Sunday, January 7, 2007
So a Mexican duck and a Texan duck walk into a bar...
On Main Street, in Eagle Pass, at the Texan border, my bartending/people skills came in more than handy. Except when Manuel tried to kiss Ashleigh. Then, there was little I could do.
After our trip to Del Rio, where we spent very little time, we decided to spend the rest of our daylight hours in Mexico. Ciudad Acuna. We had a lot of questions and were curious how it was living, guarded, on the other side, where the wall was projected to be built.
There was some doubt about our car and its safety (and I didn't want to sit in traffic on the way back in. Well, we know my priorities. I'm like the father. Sometimes, I'm the grumpy father).
We took a cab in and decided to walk back.
Once inside, for those of you who haven't been there, the difference is immediately noticeable, but extremely familiar. I have had similar experiences in Tijuana and Juarez. The border towns are Someplace Else and Someplace the Same.
We started talking to people in the the trinket stores and casinos about their opinions on the wall, on illegal crossing, on George Bush.
One guy laughed about how easy it is to get across and that he goes all the time. He may have just been trying to sleep with Lindsay, but somehow I believed it.
Another woman, with dual citizenship, told us a good joke, they will build an 11 foot wall, but there will be a booth right in front of it with 12 foot ladders for rent. She said the People of Mexico will find a way. She also told us that she felt that people who were Other Than Mexican were a true threat. She watches American News and knows those people are relentless and "with brown skin, like ours, they will come here and learn our language and will infiltrate the [USA]." I asked her whether she really thought that was true and she looked at me and told me, once again, that those people were relentless.
I bought a skull and a wicker bird. She said she has high hopes for Calderon and couldn't remember the name of the President who many had blamed for the NAFTA decision.
We met other people who told tales of their friends' run-ins with the Minute Men. One guy said a Minute Man put a gun in his pal's mouth and told him to get out right now or he would kill him and bury him in his ranch and no one would ever know.
The kid never tried to come back to the states. So, at least we know the scare tactics are working.
It was Three King's Day. I missed Ukrainian Christmas in New York this year. But, while in Ciudad Acuna, I had a few pieces of sweet bread. I didn't find anything baked in it.
Before crossing back, we took a walk to a square in the middle of the city. There was a large cardboard cutout Manger scene and shoe shiners and park benches and men selling balloons. All of a sudden, and with out warning, Joesph came crashing down. He fell face down and took two sheep with him. Just like in New York, no one turned around.
The Three Kings were doing all right, so no one seemed to mind.
We walked into a church and sat for a while. People were readying for an Evening Mass. It was a quarter of five. A dark cloud fell over me. I knew we had to cross before it got dark. We were pushing on to Eagle Pass and had to leave. I felt like we hadn't gotten everything we could.
We paid 30 cents USD to take the Pedestrian Bridge. And we started hoofing it. On a paved bridge regulated by two governments, across the Rio Grande. It was chilly. I was surprised, and as happy as hell that I brought a winter jacket. The sky was that clouded raw gray that children draw when they want the day to be sad. There were only a few people on the bridge, coming out of the country with us, and we, were the only Gringas. In fact, we were the only Gringas I saw all day. The Mexican population that can get of out Mexico is rich. Unless, they are lucky, they are rich.
I was with Tall Nancy walking across the border bridge, hoping my research was right and current, and that no Passports would be necessary when we eventually reached the border guard. We looked down at the Rio Grande and at the ducks. We said something cliched about ducks not knowing the difference. Who is a Mexican duck? Who is a Texan duck? Ask their mothers.
The border guard on the American side looked at our IDs. I declared one wicker bird and one skull and we started the trek back to where we parked the car.
It was a long walk. Longer than we had expected. And the whole time I just kept thinking about what it would be like if our walk wasn't 2 miles with a car at the end of it, but one hundred and fifty with no water or money and no one to cook us dinner when we finally got home.
It is funny and unfair and inappropriate, but I thought about my mother. I thought about my family and their whole deal. And leaving and driving and dodging. And not having anything real, for a really long time. But, there is a big long Terra- Firmatic difference. We couldn't get thrown out of anywhere. My family was stuck in America. We had no place else to go.
We finished the walk. Kicked at stones, got into a car named Ed, and headed off to find another border town. And a beer. We didn't drink in Mexico. Are we still worried about the water down there?
