In the midst of my grandmother’s long and difficult passing, my family has relocated to El Paso, Texas. Yes, we have moved to the elbow of the Lone Star State. Robby accepted a new job with Homeland Security to work for ICE on immigration law and we are all so proud of his accomplishment and the hard work it took to get here. And so we begin our latest adventure in the wild west!
Having been in El Paso since last Saturday, and this being Thursday, I feel I am an authority on all things “The Pass”. Here are some things I have learned so far.
You are always *almost* in Juarez. Our AirB&B rental is near downtown, and a lot of the closest stores and attractions are on the west side, which requires a trip on I-10, the highway currently getting a facelift. With my GPS determining I must take I-10 and no other route will do, I am forever making U-turns and ending up face to face with Juarez. Even when my route isn’t disrupted by construction, my journey often has me taking exits for Juarez because the border crossing is downtown and so are we. I took the kids to the zoo and the route takes you right up to the border checkpoint before making a left to the zoo. I could see the facial features of the border patrol agent checking cars and passports! Before we arrived I had nightmares that I was driving with the kids and accidentally crossed the border and couldn’t get back across, but our realtor told us there are emergency U-turns right before you reach the point of no return, so I’m sleeping slightly better. El Chapo lives in Juarez (against his will), so it’s not the safest.
You can’t bring guns to Juarez. Because, you know, that would make it dangerous. What was recently the most dangerous city in the world(but is on a slight trend toward recovery lately) doesn’t allow firearms across the border. The citizens of Juarez, aka Murder Valley, prefer their violence in beheading and kidnappings.
Bananas cost more. We have sort of a Hawaiian island situation, where perishable items that have to come from very far away to this semi-remote area are pricier here, despite the over all lower cost of living. Bananas are 10 cents a pound more expensive than in Austin.
People love to touch babies. We went to a flea market for locals and several people ran over to coo at Archie and tickle his feet. People pat Jackson on the head and give Archie’s legs a light squeeze while saying what I’m sure are kind words in Spanish, but all I got was “blanco” until one woman, who saw we clearly didn’t understand, translated “he has white feet! Hahaha!” Also, having white feet is hilarious in El Paso.
I should have learned Spanish. I took Russian in high school and college because I lived in Moscow for four years and thought I would be a diplomat or maybe I could impress people at dinner parties with my Slavic knowledge. It turns out, if you don’t speak Russian at all for several years you forget almost everything. So now I only speak English and I am surrounded by Spanish speakers. Don’t give me any of your “speak American” BS, ok? America is a melting pot and we try to make our immigrants feel welcome, and as I am in the minority and El Paso is dwarfed by neighboring Juarez, I am basically a foreigner on their turf and should learn to at least greet people appropriately. I feel woefully inadequate when approached in Spanish at every turn, and I don’t know if people assume I’m a native speaker (this dark hair comes in a bottle, people!) or if everyone here just speaks Spanish no matter their birthplace.
Authentic food is deliciously salty. We have been able to sample some more authentic Mexican food since arriving, and everything down to the tortillas is seasoned with a healthy dose of salt. The salt gives everything more flavor, but I fear my wedding rings may soon need to be stretched to fit my swollen fingers. I can only assume the local cuisine is salty to compensate for all the sweating in this very hot and mostly dry (except for August) climate. I will continue to enjoy salty meat in salty tortillas, but for now, please pass the water.
Spicy food is not labeled. We have plenty of spicy food in Austin, but it usually comes with some sort of warning. Here, if you can’t handle the heat, don’t order unfamiliar salsa. Ay yai yai!
Swamp coolers sound like heavy rain. First, a swamp cooler is an alternative to regular refrigerated air conditioning found in very dry climates. It creates circulation of humid air that is mildly cooling. However, the other night when it rained heavily, the humidity was thick and oppressive. Everything in the house became damp and musty, and my hair actually felt wet to the touch. Ugh. The swamp cooler blows air through AC-like vents with such force the entire home is pressurized and opening the doors is a struggle. The trickling of water into the cooler on the roof and whirring air flow sounds like a rainstorm and I am forever peeking out the window to see if it’s really raining. El Paso has expanded and added green spaces and pollution which has increased its humidity and made swamp coolers far less effective than 10 or 15 years ago, but a lot of homes still have them, including our rental.
We’re on Southwest Time. Actually, we’re on mountain time, but some locals have mentioned that things are not expedited here like they are in other cities. As one woman put it, “if you’re told something will be completed in a week and it gets done in three weeks, that’s pretty good”. I’ve noticed this in small doses, like the leisurely conversations with the check-out lady slowing down my errands.
The drive-thru game is strong. Every coffee shop has a drive-thru, which, as other Mommies can attest, is the Holy Grail. We need coffee to function, but it’s terribly dangerous to carry a scalding beverage in one hand and a squirming baby in the other, while making threatening gestures to your toddler who is touching all the scones. I am very excited about the coffee convenience.
They don’t do athleisure. In Austin, most of the women I see out and about are in some form of workout gear, whether it’s the serious runners in their shorts and drenched in sweat, or the more common moms in cute leggings and coordinating tops. I have worn athletic-style clothes out to the zoo and to the grocery store, and it is immediately apparent I am the only one. El Pasoans aren’t a formal people, per se, but they don’t really wear stretchy capris to run errands. Maybe if I find a pack of SAHMs in a Starbucks drive-thru or a Mommy and Me class, they will be athleisured to the teeth and I just haven’t been looking in the right places.
They drive like maniacs. The drivers here speed worse than Houstonians and are more aggressive than Moscovites. No one uses their signals, ever. For people who get things done on Southwest Time, they sure seem to be in a hurry.
El Paso is a big city. Perhaps because it’s far from the rest of Texas I assumed it would be rural and small, but El Paso is about the size of Austin without its metro area. Visually, it’s a massive place because I can’t always tell where El Paso ends and Juarez begins, so I feel like I’m looking out over one giant city. AND, the sprawl continues into New Mexico. While it seems remote to an Austinite, the tri-city area of Juarez, El Paso, and Las Cruces, NM, encompassing 2.7 million people, is the largest bilingual, binational workforce in the Western Hemisphere.
While it isn’t a common tour stop for Justin Bieber, El Paso has everything we need; from a new Whole Foods opening soon to outlet malls to several scenic drives up mountains and overlooking the cities.
So obviously, after less than a week I could be some sort of El Passador, but I’m sure there is a lot more for me to learn. We are very much enjoying our new adventure! Except for Jackson, who hates everything but Cool Ranch Doritos.