Jump on the Bus, Gus

  Jerome Shea       November 23, 2008      Weekend Wonk

I have taken to riding the bus to UNM these days. It’s more convenient than I would have thought, I don’t have to worry about disposing of the Little Red Beast when I get there (I also declined to renew my campus parking permit), and to top it off, it is free for UNM faculty. And this is one of those fancy articulated buses, so you really feel like you’ve arrived even before you arrive.

There is not a lot of chitchat on the bus. Most older folks like me have a book—I call it my bus book—and younger folks, with rare exceptions, have those “buds” stuck in their ears and are communing with their iPods. Sometimes, however, a conversation does break out, as happened last Monday. The front seats on the bus face each other across the aisle, so it makes a natural conversation pit. I was right behind this set-up, so I had a front row seat, as it were. The actors in this drama are a thirty-something man and his wife who had moved here from Southern California a few years back, so we’ll call them the Socals; a freshman at a charter high school downtown, whom we’ll call Ms. Charter; and a fellow sitting beside me whom I choose to call the Jerk.

The Socals, though not new to Albquerque, were new to the bus system. As the bus pulled away, Mr. Socal had one more confab with the driver, just to be sure that the bus did stop in Old Town, that they could then catch the Central Avenue bus, and so forth. Satisfied, he returned to his seat. As he plopped down, he made some remark about the different rules and regulations in the bus system back in Southern California.

This remark piqued Ms. Charter’s interest: “You’re from California, huh?”

“Yup, born and raised in Orange County, both of us, but we’ve been here about seven years.”

Then the inevitable question: “So, how do you like it here?”

Then the fateful reply: “We hate it here.”

Poor Ms. Charter! Her jaw literally dropped, but she tried to form her open mouth into a smile, maybe an incredulous grin (you’re kidding, right?). She held this expression for about five painful and silent seconds. I still had my nose in my book but had no hope of taking in whatever Karen Armstrong was writing about.

(Time out here. Had Mr. Socal taken Shea’s tropes class, he would have known the value of diorthosis—preparing your audience for bad news* [“I’m sure that most people love Albuquerque, but for us, well…”]. Had he done so, things probably would not have gone from bad to worse. Alas, he did not.)

Into the echoing void comes the Jerk, who had neither book nor iPod. Lord knows what extraterrestrial realm he hailed from. The Jerk says, “Hey, I’ll be glad to buy you a one-way ticket to wherever you want to go.” And I knew exactly what the Jerk was going to say next, and he did: “We don’t need people like you here.”

Oh Lordy, says I to myself, now the frijoles are really going to hit the fan! Miraculously, however, they didn’t. Mr. Socal, who surely must have heard these remarks, chose wisely to ignore them, and began listing some beefs the Socals had with Albuquerque. Let me emphasize here that he did so not truculently, just matter-of-factly. And Ms. Charter responded in kind, defending Albuquerque as best she could. With a good dose of concessio, that invaluable lubricant of conversation (“Yeah, some of our schools could be better, but this charter school I go to is way cool!”), soon Mr. Socal and Ms. Charter were getting on splendidly. I was very proud of them.

But what is it, I wondered, with this geographical chauvinism? Like Ms. Charter, I was a little taken aback myself that the Socals did not make proper obeisance to this city that most of us are proud to call home, warts and all. Yes, the Jerk was both rude and hackneyed in his response (he needs a new plan, Stan). But the height of his dudgeon told the depth of his feeling. Perhaps an attack on Albuquerque is seen as an attack on ourselves, on our misguided allegiance? Whatever the case, we all rally round our own. I tried to imagine a real hellhole, a dying rustbelt city, say. Crime is off the charts, the city coffers are empty, unemployment is in the double-digits, the schools are in shambles, strikes are a weekly occurrence. To ice the cake, the summers are a sauna and the winters a deepfreeze. The citizens of that benighted burg can, and probably do, rip the city six ways to Sunday every waking moment. But woe betide the outsider or newcomer doesn’t show proper respect. Families are the same way. I can read the riot act to Uncle Tony and call him every name in the book, but let an outsider make the attack and suddenly Uncle Tony is on the Vatican’s short list for sainthood. What a hoot.

Frankly, I think this loyalty, often misguided, is one of our more charming traits.

*”I’ve got good news and bad news…” is an example of diorthosis.

Thanksgiving comes round again this week, here in the U S of A. It is, I will bet, the favorite holiday for four out of five us. And it is not just the feasting and the football. It’s family and friends and the fall chill that makes a fire so inviting. This time around we have more on our plates than just turkey and dressing, of course. But we’ll make it. We really will, and we’ll be stronger for it. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

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