…and Walt Whitman, he felt the United States; I do, too, with more inclusion of women – not under, usually, Whitman’s eye ….
…had to go to a Mexican Baseball Summer League game, simply had, to, so off to Laredo on US 83 I went via Greyhound, and then a walk across International Bridge One into the heart of bars/men/noise Nuevo Laredo, hot hot mid-summer late afternoon, and then a speeding cab to the ballpark10 miles southwest of the gigantic and old border city, where Tamaulipas defeated Tijuana, 4-3, in my kind of baseball – little between-innings entertainment, limited scoreboard info …so I kept my own scorecard ….But this isn’t a baseball story, or a story about how after the game I stood outside the ballpark and wondered how I’d get back to the bridge …with night darker and the parking lot near empty ….
Yet, this cries for telling …and the municipal police, probably not wanting an old white guy to disappear, planned to take me in a police vehicle to the bridge, imagine, under guard, no guarantee that gunmen in this, the most dangerous of all the Mexican border cities would not attack us …and then a woman and the teen daughter of a friend came up and said, “No argument, none; we’re driving you to the bridge, say nothing.” The police were cool with her offer.
“You sure? It’s dangerous, dark.”
“Don’t worry. I’m inimport/export, know the roads. Get in, lock the doors and don’t look at other drivers.”
She sped off, into the dark, then some lights, more dark almost like the roads the taxi driver used to get me to the distant park ….Speed, turns, brakes, lane changes ….
She got to the bridge, and made sure I was going to walk straight ahead to Laredo; she wanted nothing for her deed.
Past music-rocking bars/past men in the shadows against walls/past men on the sidewalks/past traffic-choked lines, even near midnight …to the bridge, cool air above the river, fast walkers, no talking, ahead, ahead ….
“I loved how you talked baseball to the man behind you. I heard you. I wish I knew baseball.”
Yes, the man behind me was an encyclopedia of Mexican baseball …and knew how to score, too, knew little points ….
But I pulled out a $20 and pressed it on the teen, told her to use it for her photography interests, and she took it.
I hugged the driver; I hugged the teen; the driver gave me new Spanish Bible, which I later gave to a neighbor …and the good fortune to “escape” the Nuevo Laredo night …and to think millions of Mexicans live on the border in their cities, going to work, shopping wary ….
…and before I left my aging hotel in Laredo for the game, I looked at the door across the hall – Philip True, a reporter/friend killed in Jalisco, Mexico, in the mid 1990s …he, who wanted to walk the mountains of the Huichol …and spiritual folk/superstitious folk might have seen/felt a message …as there I was about to go into Nuevo Laredo; his San Antonio Express News office/room was steps l from me … his name in deep black letters on bubbled glass ….
Farther and farther into Nuevo Laredo;
Brush and scrub and dust;
Then, concrete block/box homes,
Miles and miles.
But no windows, no doors.
Faces like Halloween pumpkins,
These faded white, not orange.
The speeding taxi driver sees me gaping:
“No people in there.
“All the doors and windows were stolen for aluminum.”
The blocks/boxes end in more brush and next to a dry stream bed, trash filled (tires plastic cans cardboard),.
The orange sun burns hot.
Black asphalt roads soften.
A twisted look back at the blind and gone ….
…border bus west, slightly climbing, out of Brownsville to Laredo …and look out the window, individual vehicles, so pure I feel, public transportation, out of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, developed, and developing, with some cotton and sorghum fields among housing projects and shopping centers ….
…nearly 30 years ago, same ride, my chili and crackers and green cheese, and watermelon, and my trying to speak Spanish to old farm workers and cowboys on the bus …and they showed me their backs, saying, I’m sure, in Spanish, “Shut up, you old white fucker, and go back to your seat!” I did ….
…this the United States, this South Texas? On the map, and off the map.
The bus climbs, and behind to the east, and to the south and north, the land slopes, water to the river, water to rivers, all to the Gulf of Mexico ….
…mesquite and scrub, and dust …and the oil and gas pipelines …ready to move the oil and gas from under the scrub land, running in veins, the fuel of the World’s’ way of life ….
When the bus left, I waved to strangers in the station, there to say good-bye.
They waved back.
I waved to trailer drivers when the bus sped past their 18-wheelers.
They waved back.
Main character did that in A Thousand Clowns, remember?
I once hitched out of Laredo, that about 25 years ago.
A man gave me a ride, after dropping off a two-night woman at her old house on an old street in Laredo.
“Not important, just two nights. My girl friend is a migrant in the tomato fields of Ohio,” and he showed me her picture, as we sped down to Weslaco.
I wrote a story about hi, the two-night woman and the loyal migrant.
I was singing Streets Of Laredo into a morning orange sun when he picked me up; and I sang it in the lobby of the old Rialto Hotel in Laredo ….
Why not? Wave to strangers. Sing to strangers. Break barriers.
Mexican men on the move ….
Out of Tamanzuchale, San Luis Potosi, to Buffalo to cut cabbage, and turn it into sauerkraut.
Out of Martinez De La Torre, Veracruz, to Ohio for carnival work.
Out of Calnali, Hidalgo, to South Carolina for landscaping and parking lot work.
So large, Nuevo Lardo, deep south of the river, and well west and east ….
I see it when the bus starts its descent to the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and as large and new Laredo is, Nuevo Laredo is old and stretched ….
Not a word of English of the bus, going to and going from …factory workers, caregivers, maids, construction workers, some students …and chill those north of the Valley …faces that have been here, and will be here, and will keep coming here ….
…out the windows, there, black and white Texas State Police cars, green and white Border Patrol vans, and usually white,. black lettered local sheriffs’ cars …so close they are, sometimes but 100 yards apart …and I remember the Texas Legislature came up with millions of dollars for “border security,” and there were the cars, officers, usually parked under mesquite shade, or, parked in front of the 200-mile string of Mexican cafes from Brownsville to Laredo ….Feel safer? Are you safer? Are we safer?
…and those who go/come ….
…McDonald’s manager goes from San Benito to family in Nevo Laredo.
…Caterpillar worker goes from Nuevo Laredo to Edinburg to see childhood friend.
…and a border with rules/papers/guards …worthless worthless …simply keeps millions on edge, as those millions have kin on both sides ….
…truck beds full of watermelons and mangoes, vendors under umbrellas ….
And I gave a watermelon to a street man (arm bandaged from plasma sale for basics or drugs or both) back in that first South Texas Greyhound time …too much to eat alone ….
Go Greyhound, go up and down, help those with luck/money/time to go and come and see and visit ….
Eugene “Gene” Novogrodsky, mid-July 2015
Author: Gene Novogrodsky
Eugene “Gene” Novogrodsky, a Brownsville resident for nearly three decades, writes North American border slices, from eastern Canada to central Mexico, and in between. He is one of the founders of the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center Writers Forum in San Benito. He sometimes participates with the informal Resaca Writers Group in Brownsville. He prefers, however, to read to two or three attentive listeners – when asked!