The Sandoval Signpost

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letters, opinions, editorials

Stereogram by Gary Priester

Stereogram, by Gary Priester
Can you “read” the hidden image? Relax your eyes and look “through” the image, not focusing on the foreground. Let your brain work the magic.

re: permission to pass

When I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, I commuted to the city on the Larkspur Ferry. A small group of commuters for the trip home would always be at the head of the line and, when the gate opened, would actually run up the gangplank to their favorite seats. About thirty minutes into the forty-five-minute trip, this same “hurry up and wait” group would queue to be the first off the boat. Again, racing, this time into the parking lot to get into their cars and beat the rest of us onto the freeway (where the traffic was usually moving at a crawl).

I was reminded of these hyper-motivated persons by the impatient letter writers who demand we pull over and let them pass when travelling down Highway 165. These people are obviously more important than the rest of us and have places to which they are in a tremendous hurry to get. I am also reminded of the two costly speeding tickets I have received from Sandoval Country’s finest. Either these letter writers have been lucky, or have money to burn. I do not. So if you come up behind me, and I am doing the legal speed limit, you have my permission to pass. If you wish to break the law, be my guest. All I ask is you wait until it is safe to pass, and as you speed by to your important destination, you do not highlight your juvenile immaturity by flipping me off. I hope my letter has not taken up too much of your valuable time.


re: tailgating in Placitas

It’s too bad the woman with so many pressing and “urgent things” requiring her to exceed the speed limit on 165 was so cruelly tricked into moving way out here to Placitas. I think it’s just awful that some realtor might have promised her a twenty-minute commute, and probably cleverly distracted her just as they passed each speed limit sign.

I wouldn’t label myself a “glob of cholesterol clogging the main artery of our community,” but I do feel her pain at being duped into moving to the wrong sort of place, and I ponder it while enjoying the drive home at forty-nine or fifty MPH (the upper limit, by the way, not the required speed).

I sure do wish her better luck with her next move.


(Please pass with care.)

Signpost Cartoon, c. Rudi Klimpert

re: letter “Pull over and let others pass” [Signpost, August 2007]

What a hoot! Another transplant from the (no doubt) big city, complaining about life in Placitas. ‘Too slow, too fast. Not enough this, not enough that. Why can’t they…’ or, ‘Why can’t it be more like…?’

You know, you make it sound like you’re really unhappy with our rural lifestyle, not to mention the overzealous local law enforcement. Why, you’d have me believing that Placitas will never live up to Los Angeles or Chicago or Dallas or wherever the heck you’re from, what with people driving the speed limit and cops giving tickets to speeders.

So read on, please; I have some suggestions to improve your lot in life:

1. Slow down. Enjoy your time here in our beautiful community. A couple of seconds, even a minute more or less, won’t make any difference to your very busy day following up all the emergencies in your life. I have to ask: have you ever seen anything but the onrushing pavement in front of you?

2. And shucks, if you want to pass someone, go ahead and do it; Lordy, don’t wait for us rubes to pull over! That’s why all of our roads here in New Mexico have places to pass safely: just for folks in a hurry.

3. If you really have a legitimate emergency, put your high beams and flashers on, pass carefully, and get to that vet or life-saving surgery in really good time. Don’t wait for the passing lanes; no one cares if the law is broken, dang it—special people deserve special consideration.

4. And if the Sheriff stops you, why heck, just tell him you’ve got an emergency. You might beat the rap. And while you’re telling him your story, we’ll all smile at you as we pass by, though flipping the bird is an option we’ll retain.

5. And, darn it, if none of these fine ideas are acceptable to you, perhaps you’ll decide you’ve moved to the wrong place. I’m sure you’ll be welcomed back to wherever. And, hey, I’d be happy to put you in touch with a good realtor.

Try to have a better life—life in the slow lane ain’t so bad.


Signpost Cartoon, c. Rudi Klimpert

re: Tailgaters Anonymous—(a FICTIONAL reenactment)

TAILGATER: “My name is “Sandy” and I’m a tailgater.”

GL: “Hello, Sandy. My name is Greg and I’m not a tailgater.”

TG: “Look, I know tailgating is wrong. I know I use tailgating to act out my aggression. I know that law enforcement classifies tailgating as careless driving. I know that if I ever rear-end a vehicle, I will be cited and my insurance rates will go up.”

GL: “When I first notice a tailgater in my rearview mirror, I begin an imaginary conversation with her. I say, Why? Why are you tailgating me? I’m driving three miles over the speed limit up Route 165, a known speed trap.”

