Goliad, TX

The Border Patrol is a bureaucratic placebo, a sugar pill of delusion bought by the American taxpayer. Their last checkpoint stands in a swamp south of Corpus Christi. Cars flow under the dark corrugated ramada with little delay, German shepherds barking at all of them.

Corpus Christi is a city of almost 250,000, but the metro area is larger. Whether or not it died for anyone's sins is hard to determine, but it certainly died, at least at its heart. Downtown is full of potential, a shallow hill commanding a view of the Gulf and Corpus Christi bay. It does not lack for tall buildings, but remarkably few of those buildings show signs of life. Empty concrete lots interrupt blocks of decaying buildings. They look like gigantic pieces of graph paper, their green lines of weeds tracing the seams between concrete slabs.

West of downtown, Citgo refineries are silhouetted against the dirty rays of a setting sun. From a distance, the refineries look like science fiction cities, their thin piping and fiery smokestacks dissembling as gloomy skyscrapers. Up close, they shrink down to messes of silver spaghetti, less dramatic but more ominous. They have obviously been planted on top of old, poor, black neighborhoods. Around the refinery perimeter, whole blocks of houses have been knocked down to form a safety barrier in case of an industrial accident. A few crumpled homes remain, boarded and condemned, surrounded by grass, oaks, and driveways leading nowhere. All of the street lights remain standing, probably because knocking them down would be creepy, even for an oil company.

The sandwich shop is in the gas station and the gas station is in Goliad. The sandwich artist is a gangly teen with a bulbous tomato-shaped head sprouting from narrow shoulders. His green visor is pulled low over his eyes, which accentuates his chipmunk features. His right forearm saws back and forth under his running nose like the bow of a fiddle. There is apparently nowhere else to eat in Goliad on a Friday night and customers line up, clearly intimidating him. He chokes, fumbling with a pair of plastic sanitary gloves for an excruciating thirty seconds as his puffy cheeks flush red. Having secured the gloves, he flails at sandwich fixings, sending lids skittering across the counter, dropping ingredients from one container into the next, and continually obstructing the smooth competent movements of his fellow artist, Christina Ricci circa 1994. He eventually finishes building the first sandwich and, in the act of trying to close and cut it, spills its gooey contents all over the counter. Christina glares at him as he shamelessly rolls the mess into a ball, wraps it in paper, and proceeds to ring up all of the customer's orders on one tab. He will do well in government.