In the car my mood lifted slightly. I feared the dark would keep us from throwing ourselves into the next town. Eagle Pass is 95 percent Hispanic and speaks Spanish unless people like me are around. Driving towards it fixed all that. Usually does.
En route, we passed many border patrol vehicles. One sped up to see our licence plate.
"How do you know they were doing that?"
"Because a man leaned out the window and pointed a flashlight at us."
We passed a few more. I recommended to the group that if we really wanted to do some research, it was time for someone to get out of the car and start running. Not me, though, we all know my policy on running. I'm sure we might have met a Border Patrol agent or two had anyone followed my advice.
We hit Eagle Pass and full blown night. Part of the town was what you might expect out of a suburb, Texaco and Long John Silvers, but the downtown was a different ball game completely. Just next to Mexico, there were little shops. Boutiques. It was about 7 pm, the stores were closed, but the line of cars to get into and out of Mexico was heavy, we saw as much when we peered down the street.
But never mind the politics, right then, Cervesa was on every one's mind. My permanent cohort, Ashleigh and I were sent on a reconnaissance mission to see if the bar we spotted, The Sun Set Inn, was suitable, if they had food, if there were people to talk to.
Oh. There were people to talk to. 50 of them. All men. Mostly in cowboy hats. One guy had a tattoo of a fish on his forehead. From temple to temple. We were, shall we say, noticed. As we made our way, in the wrong direction, to the bathroom, the entire bar went into upheaval: exploded, called, yelled, hooted, made every conceivable sound you could think of to help us reroute to Las Damas.
We said gracias. And locked ourselves in.
Having peed, we opted for less attention and set off for greener pastures and a little less testosterone.
We grabbed some food at a local Tex-Mex joint, where the servers admitted to hating gay people and President Bush because one of them had to pay child support. American born, they seemed to be very vocal about their scorn for what they called, "wet backs" and asked us all if we were married.
I think one of us said, "to each other?"
I was the first to say no. Realizing what I had done, I quickly added that we all had boyfriends, even the one with the girlfriend, I figured the details weren't important. He seemed satisfied. He then proceeded to make fun of my hair. My bed head look, so fashionable in New York, equals "you were just sleeping?" in Eagle Pass.
We bid them thank you at the end. The meal, for all of us, including coffee, sodas, Extra Avocado, and four entrees was twenty dollars. Before we left, I asked the guy with the kid where we could drink that wasn't the Sun Set Inn. He directed me to Richie's.
We were soon to learn that Richie's was a cop bar. PD, sheriffs, Border Patrol. This is where they went after work. This is where their community went to drink.
The men and municipal employees of Eagle Pass believe in buying ladies their drinks and in the midst of my investigative reporting, in order to keep up with Carlos the Truckdriver, I was drinking Muchas Coronas (It was the best option, following Bud and Bud Light.)
The Police Officer I was introduced to by my new pal Carlos, was young. He was young, cute, and cocky. When I asked him about the wall and the border, he expressed his disdain for the illegals and explained that he may be Hispanic by heritage but his race, was white. He believed in the wall. He believed in America. Carlos the Truck Driver, who was to share his woman problems with me later in the evening, informed me that the cop was full of shit and that he, meaning the cop, was more Mexican than Carlos. Carlos revealed that the cop eats tamales. I interpreted that as an insult. Carlos also told me a joke about La Chingada, the woman who gave birth to the first "Mexican". Once he got his girlfriend Patti to interpret, I was laughing pretty heartily. In order to get the joke, you would have to know she was a translator to Cortes and that she was seen by the people as mistrustful. It was based on that old the- translator -isn't- saying- back- to- Cortes- what's- really- being- said ruse. You know, like, very Marx Brothers.
Somewhere in there, Carlos asked me to be kind to Mexico and understand that they come to work. I shook his hand and said, brother, I know. American born, like most in Eagle Pass, he was on his own side like everyone else, but to a certain degree he felt for the plight of the Mexican worker. He admitted to and was ashamed of his Machismo and went off to look for his woman, now with another man.
Someone recognized us from the previous bar and came up to ask if he could leave with us. Ashleigh deferred to me. She was dealing with Manuel. Manuel gave her a cough drop before going in for a kiss, explaining, that it would help.
I bade our good-byes to all and thanks for the hospitality and we were heading north. With me laughing about the joke from Carlos and bad beer on my breath.