Friday, October 2, 2009

El Paso Texas: an isolated community?

Yesterday I took a new bus. that is I took a bus route which I'd never taken before.

When I boarded the bus I asked the driver, "Do you go (motioning with my hand)
as far as UTEP?"

My hand motion was intended to express what one would say with the words:
continuing along Mesa Street, the street we were then on...

I would have thought that my question was enough to indicate that I was unfamiliar
with the bus's route, if not the local geography.

Soon thereafter, the bus turned left, off Mesa Street, and I became apprehensive.

I requested a stop, and then decided I could continue, apologizing to the driver.

Then, about a minute or so later, I began to recognize the local streets,
and, seeing a stop coming up, I requested the bus to stop.

As I was leaving, the driver admonished me. I should have requested a
stop sooner--at least half a block in advance. I explained to him that I had
recently moved here, and didn't know the neighborhood. (How the hell
was I supposed to know where the bus stops are when I'd never been here
before? How could I know when one was half a block away? And, how can I recognize bus stops when most don't have any shelters and the signs indicating bus stops are curiously
similar to signs which don't indicate bus stops but only say "no parking"????)

But, he seemed to presuppose that I knew his route and the local geography,
advising me to signal him "half a block in advance."

Frankly, I don't even know how to count blocks in the neighborhood in
which the bus was traveling.

I don't know what landmarks to use. I'd never been down that street before.

The conclusion I drew from that experience is that people in El Paso, Texas
resemble the way people used to be in Bratislava, Slovakia: both assume
that everyone is from there, and that everyone knows certain things--
in El Paso: where the bus stops are, how to count blocks, what route
the bus is going.

For a newcomer or foreigner that can be maddening. Not everybody knows,
and, really, you have no right to assume that everyone does.

This seems to be characteristic of an isolated community, a village,
a stagnant backwater....

an afterthought: nonetheless, I have often found bus drivers to be helpful when
I tell them I am lost or don't know what to do. So, don't want to generalize too much
on the basis of this one example.

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