Jeff Smith 2 p.m., Jan. 27
- Community Blog
- Living in El Fin Del Mundo
Seeking Cochise Spirt-Zona Daze
I was not a bit surprised when the first car bomb went off the other day in northern Mexico. It was inevitable. So goes the escalation of violence. It is merely the next step on the road to all out civil war. Right now, I would call it a 'brush fire conflict'. Not to say that full blown combat is inevitable in Mexico. But like Grandpa used to say; "Any idiot can start a war but it takes a real genius to start a peace. A paucity of the latter on both sides of The Wall of Shame would seem to make mankind's greatest folly our looming fate.
What did come as a surprise was the story of how prisoners in a Durango jail were being armed by their prison guards and sent out to assassinate rival cartel embers. Amongst these hits was a party for a fellow named Mota in which some seventeen party goers died in a fusillade of M-16 fire. Four of those weapons were traced to the Durango prison.
I just have one question. Who thought that one up? How come that guy isn't on our side? (OK, two questions) It's not because he's the bad guy. After all, there is no right side or wrong side in this battle. Mexicans never crashed jetliners into New York City.
As a writer of fiction, I devour these types of stories. When you write fiction about the U.S.-Mexico border your greatest competition is reality. You can never rest your brain because the changes are coming too fast. I love it.
With the U.S. backed PAN/Sinaloa Cartel alliance continuing to wage war against rival cartels and political parties, if the PAN party stays in power, a freshman history major could probably predict what will eventually happen. The U.S. funnels arms and money to the Mexican government to battle the drug lords. The Mexican government uses those funds to help their cartel ally eliminate the competition and secure the trade (drugs for money/arms) routes. The cartels that are not friends of the PAN will eventually become outgunned. With defeat looming, they will resort to 'nothing to lose' tactics. That's when we will have a serious 'border incident.'
Don't believe me? Read your history books. It already happened. Almost one hundred years ago. Doroteo Aranga (AKA Pancho Villa) was the darling of the U.S. media (money) and U.S. government (weapons). After he fell out of favor with the Wilson administration (who switched support to the Carranza/Obregon faction) he invaded the United States of America (Columbus, New Mexico) and killed eighteen Americans. As a matter of historical fact, the last standing army from a foreign country, to invade the continental U.S. marched under the eagle and serpent flag. Of course ole Pancho would have said the U.S. had it coming for meddling in the first place.
Speaking of border problems, most of the talk these days is about AB 1070. In all honesty, my experiences in the state of Arizona have been pretty limited. As a young boy I'd often accompany my grandparents to the old Yuma cemetery and place flowers upon the graves of relatives who'd died struggling to survive along the border. The only things I remember about those visits were the lack of anything green at the cemetery and the unmarked graves. You just had to know which pile of dirt covered your loved one.
The trip never lasted more than a day and since we were usually spending a week in nearby Holtville, California with living relatives, the actual driving part of the round trip was just about an hour and a half. About the only things we ever did in Yuma were buy gas, food and visit the old Yuma state prison.
My Grandpa really dug that place. He'd wander around the yard for most of the morning. He seemed to like it even more after his son-in-law (an ex California park ranger and history buff) told him that the only person to ever escape from the prison was a Mexican fellow who was last seen heading south - real fast. Gramps would stand near the fence where he assumed the inmate had scaled it and stare toward Mexico. He's shake his head slowly and chuckle to himself.
Not until the dawn of the twenty first century, when I was sliding into middle age, did I return to Arizona.
I was hanging air duct for a mechanical engineering company headquartered in Carlsbad. Most of our work consisted of schools and an occasional library, all in SD county. One day the boss told us that he had a contract for a school in a place called Bagdad, Arizona. He wanted 'volunteers' for the job. The crisis hadn't struck our nation yet and there were other companies around still hiring in those days. The married construction workers didn't want to go to Arizona. We had been told that the job was just a few weeks long, however, construction workers know better. Jobs rarely adhere to schedule. There are always delays caused by work change orders and other things.
Since I was single, I volunteered for the job (sort of).
"Is this place anywhere near the OK Corral?" I asked my boss.
"No," he told me. "But I got another job coming up after the Bagdad job. It's in Cochise County. In a place called Douglas. I don't know how far that corral is from Douglas but they're in the same county. Do Bagdad for me and I'll roll you into Douglas as soon as you've done the school." That was good enough for me.
I am a world history nerd. There are some history books in my tiny personal library that I've read at least a dozen times. Because I'm just a poor kid from East LA I've never had a chance to visit the historical places I'm always reading about. So I jumped at the opportunity. But first I had to go to Bagdad.
My Grandmother was forever telling me that; "If you can't say anything nice about someone/place then don't say anything at all.
