Brownsville, TX II

Are you a US citizen?


Where are you going?

Ultimately, Canada.

But where are you going tonight?


Have a good one.

The metallic-green Rio Grande oozes between downtown Brownsville and Matamoros, its unappreciated journey to the Gulf almost complete. For most of the river's course it is invisible and inaccessible, deliberately cloaked behind overgrown ranch lands teeming with Border Patrol agents, the water always a few miles distant from the roads that parallel it. Cities are the only significant places the river is visible. Reeds and deep grasses line the Mexican side of its course in Matamoros while, on the American bank, the reeds have a towering, oxidized steel counterpart. Even when visible, the river remains in quarantine.

The border wall comes to an abrupt end in a forgotten park near the international bridge. It could easily be walked around but is, presumably watched too closely. The narrow space between the wall and the river is empty, save for a few flood lamps and cameras, while the other side features two historical markers, a muddy channel of a road, and a few Hispanic men sleeping under trees. The park is nearly as lost as the strip of land between the wall and the river. One of the historical plaques describes the vibrant boardwalks that used to line the river from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, an era of considerable traffic, the sign intones, but one that was destined to end as bridges replaced ferry traffic. Its fatalism is absurd, but less absurd than the second plaque, which sits in the muddy channel facing the wall—a bronze plate that preceded the steel wall, a commemoration of a transborder cattle trail at a border nobody wants to visit. Under lush trees, one of the Hispanic men is hanging a pink button-down shirt from a branch. Another man has tethered a rainbow-colored windsock to a tree and lies on his back, watching it from the shade.

Are you a US citizen?


Ride safe.

Texas route 4 goes down a thin strip of land between the Rio Grande and the Brownsville shipping canal. The land makes Kansas look mountainous, a sheet of yucca-studded grass on the river side and alkali flats on the canal side. Apparently the alkali flats resulted from cutting the canal and the area—nominally an avian wildlife refuge—is currently undergoing some form of mysterious environmental rehabilitation. There is nothing out there except a few abandoned houses and a few houses that look abandoned but aren't. The pavement ends abruptly about twenty meters from the Gulf of Mexico, the black asphalt hitting white sand, a clean line framed by low, trash-strewn dunes. An elderly couple sit directly in the road's path on folding chairs, their small, black Dodge Neon looking bogged in the sand next to them. They are pink, uncomfortable, blinking in confusion. It is entirely possible that they were sitting in this exact pose at an anemic church party, only to be transported to this desolate beach by some cosmic jester. White trucks bristling with fishing rods and packed with overfed Texans scream down the asphalt road, barely slowing down as they hit the beach, their knobby tires vomiting rooster tails of sand into the air as the drivers scramble to avoid killing the retirees. If you drive six miles south down this flat, filthy strip of sand, you can find the Rio Grande's delta.

Are you a US citizen?


What is in the boxes?

Everything. I'm on a three month tour.

Hunh. Go ahead.