TG: “You are in my way.”

GL: “I’m driving at the speed limit.”

TG: “I don’t care. I want to go faster.”

GL: “In your August letter, you tried to justify tailgating by tying it to emergency situations, a physician rushing into Albuquerque to perform life-saving surgery, a husband rushing his pregnant wife to the hospital. Are you that physician?”

TG: “No.”

GL: “Were you the pregnant wife being rushed to the hospital by her husband?”

TG: “No.”

GL: “Why hide behind emergency as a justification for tailgating? In a true emergency, the driver uses his emergency flashers, a quick flick or two of the brights, and maybe tapping the horn.”

TG: “You were right about the impatience of a tailgater. I know tailgating is not justifiable. Your July letter condemning tailgating just set me off.”

GL: “You have an issue with men. You didn’t try to hide that fact. A sixtyish woman was tailgating me on 165. As she passed, I flipped her off. You called my bird my ‘middle finger erection.’ Your letter oozed vitriol.”

TG: “Did it make you proud to flip off a sixty-year-old woman?”

GL: “That wasn’t pride engorging my middle finger; that was anger. The woman was sleepwalking at fifty miles per hour, and she was less than two car lengths from my rear bumper.”

TG: “I’m betting you’d never flip off a carload of tailgating gangstas packing heat.”

GL: “I would not. That would be suicide. I’m betting that you would not tailgate a sheriff’s deputy down 165.”

TG: “Nope. I only tailgate erratic slowpokes like you and your ilk.”

GL: “My ilk? Are you referring to my three dozen Placitas friends and acquaintances who have lived up here for twenty and thirty years? Are you referring to the people who have witnessed Placitas become overrun with your ilk? Placitas unfolds at a slow to medium-slow velocity. One chooses to live in rural and rarified Placitas because it offers respite from the fast lane. Why buy a house in Placitas and then try to turn Route 165 into the fast lane? Tailgating is pointless, an infantile expression of deep frustration. If you have been wronged in the past, and your outrage won’t leave you alone, you’ve come to the right place to do some healing. Slow down. Have mercy on yourself, and on the rest of us. Placitas is not L.A., not New York City, not Dallas, not Albuquerque. Take a deep breath, hug a tree, and let go of tailgating.”

TG: “Dr. Phil?”

GL: “Dr. Phil is dead. His Prius was rear-ended last night by a tailgater.”


re: respect diversity on Highway 165

Highway 165—we all use it. There we are, all with something on our minds. The one running late to work is behind the one who has just been diagnosed with cancer. The one with cancer really doesn’t need tailgating; the one with a sick child is behind the one whose spouse was just killed in Iraq. The grieving spouse really doesn’t need to see that middle finger. We all have our stories, most less dramatic than these. We say: We are just obeying the law; We were here first and remember how Placitas was when there were so few people that the only finger we raised was the index one to mean “howdy”; It’s a beautiful day to be living here; We are stressed because we are needed somewhere or need something fast; We are stressed because someone is in our way who shouldn’t be and at best they are an absolute jerk for not understanding this.

It’s so easy to be anonymous behind the wheel, especially when we’re watching the clock. It’s so easy to be wrapped up in daily cares and not step aside for the ones who need to make another two or three minutes to their destination. If we were to meet each other socially, we’d be very cordial. But behind the wheel, it’s another thing.

Highway 165 has a posted speed limit which has absolutely no human face to it. It’s just a sign. It’s been there for years. No one has to go 50 MPH—if so inclined, and there isn’t a cop around, you can go faster—as long as you don’t hurt anything or anyone, and only you are witness to it. Maybe that’s a sense of accomplishment, who knows? Some don’t want to do that. That’s the way it is out there. But we do hurt each other in subtle ways to make points on Highway 165—and for what?

Just a reminder: as a community with shared values, we respect our diversity. Placitas hasn’t changed that much, has it?

—CHRIS HUBER, Placitas

re: A serpentine summer

Dear Friends Back East,

Do you recall the time we were having lunch in that little Capitol Hill joint when three two-pound roaches came thundering down the adjoining wall in tandem, their filthy little feet producing castanet sounds as they stared longingly at our well-oiled burgers? Well, I’m enduring similar creature experiences here in Placitas, involving snakes rather than roaches.

