Tuesday, March 21, 2017

We're In There

From "On The Road" by Jack Kerouac -

Laredo was a sinister town that morning.  All kinds of cab drivers and border rats wandered around, looking for opportunities.  There weren't many; it was too late.  It was the bottom and dregs of America where all the heavy villains sink, where disoriented people have to go to be near a specific elsewhere they can slip into unnoticed.  Contraband brooded in the heavy syrup air.  Cops were red-faced and sullen and sweaty, no swagger.  Waitresses were dirty and disgusted.  Just beyond, you could feel the enormous presence of whole great Mexico and almost smell the billion tortillas frying and smoking in the night.  We had no idea what Mexico would really be like.  We were at sea level again, and when we tried to eat a snack we could hardly swallow it.  I wrapped it up in napkins for the trip anyway.  We felt awful and sad.  But everything changed when we crossed the mysterious bridge over the river and our wheels rolled on official Mexican soil, thought it wasn't anything but carway for border inspection.

Our hot, dusty hamlet is mentioned in this 1950s classic.  (Thanks to Maximiliano of Laredo Tejas fame for the tip.)  All I knew about On The Road, apart from its literary standing, is what I'd heard in an episode of "Freaks and Geeks."  The students were not impressed with the book, and the teacher was disappointed with their assessment.

Kerouac doesn't exactly shine a flattering light on Laredo.  Granted, it's an era before my time, and he describes our small town after a hazy stop before moving on into our sister city.

I was so exhausted by now I slept all the way through Dilley and Encinal to Laredo and didn't wake up till they were parking the car in front of a lunchroom at two o'clock in the morning.  "Ah," sighed Dean, "the end of Texas, the end of America, and we don't know no more."  It was tremendously hot: we were all sweating buckets.  There was no night dew, not a breath of air, nothing except billions of moths smashing at bulbs everywhere and the low, rank smell of hot river in the night nearby - the Rio Grande, that begins in cool Rocky Mountain dales and ends up fashioning  world-valleys to mingle its heats with the Mississippi muds in the great Gulf.

A brutal experience for Kerouac, but I can relate.  Our surroundings can be unforgiving; Just ask Sara Walls.  Laredo, I've thought, is a sort of pit stop for many -- a waystation with limited opportunities.  But for all its faults, the gateway to Mexico does manage to hold its own with all its unique history.  It's not one of the great cities of the world, but we made the fuckin' pages of On The Road!  How 'bout that?  

It's not saying much, but I'll take it.

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