5.25.2010

Laredo, TX




Willie's fingers are thicker than rolls of quarters. When he shakes your hand his grasp is so firm that you can feel a bubble of blood pump back up your arm. He is a large man in his early forties with a round, unshaven face and a cammo trucker hat. Willie sits on a folding chair underneath a series of low tents surrounded by his own personal bazaar: bolt cutters, machetes, ammo boxes, a glass display case brimming with old Third Reich medals. This ensemble is plopped down in the parking lot of an abandoned hotel from the 1920s, white Venetian blinds clanking in and out of broken windows in the fecund breeze. "I had to stop to open a gate earlier today," Willie says, "and there were fifty mosquitoes in my truck. Be glad for this wind."

The wind almost blows Willie's tents away, but he pins them down with chunks of an old tire.

A hispanic man stops and drops eighty bucks for two car jacks. Willie is making money doing this, somehow. Ten years earlier, he was working a salaried job and feeling frustrated. After a taking the fall for a slacking supervisor, he channeled the spirit of Johnny Paycheck and told his boss to "take this job and shove it." So he went self-employed and married his girlfriend of ten years to get on her K-Mart insurance plan. He has seen okay years and bad years—he had to lay off his son in 2009 which, he says, was hard but not personal. Overall, though, he is happy with his decision. He is making five times his previous income and owns several houses.

If only Texas would follow Arizona's lead and get their prisoners working for the state and turning a profit... that might lower his taxes and then he would be set.