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Los Dos Laredos (The Two Laredos)

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The current President of the United States said this weekend that "we may have to close up our country" because "we can't allow people to pour into our country the way they're doing. You just take a look at that mess that's on television right now; it is a total catastrophe." Unless you're part of the President's unshakeable base and celebrated Loyalty Day last week instead of May Day, you know he's disconnected from reality, operates from "alternative facts," and prefers television, especially Fox News, to reading. 

So he doesn't seem to understand that, according to the Pew Research Center, from 2009-2014, more Mexicans left the U.S. than entered; recessions and anti-immigration legislation like Arizona's 2010 House Bill 1070 and Alabama's 2011 House Bill 56 tend to do that. His racist and xenophobic campaign rhetoric and actual election win also served as a deterrent for immigrants and even tourists to come to the U.S

The Characters of Laredo

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After a few days in Laredo, I asked Sidney, "How many people in the shelter do you think suffer from mental illness?" He answered immediately: 80-90%. I originally thought my book project would be framed around our country's lack of properly treating and taking care of those with mental illnesses because I assumed Sidney was somewhere on the low end of the autism spectrum disorder scale, but he's never been diagnosed, and I'm no doctor. Sometime last year, he did undergo a county psychiatric examination, and they concluded the obvious: he doesn't suffer from schizophrenia or any other psychosis. Ironically, they gave him a month of free rent in the Hotel Bender, an extremely run-down building filled with what he called "all sorts of low people."


The Hotel Bender.
As we moved through the town, sat in plazas, and ate in the shelters, Sidney pointed out local homeless characters and their nicknames, claiming some have severe mental illnesses while others…

Bául in Spanish Must Mean "Bad Decision"

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Over the past ten years I've known Sidney, I've tried to help him when I can: a bus ticket here, one there, and another one back here. A month or so ago, I was on a walk in Fresno when I received a phone call from the American embassy in Mexico City. The guy inquired if I knew Sidney, then informed me that he was stuck in the Querétaro bus station; he'd missed his bus connection to Laredo and now they wanted another $26 to change his ticket for the next day. He'd have to stay in the station overnight. There wasn't much I could do right at that moment. His aunt-in-law ended up having to bail him out, then I wired Sidney money when he got to Laredo so he could pay the aunt back and use the rest to buy something for himself. This is all to say it's easy to grow frustrated with Sidney's decision-making skills, and he's not good with numbers, financial or otherwise.

When I arrived in Laredo on April 6, he told me he'd bought his wife a hand-painted wooden…

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume . . ."

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Sidney's first words to me: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume."
When I arrived at Laredo's Bruni Plaza Library around 4 p.m. on April 6, I called Sidney, who answered on his used flip phone for which he doesn't have a charger. He was across the bridge in Nuevo Laredo buying his prescription blood pressure medication, which costs three times less in Mexico than it does in the U.S. That morning in Laredo, while the police served a search warrant, they stumbled upon a stash house containing 69 undocumented immigrants. Another complicated day in life along the border.
I did some writing in the library, which looks like an understocked elementary school library inhabited mostly by homeless men, while the woman on the computer next to me tried unsuccessfully to control her two seven-year-old gum-chomping twin boys and her twelve-year-old son who continually squealed. The kids kept begging her to go, but she stared at the screen and told them to calm down. In the background, th…

Texas, Fast . . .

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Sunset at the Marfa Ghost Lights Lookout. 
After visiting friends in Las Cruces, NM, and El Paso, TX, I drove toward Marfa with excitement about what I'd find there, even though I had no idea what to expect. Artist friends and others talked up Marfa as a quirky and cool artist colony everyone must visit, and it played a semi-prominent role in the best novel I've read in the past year, Ben Lerner's 10:04. From El Paso, it is only 3 hours to Marfa, which you access by cruising down the I-10, speed limit 80, passing through Sierra Blanca and Van Horn, two spots only notable for their highly-staffed Border Patrol stations. 
Twenty-four miles northwest of Marfa, on Hwy. 90, I saw people pulled over on the side of the road checking out a small building. I blew by them at 70 mph, then turned around to see what the hype was about. A small box store made to look like a Prada store front in New York––including wall displays of exorbitant high heels––sat alone on the scrub plains of w…

"Mississippi Goddamn"

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"If the world's on fire, what's it mean to me when I always knew the system was flawed?" -David Herberg
When you haven't been places in awhile, you notice things you may have dismissed before. As I began my journey driving through the San Joaquin Valley, where I grew up, farm signs dot the highways and serve as battle flags for the ramping up of the water wars: "Is Growing Food Wasting Water?"; "Stop The Politicians Created Water Crisis"; "Vote To Make California Great Again";  "Damns or Trains: Build Water Storage Now." The scientific prognosis for this year is that––even with snowpack at 34% of normal––we're not technically in a drought again because last year was exceptionally wet. But as David Rizzardo, of California Department of Water Resources, says in the New York Times, people should be mindful of the water they use. "'Water conservation is a way of life in . . . California. But with a little precipitat…

Wayfaring Stranger

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Welcome to my new travel blog.
This isn't necessarily a blog about travel deals or what cool spots people will ruin next, but rather a blog about chasing nonfiction stories I want to write about. I resigned my instructor position at a university a few months ago in order to dedicate at least this year, as Thoreau says, to "follow the bent of my genius, which is a very crooked one, every moment." The title of my blog and this post come from Johnny Cash's song "Wayfaring Stranger," which reminds us we're all temporary travelers and witnesses of this world. We do our work while we can.
I began the year reading books, starting with Erling Kagge's Silence in the Age of Noise, and trying to quiet the negative thoughts in my own head, all of which screamed, What the hell are you doing? You gave up your steady job to, what, write? You're a no talent ass clown, Parker. You should have played it safe. I read a few more books, including one that spent years …