The first event occurred a few evenings ago when my neighbor came over with a big orange bucket which he had suspended on the tines of a long-handled garden tool. The bucket contained an adolescent prairie rattlesnake he had snared on his patio, and he wished to share his joy of discovery. We knew it was an adolescent by its size and its I-don’t-like-your-stinking-music-either attitude. The young reptile glared upwards from an undulating, semi-coiled position and belligerently thumbed his tail at us. We regarded him as a homely but restless lad possessing admirable spirit and dash.

We briefly discussed the wisdom of placing an identification tag in his ear, but abandoned the idea when we could locate neither a tag nor an ear. We did, however, provide the beguiling little pit viper with a name (Homer) before my neighbor trekked off to release him in a remote area favored by a well-known pack rat clan.

Slightly more than twenty-four hours later, I received an after-dark phone call from a neighbor lady asking if I would join her in an effort to capture and evict a snake that another Placitas lady had discovered living in a baseboard heater in her living room. The identity of the snake was unknown except that it “…made noises.” Hmm.

Not wishing to appear timid or, heaven forbid, non-warlike, I agreed to join her in this mission. I was, like many men, animated more by ego and testosterone than by sound, independent judgment. Luckily, I had also just consumed more than a dram of fermented potatoes. Before being picked up by my friend, I hurriedly (and some might say in panic) gathered up potentially useful tools, e.g., a bag of mulch, a compass, and a biography of Seabiscuit.

The homeowner, who had also left a distress message with a Placitas snake removal expert, showed us the baseboard heater. Sure enough, there was a creature encased therein, occasionally flashing patches of scaly tissue. But no rattling—yet. Trying to imagine what the late, great Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, would do, I knelt down and began banging on the metal casing, hoping the creature would flee to a location allowing easier capture. I found myself talking to the beast in an Irwin Australian accent. (“S’all royt myte. Yor’all royt.”) Still no rattling.

Suddenly, the snake dropped a substantial part of his body out the bottom of the heater, and moved all too rapidly in my direction. I was about a foot away.

Do you remember hearing that one’s life flashes before his eyes in moments of deadly peril? Well, it’s true—my entire worldly experience suddenly whizzed by. (It wasn’t bad, except that I was forced to relive the time I played a mulberry bush in a second grade play. I really hated that.)

I was not, however, attacked by the beast, bitten savagely and often across my body, venom spraying into my eyes as I writhed in pain upon the floor, each breath a near-futile effort, ending all chances of seeing the next repeat episode of The Sopranos (the one where Ralphie gets whacked—I didn’t want to miss that). No… all that didn’t happen.

At that moment, the snake removal professional entered the room, glanced at the exposed snake’s scales, and said, “It’s a bull snake.” He reached up into the heater, gently extracted the critter barehanded, and placed it in a plastic container. He would later release it to a safe place. It was a happy ending for all. The cavalry had arrived.

A day or so later, I nearly stepped on a mid-sized bull snake lying just outside the door to the patio. My wife decided it was a female, based on its haunting eyes and lovely skin, and named her Francine.

It may be Francine and Lochinvar—another large bull snake that lives across the road—that have been seen engaged in repeated, grotesque squirming, twisting, writhing, and passionately romantic enfoldments across our properties—a fiery, fervent, snaky kind of love. Nice.

Well… it beats roaches, but then most things do.

Your Friend,
—HERB, Placitas

Signpost Cartoon, c. Rudi Klimpert

The caveguy within holds us back

I’ve been puzzled by people I know to be intelligent who nonetheless find it inconceivable that the earth’s climate could be affected by human activity. Then I saw one of those “cavedude” commercials on television, and a glimmer of insight began to flicker.

In the commercial, a Neanderthal in modern dress is talking to a psychiatrist, trying to work through his resentment at the claim that something is “so easy, even a caveman could do it.” The commercial apparently struck a chord with viewers, or at least with the hominids trying to come up with new ways to entertain us: The concept of a button-down caveguy with feelings will now emerge as a sit-com.

This is timely, because it’s something we need to keep in mind about ourselves as we try to face the 21st century: We all still have the brain of a caveman. But as the caveguy in the commercial tries to say: “This is not an insult.”

The human brain evolved over the past two or three million years, a time when proto-humans wandered over the earth in small groups of thirty to one-hundred people. Only in the last one percent or less of that time—the twenty- or thirty-thousand years since post-glacial population pressures forced us into farming and, ultimately, city-living—have we had to grapple with the consequences of our growing success as a species. And only in the last one percent of that one percent of our natural history—two- to three-hundred years—have we been faced with the possibility that, as a swarming species, we could make the planet thoroughly unlivable. But physical evolution doesn’t happen that fast, and we confront this possibility with basically the same brain we were working with in those hard but fundamentally irresponsible eons of hunting and gathering the earth’s low-hanging fruit.

