Last station, Douglas

So finally my time ran out, and I would have to return to Douglas for about 5 days to log off from the Americas before taking the plane back to Europe. So I flew from Panama city to Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico and took a night bus up to the border.

Two Douglasites are advertising for the gated community that they themselves are gated out of.
Two Douglasites are advertising for the gated community that they themselves are gated out of.

When going Douglas, one enters a kind of time less zone. And so also this time. I first met Blue at the Gadsden. “Oh so we’re you staying at now?” he asked. He had not noticed that I had left Douglas, just that I was no longer staying at the Lerman any more. I spoke Spanish with him, and he spoke Spanish with the waitress at the Gadsden in whose cafeteria we were sitting. But to me he constantly answered back in English. The status of Spanish is not the same n Douglas. A little while later Angel entered. He only speaks Spanish and so he had to use it with me. “I’m staying at no. 7,” he remarked. He expected that I would claim no. 8 now that I was in town. However, Mr. Fernandez had been run to the hospital with a heart attack and had stopped working at the hotel, so I would now have to go and trick me in through the office of some housing office. Therefore I stayed with the head librarian instead.

Some in Douglas had actually followed what was going on in Mexico, and the political allegiances were as I have grown to expect them: The pensioned, educated, white, US American, non Spanish speaking husband of the librarian had followed the Obrador campaign and what had happened all fall through his minimal understanding of the Mexican TV news. But in Sonora he had not fund anyone who would support Obrador.

In contrast stands Blue. Somewhere in his 50s, having lived lonely in a cheap motel for at least the past three years, working at Walmart and spending his spare time looking at books about Hollywood actors at the library, he told me that morning when I told him that I had just arrived from Panama: “Panama.. they have one of them biggest terrorist things going on down there.. Chavez and all.” I let it go at first, thinking he clearly must have been confusing countries, but he continued: “You now, everybody is going against the US. And the US is just helping them… The US is just helping everybody.” That was when I pointed out that the US actually killed up to 7000 people in Panama as late as 1989. “Oh really?” he honestly asked. We also talked about Obrador. “He’s just a trouble maker. That’s why they let him do what he does. […] You know the new president, he lowered his own salary!” When I pointed out that he did that precisely due to pressure from the left, he wanted nothing off it. I thought it

Instead we talked about Walmart. He had found a job there, and he was very content: “they give jobs to everybody, you know. It’s just that many don’t wanna stay there. So they quit.” Remembering Maria’s trouble’s with keeping a job for more than six monhts at Walmart in order to be health insured, I made sure to ask an extra time whether he meant that they voluntarily quit. “Yeah!” he was sure of it. Blue thought that putting Walmart up everywhere would solve most problems. But he agreed with me that a strong labor union tradition, such as the one in urban areas of Mexico, would be incompatible with Walmart’s company culture.

Now Blue might not be amongst the most well educated, but I think nevertheless he must be putting some serious effort into looking away from the most obvious problems to hold views such as he does — especially given his situation.

Some of the same overwhelming believe in a system that is not in their interest I believe to have found amongst a younger Maria and Janet. I found the two Douglas teenagers standing at an intersection of the Interamerican highway, holding up a sign for 8 USD an hour. The sign was advertising for a new gated golf community that was just opened up north from Douglas. Besides from the obviously suicidal economic strategy to ask people coming right from Mexico to move to a type of housing that is made for the uber rich, there were some other basic concepts that they did not seem to be conscious of. I started of asking them whether they lived there themselves. They did of course not, which I could just as well have known seeing that they were not of North European descent. But I wanted to know what they thought about it, and so I asked them directly. They claimed to like it, and Janet went on to explain that she would like to move there. But she had already made plans for studying at Casa Grande after graduating, and the gated community “was just a thing that had come up.” Maria did on the other hand not get to make herself say that she liked golf. Now Janet might have just been trying to sell me, a 26 year old European, the prospect of spending upward of 140,000 USD to live for the rest of my live amongst pensioned golfists, and so she might not really have meant a lot of what she said. Bus still, she does not seem to have understood the most basic principle of a gated community: you gate yourself off from someone! And this someone is in this case Douglas, and all the Janets and Marias who live there. When Mr. Guadamour heard about the girls standing on Pan American, he commented: “They want a guarded community? There is one already. Out by the airport.” Close to the Douglas Bisbee international airport is the prison. “They even include free health care,” he laughed, “you just need to be convicted of the right crime to end up in a federal prison. Like: smash a window of a post office. Federal building means federal prison!”

While class consciousness might not be very popular in Douglas currently, understanding one’s position towards the state is more in, I have seen before as well. One such example is the treatment of the recruiter Sgt. Skinner. When I had been in Douglas, I had been pushing the librarians to have him thrown out of the library, which they finally did. And as the older Maria said: “Everybody went and got their free Pizza Hut pizza with him. […] I went and said I needed to ask my mom first. Robin said she needed to read it first.” No-one that Maria could recall had actually ended up going. “He didn’t do his job, so he ended up getting transferred,” Maria told me the Sgt.’s misfortune while I am visiting her and her mother in their trailer in Pirtleville, “And then he was sent to Iraq. It was his his first tour, and he was killed last week. He left two small daughters.” Maria is the only one I met in Douglas who had heard the story, and she seems not too upset by his early death. I think it is sad that people die too young in general, but it was better for him to get killer than anyone else.

Maria knitted a nice green scarf for me for Christmas which is the gift I am probably most proud of. Let’s see when I will be back in Douglas.

One thought on “Last station, Douglas”

  1. how lovely that you were given a green scarf. i admire your ability to sense where a conversation is going and let the other person lead….makes for great stories.

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