Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Difference Between Day and Night

It was a bit discomforting when they asked me if I would be willing to work in Reynosa on Friday. I thought about it for a moment and then said I could do it but only if I took the bus. I jokingly asked them to send me a helmet and bullet proof vest. They laughed on the other end of the line in Mexico City as they have little to no idea of what I was talking about. It seems as if "parts" of the country are in siege and the rest of the republic is at peace and preparing for Christmas. One other misleading fact that I would like to clear up is that the drug war is not about the general population, it is between cartels themselves and the cartels and the military. What you have seen in places such as Mier where the city was temporarily left abandoned, was not because the cartels were after the local citizens, they were fighting each other (I won't mention cartel names here) and were using the town as a target range for their activities. Once well rooted, it seems it is hard to get them out. That brings out the new strategy of the military; to get there before they do. Also, the cartels are now coming up with some sofisticated equipment such as the pope mobile. You can search that one on line if you wish.

So here I am contemplating what I had agreed to do and decided things would be okay. A day passed and it got even better when I made the decision I would drive myself. Afterall, it is a toll highway, Christmas season and the fact that they have beefed up patrols. Thursday rolls around and my the publisher's rep from Monterrey rings me up and makes me an offer. "Why don't I take you, we can visit another university while we are there and then we can justify spending the night?". I was wondering why I would want to spend the night to just turn around and come back home when she said, "Then, we can go shopping in McAllen". Ah yes, being a Regiomontano we love to "McAllear" as we say. Go shopping in McAllen. "Alright, I'm game". I mean afterall, I am in the market for a new laptop or netbook as my laptop is now in two operable pieces.

The drive there was peaceful enough and we didn't even give it a thought. The subject of the drug war came up as it is now "pan del día". That conversation didn't last long either and before we knew it we were making our shopping lists and a list of stores we wanted to visit. Cars passed us at about 160 kph, and we tooled along at 120. We stopped for a potty break, a coffee and arrived in Reynosa before we knew it. The city is changing so much. The construction boom has hit the border and there is an infusion of monies for public works projects to improve the image of the city. New gated communities going up, commercial centers and so on. We stopped at Applebees (I would have preferred tacos on the street but the company needs a factura which they would never have) and we had a pretty commercial, lousy, plastic picture perfect meal.

On to the school and traffic is at its normal hum, oh the smell of diesel in border cities. They really know how to follow that American dream with all that old beat up shit the U.S. does everything in their power to unload on other countries. Yes, the U.S. mandates upgrading school buses every few years only so that they can be tossed across the border to be used for city buses in Reynosa. I guess that imaginary line in the sky keeps the belching diesel out of the skies of McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley.

As we pulled up to the university students were coming and going as this last week was make up exams. The place was the hub of hustle and bustle at an academic level. I met with a group of ten teachers and we started the presentation. I hope they adopt our new book it is a real winner. Competence based bringing back old-fashioned values, civics and ethics.

We dropped by another school to drop off some materials, greeted the coordinator who was too busy to talk as she was in a rush to deliver grades to the dean. Some very big campuses exist in Reynosa even though most of these people could study in McAllen they prefer to stay on their own turf.

The rest is history as we crossed into that never neverland of consumerism. Boy can Americans shop. How much crap can you buy? We went to ToysRUs, BabysRUs (that made me laugh as half the people have them without planning and then they make a store to comfort you by buying things to make the kid comfortable and happy), Walmart, not once but three times, Academy, Sports Something or Other, and on and on into ad nauseum. We crossed the border twice, once on Friday afternoon and then again on Saturday.

The gist of this story (and people say I talk to much) is that when we crossed into Reynosa Friday night, it was almost midnight. The bright lights of the border bridge and the aduana, the Mexican military checking vehicles only to pull into Reynosa to find it a ghost town. The difference from day to night was amazing. It was so spooky I tried to convince my friend to run the red lights instead of just sitting there. Cars kept their distance, there was definitely a sense of fear running between the drivers on the road. No pedestrians to be found. We traveled almost to the exit of Reynosa as we stayed in the new hotel zone. The hotels were booked with holiday shoppers but it was lights out when we arrived. Pitch dark. I guess we have surrendered in some way to the criminal element. Reynosa is a border town. The descriptive says it all, "border town". Reynosa, for fear of the cartels and their activities, have chased away the tradition of the weekend "rol" or cruising that has been done by teenagers from the RGV and Reynosa for decades. Taco stands were full of weekend drinkers filling their gut to absorb some of that wonderful Mexican tequila and the plazas were once full of families out to buy those sticky red candied apples where you only eat the candy part because you know the apple is rotten, cotton candy, balloons and just a lot of Mexican noise that had been enjoyed by all. However, rats only travel at night, and they have eaten through the fabric of this city doing what they do best; terrorism.

I have always believed the way to win the battle you must face them head on. By that I mean take to the streets at night and carry on with our daily activities and routines. Form neighborhood watch groups and have weekly "know your neighbor" get togethers. Fear nothing, stand up to them without aggression.

It now appears, at least in some parts of Mexico, we are following in the footsteps of the U.S. Don't get to know your neighbor, stay inside the house playing video games, bury your head in the sand and just hope that someday things will get better. Oh the humanity.


  1. Well written Chris...I think you hit it on the head with your prospective and I safe best wishes Les

  2. Great commentary Chris. Glad to see you had a good time despite it all.