In its time and place, our brain was probably a better brain than it is today. Here in Colorado’s Upper Gunnison valley, if we sophisticated modern humans were suddenly to be transported back ten thousand years, minus our technology, and faced with the challenges of surviving on what we could scrounge out of the valley environment, we would all be really glad if the Folsom people, who successfully lived here then, deigned to lend us a hand. To survive year-round in this valley, the way they did, those paleo-humans had to have possessed mental and psychological resources that have probably gone dormant in humans raised in a cocoon of technological convenience and abundance.

But reactions to the climate-change issue show at least one way in which we are operating with the same basic brain. A natural response to living in small groups in the vast, indifferent, randomly beautiful and cruel Pleistocene world, populated with mammals larger, stronger and quicker than we were, would be a kind of inferiority complex that is still evident in our hard-wiring today. Think what we still say when we confront a beautiful mountain or terrible storm: “It makes me feel so small and insignificant!” Or, to cite a recent full-page four-color tourism ad that ran in the Denver Post: “For generations, finding yourself has come right after discovering your insignificance.”

The idea that little-old-us could ever become so large in the world that we could change the earth, or even lay waste to huge portions of it, was unthinkable to the nomadic humans that represent all of our natural history as a species—except for this most recent one percent of one percent of our existence. And if we don’t consciously stop and think seriously about the thousand-fold difference between a few million humans and 6.5 billion of us armed with technology that is literally recreating on earth the carbon-heavy environment of the steamy Pennsylvanian period, then the concept of human-induced climate change could remain unthinkable for us today.

But paradoxically, for that caveman brain we still operate on, a grudging willingness to accept the knowledge that we could precipitate—and probably already have—huge changes in the planet, can lead right into another problem. We could move straight from denial to despair: How can little-old-us possibly do anything to repair our monumental changes—starting now?

Those dormant mental and psychological capabilities of the caveman brain, which enabled hominids to go from a handful of comparatively weak and vulnerable primates scurrying around Africa to the dominant mammal species adapted to every place on earth, could address that question with vigor. But not so long as our caveman’s inferiority complex gets in the way.

George Sibley is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( He writes about energy and water in Gunnison, Colorado.

Heard around the West


Once arranged in a ring just like England’s ancient Stonehenge, one hundred refrigerators are no longer standing in Santa Fe. Strong winds toppled much of the eighty-foot-high, graffiti-covered structure, reports the Associated Press, and the rest was dismantled on May 30. “Fridgehenge,” or “Stonefridge,” as it was dubbed, morphed into a cult phenomenon that drew tourists over its nearly ten-year existence. But what did it mean exactly? City spokeswoman Laura Banish said it “started out as a statement about American consumerism and waste, and then it sort of became waste itself.” Adam Horowitz, its creator, said that right from the beginning, bureaucrats debated the message of the piled-up refrigerators, asking, “‘Is it art, or is it garbage?’ And I’d say, ‘Yes, that’s the point.’“

Hutterites, a patriarchal Christian sect of some five thousand people, allow no dancing, televisions or cars, but members do like to cross the border to Canada to see family members or sell wheat. For that, these days, they need passports. Thanks to the Great Falls post office, “passport fairs” have been held at some eighteen Hutterite colonies, and they’ve been so efficient, reports the Great Falls Tribune, that at one stop, forty-four passports were processed in ninety minutes. A downside, perhaps, was the excellent food. The Hutterites grow everything they eat, and they were eager to treat postal employees to kitchen tours that featured fresh-baked rolls and chicken pot pie. Said Postal Service worker Jacque Stingley, “We’ve been eating like kings and queens. I’m sure I gained five pounds.”

Eight-year-old Bryan Moore was all set to take his first plane trip when he was red-flagged at the airport in Cortez, Colorado. “The lady just bowed her head and said, ‘We can’t get you on the plane, you’re a terrorist,’“ the soon-to-be third-grader told MyFoxKansasCity, adding that he didn’t think it was fair to bump him from flying for a day “because another man in the world was a terrorist.” Surprisingly, the Transportation Security Administration agreed. No child is supposed to be on the no-fly watch list, said a spokesman. If a kid’s name matches that of somebody on it, it’s up to the airline to make the “necessary changes” and let the child board. Unfortunately, by the time Great Lakes Airlines cleared things up, Bryan’s plane had already left, and he had to wait another day before he could fly home.

—Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado ( Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column, Heard around the West.



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