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  • Doc Doug, Bill, Fred, and Fred sit on the porch of the Terlingua Trading post. From the shade, they gaze out across the receding valley. Far in the distance, across the Rio Grande, sawtoothed mountains are veiled in haze. "Fire on the border," Bill mumbles. He spent his morning supplying burritos to the Diablos, an elite group of Mexican wilderness firefighters who are allowed to cross the border with impunity. Bill is retired from the park service—he first met the Diablos seven years earlier—but he is far too energetic to stop working. He still volunteers to coordinate slurry bombers, but today he has been relegated to burrito-duty. Though it has been years since he worked with the Diablos, he still knows most of them and this latest burn has made for an impromptu reunion. Tonight he is going to bring dinner to their campground and, one suspects, they will sit in the superheated desert air and trade semi-fictitious stories over cans of what Doc Doug calls "ice cold medicine."

    The porch does not belong to Doc Doug, but it would be a sad porch without Doc Doug presiding over it. Doc is institution in his own right, sporting a formidable white beard, sweat-stained do-rag, and the sort of cobalt-colored eyes that appear in hackneyed literary descriptions more often than in real life. Having put in his time living in a tent and an old school bus, Doug has earned his stripes as a bona fide desert rat. He's also an urban refugee.

    Three decades ago you could have found the Doc living in Houston, making money in the electronics industry, and generally having a bad time. Frazzled, he decided to quit, unplug, and relax. In a society that is neurotically obsessed with quantification, Doc Doug is a complete failure: he doesn't log 70-hour work weeks, his investment portfolio is a case of beer, and he doesn't attend to his blood pressure. And he doesn't need to—he seems happy and profoundly relaxed, enjoying a state of mental health rarely seen in wage slaves hurrying between offices and suburbs. His alcoholism doesn't seem much worse than his urban counterparts, either. Success has a lot of definitions.

    "Who's really crazy?" he asks.
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