Wednesday, May 23, 2007

coming to in texas

I had stored up a good opening line but the sun has come out again, ruining it. It had been this: “earlier I slept through intense rain and sun, but now they have both faded to grey, leaving us on a long cloudy road into night, with Houston at its end.” Those clouds had me convinced.

Today has been a blur, crossing the border – not enough sleep during the night, wedged in next to a mother headed for Houston and trying to keep warm in the 16 degree celsius refrigeration that caused drops of water to form on the metal panels overhead, and drip down on the shirts draped over my head or my body. It has been a blur of eyes drooping shut or blinking open only to fade off again. My plan to take the slow way across the border, by local bus through Matamoros and walking across, wilted when I stepped out of the station into the heat and saw how much it was Americanized by the car – no sign of a downtown, a spread out city that gives one no clues about where to go. I said farewell to Mexican cuisine with an early lunch of tacos and gorditas. The corn tortillas, fresh pressed, were maybe the best I had had in Mexico – a bit thicker, but so soft and hot and fragrant. With egg and green salsa they were incredible. I ordered a strawberry and pineapple milk next door.

There was border crossing and repeated checks by the INS. One border guard didn’t like the fact I had stepped off the bus while waiting so pretended to need to check my passport which had already been checked, holding up the bus. The INS men got on the bus in Brownsville, and then we stopped at a checkpoint on the highway just as I had gone into a toilet to take a shit. Awkward indeed. Once I got into Brownsville on the cross-border Greyhound I decided to change my departure to right away – 1:30 – rather than wait half asleep in the little station until 4:15. I will still have 2 and a half hours in Houston, but I am awake now, so it will be bearable. All the things I had planned on doing on the bus from Veracruz went undone, mostly from being confined – to reach down and pull things out would have been too much of a hassle, and reading a newspaper, with dictionary, requires elbow room.

There was that blessed couple of hours right at the start when our bus rolled through mostly unpeopled land along the coast, with picturesquely shaped little mountains and many trees and river mouths visited by white birds. Then later our 2003 bus bumped and swayed down 1943 roads, provoking alarmed wisecracks from people in the rear. I enjoyed watching the 4 kids travelling with the mother, cousins – they felt some affinity for me by having grown up in the US and getting ready to return and be American again, and were very kind, offering me popcorn or soda or just smiling at me as the young girl with the thick braid of hair did. I liked watching the older girl put her arms around her as she lay across her lap and they looked out at scenery; or the way the younger boy shoved and jabbed at me and tried laying his head on my unyielding shoulder, unaware in his sleep that he was no longer sleeping next to his older cousin.

In the mini mart we stopped at back in Refugio (where I finally came to) I searched for any snack that was not pumped to the maximum with sugars, fats, salts, and marketing – the sure strategy of industrial snacks for market share – but found very few chinks in the corporate armor. “Choice” my ass! Of 6,000 items on the shelves of that store, 5,996 of them were produced by huge corporations all using the same tiresome marketing and production strategies to animate, through “lively” packaging and obscene quantities of sugars and chemicals, essentially dull but calorie-packed foods. It is an assault on the senses, both visually and taste-wise. I did manage to find a nut candy made in Mexico which did not taste like factory, and was not Gen-X packaged with fake youth lingo like “Extreme” this or “Makes you happy” that. “Pecan candy,” was all it read, and was tied with a ribbon. How refreshing, this understatement. Lots of calories, true, but not an assault on my intelligence or on my tastebuds. If it had been made in this country it would have been:

“Giant Pecan Slamm” with “crunchy pecans embedded in luscious milk nougat, all wrapped in a creamy layer of bla bla bla, and sprinkled with a taste bud-rockin’ blend of bla bla bla.” If Mexico and Mexicans strike one as humble and understated compared to people this side of the border, the predatory marketing culture would bear some of the explanation.

The whole marketing of “Texas” itself seems a caricature of American corporate marketing strategy – everything is bigger in Texas, Don’t mess with Texas, Only Texans Get It (on a billboard for a Texas beer, with an outline of the state on its label);
whoever said
doesn’t matter
(this on a t-shirt on a guy at the mini mart), or the line in the Texas = Man = Baseball = America movie on the bus last night, “I’m a Texas woman, so I don’t need no man to order my life” (which she said to convince the man to let her sacrifice her life so he could have a shot in the “Big Leagues”), the billboards for 72 oz. Steaks at Texas so and so Steakhouse. There is an obsessive reiteration of the myth of greater masculinity here (which rubs off on women, too), the myth that gathers anything and everything to it: oil drilling, Texas slang (denoting “older values” and “real man”), meat eating, sports, beer, cows, big cars (the Suburban), etc etc. If the whole crock of shit were not so neurotically repeated it might be bearable, or half believable. As it is, the only things big about Texas objectively are geographic size, waist lines, and profligate wastage of resources. These things are supposed to indicate manliness. Beats me why. Guess I am too “Eastern” to understand, or not man enough. I guess its just a Texas Thang, I would not understand.

This is not to impugn Texas as a whole – first of all, there is no such whole to which all Texans belong beyond the name itself. It is only to say that the complex local realities are all to some extent over-spread with the same viscous goo of pseudonationalism in marketer’s disguise.

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