Several years ago, in the pre-911 era, before we needed to open up our world to the TSA, in the name of Homeland Security, we almost missed our flight to Orlando, Fla.
Back then, there were none of those interminable lines of people ordered to remove their shoes or subject themselves to touchy-feelie pinching, patting, probing, poking and prodding. So, though my crew arrived too late to check our bags — we needed to tote them all the way to our destination — we were allowed on the plane, even with our bazookas, pipe bombs and jumbo bottles of lotion.
Here’s what happened:
An East Las Vegas Schools group, on the way to a convention in Florida, received a memo from the transportation office with instructions to meet at 6:30 at a certain address on Church Street. Fair enough. I dutifully drove to a tiny, curvy, narrow lane on the town’s west side and promptly got lost. Now, I know the town as well as the next person, but the address I had received just wasn’t there. I drove for several minutes before locating a school van in the neighborhood of the Allsup’s at Mills and Hot Springs.
“Oh, you meant New Mexico Avenue instead of Church Street?” I said, half-apologetically to the driver. To me, where I rendezvoused with Silas Lopez, Guy Jacobus, Ann Costello, Mary Ortiz, Lucille Stanfield and Flora Romero, the officials at East, was really New Mexico Avenue.
But it’s not, really. New Mexico Avenue ends a few hundred feet before Mills and Hot Springs, and becomes Church Street. But forgive me if I failed to ascertain any clue that suddenly the street changed its name without warning. In fact, where New Mexico turns into Church Street, you’ll find a mailbox or house address that lists the property as being on New Mexico, not Church.
I thought that only in the Midwest and other densely populated areas did one suburb’s street name become another suburb’s street name without notice.
Now try this: Drive south where the road curves near Allsup’s and you’ll be on Church Street; that street continues, but only if you take a little jog to the left, hit two stop signs, get on another street that winds and finally ends at the rear of Our Lady of Sorrows church on Valencia. That’s a city planner’s bad dream and a motorist’s nightmare.
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More recently, I needed to deliver an item to a place on New Mexico. The resident gave me the address as being on New Mexico Avenue, but instinctively I drove to an insurance agency on Church Street, having forgotten that New Mexico was one street west of that.
Thoroughly puzzled, I asked local historian Jesus Lopez if he could solve the riddle. His e-mail reply was almost instant, but when I still appeared confused, he said, “I’ll pick you up and we’ll look over the area together.”
“Simple,” he said, during the tour of main and side streets in West Las Vegas, explaining that long before we were alive, New Mexico Avenue didn’t have quite so many of today’s twists and turns; it went straight toward Porter Street, in the direction of Armijo Elementary. The area where the road curves northeast, near Henry’s Shoes and a housing project on the west, was a relatively new development. Thus, New Mexico Avenue got modified but its name did not.
Lopez said that around the time Grand Avenue became a major highway, U.S. 85, Old Town residents fought for their own state highway, with the result that New Mexico Avenue became a link for the Hot Springs in Montezuma.
The two hours Lopez and I spent exploring roads on the west side revealed a wealth of little-known-to-me information, much too detailed to cover here, but something I urged him to broach on his weekly radio program.
Lopez has much interesting information about how South Pacific got its name (there were also plans for a North Pacific name), why National Avenue is so named, how “territorial” architecture developed, where the original Old Town Catholic Church was first erected, and much more.
I don’t guarantee Jesus Lopez will actually accompany people on tours such as we took, but if he gets on radio to discuss some of these streets that seem to cross themselves, you can take a listening tour with him.
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An Internet wordsmith, Rob Kyff, often cited in this column, wrote an interesting piece on “One-Trick Ponies,” you know, the person or thing skilled in only one area and who has success only once.
Language has a number of such ponies, i.e., words that can be used only in the context of another particular word or expression.
For example, can any word but “motive” follow the word “ulterior”? Can we use “militate” and not follow it with “against”? Only a hole can be described as “gaping,” and when we describe feelings and emotions, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to use “pent” without “up.”
Nothing but an increase, in pay or in price, can be “whopping.” The late Edwin Newman once asked, “When does an increase begin to whop?”
Do my services as the Optic’s Language Cop foretell a whopping increase in pay? What’s the opposite of whopping? Flopping?
But let’s not give the boss too many ideas.
Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.