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“Fifteen Minutes of Separation”

Introduction
Somewhere between Kevin Bacon and Andy Warhol is
the land we call Fifteen Minutes of Separation (or Six Degrees of Fame).
Columns
  • Who was that unmasked Man? by Rufus St. Claire 6-22-12
    The headlines announced tuition hikes, but the large photo above the fold of the newspaper shows a (obviously) good-natured man walking out of frame, somewhat amused at the attention he’s getting from the camera. The caption should’ve been: “Can I please get back to fishing, now?”

  • Erskine Caldwell and the Great Banana Uprising of Dunedin, Florida
    Or God’s Little Acre of Bananas by Rufus St. Claire 6-10-12
  • Psychologist in a Town Car Or The Stagecoach Driver Syndrome Revisited by Luke Warm 5-15-12
    Inspired by a True Story in a Real Newspaper

  • Post Office Closings in Texas by Brewster Hudspeth 8-1-11
    The recent news of some 3,600 post office closing nationwide included a list of nearly 200 potential closings in Texas. It’s a cost-cutting measure...
  • The 40 Best Speed Traps in Texas 10-1-10
    It’s the trap part that people object to...
  • Nancy was robbed at GUN POINT in LODON! 9-24-10
    We received an interesting letter today. Actually, we had heard a radio talk-show host describe the letter several weeks ago and admit to “almost” sending $1000 dollars to the sender. (So much for the intelligence of talk radio hosts.) Forewarned that it was a scam, we had a copy boy take the letter to the desk of Luke Warm. An hour later the copy boy returned with the reply. What appears below is the original email, followed by Mr. Warm’s reply.

  • McClellan’s Kindness From The Century Magazine 1887 9-19-10
    Reference is frequently made to the peculiar personal attachment which General McClellan’s troops had for him. The following incident may be worthy of record as illustrating one of the causes of this attachment...

  • Selling Out in Austin and Thinking Inside the Box
    Two Newspaper Rack Stories By Luke Warm 9-8-10
    "When you see an empty newspaper rack – someone is not doing their job."

  • Panhandle “Backlash” Saves Trees by Brewster Hudspeth 8-9-10
    or Love in the Time of Dendrophobia
    According to a recent article in the Amarillo Globe, it has been four years since “state transportation officials” proposed cutting down both trees in the Texas Panhandle. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. There are a few more than two. TxDOT managed to count 1,185 trees – that were “encroaching” on Hemphill County highways and proposed to cut every one of them down...
  • If these are ghost towns, why are there so many people here? 5-12-10
    While most people associate ghost towns with ruins and desolation - these ghosts live among us.
  • Most Interesting Update of 2009 11-22-09
    "Equal Before The Lens" book cover - Louis Escobedo and the ear of corn.
  • Ignacy Paderewski and Amelia Earhart in Toyah, Texas 11-11-09
    Trains, Planes and Unexpected Stops
  • The Art of Porch Sitting 11-5-09
    Dave Bonta is a poet and a naturalist. He lives on the “eastern edge of western Pennsylvania” which we suppose is something like living on the western edge of east Texas. Or the eastern edge of west Texas.
  • Mr. Guevara’s Neighborhood: Arts Flourish in Midday San Antonio 10-9-09
    The original plan was to be the delivery of a few dogs to the vet (to say nothing of the cat.) But nothing goes according to plan when you’re in “Mr. Guevara’s Neighborhood.”
  • Pilots without Ships, Tree Surgeons without Morals and Engineers without Trains 9-24-09
    In Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, he recalls that his training as a pilot demanded his memorization of every landmark, sandbar and snag on the more than 1,000 mile route from Cairo, Illinois to New Orleans. To compound things, he had to mentally record the entire trip (both up and down the river) in daylight, moonlight and in total darkness. It was a little like being both Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers...
  • Alone in a Car at Night 9-21-09
    "All the King’s Men" by Robert Penn Warren
  • When Samuel Clemens met U. S. Grant 9-17-09
    or Whoever the Twain Shall Meet
    From Mark Twain’s Autobiography

  • FIFTEEN MINUTES OF SEPARATION
    The Editor’s Column

    How the Title Came to Be
    (The Long Version*)


    Back in the late 1970s when I was traveling to Mexico five or six times a year – I decided to buy a guidebook. It was a luxury that I had somehow managed to travel without on previous trips. Those were the days of travel titles like Mexico on $10 a Day, Guatemala on $6 Dollars a Day and We’ll Pay You to Go to Belize. (I’m happy to report things have improved in Belize over the last 30 years.)

    The book itself was around three-fifty so I figured it could pay for itself in no time. I was right. I deplaned in Merida where a graveyard of broken and cannibalized DC-6s brazenly occupied the end of the runway. Sort of an aviation-themed memento mori.

    In the category of next-to-useless knowledge: Mexican movie star / singer Pedro Infante died in a self-piloted crash here in 1957.

    As the plane touched down, I dog-eared a page in my new book citing the impish behavior of Merida taxi drivers who were then known for removing the airport bus stop sign and throwing it into the weeds adjacent to the terminal. Bus fare to town was the equivalent of .25 cents (or any reasonably-flat round metal discs). Taxi fare, on the other hand, was something like $1.50. A serious bite out of the $10 traveler’s daily budget.

