Dec. 8 – We departed Del Rio after wrestling with the customary start-and-stop indecision about which way to proceed next. Ultimately we opted to stay on 90 east as far as Uvalde, where we’d begin our descent toward McAllen and Brownsville.
A few miles outside of Uvalde, we hit yet another checkpoint. They have become routine by now, even rising to the level of enjoyable diversions. You slow down to the recommended speed. The youthful border patrol agent on the driver’s side asks how many of you are in the vehicle and if you’re all U.S. citizens. He might ask where you’re going, or where you’ve been, and he might not. The youthful border patrol agent on the passenger side, with a large and intimidating German shepherd in tow, walks from bumper to bumper to give the dog a chance to sniff out your contraband.
Then they smile and send you on your way. This time I had resolved to make small talk. Unfortunately, the large and intimidating German shepherd apparently had detected Lester’s scent and commenced to barking in a large and intimidating fashion. Becky laughed at me as I tried to ask the youthful border patrol agent on her side if they saw much illegal activity at this particular checkpoint.
“It’s everywhere he said,” his delivery accented with a native Latino flavor. “But most of them are picked up south and east of here.”
Anyway, pretty chill here, was what he was saying.
He smiled and sent us on our way. We rolled into Uvalde a few minutes later, looking for 140 east, which showed up in gray on our 2010 Rand McNally atlas. We drove back and forth across Uvalde and forth and back across Uvalde again without finding gray 140. Apparently it is a phantom road.
We did see this fun sign:
We gave up the ghost and pulled into a parking spot in front of McDonald’s to check our atlas against the omniscient powers of the great god Google. The Internet map did not appear to recognize the existence of gray road 140 east. I tend to be an empiricist, and having tried and failed to find gray 140 east, I cast my lot with the Google god. So we opted for 83 south to Crystal City and then Laredo. Our plans had changed again.
A couple hours later we found ourselves 17 miles outside Laredo, where U.S. 83 joins up with I-35 south. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the nine bodies they found hanging from a bridge in Nuevo Laredo back in May.
Dec. 9, Laredo, Texas. – Yes, poor old Laredo has an image problem.
Apparently more than a few Americans think it’s a battleground in an ever-expanding Mexican drug war. It isn’t.
Nuevo Laredo, just across the international border, has experienced a few well-documented problems. Laredo, its sister city on the north side the border, has experienced a dose of guilt by association.
Perhaps it’s like if you ran a successful, welcoming and utterly safe bar named “Joe‘s Saloon,” and right next door another bloke ran a bar named “New Joe‘s Saloon.” The two establishments coexisted side by side in harmony for a great many years. Then people started getting abducted and tortured and shot and decapitated and hung by the rafters over at New Joe’s Saloon, while business continued more or less as usual at your place.
Word would start getting around about the gruesome goings on at New Joe’s Saloon, and outsiders would start to blur the distinction between Joe’s and New Joe‘s.
All you’d remember is some really, really awful shit had gone down at a place named Joe’s Saloon and if you went there for a happy-hour beer you might end up headless or hanging from the ceiling. Just to be safe and avoid the possibility of fatal confusion, you’d avoid all bars that included the words “Joe’s Saloon.”
And so Becky started to get nervous the prospect of us rolling into Laredo after midnight. She thought maybe we’d accidentally bump into Tuco Salamanca in the Walmart parking lot. He might laugh maniacally and ask us if we thought he was a bitch, and then snort some of the blue meth off the blade of a hunting knife, and then he’d kill us all with his bare hands.
Fortunately, a TA appeared on the west side of 35 still 15 miles distant from Laredo and 16 from New Laredo. We pulled in and got some sleep.
I woke up before 8, the sun rising over Interstate 35. It’s hot here.
We slept without blankets and the window cracked open for the first time on the trip.
I went to the men’s room, brushed my teeth and even shaved because I had the half-baked idea that maybe we would attend church this morning. And what do you know, it looks like Tuco Salamanca went apeshit on the two handicap stalls.
One door was hanging by a thread. The divider between the stalls was listing badly. Neither stall was in sufficient shape to provide the privacy the typical man requires when he finds it necessary to sequester himself inside a bathroom stall.
We got ready and headed back out onto I-35 in the direction of Laredo. We’d been here before, back in 2003, and our visit turned into something of a comical disaster.
It felt like we were going home.