El Paso II

The Franklin mountains: sandy, treeless, last gasp of the Rockies. They point directly towards downtown El Paso, driving south like the prow of a ship, cleaving the huge city in two—80% of the population on one side, 80% of the money on the other, the owner of a cheesesteak restaurant says. But it seems more like the money is in the mountains, not in the form of some exotic ore, but incarnated as hundreds of mansions. They perch on ridges overlooking downtown, their faux-Ionian columns and swamp-green lawns barking idiotically for attention over the blasted silence of the desert hills. Perhaps this is where Helen of Troy executives live. Perhaps they stare out at Ciudad Juarez—which looks so peaceful from 1,000 feet—and meditate on new product lines. "We call this one Harmony because of the way it brings together so many fragrances..."

Across the street from the chateaus, a stretch limousine has stopped at a scenic pull-off area. The rear window is down and hip-hop fills the air. Someone is getting capped or fucked or stepped-to when the back door opens and, like water from a hydrant, a mob of teenage boys explodes from the car and fans out across the sidewalk. They are wearing suits that look expensive but fit their gangly bodies with less grace than the polyester aura that enshrouded David Byrne in Stop Making Sense. They are badasses, gangsters, future celebrities and, from one of the safest cities in America, they, too, stare out at Juarez. What do they see?

Few people have the guts to admit what the man from Juarez admits. The hardest decision in his life was marrying his girlfriend after he got her pregnant. He was in school at the time but had to drop out to support her and their new baby. He wanted to be an engineer. He is a cook. He talks about the centrality of money to his life now, the endless worries about supporting other people. He has been able to do it and he is proud of his accomplishment, proud that his son is forging through school himself. But he knows that he, personally, is stuck. The career isn't getting any more glamorous, an opportunity was missed.

Would he make the same choices again? Have the rewards of family compensated him for sacrificing his personal ambition?



Given a second chance, he'd be rid of them.