    It wasn’t the money but the choice of driving in a car with the windows up (showing that the car had once had air conditioning) or an open-windowed bus trip smelling of Jacaranda blossoms and the heady mix of rose water and fruity hair pomade. I had come to Mexico for quiet adventure and time travel. Both of which were offered by the bus ride. It was a no-brainer.

    But as I waited for the city bus, I wanted to check the accuracy of the book. I walked past the three or four taxi drivers who were lined up waiting for fares. The second driver in line was under his car changing his oil. (Did I mention this was Mexico?) The metal pole that my book had described was indeed right where the book said it would be. Two empty holes showed where the PARADA sign had been attached. Further examination revealed the sign - thrown face-down in the weeds, exactly where the book said. I was impressed.

    The first driver in line assumed I was his fare and smiled as he asked my destination. He was about 55 years old with the blue-black hair once popular with superheroes. He also wore a contrasting gray mustache. A pair of needle-nosed Vice Grips peeked from a back pocket of his knockoff designer jeans – but I may be making that up. He admitted that the bus “used to stop here” but lately the driver just coasts past since everyone takes a cab. He allowed that if I wanted to wait, a bus might appear “even chili.” I’m sure he meant eventually but to my ear it sounded like “even chili.” I showed him the entry in my new friend and translated it as best I could. I pointed to the sign. He shrugged, moving his eyes left and then right in the internationally understood: “Don’t look at me.” But then he did something unexpected – he called to the other drivers to come look. They had made Fodor’s!

    I eventually rode the bus into town – a ten-minute trip – and then back to the airport and back downtown that same night, waving to the taxistas when we coasted by their stand and receiving their amused waves in return. It’s the sort of thing you can do when time doesn’t matter.

    My second guide book (A humorous and general historical guide by Kate Simon) included a tip on the best way to eat ripe mangos (Remove all clothing and sit in your bathtub). After this tidbit I was hooked on Guides. Frommer and Fodor became constant companions. The People’s Guide to Mexico (“Wherever you go – there you are.”) encouraged me to drive down to Yucatan on the first of what would become five or six Gulf Coast trips. The authors’ hit of washing clothes in a trashcan and allowing the highway be your agitator was a winner, as were their tips on catching iguanas and hiring a maid. The book is still a joy to read and has never been out of print.


    Getting to the Point

    I can’t remember which book had it, but one extremely useful bit of advice (for the bus traveler with limited communication skills) was to sit close to the bus driver when meal stops were made. It figures that if the driver stays in sight you’ll be forewarned about early departures (a rare occurrence in Mexico – but as you know, in Mexico anything is possible). The particular stop where I put this tip into action was a town in southern Veracruz not far from Catemaco. Catemaco is famous for an annual gathering of "witches."**

    If you happen to drop the fact that you’re even passing remotely near Catemalco to a Mexican audience, your listeners will fall silent and start crossing themselves and generally behaving as if you just told them you have the weekend booked at Castle Dracula.

    Anyway, this particular rest stop was to be 15 minutes. After my driver announced as much, he walked into the restroom. So did I. He then walked into the restaurant. So did I. As he ordered it was obvious he was known to the waitresses. It was like the opening of Cheers when Norm walks in – only in Spanish. I marveled at how relaxed my driver appeared. He settled down and read a paper. I read a paper too, but with me it was more like looking at the pictures. I immediately regretted it since the first four pages covered a horrific bus collision in neighboring Hidalgo state.

    Keeping one eye on the driver - my other eye (yes, it hurt, thanks for asking) spotted a maintenance man boarding “our” bus with the self-assurance of a veteran driver. He also wore a bus driver’s uniform – but then again, so did a lot of policeman. He drove it in the direction of the rear of the terminal. Routine maintenance, I figured. As I ate my meal, I mused that we would all (driver, bus and passenger) arrive in Vera Cruz filled with (reasonably) fresh oil.

    Strangely, my driver’s food hadn’t even arrived.

    I started feeling something was wrong when I didn’t notice any of my fellow passengers dining. I rationalized by telling myself this town was their destination (all of them?) and that by now they were all eating at home, surrounded by loving families and recounting tales of their trip. Like the one about the foreign passenger who kept staring at the bus driver.

    Rationalization was already fading when my driver’s family came up to his table and his wife kissed him hello. It was fleeing pell mell when their order arrived and the family took it and started walking home. It was a beautiful scene. It was a lonely scene from my point of view – but beautiful, nonetheless.

    Being Mexico, with its abundance of buses, it was only a two hour delay and I really didn’t need my luggage anyway. I was given my old assigned seat over the rear wheels. I later discovered that these are “especial” seats reserved for tourists so they can enjoy the nosiest part of the bus.

    The lesson learned was that you can have the best advice available and even if you follow it to the letter - Life will find a way to torpedo it. Bullet-proof advice, horse’s-mouth advice, even Martha Stewart insider-trading advice, there are no guarantees.

    Somewhere between Kevin Bacon and Andy Warhol is the land we call 15 Minutes of Separation (or Six Degrees of Fame).



    - Editor

    * There is no short version.
    ** Officially known as the "Congreso Internacional de Brujos."




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