Friday night I hit town, coming in from the west on I-10, right at rush hour. I had been driving straight for seven hours, fueled by a huge can of Monster brand energy drink and (quite inexplicably) a couple bags of chicharrones. For the three hundred miles from Fort Stockton to Kerrville the speed limit is eighty miles per hour. And so, as I neared home and encountered the slower speed limits, things seemed suddenly sluggish, and, because of the hour, congested, what with the commuters. I was listening to Smog “Dongs of Sevotion” at high volume. The songs are tragic set-pieces all about impoverished desperation and senseless murder on the open road. You know, classic Americana. The sun, which drops so early these cold afternoons, angled low before slipping behind an endless bank of clouds. As I was pulled along with the rip tide of commuters on the elevated section of the highway nearby the downtown cathedral, I looked up and marveled at the line of blackbirds perched on the signs overhead. They were shoulder to claw, watching the surge of humanity below. And then, from the west-side public housing district, several dark and thick clouds of more birds plowed up and over the cars. They took a sharp tack down, looking for more cozy roosts closer to the tourist traps like Mi Tierra and The Museo Alameda. And all the while I’m listening to Bill Callahan matter-of-factly intoning the lyrics to “Cold Discovery.” Oh, good god, what a mess. As I took the South Alamo exit, I turned off the CD player and took a deep breath.
I stopped at the Pik-Nik convenience store for a batch of 65-cent tacos. Back home I ate those tacos. And I unloaded the truck. Next, I walked two doors down to collect my mail from Phil. My $300 economic stimulus package check had arrived! Halle-fucking-lujah! Looks like I can now pay my rent. Thanks so much, Geo. W., and try not to let the door hit your ass on the way out! Chinga usted, hijo de puta!
But I digress….
I spent the last ten days or so visiting friends down in Redford, Texas. I hadn’t been out to that part of the world since early summer of last year, when I brought Enrique and Roberto to San Antonio to represent the Jumano Apaches of the La Junta region during a screening of Alan Govenar’s “The Devil’s Swing.”
My Redford hosts, dear friends Enrique and Ruby Madrid, put me up in one of the apartments behind their home. They had recently been through an ordeal. The worst flooding of the Rio Grande in recorded history had hit Presidio and Redford. The people of Redford had been cut off for a couple of weeks. Helicopters brought in mail and food. And even though the waters had pretty much receded by the time of my visit, a two mile stretch of the only road to town, FM 170, was shut down because the river had undercut the highway and the pavement is now cracked and seems on a slow and steady slump into the river. There is access, though. Highway workers have been busy smoothing out a dirt jeep trail, which can now accommodate just about any car, if driven slow enough.
I had about a day and a half catching up on the local news and gossip before Enrique took ill. That’s when my 2008 Big Bend Excursion took a u-turn. I received a front row seat into the appalling inequities of health care in southern Presidio county, one of the poorest regions in Texas. If you’re lucky, you make it to Ojinaga, the Mexican sister city to Presidio, Texas, where health care is dependable, efficient, and affordable. But if you’re unlucky, you get so sick so quickly that you have to phone up an ambulance (such as what happened with Enrique), and you get driven three hours away to the nearest clinic in Alpine. And once they discover you have no insurance, they boot you out … well, once you’ve become stable enough to not croak in the parking-lot. And, again, this is what happened to Enrique, after five days in the Alpine clinic. They cut him loose before making more than a half-assed and uncertain diagnosis (pneumonia or TB are the top contenders).
The health care system in this country is a fucking vile joke. We wince when reading about those sick chapters of human history where, say, Nazi researchers set about to advance medical knowledge through human vivisection. And rightly so. This is not to be allowed. Let’s take it forward, yeah? In the future, folks will gasp and grind their teeth in frustration to read how people (especially highly educated individuals who took an oath to do no harm) made a living by forcing sick people to pay them money to make them better … and if these people had no money, they were pushed aside, and allowed to die.
Everyone, repeat after me — Free Health Care Is A Right. Enrique and Ruby are now saddled with yet a new crop of medical bills they can’t afford to pay. Enrique had also suffered from an earlier, unrelated health problem. As Ruby explained it: “We’ve always been poor, but never in debt. We now owe more money to doctors than me and Enrique have ever made in our lives.”
I’m depressed, and a bit exhausted. But it’s nothing compared to the people of the border regions in Texas. Their lives are spent dealing with the indignities of being an occupied people. We are talking about Occupied Texas. This is where you have to show your papers. And if some asshole in a badge asks your nationality, you had better say, “US Citizen,” ’cause otherwise, they’ll mess you up!
Fuck you, la chota!
There is a contingent of the Meixcanos living in southern Presidio County who have decided to look to their roots. They are retrieving the threads of their Jumano Apache ancestry. These people have been living in the La Junta region for over 1200 years and they’re getting more than a bit pissed the way they’ve been treated. Young Ezequiel Hernandez (RIP) was the most egregious and the most recent injustice.
I hope that Enrique gets better soon. The battle continues. And he’s needed. Also, I guess, it’s time for me to make myself available.
In fact, let’s all get off of our asses and work to make this a better country … a better world.