Dec. 8, Del Rio, Texas – We drove through limestone road cuts right out of the desert and into Del Rio, the biggest metropolis we’d seen since leaving El Paso on Tuesday evening.
The border here, which crosses the Rio Grande to Ciudad Acuna, seems as mellow as you‘re likely to find in the post-9/11 world. The evidence could be found in parking lots at the Dollar Tree and Walmart on Veterans Boulevard. Both were full of cars bearing the colorful license plate of Coahuila. At least on Saturday afternoons, and the data here is of course purely anecdotal, there seems a lot of south-to-north traffic at the border.
The audacity of those Mexicans! And here I offer a hat tip to my friend Lauri Lebo, who found the right words for the situation:
Where do they get off coming across our border and spending their money in our stores? What are they trying to do, stimulate our economy from the outside in?
Our first order of business in Del Rio was to get gas, and we did for the agreeable price of $3.16 per gallon. We’re not going to run out of gas again. Really. Promise.
Becky drove up to the pump. I didn’t even bother to notice the name of the gas station. I had to urinate. I walked into Rudy’s and, before I could gain my bearings, the intoxicating aroma of seared flesh slathered in Texas barbecue sauce overwhelmed my senses.
Damn, I thought, Lauri should be here. I often think this. We would drop our vegetarian fellow-traveler pretense and be elbow deep in ribs in a heartbeat. Just a simple rib house, but damn if it didn‘t tempt the weak of spirit with a devilish piquancy.
Metal folding chairs were tucked under long wooden tables covered with red-and-white checkered cloths. There was a stainless steel trough opposite the restrooms where lusty carnivores could wash away the incriminating evidence. Inside the men’s room was another stainless steel sink, this one a huge circular basin with a drain at the bottom.
But we hadn’t come to Texas to eat ribs. And Rudy‘s, with it’s big-billboard budget and name recognition, probably wouldn’t be the place to go Neanderthal in any case.
Aside from being a laid-back place where our Mexican neighbors love to cross the river to take advantage of our big-box discount stores stocked full of third-world goods, I don’t have much insight about Del Rio.
But I do have a Del Rio-related story. It’s not a pretty story, though. It involves my good buddy Ed Friedrich.
Once upon a time, Ed Friedrich came to Del Rio and clubbed a defenseless armadillo to death.
A few caveats, in the interest of fair-and-balanced reporting:
1) Though the armadillo did die a gruesome death, it is entirely possible Ed wasn’t the guy who struck the fatal blow;
2) I suppose it is technically wrong to call any armadillo defenseless. The evolutionary process (and here I apologize to my creationist friends, should I have any) endowed them with protective shells;
And 3) Ed Friedrich is as decent a human being as you’ll find in this benighted world. He’s easy-going, hard-working and conscientious to a flaw. He’d give you the shirt off his back, if it weren’t such a tiresome cliche. If he did club an armadillo to death in Del Rio, that leathery little mammal probably was asking for it.
I know he’ll probably protest the above description, but everybody who’s ever worked with him feels the same way. Everybody loves Ed.
So fuck you, Ed. I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true.
Now, back to the armadillo murder. It wasn’t just an armadillo. It was a bloodbath. Among the other casualties were a handful of rabbits and one unlucky snake.
It all came about because Ed joined the Air Force after graduating from South Kitsap High School in 1973. He says he didn’t want to join the Air Force, but a friend talked him into it. He’s not the only friend I know who let a buddy talk him into joining the Air Force.
With all due respect, that’s some stupid shit. If I had a friend who tried to talk me into joining the military when I was a kid, I hope I would’ve had the common decency to punch him in the nose.
So Ed joined the Air Force. Airman Friedrich did his six weeks of basic training at San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base, then did tech training in Denver.
Eventually he tested into the Air Force ROTC program. He would go to college, all four years paid by Uncle Sam, and then he would go to flight school. If he was really, really lucky, maybe he would graduate in time to get in on the carpet-bombing of North Vietnam before it was too late.
Once he was in the ROTC program at the University of Puget Sound, he got sent to Abilene as part of his summer commitment. While there he got dispatched to Del Rio for a little exercise in male bonding the military calls “survival training.”
“We had a week where they sent us out into the desert without any food,“ he said. “Maybe it was only three or four days. There was nothing but sagebrush and dirt and sand. No trees or anything.”
By that time, the poor armadillo was living on borrowed time.
“We found him running on a dirt road and clubbed it to death,” Ed recalled. “We really couldn’t get any meat off it. It has that shell thing covering most of its body. I don’t even thinkwe got enough meat off it to taste it. It wasn’t a very big one.”
Besides the poor little armadillo, Ed said they killed tons of rabbits in Del Rio. While he wasn’t too savvy in the ways of dismembering animals, some of his more country-smart colleagues had devised an effective hunting strategy.
“Everybody grabbed a big stick and we’d get into a big circle,” he said. “We started walking in toward the center. When we got so close together and they started panicking and tried to get outside the circle, we’d club ’em.
“Somehow we started a fire. We put the rabbits on a stick and put them over the fire. The rabbits really weren’t that bad, though you can’t cook them up that well. They’re either raw or you had to char them. We even ate one big ugly snake. I hate snakes, but that was probably the best thing we ate.”
Since he was in ROTC training to be a pilot, he got special treatment in Del Rio, which is home to the Air Force‘s Laughlin base. Not only did he get to go all caveman in the wild, he got to play Top Gun in the air.
“Since I was a pilot in ROTC, I got to fly a plane,” he said. “It was just me and the pilot. I was behind him, I think. You could control it from both seats. I had the stick in my hand, and barely creaked it to one side and I did a roll. We flew upside down. That was cool.”
Then they took him out on a helicopter joy ride over the Rio Grande.
“When we were done with survival training, I got to ride in a helicopter with the doors wide open,” he said. “We went swooping through these canyons (above the Rio Grande) with the walls on the sides.”
I never asked Ed if he was sorry for the slaughter that went down in Del Rio so long ago. But I kind of think he is.
The Air Force, it turned out, wasn’t really for him.
“I hated that stuff,“ he said. “I was really naïve, and those guys scared the hell out of me. Now I would just laugh at them. Back then I was completely subservient to superiority. Oh man I was scared. …
“They bring you in and do everything possible to take away your individuality. I had long hair, and they’d run clippers right up your head and make you practically bald. Can’t have any individuality at all. They break that out of you.”
Then they changed the rules on him.
“Once you got out of ROTC, you owed them four more years in service unless you were a pilot, because you had two years in flight school,” he said. “Right in the middle of it all, they decided they were losing too many pilots, so they decided to require five years of service. You had to do it or switch to another career. I switched to intelligence and lost my pilot spot.”
So Ed never did become a pilot. He didn’t even stick in the Air Force. He came up with a really ingenious, very illegal method to secure himself a medical discharge. I won’t go into that here. It’s unimportant. We’re here to talk about what happened to that armadillo in Del Rio.
And what happened is that armadillo died in vain. It’s lurid sacrifice did not help facilitate Ed Friedrich’s career as an Air Force pilot.
Instead Ed became an old-school newspaperman in an increasingly new-school age. And those of us who have gotten to know Ed, not counting tone-deaf nincompoops like Brian Stallcop and Dave Zeeck, are glad that poor armadillo died in vain.