My trip to McAllen, TX
Being in McAllen, Texas, was like bleeding into America from Mexico. There was a degree of order and a faint smell of spring, but I was sick, which left me physically speechless. Trapped in bilingual world, being smart and dumb together. Voiceless irony. The seven hour drive was a welcome mind number. All I needed to do was read, be comfortable and watch the scrubby landscape tumble by.
The first time I crossed Mexico in the seventies, was by bus, without a passport. That time the pre-midnight crossing back to the states was on foot. This year, I have drifted across the Mexican border first by plane, second by plane; third, in my rusted out car; fourth, by plane, and plane again, and this time I was crossing in a taxi.
It was too easy – drifting across the border in the pre-midnight mist. The only hitch was the rather serious and random luggage search by the Federalis. They wanted me to take them seriously as they checked and rechecked the World Strides tag I had forgotten to tear off my backpack after DC. It had only been a matter of a few days. Far too much America.
McAllen is a giant strip mall of mostly fast food, claiming to be siempre natural. What does that mean exactly? I could not help imagining what it was before – a John Wayne movie façade, Main Street, with lazy horses on three feet drowsing in the sun. The swinging doors of the local saloon, the dust, and the drunk sheriff peering out of the jailhouse door. It reminded me of when I was little and I would pretend that puddles were giant lakes or even oceans for some small creatures. Here I was trying to imagine the pre-strip mall environment without much more than black and white success.
I love the United States, but most of all I love New England, which seems to be an oasis. I do not have to look too far beneath its façade to see what is there. I can walk out my back door and easily imagine the Native Americans, pilgrims, and colonists scraping away to make their land viable. I almost do not have to pretend, when I go out tromping in a snowstorm, that there was a before in those woods. Perhaps a tree that I see was once a sapling, perhaps the footprints in the snow are from those creatures whose ancestors tread before them. But in McAllen, where is the before? What happened? What allowed this to happen to McAllen? Still it was so much a part of the United States that I could smell spring in the summer air.
I knew this visit would be discombobulated and somewhat beyond my control. And it was. No one made an appointment for us at the consulate, and the wrong paperwork was filled out. So what is another day in McAllen? When I found out that I had a day to kill, I walked for an hour to try and find something. When I realized that there was nothing to find, I found it back at the hotel by the pool. It is so rare that I allow myself to relax.
After making an appointment, filling out the right paperwork and passing about five hours in the embassy, we were holding our unofficial work visas. We needed a stamp, a 30 day tourist visa and a trip to immigration in Tampico.
So what did I learn? Always hand in your visa when you cross the border because if you don’t, it is a 25 dollar fine. Do not assume that someone in the home office knows what she is doing. Always do what you can yourself. When you are in an ugly, tar-covered, strip mall city, do not look so hard for the beauty -- you can find it by the pool when you look up into the sky and see the palm trees rustling in the wind.