Dec. 9 – I said farewell to the engaging Arnolds, Jose and Ermelina, and now it was time to say goodbye to Laredo.
Giddy to have stumbled upon this connection to Ernie Pyle’s Laredo and issuing silent thanks to the gods of serendipity, I gathered up Becky and Max and we made our way back to the behemoth. We eased onto the road and fumbled our way until we found U.S. 83 south before stopping for gas. Having put more than 3,300 miles on the odometer since leaving Gig Harbor, WA 98329, I figured it might not be a bad idea to check the oil.
Quite the antithesis, as W.C. Fields might’ve said.
(I spent a couple hours late the other night with Becky’s dad watching “Man on the Flying Trapeze” and a few Youtube shorts, including the bit on the train where he meets Mae West in “My Little Chickadee.” It was a sweet time, and W.C. Fields, after all these years, came to me as something of a revelation. He had a way with words.)
We were two quarts low. At least. Not being the kind of slacker to let a problem like this fester indefinitely, I guided us immediately to an auto parts store and purchased two quarts of 10w-30 for the ridiculous price of $5 a pop.
Having slaked our engine’s thirst and staved off impending disaster, we stopped at the arches, but accomplished little. Max did get to run amok in the play area for a while. This, more than the wifi access, represents the true redemptive value of a trip to McDonald’s. Max gets to play with kids his own age, or at least kids.
Better still, they’re kids from all backgrounds, ethnicities and races. He was the only native English speaker in the room. I’m certain it wasn’t designed as such, but the McDonald’s play area is an unrecognized force for democracy in our increasingly undemocratic world.
The sun was disappearing, the gloaming coming on. It was time to get the hell out of Laredo for real.
There we were, perched at the McDonald’s exit, green-flashing blinker signaling our intent to follow U.S. 83 along the Rio Grande as it plunges deeper and deeper into the heart of old Mexico. And suddenly, an alarm.
A fusillade of lights flashed and swirled all about us, cutting through twilight’s veil and straight into our tepid gringo hearts.
First one cop car swooped into view. A second followed swiftly. They idled side by side, effectively sealing off the highway north of us.
I must say it didn’t look good. All our fear and loathing and joking about life on the border, all our smug commentary on overhyped fears and pernicious propaganda, it was all coming home to roost. And now, just as we were about to leave, it was all coming down.
I looked over at Becky. Maybe it was my imagination, but it did look as if she had gone a whiter shade of pale.
“Oh shit,” I think were her words, but maybe my memory is faulty.
Jose Arnold’s warning of 30 or 40 deaths a day in Nuevo Laredo, which I had blithely waved away with a smile, made their presence felt in my mind. Those dead bodies hanging luridly from the overpass, I saw them again. Park Ranger Kris Eggle, shot dead outside Organ Pipe National Monument, the admonitions to not travel south of Interstate 8 in Arizona, they were present and accounted for. Suddenly Sheriff Joe Arpaio was the sanest man in Arizona.
Goddamn, this was dangerous country after all.
There was no way out. There was nothing to do but wait for the hail of bullets to commence.
We were fucked for sure.
And suddenly, the gravity of the situation crystallized in one gruesome vision:
Feliz Navidad, bitches.