On the drive to Los Angeles last year we went south to Texas and then west, hugging the Mexico border as often as not– mostly on Routes 20 and 10.
I wanted to see first-hand the Minutemen goofs “helping” the border patrol do their jobs. It was an education. We traveled through town after town of abandoned homes, foreclosure notices from West Texas to California and back, and all anyone gave a fuck about was people sneaking over the border. Banks and unscrupulous mortgage brokers were busy creating a whole new culture of middle class homeless people and all these people cared about was watching the border. It is an ongoing masterstroke of misdirection on behalf of the government and the banks. They bamboozled a body politic into thinking a guy trying to sneak over the border in hopes of cutting grass for a living was responsible for their economic plight. They were also selling the terrorist-sneaking-in-through-Mexico wolf-tickets the Right is so fond of. To this day, they’ve caught exactly zero terrorists this way. In fact, the preferred terrorist route of entry seems to be the Canadian border. Still nothing sells like fear.
Around southeat New Mexico we got hungry. It was around 9 o’clock at night and we saw a billboard for Huggy’s BBQ and a number for the exit. Never wanting to miss a good plate of Tex-Mex Barb-B-Que, we pulled off and went looking for this place. It was a small town with a post office; a few residential blocks and a one-block downtown that was completely abandoned…houses empty with the front-door hanging open, no lights of any kind, not even streetlights; abandoned cars that had been vandalized for parts, but not a soul in sight. It was eerie as hell. I thought out loud, “This is how Stephen King novels start.” We turned around and went back to the highway and had a discussion about how this place got that way. It seemed completely contrary to the time we lived in. The further west we went, the more ghost towns we came across; like the whole town, en masse, had just upped and left. I thought, “It’s the mortgage crisis. . .which seems somewhat plausible. But for a whole town?”
I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Lots of small towns lost their charters and their populations with the collapse of the housing market and some of the banks.
I’d just never seen it before.
The trip was great for me. I got to look hard at the American landscape, the West, the expanses of howling emptiness somehow teeming with life. I loved looking at the land; the high dessert, the mountains, the Petrified Forest. . .places that look other-worldly and are yet, wholly American. It occurred to me that the American West is worth every song or story ever written about it.
Through Arizona I saw roadrunners, snakes and coyotes dead in the road, rock, cactus and merciless distance, and landscape for the resilient and the strong.
Where Route 10 hugs the border, yahoos with side-arms park their SUVs and blabber on walkie-talkies to each other while the border patrol zooms back and forth. They give not a fuck how fast you drive. You can bury the needle along 10. They’re only interested in Mexicans. They speak endlessly about narco-terrorists and Mexican mafias, knowing full well those guys mostly stay south of the border where the cops are easier to pay off and the laws far more malleable. The Americans they sell dope and pot to seem to be an after-thought. It is the poor they don’t want immigrating; the guys who will wind up in Chicago or New York or California, washing dishes that seem to piss-off your Minutemen goofs the most.
It seems our country needs to blame someone else at every critical juncture. Economy tanked? Blame immigrants. Empower boobs like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly to give voice to your anger over having an African-American president and people of color desperate to immigrate their way out of austerity. These scape-goats are as good as any, and it will play at the ugly end of the populist pool. But don’t blame the banks or the runaway corruption of the real estate business which managed to profit whether people paid or defaulted on their mortgages. Whatever you do, subscribe to the new American ethos of, “It’s somebody else’s fault.”
It’s a new year tomorrow. A good resolution for our country would be to find our better selves as a nation. A republic begins with us. Sack-up, be active in your community. Ghandi was a smart guy for a fellow who walked around in a toga. He entreated our better selves to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” On that note. . .
Happy New Year.