by Jeff Turner
This piece is from Mr. Turner's upcoming book "Notes To Stephanie: Days Remembered". His web site is www.ilypants.net.
Laredo, Texas seemed to be your favorite place on earth. For most of your adult years you visited it and the border town, Nuevo Laredo (New Laredo), across the Rio Grande. You were enthralled with the city and its Mexican sister. However, I was not so enthralled with it but I went there with you because you liked the atmosphere.
Preferring the American way of doing things, comfortable was not something I felt across the river and certainly did not enjoy being over there. You were bilingual and certainly were able to communicate there. But you, too, were wary of possible miscreants around us.
But what really made me think about never going there again was the day the Ejercito Mexicana lined the main street. Do you remember me asking the soldier in my bad Spanish if he was regular army or not? He said he was, as he had his assault rifle slung over his shoulder. The Mexican Army was there, with Hummers and “Deuce and a Half’s”, as a result of the drug cartel wars. Murder and mayhem had spilled into the streets of Nuevo Laredo. The Mexican government brought in their Army and Federal Police, the Federales, to calm down the situation. Gunfire, or the threat of it, is bad for tourism. Regardless of the effects, if Mexicans wanted business on the mercado, light infantry forces on Main Street was not a good thing for “Norte Americanos” to see.
As we wandered through the streets shopping, do you remember looking at the US Army OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter hovering on the US side with its front pointed to the Mexican side? That was not some helo that just flew around, but was the type with a “spy ball” on top of the rotor with targeting lasers that would have been used to paint a vehicle so it could be blasted by some guided munitions like a 155MM Copperhead artillery round or Hellfire missile. It seemed the US was sending an unofficial message to the folks on the Mexican side by its presence. Their military knew what was hovering across the river, don’t think they didn’t.
The whole situation that day did not make me feel like returning there for another visit. You did not think it was that major especially since your family friend, Dr. Rubio, told us it was not that big of a deal. Well regardless of what the good and respected doctor said, having military on the streets to help police a town was not a good thing. And don’t forget the “Federales”, in their grey uniforms, were riding around in black pickups with their military grade rifles visible.
In short, there were some interesting and good things about Laredo and even Nuevo Laredo but I never felt at ease when we were across the river. Certainly that shows that a place can be interesting and even beautiful to one person but the complete opposite to someone else. This proves the old saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Indeed the Laredo/Nuevo Laredo area, called El Dos Laredos by some there, was a place that you thought had beauty and art. You saw this in its streets, neighborhoods, and people. Even the poverty and squalor on the Mexican side had some intrinsic quality that appealed to you. I, of course, had mostly the opposite view, even though Laredo, Texas itself is not a bad place to visit.
I guess that told the story of who we both were didn’t it? You saw one thing in a place and I saw something totally different. You saw something positive in the decay and poverty and I saw the squalor itself without some redeeming, artistic quality. In other words, you saw a rainbow and I saw the black and white.
This dichotomy also confirms another old saying. The one that says it takes all kinds of people to make the world go around. And so it does and so it was with us on the streets of Laredo that spring day.