I have to shake off the New Mexico whenever I drive across the border into Colorado; it’s like a dust that clings to my being. And it stinks. If you walk too closely to a Colorado resident before shaking it off completely, they smell the New Mexico on you and avoid eye contact. I don’t blame them. The difference between here and there is staggering, and that’s why I’m here instead of there. But it hasn’t always been that way. I grew up in Alaska, surrounded by bears and stereotypes, and I loved my home stubbornly. But I married a woman who hated Alaska, despite the fact that she was born and raised there, because she wasn’t too stubborn to see the cons associated with constant darkness and the abysmal coldness that’d freeze your flesh into blackened death if you didn’t pay attention. So we moved to New Mexico. It was a step up from home, but after five years, we realized that a single step wasn’t good enough when it’s possible to continue stepping into greener pastures. So we moved here to Durango. It’s expensive as hell to live here, but it’s well worth it.
It’s taken me a while, but I’ve officially become a Durangan. I have a Colorado driver’s license. I have a Colorado T shirt that’s been through the wash enough times to give it that “I didn’t buy this shirt yesterday just to fit in” look. We lived out of town for a bit, feeling like liminal locals who had to drive thirty minutes just to buy groceries, but we just moved into town and we flaunt the fact like a winning lottery ticket. Now, when I walk through the grocery store at night carrying some chocolate chips and kitchen trash bags, the other locals smile at me like a coconspirator. I fit in. I belong here. I’m a positively charged magnet that repels New Mexico dust even when I have to go there for work because this town is now a part of my soul. And lately, when I smell out of town dust on strangers, I catch myself avoiding eye contact.
Wouldn’t you say that this avoidance makes me an ass at best and a hypocrite at worst? I’ve only lived here for three years, and I have to round up just to get to the number “three.” I work in New Mexico and I have Alaskan tattoos. I’m a renting tenant here in Durango, but I own a rental property south of the border and some oceanfront land back in Alaska. I can’t even lie to myself convincingly and say that I’m one hundred percent local (but that doesn’t stop me from trying). So why, when I see tourists in this tourist town, do I think to myself “go back to the hell hole from which you came you damn heathen!” Well, it’s that “last one in” mentality, and frankly, it comes with the territory. It too is just a part of being Durangan.
People felt the same way back in Alaska. They’d move there, live as a local for a couple years, and then start despising all the new people moving in. It’s as if they felt like they made it in before the cut-off, and everybody that came after was ignoring some sort of mystical deadline. This “last one in” paradigm rules the roost here in Durango. Hell, the battle is even being waged via bumper sticker. A while back, I started noticing stickers that said “Native” in white letters superimposed over a green mountainous backdrop similar to our Colorado license plates. Like the rhino virus, these stickers started spreading across all of the bumpers on the ubiquitous Subaru Foresters that plague this town like earthy locusts. Not long after, we immigrants fired back. Our sticker used the same background, and it said “not a native, but I got here as soon as I could.” This obviously pissed off the “natives.” Their next sticker used the same background, but now, it read “NO VACANCY.” I saw this sticker on a Subaru yesterday. It was driven by a white woman which made me laugh; I’m sure there’s a few Southern Utes around here (you know, actual bona fide “natives”) who would take some serious offence to the ignorant message this woman decided to stick onto the back of her Japanese car, but whatever. There’s no cure for idiocy. And it’s not like I’m completely innocent. When I first saw her sticker, my initial thought was “damn skippy! This is our town!” My brain ignored the fact that I was driving a work truck with a New Mexico license plate emblazoned by the Zia sun. But to my credit, this initial thought was fleeting. I realized that I didn’t have any territorial claim to this town, and that I don’t have any more of a right to call this place home than any other member of our species. As a result, I’ve decided that the next volley in our bumper sticker war needs to be a sticker that reads “Welcome to Durango. If you can afford it, come on in.”