flickr at the end of this blog.

Oh my goodness, though. When it comes to rides, my kids are animals, a fact which makes me one of the proudest papas in the world. We were on the Dragon Wagon, a miniature roller coaster, when some boy of about seven or eight freaked out, and they had to stop the coaster. Kaylynn, meanwhile, thought it was the greatest ride ever and rode it with me twice.

Ryan and I had a special moment. There was a ride called Cliffhanger that was kind of like hang-gliding. Ryan was tall enough, but Aidan was about two inches two short, so just Ryan and I rode it together. Once it started to take off, Ryan shouted to me, “Dad, this is amazing! We’re FLYING together!” I thought it was pretty amazing myself. Every time it would swoop back down, she would squeal with excitement. After a few minutes, she said, “Daddy, sorry I’m screaming so much, it’s just that this is such an AWESOME RIDE!”

Aidan’s favorite was a ride called the Star Ship. It’s a centrifuge ride that spins so fast you stick to the wall. We rode it twice. We also did the outdoor equivalent, called Zero Gravity, which spins fast enough to keep you held in by centrifugal force but then tilts to an 80-degree angle, which is quite a trip.

I used to be such an amusement park junkie. When I was a teenager, there were years that we bought season passes to Elitch Gardens in Denver and would go nearly every weekend. Today, I discovered I don’t have quite the stomach for spinning rides that I used to. But the kids were just so excited to keep going, and I was so excited about that fact that I shook off the vertigo and plodded on.

Kaylynn was hilarious on almost everything she rode, which included some pretty big rides like the spinning Tornado. She was technically tall enough, but I don’t think a normal two-year old would want to ride it. Kaylynn is obviously not a normal two-year old because she loved it.

All the kids were still young enough to enjoy the just-for-kids rides like the Speedway cars and the Farm Train. It made me glad to know that it doesn’t all have to be speed and craziness, but that they can still appreciate things like the Fun House or the House of Glass.

They were still too short for some of the biggest rides, including all of the upside-down rides. I’m glad, because that gives us more to look forward to. But they had fun, they nearly ate themselves sick on cotton candy, and by the time our three hours were up, we were all exhausted.

You know it’s been a good day when on the drive home, the kids all thank you for such a fun day, and though they seemed ready to be done when we left, they all said they can’t wait until the carnival comes back to town next year.

Here’s a link to a slideshow so you can enjoy the day we had, too, courtesy of Liesl and the camera: