Go West Middle-Aged Man

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I spent the last seven weeks driving in North America, the flimsy excuse being “there are two writers’ conferences I want to attend out west a month apart.” After 7600 miles, 19 state borders, three Canadian provinces and more stops than I can hack onto a google map, I arrived in Las Vegas. And during the 130+ hours of wheel time I figured some things out, made some decisions that were confirmed as soon as I opened my car door.

That I’d be staying here for a while.

Though I’ve only been here a few days, in ways it already reminds me of Bangkok, another city with a reputation that isn’t close to the full story. There’s an energy, a need to keep your eyes open and see everything. And there’s a side that only the locals see.

I want to see.

So after checkout from my near-strip hotel, I slid a mile over into a rental that reminds me of the place I had in Krung Thep. There’s even a Seven close-by, though it can’t compete with this:

I can still remember how delicious you are. Nothing comes close here.

I can still remember how delicious you are. Nothing comes close here.

Remembering the Miners of Dawson

Coal mining in the early 20th century was dirty and dangerous and the pay was shitty—as such, most miners were immigrants. Regulation was lax (it was the free market, after all) and efforts to unionize or get better treatment were often met with violence. Illegal deportations, even.

But communities grew up in the mine towns. Sometimes “making a better life for my children” became “he’s following in my footsteps”—the ones who made it to age 14, at least. It seems that was the case in Dawson, NM. In 1913, Phelps Dodge Stag Canyon Mine #2 blew, killing 263 men. In 1923 Mine #1 blew, killing 122—many of them descendants of fathers killed in #2.

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But the company had 8 more mines on site and work continued. That’s not to say they forgot those who died—they got them these lovely grave markers.

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No, it was business that killed Dawson. In 1950, Phelps Dodge was a behemoth conglomerate and turned its attention toward other sources of revenue—if a thought was given for the miners and families of Dawson it wasn’t documented. Phelps Dodge shut down the mines, razed the buildings, and the cemetery is about all that’s left: go down 20 miles of lonely highway and 5 miles of dirt road to find markers planted in the ground, identifying men who died under ground and thousands of miles from home. And their children, who maybe never left this valley before dying the same way. 385 poor men who died making rich men richer.

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It’s not for me to say what it all means. But I thought they should be remembered.

Oh, and a footnote: more than miners were buried at the Dawson Cemetery, but it closed to all new interments in 1950 or soon after.

Except in this case.

Family and community can outlive a city.

Family and community can outlive a city.

Have I taught you nothing?

I use the fakebook mainly for family and friends. I also post most of my travel pics there because I keep meaning to figure out Instagram but if I did everything on my to-do list why would I keep getting up every morning?

In New Mexico I posted the most innocuous picture possible: food. Everyone likes food and anyone who doesn’t sucks, but at least their complaints will be about said food. It’s a safe space. But there’s always One…

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The “be careful” I’ve become used to: we fear that which we can’t control (it’s why planes scare more than cars and sharks scare more than vending machines despite the statistics) and it’s their subconscious attempt to reclaim some.

But watch your back? Do you** think a caravan of illegal people has squeezed through The Wall and is lurking in Las Cruces, waiting to steal my job and initiate me into MS-13?

Did you not learn from my time in Thailand, when, between showing you the incredible street food and gleaming temples of Bangkok, I told you about Buddha’s teachings? That the only guarantees are pain and death, so live every moment you have, surrender fear, and treat others with love? The acts of kindness and sense of fun that Thais embrace and how it fits with their beliefs, along with the times and ways they fall short, showing that they are still human and figuring it out as well?

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You must have been very nervous when I went to Indonesia, where more Muslims live than any other country in the world. And since they all hate us and nothing is more anti-American than a headscarf, surely I would be beheaded. So when instead I encountered nothing but interest, kindness, and hospitality the cognitive dissonance must’ve been working overtime. I told you about the rideshare driver who brought me into his home, fed me, introduced me to his family. Maybe you just prayed to your god, thankful that he kept me safe in the lion’s den. When in a single picture I showed you what Islam is I can imagine the mental gymnastics. Maybe you just ignored it.

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Because it’s only been a year since then and you still think (or think again) that it’s us vs them. So what did you think when I went down to Nogales, the charming border town in Arizona? What about when I crossed over to Nogales Mexico and showed you The Wall that keeps you safe from invasion by The Other?

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I said it seems so arbitrary when you’re here, these lines drawn on paper that we spend uncountable blood and treasure on to maintain. I said it seems wrong that so much of one’s life should be determined by which Nogales you’re born in.

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You say nothing. You see, yet you turn away. I wonder how it is I don’t get through, if there’s some better or different way I can show you. But you believe your God created the Earth, yet you carve it up for your own means. Your Savior told you to welcome strangers, for what you do to them you also do to him, yet you build this ugly fence to keep Him out. And still you want more.

Man, you’re some kind of sinner.

**From here out, “you” isn’t one single person, but anyone who assumes and fears and trusts television rather than going to find out for themselves (or learning from me, of course, because I’m 100% truthful and unbiased). Think of it as the Royal Y’all.

Take the backroads

Yesterday I drove from Seguin to El Paso and while I saw some beautiful countryside it was all about clicking miles. I was trying to make a day. Mentally fatigued and driving down I-10 I booked a cheap hotel online and was too far removed from downtown El Paso to enjoy the city.

As X would say, life is choices, cupcake.

I wanted to enjoy today. And with only 350 miles to Nogales I had some flexibility. I stopped for breakfast in Las Cruces and met a grey-bearded local named Bob who encouraged me to get onto backroads—he even drew me a map on a napkin.

So I did and I’m so glad for it. A defunct mining town, a crazy tourist trap, and some of the most stunning natural beauty I’ve seen since Indonesia that my little phone’s camera can’t do justice. I even almost caught the road runner—good thing I swerved when he ran out into my path.

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It was a good day. Thanks, Bob.