Taosenos Must Play Defense

By: Bill Whaley
30 June, 2020

The Town of Taos is expected to expand an emergency order mandating “masks” today. Masks, social distancing, and good manners are our only defense against El Viro, given the lack of testing and the insidious nature of the invisible but powerful enemy.

(Those individuals who ignore science based on conspiracy theories or the politics of denial should be shunned, including local businesses, who refuse to abide by the rules.)

Yesterday, I witnessed a micro lesson straight out of Black Lives Matter and the Bible of White Privilege, compounded by El Viro’s lure of the west for second homers. At the request of relatives stuck in car rental hell at an out-of-state agency, I called Enterprise in Taos, our friendly local car rental place. Course nobody answered and I suspected overwork if the place was even open. So I jumped in my reliable 2004 Ranger and drove south.

At the car rental agency, your local agent, a black man with what? an accent suggesting some lyrical island in the Carribbean was under siege. A loose line of out-of-towners or second homers occupied the parking lot, while dropping off rental cars. Your Enterprise agent, sanitizer hand cart by the door, did business through the window, accepting keys in empty flower vases or empty water glasses, then turning on a dime to exit and check the vehicles, returning, grabbing a sanitizer, doing the paper work back inside.

In the parking lot everyone maintained social distance and mostly wore masks. People quietly discussed logistics, offering to give each other rides, except for one old white guy, WASPlike (White Anglo Saxon Protestant, takes one to know one), who began yelling at the agent, frustrated by spending two hours on the phone and demanding transportation back to his residence because “Enterprise promised.”

The agent answered quietly, though his body language seemed tense and his eyes sparked, repeating, “We’re not giving rides.”

The WASP continued, yelling, “You’re not listening to me.” This while onlookers, who had been patiently waiting, like good Americans, all queued up and watched Mr. WASP bust the protocol. My long-lived bouncer-bartender training from the past kicked in i.e. keep the peace. I leaned in and said, “Hey I’ll give you a ride.”

“What?” He quieted down.

“I’ll give you a ride.”

The agent then gave him a brief, three sentence-lecture on courtesy and working together under the circumstances. He continued his rounds, trotting back and forth between the office and the rental car drop-offs. I caught him on the run, asked him my technical question. He summarized the policy and mentioned a loophole. After he transacted the paper work and key business in a professional and friendly tone with the WASP, we left.

On the way to his neighborhood, somewhere near El Monte, he asked me if I was a working man? I told him I was a UNM English instructor. He mumbled, indicating his chagrin at the way he behaved. Still, he, like I, wore a mask.

Regardless of this minor outburst in class and race relations, what struck me about the event was the Monday afternoon traffic at Enterprise. Throughout the west, reports say folks are fleeing from cities to their country houses or even buying up relatively inexpensive residences for cash. Meanwhile, El Viro, like non-native species travels into the outback in car trunks and on the backs and faces of out-of-towners.

Repeatedly, the doctors and leaders, who inhabit the shrinking world of “common sense,” a world based on the long-lived history of The Plague or Black Death, which has killed millions in the past, according to recorded history, urge us, to do as they do in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea: wear masks, maintain social distance, wash hands, and avoid dangerous situations.

We must quietly model best practices for our neighbors and gently remind visitors that if they don’t love our town and wear a mask, they can leave. We must play defense now.