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.”


16 11 2008

We took the kids to the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque yesterday. It was worth the five-hour round-trip drive; they had a blast.

This zoo is a great one. Liesl and I like to visit zoos as a hobby. Of course, we’re partial to the Denver Zoo  even though we now live in New Mexico. Once, we read that Reader’s Digest voted the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha to be the “best zoo in America” and we made a weekend road trip just to see it. (We agreed that it deserved its “best zoo” title. You really need two days to take that zoo in completely.)

We spent close to five hours seeing the various animals. Among our favorites were the koalas, the red panda, the cougars, the polar bear, and the hippopotamus (Kaylynn calls it the Elmopottish).

I took photos to share. Admittedly, there aren’t many animal photos. I’ve discovered that, even as much as I love to see the animals, I love even more to watch my children’s faces as they experience the wonder of it all.


I’m glad that fuel prices are half what they were a few months ago, or we wouldn’t have been able to afford it. Also, many thanks to Granny and Grandad for lettings us use one of their vehicles. Ours needs some work before it does another road trip.


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.


10 10 2008

I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned before that there are a hell of a lot of spiders out here.

I’ve been surprised by the variety: Big spiders, little spiders. Light spiders, dark spiders. Thick-bodied spiders, spindly-legged spiders. Poisonous spiders, harmless spiders. We have them all.

About a month ago, I decided to conquer my phobia of black widow spiders by capturing one and keeping it in a jar. I deemed it a “therapy spider” that would help both of us by eliminating some of the fear of the unknown. When it’s trapped in glass, the black widow really is a beautiful spider. The delicate symmetry and the depth of the black coloring in sharp contrast to the vibrant, red hourglass are quite impressive.

I told my sister Kaytee about the spider in a letter, and she named it Ms. Spider. I fed it insects from outside, mostly moths, to sustain it. At one point, I dropped in a large, black stink-beetle. The next morning, the beetle was eaten and the spider had tripled in size. The day after, the spider was curled up into a ball and was pronounced dead by Liesl. It stayed that way for three days, then was suddenly alive and moving around the jar again.

At one point, I dropped in a small, brown spider for it to eat. It was a spider that was already inside the house and, as such, would have been consequently squished, so I decided to make good use of it and offer the small spider as food to Ms. Spider instead. Sure enough, the next morning, the small spider had been consumed. It worked so well that the next evening, when Liesl found two more brown spiders inside the house, I added them to the jar as well.

The next morning, horror of horrors, Ms. Spider was quite dead and half-eaten. Black appendages were strewn about the jar. And the two small, brown spiders were dancing around the jar victoriously. That was the end of my pet black widow spider.

Our spider-keeping adventures might have ended there if not for the efforts of my lovely wife.

We were informed pretty early upon our arrival in New Mexico that October is Tarantula Season out here. I kept my skepticism to myself. Where I come from, the only way to find a tarantula is in a pet store for a good $40-80, or at the zoo. I figured that if there were, indeed, wild tarantulas running around the desert here, they were probably quite small, more “spidery,” and less “tarantulan.”

My wife spotted one outside a few days ago. She assured me that it was quite similar to the tarantulas we’ve seen in stores and zoos, but Mr. Skeptical here was still fraught with skepticism.

And then yesterday she caught one.

Don’t ask me how a woman who is in her third trimester of pregnancy manages to successfully capture a tarantula, but she did it. And it is an extremely cool spider.

The kids made me promise to go to the store on my way home today to pick up a proper enclosure for their newest “pet.” I’ve been researching this morning to learn the correct way to house a tarantula. Imagine my surprise to learn not only that there many avid tarantula owners out there (with entire websites devoted to their proper care), but also that some tarantulas can live as long as 45 years! This goofy spider, depending on how old it is already and whether it is male or female, could potentially outlive our dogs. That is, if we’re successfully able to learn to care for it and end up wanting to keep it for an extended period of time. Too crazy.

So somehow, over the course of our time here in New Mexico, I have gone from a spider “rescuer” (in Colorado, I used to take them outside if I found one in the house), to spider hater (I got so tired of them crawling on me here in my sleep that I became a spider stomper, even ones that were outside), and now to spider keeper.