El Paso. Woman in shadow walks down the street in Spanish-speaking neighborhood.

Off to El Paso

I went to El Paso. It was some summer of love and it was hotter than Georgia asphalt in July. But this wasn’t Georgia, it was Texas.

I was afraid my little old Nissan would overheat in the middle of nowhere, but it did not. It made the trip faithfully. Four hours without any air conditioning through the wastelands of New Mexico into the barren yellow corner of Texas right on the border with the country of Mexico. The stark, dry landscape all around me. Mounds of rock dying of thirst and choking on their own dust. The radio crackled in and out as I dodged the vultures and ran over the tarantulas ambling across the roadway. I could hear their splattered guts sizzle on the broiling pavement as I left them behind to die.

I was being swallowed whole by the vastness of the place. The ever-widening expanse of desolation laid down before me and it was as if I was on some mad magic carpet ride through the outlands of the earth. Was this even earth? It all seemed so sci-fi and foreign to me. Not very many other cars and when they did pass it was with a sudden swooooosh of lightning-quick eye contact with some foreigner on their way to holiday farther north in the mountains where it was at least 20 degrees cooler. The sunglasses, the smiles, the slicked-up lips mouthing nonsense to other travelers.

I exhaled smoke and tossed another butt out the window, watched it skid along the roadway in my rear-view mirror, shooting sparks like a firecracker all over the hot asphalt like a crashed motorcycle. I took it slow, didn’t want to push the engine too hard. If she were to break down out here, I would be fucked for sure. She kept on pushing on.

The little gray sedan I bought from a foreigner who went back home. That foreign lesbian chick who used to come sit by my desk and talk incessantly about Norwegian folklore while I was trying to focus. She was intelligent, bright, and witty as I struggled to work and think of enchanting things to say all at the same time. That foreign girl with the endless legs. It was as if all she had were legs. She was so damn tall, unnaturally tall, like a volleyball player from Belarus, and she was constantly ducking to avoid hitting her head on things. She smelled like gingerbread and books. That foreign girl was on the other side of the planet now. I dropped an empty beer can out the window, hearing it go tink tink behind me, and stopped thinking of the foreign girl.

I drove and drove and drove through the beautiful atmosphere thinking that perhaps I had made a wrong turn for I saw no sign of El Paso, no smog cloud, no hazy shapes of buildings on the horizon. Nothing. Nothing at all. From the direction I was coming I was unaware at the time that the city of El Paso lurches up suddenly like an oasis erection in the desert. One minute you are gazing around looking for it and then there it suddenly appears laid out like a hi-tech graph, sprawled across the land like a breathing, pulsing organism teeming with frantic, hot life.

El Paso City LimitsPop. 563,662

The freeway suddenly sucked me in, and I found I had to drive faster just to keep up with these speeding maniacs. The freeway, like the digestive tract of a human body, wound in and out, up and down, over and through the chaotic town like a maddening bowl of spaghetti in motion. It was metal on metal, brick on brick, breath to breath and pillar to pillar.

I came into the downtown district and saw a cluster of tall buildings all huddled together and basking in the burning rays of the sun. I saw the 11-story hotel I was looking for and skillfully pulled onto the exit and down into the belly of town. I turned into the parking lot and killed the engine, letting the car pant and sweat in stationary safety. I crawled out. My clothes were wet and stuck to my body. I grabbed my bag and went inside. It was a decent place decked out in an unauthentic Mexican motif. I heard the chattering of Spanish speaking tourists and hotel workers all around me. The scent of Mexican food wafted throughout the lobby as I made my way to the front desk.

“My name is Anton Chico and I’d like a room with a view for two nights please.”

The clerk had me fill out a little white card with a pencil the size of my pinky.

“Suite?”

“A suite would be nice.”

“Smoking?”

“Yes.”

She tapped in my information into a computer and ran my credit card.

Should I be concerned?

She smiled and handed me a small envelope containing my key card.

“704 sir. Enjoy your stay.”

“If I want to go over to Juarez, will someone take me there?” I asked her.

“Yes, we have a shuttle. Just let us know when you’d like to go over sir. Our driver is very flexible.”


And then I took a momentary dream pill.

“Why do you wash and stow the ashtray, Anton Chico? You know you’re just going to fucking light up again,” I remember saying to myself as I shuffled around my little hut on Galapagos looking for cigarettes that were not there. That’s why I went to Galapagos in the first place. To just sit with the dragons and not smoke. I went crazy sitting there with those dragons. Those damn things could have killed me, but I didn’t care; I was out of my mind with nicotine fits, and hell, I thought dying would be better. Just one vicious bite from those raw-hided bastards and I’d ooze away on the beach. Slumped over like a cadaver who floated in from the sea. Some poor Joe who just got dumped from the deck of a ship because he had typhoid or hepatitis or something bad like that.

So, I just sat there in the sun and sand with the dragons wandering about all around me until some sweaty American scientist studying the place came along and offered me a fat Marlboro, tightly packed and ready to burn. I took it, inhaled deeply, and left the dragons be and went to my hut to jot down some thoughts in a notebook. I think I called it Anton Chico’s Short-lived Island Adventure.


And so there I was in this El Paso hotel room standing out on the balcony leaning far over the rail with a burning cigarette planted firmly in my mouth looking way down at the cement of the parking lot spotted with dirty oil stains. I spit. The spit plummeted down, slid sideways in the wind, and then crashed into the windshield of a black BMW sports car. How easily entertained Anton Chico was then and there. How easily driven to the easily obtained excesses of life.

I looked out at the world around me, slowly running my eyes over the whole of the scene. Right across the busy street below was a large blue building with large, dark windows reflecting the fading sun. Over to my right, stood square and squat office buildings reflecting the shimmering gold of the sun as well and a shabby looking old hotel taller than the one I was in with a big red sign on top that said: HOTEL.

I could see the drip marks from the air conditioners running down the sallow sides of the building. And beyond that, beyond the heart of downtown El Paso splattered over the barren, dusty hills were the shacks of Juarez. The oppressed lived there with their green cards. They were the ones who spilled across the border every day to clean up after all the American filth had taken their great big shits for the day. They worked the work that the too proud Americans were too proud to take. The hotel room cleaners, the janitors, the battering rams, the shit sweepers, the spit lickers, the gut rapists. They did it all for a few dollars just to pour another cup of tortilla soup down the gullets of their brain-damaged children swatting away the flies back home in their beautiful green, tin shacks shimmering in the desolate sun.


Although the stories are loosely connected, you can check out the previous post here: The Chronicles of Anton Chico (Low and High)


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