I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…
El Paso Texas, the ’90s…
I supported a financial analytics system for a utility based in El Paso, Texas. Before I visited El Paso for work I knew virtually nothing about the area, the economy, or the people. One of the most interesting and unexpected benefits of my career was the opportunity to extensively work in areas of the USA that I never would have visited otherwise.
One thing I did know is that 1) Texas has its own electricity grid that ‘walls it off’ from the rest of the USA called ERCOT 2) the El Paso area was “outside” of that grid. Thus while Texas may be its own separate country in their mind, El Paso was something else entirely.
Another realization when you are working in El Paso is just how damn big Texas is. It can take longer to drive from El Paso on the western side of Texas to Houston on the eastern side of Texas than to drive from El Paso to Los Angeles. It was also extremely hot and the sun was blazing; some of the women brought umbrellas to shield themselves from the noon-day sun.
The managers I met in El Paso said it would likely make more sense for El Paso to be part of New Mexico, rather than Texas. Many of the managers lived in New Mexico. A funny story they told was how many Americans believed that New Mexico was NOT part of the United States, and stories like this were collected in the back page of a local magazine and they were often hilarious.
While flying to New Mexico one day I sat next to a gentleman that was frequently in El Paso for business. At the time, Ford Expedition SUVs were all the rage. He said that the last three times he visited El Paso, he selected an Expedition from the local rental car affiliate, and the car was stolen (and likely driven over the border into Mexico). I didn’t ask him why he was so stubborn and kept renting them.
While shopping in El Paso or eating in a restaurant it was common for wait staff to first address you in Spanish and then switch to English if you didn’t speak Spanish. I was usually working with someone from El Salvador so he took over when we met people that spoke no English at all. This happened occasionally.
At night you could see Juarez over the border, and people seemed to traverse the border frequently. Juarez was booming at the time, and El Paso’s economy seemed stagnant. Things have changed greatly in the 20+ years since I worked in El Paso and I think things have reversed.
We drove out to Cattleman’s Steakhouse, a restaurant with a large outdoor area that also doubled as a movie set, about 35 miles outside of El Paso. I remember driving through the desert which was a trip since it really seemed to be the middle of nowhere.
As I wrote this article I realized that one of the few pieces of original art that I have ever purchased came from a small shop in El Paso – it is called “The Long Haul” and I paid $20. At the time when I was there the Mars Volta was big and there was a burgeoning art scene…
Cross Posted at LITGM
5 thoughts on “25 Stories About Work – New Mexico Is Part of the United States”
I did some work in Juarez in the early 00’s. What I remember about El Paso was that they flew the biggest American flag I had ever seen.
Our Harvard trained Mexican attorney was one of the nicest people I have ever met. He invariably had a smile on his face that made happiness contagious. One day he took me on a tour of the town. He pointed out that 3/4 of the streets were unpaved and that the greatest source of air pollution was the dust raised by people driving. Few had auto insurance, so when there was an accident, people would leave the wrecks in the street where they were scavenged for parts until the city towed them away.
We went by an underpass with three motorcycle cops lounging on their bikes. He looked at them and said “What a bunch of crooks. The difference between America and Mexico is that in America when a cop pulls you over he’s got a frown on his face and a ticket book in his hand. In Mexico the cop has a smile on his face and his palm out.”
I decided to leave Caliphornia when it began reminding me more of Juarez than El Paso.
One of the most depressing, alarming books I have ever read is “Murder City” by Charles Bowden which happens to be about Ciudad Juarez, El Paso’s “neighbor”.
The appalling rate of killings, the corruption, the hopelessness of the place is hard to believe. Maybe it has improved since the book was written, at least a little. Imagine living in a city where you have opened a clinic to try to help drug addicts kick the habit. And one day, in the middle of the afternoon, two men with AK’s waltz in and kill everyone in the place because the narcos don’t want addicts to kick the habit. And the locals have noticed that military vehicles were parked at either end of the street during the incident just in case anyone was foolish enough to interfere. The book is filled with similar horror stories.
By NOT participating in interstate commercial in electricity, the Texas grid (ERCOT) escapes federal regulation, at least in large part, although the SCOTUS ruling on California medical marijuana would cast doubt on that.
Texans have been so adamant about only intra-state regulation that shots have been fired in anger at possible interconnection points.
Hello Whitehall. Good to hear from you. As always, you know a lot more about electricity than I do. It has been a while since I’ve focused on electricity and gas I’ve been looking at some other things. But I will need to get back in there one of these days and do a re-assessment.
I think this is #4 out of 25 or so stories on work in general and since at one point I hit most of the old-school pre merger utilities you will see a lot of familiar old faces.
ERCOT was essentially formed by Texas Utilities and Houston Power and Light, along with a few other minor players. AS has been said earlier, they deliberately kept out of insterstate transmission of electricity so as to avoid FERC regulation and intereference of their rate structure. Back in teh 1970’s, a new interpretation of FERC rules said that DC ties would not cause FERC involvement as there would be no “inadvertant” transmission of electricity across state lines and two high voltage DC interties were built, and are used quite heavily.
Back when I was a junior engineer for Texas Utilities at their power plant in Colorado City, we were having a dis[ute with West Texas Utilities buying electricity from us and then sending it across into Oklahoma. There were stories going around that FERC under the Carter admin was using WTU as their stalking horse to bring ERCOT into the national grid. TU stationed linemen with binoculars to watch the switching station that connected the WTU grid to Oklahoma, and sure enough, immediately after buying power from us, they closed the intertie in that yard. The linemen had orders to physically cut the transmission after notifying the grid operators and getting permission to proceed after they took steps to ensure grid stability after the cut.
The cut the line. WTU howled and filed a lawsuit with FERC help. They lost as they had been warned several times what would happen.
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