I was born in Gallup, New Mexico. A coal mining town. A railroad town. The two go hand in hand.
Historically, Gallup was a community of hard working, hard drinking immigrants who lived right next to the huge Navajo Reservation. It was built because of the huge coal reserves there, and named for the paymaster, whose last name was Gallup. People would say "I'm going to Gallup" when it was time to get paid. The name stuck. Bobby Troupe mentioned the town in his famous song, "Route 66". I met Bobby Troupe in a recording studio in Hollywood one time. He came across as kind of a dick, truth be known. Maybe he was having a bad day.
I have ancestors buried in the cemetery in Gallup, in a neatly kept family plot. Most of them arrived in New Mexico in the late eighteen hundreds. The story is that when my great grandfather's first wife died, he sent back to northern Italy for her sister, who he then married. That woman was my great grandmother. I remember her when I was very small, and she was a withered but kind old woman who was living in my grandmother's house in Albuquerque.
My grandfather was mayor of Gallup for awhile. He was instrumental in turning the annual Native American Ceremonial into the big deal it is today. He was also alleged to have shot a political opponent dead in the street. That side of the family didn't like Republicans. Alot. When you enter the state you were born in, these things seem to have relevance.
I stopped in Lordsburg, New Mexico for breakfast. I ate a rather non-descript version of huevos rancheros, in a rather non-descript cafe in a rather non-descript town. Lordsburg is windblown and rustic. You know you're in the Wild West.
When I left the cafe, located across the railroad tracks from Main Street (where the van was parked), a huge tumbleweed rolled down the street, and stopped at the back of the van. New Mexico will welcome you like that... with a bizarre cloud formation, or a raven in a tree, or a rainbow, or something.
One time I was chatting with an elderly Navajo gentleman who was ice fishing on Bluewater Lake, in the northwestern section of the state. He asked me where I was from, and I told him I was born in Gallup, but my family had moved to Albuquerque soon thereafter, and then we moved on from there. I had lived in California for a good many years. And he looked at me and said, "but you were born here." He said it as if it had a good deal of importance, and then went back to his ice fishing. Where you enter this physical plane has relevance, I suppose.
After leaving Lordsburg, I stopped in Hachita, near where my family briefly owned a ranch when I was six years old. It was located right in the bootheel of the state, bordered on two sides by Old Mexico. We only lived there one summer, during which the wells collapsed, after which we moved on to southern Colorado.
Hachita is a tiny town that looks half blown away, with all the metal seemingly bent and all the wood weathered and warped. The public playground built for the children years ago is now full of cracks and weeds. Most of the old adobes seem to be crumbling. But the high desert around there is stunningly and eternally beautiful, all muted blues and yellows and greens and earthtones, with endless sky and purple mountains in the distance.
The only people I saw seemed to work for the U.S. Border Patrol.
I pushed on toward Texas, still on the front edge of the storm looming behind me. When I finally crossed the Texas line, it was sunny, almost hot, with a brownish haze hovering on the horizon. I stopped at the tourist welcoming station, and picked up some maps and brochures and such. And a sticker that said "Don't Mess With Texas".
An interesting thing about driving through El Paso on Interstate 10 is that for a while it runs right along the Rio Grande, which is the border between the United States and Mexico. So you can see the city of Juarez, which is very much in the third world, butting right up against the city of El Paso, which isn't. The only thing separating the two is the Rio Grande, which looks like nothing but a drainage ditch at that point. It's an odd juxtaposition.... the narrow dirt streets and brightly hued hovels of Mexico, and the more somber toned yet substantial houses of America.
Do you ever do things that you know are stupid, but you do them anyway? A friend of mine, whose house I often stay at in Houston, is a cancer survivor. He doesn't drink alcohol. But he does smoke medicinal marijuana. Which of course is illegal in Texas.
So I thought that in lieu of bringing him a bottle of wine as a sign of my appreciation for his hospitality, I would bring him a small amount of the nefarious herb. Like a gram or so. It's easy to find in Los Angeles... matter of fact, it's kinda hard to avoid. Personally, I can take it or leave it. But I had stuck this very small token of gratitude in the back amongst my gear.
Just east of El Paso is a checkpoint, manned by Border Patrol agents in green uniforms.
I slowed down and stopped. The young Hispanic man asked where I was going. I told him Houston. He looked suspiciously in the back and asked what all the equipment was for. I told him I was a musician. He told me to pull over to the far right.
Turns out they have dogs at this particular checkpoint. Dogs who apparently have incredibly sensitive noses. They can smell the slightest whiff of something potentially illegal from outside the vehicle. Who knew?
I was told to get out of the vehicle, and stood by the side of the road, with now two young Hispanic men, who were actually quite chatty. We spoke of music, travels, etc. They told me the dog had smelled something in the car. I wasn't carrying illegal aliens or narcotics, was I? Well, of course not, I replied cheerily. Well alright then, you've got nothing to worry about. Blah blah blah.
Meanwhile, two other Border Patrol agents are opening my van, and a giant German Shepherd is being turned loose inside it. He's a happy soul, bounding about, sniffing and wagging his tail. Of course, he goes right to where the contraband is. My stomach isn't feelin' that great.
One of the Border Patrol agents in the van yells "pat him down!" My formerly conversant friends now tell me to spread my legs, put my hands on top of my head and bend over. They empty my pockets, feel my crotch, etc. They find nothing of particular interest to them. The jeans I'm wearing that are the "relaxed fit" are sliding toward my knees. I'm not having a really good day, standing there being frisked, with my pants drooping toward my knees.
I'm thinking how I'm going to tell my wife about this. I'm mulling over the phone call in my mind. "Honey, I know this was really stupid, but...". I can't seem to quite come up with the right phraseology. I'm working on it, though. I'm going to jail and I know it. This is gonna cost a bundle. I am, in a word, screwed.
The Border Patrol crew finishes its federally funded search of the van. They close it back up. The young man who I first talked to looks at me, smiles, and says "you're free to go." I look at him, sure I misunderstood, and say "excuse me?" He says "you're free to go." I run toward the van, holding my sagging pants up, before they change their minds.
I get in, and jokingly say "I got this 'Don't Mess With Texas' sticker at the border... do you think it will help if I put it on the rear window?"
My young friend laughs and says, "it won't hurt, sir."
I book out of there as fast as one can in an '83 Toyota van. I'm a bit shaken. I review what just happened. I stop for gas at the first station I see. Did they just miss the pot? Did they leave it and let me go? I open the back of the van and look. The herb is, of course, gone. I realize I've been mugged at the border. Nothing more, nothing less. It could be worse. I could be in jail, waiting to face a hanging judge. I find out later from a reliable source that what they do is confiscate the pot, and then arrest you for any paraphenalia they find. Then you get fined for possession of paraphenelia. And they, one supposes, either sell or smoke the pot.
I fill the tank and drive on. I've officially crossed from a state whose motto is "Land of Enchantment" into one whose motto is "Don't Mess With Texas".