I used to live in New York City. A while back, long before my time there, they decided they wanted to make newcomers feel really welcome, so they put up a huge statue in the harbor.

It was a lady with a torch. You may have seen pictures of her, she's pretty famous.

Here in Santa Fe, we have our own way of welcoming newcomers. We describe them as being "just off the bus," and we say it as though "the bus" brings in nothing but criminally insane thugs infected with bubonic plague and clutching Barry Manilow CDs.

This "just off the bus" concept is common enough around these parts to merit its own entry in the Encyclopedia of Santa Fe, which describes it as "former Mayor Debbie Jaramillo's dismissive description of newcomers."

Indeed, Mark Cross, the author of that highly entertaining encyclopedia, says when he told one longtime resident he had been in town for 16 years, the person responded, "Oh, you're just off the bus."

The object of Jaramillo's comment was then City Council member Cris Moore, who had already been here for several years. Now a professor at the Santa Fe Institute, Moore recalls that in his reelection campaign following the incident, he used a photo of himself stepping off a bus. I'm not making that up.

So how long does it take to not be "just off the bus?" Well, Moore says someone once told him, "I've lived here for 400 years," so I guess that's a good start.

I see this bus comment all too often. Recently, a reader criticized a food feature in SFR by saying, "This writer obviously just got off the bus."

Really, dude? That's what you've got? You're superior because you've lived here longer?

This strikes me as a pretty counterproductive attitude for any place to have toward newcomers, but it's especially lame here in the City Different.

Very few people are dragged to Santa Fe in chains. Nobody gets conked on the head in Indianapolis and wakes up here. Most newcomers actually made a conscious decision to come, which is a high compliment to this amazing city.

As I see it, the fact that the newbies choose to come to Santa Fe puts them at least even with longtime residents, who after all may have done nothing more than be born here and never leave.

New residents don't get a tax break for being just off the bus. Nor do they pay less for tequila, cowboy boots, turquoise, hookers, rump roasts or anything else. So where is this resentment coming from?

But hold on, it gets a lot weirder. Exactly which bus are these contemptible interlopers supposed to have just gotten off of, anyhow?

Trailways says it doesn't even stop in Santa Fe, and Greyhound says it no longer comes here. So it seems the worst slur we can throw at newcomers is already outdated.

There are some airport shuttle buses, so maybe we should be accusing newcomers of being "just off the mini-shuttle from a nearby Sunport." I guess it loses some of its bite if you put it like that.

I have a suspicion that what may bother longtime Santa Feans is that newcomers with fresh eyes tend to notice a few blemishes, and voice opinions about them, which is what citizens are supposed to do.

I guess if you still harbor the silly expectation that problems can be solved, then you're "just off the bus."

Here's my hope. If you're a veteran resident, the next time you see somebody who's "just off the bus," cut him some slack. At least he was smart enough to find the legendary bus to Santa Fe, which is more than I've been able to do.

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