So the border crossing at Piedras Negras, Mexico into Eagle Pass, TX, went without a hitch, no problema, nada nadita, this after repeated problems in Arizona and absolutely zero in California, so I’m advancing my thesis about the abuses of Arizona; but I’ll need a few more examples to confirm it. Of course I’d like to be able to say that I’ve been to every border post along the 2000 mile US-Mexico border, but that quickly becomes a problem of definition: cities or actual crossings, since many cities have multiple crossings, and some are hardly pedestrian friendly. That’s me: Mr. Pedestrian. Hi.
Anyway, given the dozens of crossings along the border, and my limited time, I decide to not even bother with Laredo, since I’ve been there many times before. So the next major crossing down the road southward is at Roma. The American town looks interesting, a historic town overlooking the bluffs of the river. And there’s a bridge right there in town, connecting to an equally interesting-looking town on the other side. But it’s still early, since I left at daybreak. It’s cold, too. Hardly anything will be open at this time of day. I’ll be back, later in the day. I continue on down the border.
There seems to be a bridge at Rio Grande city, but no real city there, so I pass on by. Then there’s a sign pointing the way to a ferry, near Sullivan City, so that sounds interesting. It is, a long winding road to a long winding border along a long winding river. The border itself is not much more than a stop sign and a few derelict buildings. The border post looks modern, but I don’t see the boat. I don’t see anything on the other side, either. That’s crucial. Crossings to nowhere don’t interest me. I go back.
By now the highway down south is getting thick with police—state troopers, cheaper by the dozen, apparently. I guess this is part of Governor Rick Perry’s border crackdown. They don’t seem to be doing much, though, just parked by the side of the road, mostly, or parked double-wide and deep in chat, looking bad and breaking bread, doughnuts, that is…
The suburbs are getting thick, too, the United States of Generica, life at the speed of an automobile, going in fourth gear down a crowded freeway, frontage roads crowded with signs like little China-towns all, Whataburger Jiffy-Lube Best Buy Wells Fargo Kmart Circle K and countless other refugees from downtown all competing for attention, multicolor flashing signs all shouting the same thing: More! More! Bigger! Bigger! There’s everything but the Starbucks; apparently Arabica has yet to reach the lower forty, still steeped slowly in ignorance, como agua para Nescafe…
Finally I get to the greater McAllen area, knowing not much more but there’s a bridge there somewhere, a vague picture of Google Maps in my mind, so I switch on my internal GPS and proceed by cruise control. I find a bridge soon enough, but from nowhere to nowhere best as I can tell, so I continue on to a smaller town called Hidalgo—jackpot. This is not only THE border crossing to the large city of Reynosa, but also home to one of the largest flea markets in the world. Comparisons to Talat Rong Kleua along the border with Kampuchea spring to mind. Welcome to Thailand.
Reynosa, twin city to Matamoros, is one of the places where the Mexican uncivil war is taking place, just like Ciudad Juarez farther north; that much is clear. The tone is subdued, and the cause is more than the chilly weather. There is a strong military presence around the central plaza, and I’m not sure I’d want to be around after sundown. The road to democracy is long and hard and frequently violent, and too easy to say, “it’s just the drugs.” Still it’s got more life than the average American city, by far, and it’s almost worth the extra military presence just to accomplish it—almost.
The crossing back is slightly more stressful than the day before at Eagle Pass, but only slightly. The only time I got the glare, the ICE glare, was when the man asked me what I was doing in Afghanistan, like I could almost see him counting heartbeats. I smile a lot. We’re good. Brownsville is even farther down the road south, but I’ve already been there, and the sun is on the wane, so I high-tail it back to Roma, this time counting state troopers. It’ll total up to at least twenty along this stretch of asphalt.
Ciudad Miguel Aleman is the city across the river from Roma, TX, though I didn’t know that until it was almost time to cross back. It always helps to know the name of the place where you are, though not absolutely necessary. It’s also nice to know your own name, or so the ICE man seems to think. I hand him my passport.
“What’s your name?”
I’ve got a live one. I just handed him my passport, so he knows my name. He wants to make sure that I know it. People with false ones frequently don’t. So I tell him. But that is not enough to satisfy. He’s got a stiffy, and he intends it poke it in my face. I tell him all about myself.
“Who do you sell your books to, the highest bidder?”
Now there’s a novel idea, but I don’t really believe he’s trying to be helpful. I believe he’s trying to be an a$$hole.
“Empty your pockets.”
Okay, here we go, the old once-over. So I empty my pockets (as if I were a smuggler I’d carry my illegal goods right there in my front pocket). He even brings another ICE man in to glare at me, just to see if I get nervous, I guess. But that’s that. I can go. No trip to the back room, nothing. Still I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead. It’s getting dark. It’s been a long day. I think I’ve seen enough of the border to last me a while.