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Honk if You Hate Rude People

A few etiquette lessons for New Mexico newcomers.

 

As a long-time denizen of these enchanted lands, I have come to accept many changes over the years. The state's population has approximately doubled since I was a neophyte desert rat of 10 years old, and there's a whole lot more of everything now: more houses, more roads, more cars. (There are fewer drive-thru liquor windows, but I suppose that's for the better.) This profusion of stuff doesn't bother me much since there seems to be plenty of room left, and I can't bring myself to begrudge any immigrants seeking the same lifestyle we engage in. I often find myself in the strange position of defending newcomers and development to other old-timers, who seem to have adopted a sort of "nobody else after me" philosophy. I actually enjoy meeting new people, and watching them delve into the mystique that I have learned to take for granted--until the other day when somebody honked at me at an intersection, and it wasn't to say, "Howdy."

Now, I've seen that sort of thing in movies and on television. When somebody is causing another person intolerable inconvenience by not responding instantaneously to a green traffic light, these urban souls engage the car horn to express displeasure with the entire situation. Myself, I always thought a car horn was much handier than that: It can be used to alert cattle to the fact you intend to gain the right-of-way; it should be honked when rounding hairpin single-lane roads on mountainsides; it can be used to catch the attention of your Uncle Earl before he backs over the cow dog--again. A horn can be used to help find a lost hunter, or to call attention to a motorist relieving himself by the side of the road. But it should never be used in anger.

I was confused when it happened to me. I thought it must be somebody I know, but when I looked behind my truck, I realized I don't know anybody with an apoplectic purple face driving a BMW. Heck, I didn't even know Chevrolet made something called a "BMW." So thinking maybe the man was in some sort of physical distress, like maybe a wasp had stung him, I got out of my truck to go discuss the manner in which I could best help him.

Well, that seemed to turn his purple-meter up to about 11. He began sputtering and flailing and rolling up his window, and before I could even get past my tailgate, he yanked his wheel and veered around me, his smallish tires spinning on the blacktop as he rocketed past.

Now I was truly puzzled. The fellow had clearly solicited my attention for something, and when I politely responded, he seemed surprised and eager to solve the problem himself by speeding ahead. It was only later it occurred to me that this important individual was upset that my reaction time to the traffic light wasn't commensurate with that of drag-racer John Force. Instead of waiting a nanosecond, he chose to confront the situation like a real man: He pounded his horn button. Now, this is precisely the sort of behavior I don't believe we need here in our idyllic setting.

I will give the BMW driver the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was not versed yet in proper New Mexico etiquette. Probably a recent refugee from some hellhole like New Jersey or Pittsburgh, he just didn't know the subtleties of operating in the land of enchantment. So for his sake, and perhaps that of other recent transplants, I would like to offer the briefest of guidelines. This way, we can all work together to preserve our common charms.

 

We've already covered the proper use of the car horn, but how about the turn signal? Pilgrim, if you're still using your signals, you might as well be wearing a three-piece suit and some Italian loafers. Stop it--they are a sign of weakness, and if others don't know where you're going, it's their problem.

Don't ever ask the waitress whether or not the chile is hot. It is so subjective as to be laughable, like asking if Picasso is art or if Ted Kennedy's had too much to drink. The waitress doesn't know what's hot to you, so don't ask her. It just makes her nervous that you're not going to tip well.

It's still a real good idea to refer to women as "ma'am." Linguists may argue it's a derivative of "Madame," which may or may not be true, but my daddy would argue that it's bad manners not to, and he can illustrate that succinctly by rapping you across the mouth with the back of his hand. Plus, it makes the girls giggle. Also, hold the door open for old people and ladies. It's just good karma.

If you are fortunate enough to have a pair of jumper cables or a tow rope, and you can help somebody out, don't throw the universe out of balance by expecting or accepting money. A cold beer is always in good taste, however.

Speaking of beer, whether you're in the yard or in the bar, drink your beer out of the container it came in. Asking for a glass when the beer is in a bottle is ridiculous, and the dishwasher will spit in your next round.

Mariachi music is always in good form at any social function. It doesn't matter if it's a wedding, a grand-opening event, an anniversary, a funeral or a bar mitzvah; mariachi music is the song of our land. It is perfectly acceptable to move on to George Strait, Bob Wills or the Texas Tornados shortly thereafter.

Remember where you are. Although there's nothing wrong with Starbuck's coffee, Perrier or Krispy Kreme donuts, these things are frivolous luxuries. If you never expect much more than a cup of black coffee, tap water or biscochitos, you will never be disappointed, which guarantees lower blood pressure and a longer life. And isn't that what living in the fabled land of enchantment is all about?

 

Henry Lightcap makes his HQ in Las Cruces. Don't honk as you drive by.

 

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