Interstate 40 thru the northern panhandle of texas and on
into New Mexico is a desolate, wide open, hot and windy land with trees as
infrequent as buildings. Cows abound and some antelope, horses and even cowboys
on horses rounding up those cows.
It is an unforgiving land here that I normally love. The horizon
stretches so far there's no end, the sky is so humongous and beautiful and limitless, the ruggedness
inspiring wild and inspiring.
Today, about 10 miles from the border, I see what looks
like a man walking on the shoulder towards traffic on my side of the freeway, much too close to
the sparse but speeding traffic. I look around for a stalled car but can’t see
one. My first thought is wondering why he isn’t walking on the other side of
the median and the nearly empty 2 lane frontage road, even less traveled.
I don’t stop when I see him but I do stop after I cross
the border into New Mexico at the Welcome Center. I have to pump veggie oil
into my main tank, download another audio book, rest and see if I can invite
any tRumpers to talk with me.
Instead, I see this young man, hobbling around the
reddish beige walls of the center. He is white but severely sunburned on his
arms, face, neck – any part of his white skin that’s been exposed to the harsh
sun and wind.
His arms are bright red and peeling in huge sheets of damaged
skin. He pulls back the short sleeve of his t-shirt to reveal death-white skin of his upper arms and shoulder. His bottom lip has two black gashes where the soft tissue has gaped and then
filled with blood.
It hurts to look at him.
His feet are swollen and bare, toes bent and huge as if
he’s a 90 year old man with severe arthritis, dried blood mingled with dirt peeking out beneath the strings from frayed cuffs of his baggy jeans. He has a small backpack that looks almost new
hanging off his shoulders and some kind of faded grey-green paisley material looped from the straps,
hanging to the backs of his knees.
His arms are folded tightly over his chest as he asks me
for a cigarette. I ask him if he’s okay as he nods, his eyes meeting mine for the first time, frightfully searching my face. I tell him he doesn’t look
He stares quickly over my right shoulder, confides that he’s lived
the worse life ever, the most horrible things have happened to him, and my
first thought is a condescending one as I think of the Syrians murdered today by u.s. drones, challenging him in my mind, as Somalia and Afghanistan and the Black men on death row in Arkansas flash thru my mind, and then, the gashes on his lips begin to ooze blood & puss as he says he has had to endure things no
human should have to endure.
And I believe he must have had horrific things happen to him and tell him how sorry I am. I ask him
if I can do anything for him. He wants me to read something, this book he has written, that has taken him 13 years to write, and as he repeats the 13, 13, 13, I think about the documentary "13". He rattles on, incomprehensible to me about this vitally important work and where I can find it on the internet.
He's written a book and it has taken so long and so much out of him, and he thinks I need to read it. I nod, not exactly agreeing, but my concerned about his mental health increasing, as well as his physical well-being.
He peers at my license plate and he tells me he wants a ride to California - that I won’t
He tells me the Texas police picked him up in Texas and
brought him here over the border and I realize he's the same person I saw walking east (not towards California) along side the freeway. I know if he was Black, the police probably would have taken him to jail or worse. Convenient for the police to deposit him on the other side of the border, eliminating Texan responsibility and dumping him onto New Mexico.
I go inside the center and ask the womyn there to call
someone to help him. They tell me there is no one. I ask in the whole state of
I start looking on the internet, make a few phone calls –
I try the religious people and social services. There are no homeless shelters
in Tucumcari, which we are about 40 miles from. The religious people I got a hold
of said they were closed today. Social services had no phone number but a web
site where the links didn’t work.
I consider asking truckers who are idling on the truck side of the lot if they can give him a lift. I see him approaching people, some stopping in their tracks to listen or talk to him and I hold my breath hoping they will be the ones, others scurrying away into the clean coolness of the center.
Tourists, mostly white, mostly appearing affluent, mostly from other states, mostly retired couples, mostly not seeing or not caring about helping this tragic fellow, human beings that could in the very least share money if not food or even a little ride.
And I remember in the old days, the people protesting "when did I not feed you, or give you clothes, or shelter?" and I'm so glad I'm not a christian.
This young man will probably end up in jail or dead or definitely suffering more. And he's a white guy and doesn't even have racism to deal with on top of everything else.