After way too long in Bagdad, Arizona I arrived in Douglas, Arizona. That was when I learned I was going to help build a vehicle maintenance facility for the Border Patrol. My conscience told me not to do it. 'Dude, bad karma, bad karma, bad karma!' it screamed at me. But I am a serious student of Native American history and the Apaches are one of my favorite groups. I could have done without the OK Corral but I had to know why great men like Mangas Coloradas, Cochise and Geronimo fought so hard for this land as it was being taken away from them. I just had to know.
Our crew was billeted in the Hotel Gadsden, a history book in itself. At first we wiled away our off hours drinking at either the Saddle and Spur Bar located inside the old building or at a nearby watering hole I believe was called The Frontier Inn. There are two things that I remember about the second place. A waitress who used to tend bar in her underwear and a husky African-American gentleman, who I saw on several occasions but spoke to only once.
He'd always sit in the same spot, more or less. it looked out upon the street and toward a line of hills in the distance. One day i found myself sitting next to him and we struck up a conversation. After a few opening questions that established us as like minded thinkers he broadsided me with what followed.
"You see that one, round topped mountain straight ahead?" I looked toward where he pointed and saw it immediately. It looked like the top of a bowling ball.
"Sure," I replied.
"It's called N****r Head Mountain," he spat bitterly. "Check it out. It's still like that on Arizona maps. They could change it you know. But they don't. Do you know why?"
"Is it for the same reason why they named a major highway after the President of the Confederate States of America, even though technically, the Arizona territory was on the Union side during the Civil War?" I semi-cryptically replied.
His grin told me the answer was, 'yes'.
"You come here all the time and stare at that mountain?" I asked, a perplexed look on my face.
He told me that he'd been stationed nearby when he was in the military and had bought a house in the area. After being discharged, he couldn't afford to leave. So there he was on most nights. Trapped in a state he loathed. His anger was a simmering heat. Water before it boils.
I stopped hanging out there at the same time I quit going to the Saddle and Spur. As a matter of fact, I stopped hanging out in Douglas, period. It all would have been tolerable, even pleasant, were it not for Mikey.
I'm not good at guessing ages but I'd say he was young enough to still make the mistakes of youth but old enough that he should learn from those mistakes. Mikey was a border patrol agent who'd been 'grounded' for driving drunk too many times. In the real world Mikey would have already been doing time but his uniform covered his crimes. He'd been desk bound for awhile which prevented him from getting behind the wheel of a border patrol vehicle but that didn't stop him from driving his own vehicle to the Hotel's bar.
He was a likable fellow until he got drunk. Actually, he was still a likable fellow, he just got really loose lipped and said ugly truths. He liked to laugh about all the bad things his fellow agents got away with. To him it was all one great big drunken joke. At one point he bragged about how *******that statement was the last thing I ever heard in that bar. I stopped going.
I started crossing the border into Agua Prieta, Sonora. There I discovered a friendly bar, off the beaten path. A woman in her latter middle ages worked there and we became friends that summer. She took care of the younger girls there at the bar/bordello. taking care meant everything from advising the girls on how to conduct themselves, to treating their ailments with the vast array of herbal remedies she'd acquired a knowledge of (No, she wasn't the madam. Though there was one there). I would say she was more of a spiritual healer. She was of Yaqui heritage, as were most of the young ladies who worked there.
A salve made from rattlesnake venom and cannabis buds soaked in alcohol were two remedies she'd offered me for my occasionally sore, construction worker's body. I was familiar with the second treatment. My grandparents had used it all my life.
On most weekend mornings that summer, the first three people inside the bar when it opened would be the head bartender, the head of security and the woman I spoke of. They would be followed by the first customer of the day, yours truly.
One day a girl of about eighteen was sitting with the older woman when I arrived. She was singing for the lady. Yaqui songs, beautiful ancient Yaqui songs. When I got there the older woman told me she was singing about flowers in the spring. It was an engaging tune that touched different parts of my heart simultaneously. I didn't understand a single word but it still made me want to smile and cry at the same time. It's not as easy as it sounds.
As for seeking Cochise spirit? That I discovered over the course of the summer. You see, there is a highway in southeastern Arizona that passes along a place called Cochise Point, I think it's called. If you pass it during the heat of the day or the dark of night it's impressive. But if you are there during the moments of dawn or dusk. And if you park your car and gaze out upon the land below. You will forget about the speed of the rat race and slide into tune with the pace of the Creator. You will feel like you are moving along the earth's timetable. The light defeats the dark in the morning, vice-versa in the evening and you glide with it. When you can follow the shadows with your heartbeat you know you're there. It's the most wonderful feeling of being in sync with how it was meant to be. I'm so glad I found this place at an age where a glass of wine is all I need and not the chemical cocktails of my youth. I don't think I would have 'got it' back then. When the lightning studded monsoons would lash down upon that area you would swear the Creator was commanding your attention.
Now I know why Cochise fought so hard to stay there. If it had been my birthplace I would have done the same. It is a beautiful, though much troubled land.
COFFEE'S READY, GOTTA GO!!!