They wave me in. Put a beer in my hand. And feed me to the birds.
[River birding below Falcon Dam nets: Harris Hawk, Bald Eagle (2), Altamira Oriole, thrashers, Red-winged blackbirds, and the “usual birdseed suspects”: pidgeons and grackles. Oh, yeah, and a shotgun boat with a dozen river crossers dashing into the brush about 50 yards downstream. No, I did not chase them for a photo.]
I rolled into Laredo from the longest, darkest street I’ve hit yet. Coming down 83, you’re pulled a good 30 miles from the River. Crossing the Camino Columbia tollway (and almost as quickly, U.S. I-35), can be like spilling into a pinball field, falling into a land of giants.
The semis pull around all sides of you, as the billboards grow with the approach of Laredo/Nuevo Laredo — the only major border town that planted roots on the north side of the river and grew south. I’m here to screw up another video session and talk shop with a River badass, whose book, The Tecate Journals, was just published.
Like the archetypal Irish beat cop patroling the New York City boroughs with a rolled up newspaper, John Stockley’s father rode up and down the river protecting U.S. cattle herds as a tick inspector half a century ago. He didn’t carry a gun, telling those who asked simply, “I can ride faster without one.”
(Wise words. When I get to some active smuggling sites beneath Laredo, I’ll come to see that minding one’s business and not playing with guns leads to longer, happier lives here.)
First there was the mandated double fence with floodlights and roadway. Post Hutchison ammendment, Chertoff started signing off on “discrete” portions of single-line fencing. Now we hear the Czar scaling back again…
There are moments of irrepressible assurance. Yeah, confidence is against my nature — maybe against the nature of all inkscratchers — so when we feel it, it means something to agitated explainers like us. Explaining what, to who(m), and from what direction? That is, did we get it right? Used to writing the bad news and seeing Big Money win over and again against community interests.
I’ve been in Del Rio three times and never seen downtown. I’ve driven along the strip mall lanes of highways 90 and 277 and wondered. This time I enter with purpose, I want a coffee shop and wireless. It’s deadline day for my first installment of Muro. And it is Sunday.
While I didn’t quite catch on about what day it was until after I made a U-turn for a federal office, thinking I could pick up a copy of Homeland Security’s Draft Environmental Assessment for the Del Rio Sector, I did manage to find downtown. I liked it. I drove a few extra blocks just to make sure then started to hedge some right angles to coast back in for another look.
My cherished steering-wheel waves are a thing of the past. I got a couple three-finger salutes heading west out of Marthon (where a Border Parol helicopter turned in circles beside the roadway), but past Sanderson the rural greeting of passing motorists is history.
I keep popping my fingers out there, hoping for a response, waiting to for a flash from a kindred spirit who also clings to the small-town and county-road customs. But as the ratio of shiny Suburbans, bass boats, and camo-coated ATVs spikes, civility vanishes. By the time I hit Langtry, I have given up altogether.
The anger, frustration, and despair are evident in Terlingua after several immigration sweeps and increased surveillance activities tossed this foundational corner of the Big Bend and former quicksilver mining town into turbulence recently.
The restaurant I ate at tonight just lost its kitchen staff in a raid. Some legal residents left voluntarily to be with unpapered spouses after the intensification of Border Patrol activities, taking their children back across the river where there is no school waiting for them. But Terlinguans must maintain their buoyant humor (right).
I can’t cross. Actually, let’s get this straight: I can cross, into Mexico. Once on the other side however, I run into problems. With my current collection of identification cards I would not be let back into my country. I have a driver’s license, my social security card, and my voter’s registration. It’s not enough. Passports and birth certificates are the order of the day.
Fortunately, Mexican diplomat Hector Raul Acosta-Flores is available to offer his perspective on the history of the area — Las Junta de los Rios — where the strained Rio Grande is revitalized with channelized Rio Concho water from Mexico.
Maybe in El Paso. That’s the greatest allowance any River resident I’ve met so far has made for the Homeland Security concept: these proposed miles of “discrete” border fencing (y tactical infrastructure, tambien) on either side of Presidio and upstream at Neely’s Crossing. Maybe in El Paso.
It’s come up three times in three days, East Berlin and the Berlin Wall (RIP).
Roberto Lujan (right) grew up in segregated Alpine during the ’60s. His first feeling of truly being an American only came when he and fellow American troops were bused through the communist city in Germany and throngs of residents began making obscene gestures at the troops. But when he moved to Presidio on the River and began to grow closer to his Jumano Apache identity, he said he began to see the U.S. Border Patrol network of checkpoints and facilities akin to “living on the Rez.”