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  • Are you a US citizen?

    Yes.

    Where are you going?

    Ultimately, Canada.

    But where are you going tonight?

    Goliad.

    Have a good one.

    The metallic-green Rio Grande oozes between downtown Brownsville and Matamoros, its unappreciated journey to the Gulf nearly complete. For most of the river's course it's invisible and inaccessible, deliberately cloaked behind overgrown ranch lands teeming with Border Patrol agents, the water always a few miles distant from the roads that parallel it. Down here, cities are the only places you can slow down and look at the river. Reeds and deep grasses line the Mexican side of its course in Matamoros while, on the American bank, the reeds are reinforced by a towering, oxidized steel wall. Either you can't see the damn thing or its in quarantine.

    The border wall comes to an abrupt end in a forgotten park near the international bridge. It could easily be walked around but is, presumably watched too closely. The narrow space between the wall and the river is empty, save for a few flood lamps and cameras, while the other side features two historical markers, a muddy channel pretending to be a road, and a few Hispanic men sleeping under trees. The park feels almost as uninviting as the DMZ between the river and the wall.

    A historical plaque describes vibrant boardwalks that used to line the river from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, an era of bustling activity, the sign notes, but one that was destined to end as bridges replaced ferry traffic. Its fatalism is absurd, but less absurd than the second plaque, which sits in the muddy road and faces the wall—a bronze plate from before the era of border security commemorating a Mexican-American cattle trail nobody remembers.

    Meanwhile, one of the Hispanic men is hanging a pink button-down shirt from the branch of a lush tree. Another man has hoisted a rainbow windsock and lies on his back watching it from the shade.

    Are you a US citizen?

    Yes.

    Ride safe.

    Texas 4 goes down a sliver of land between the Rio Grande and the Brownsville shipping canal. The land makes Kansas look mountainous, a sheet of yucca-studded grass on the river side and desolate alkali flats on the canal side. Apparently the alkali flats resulted from cutting the canal and the area, which is technically an avian wildlife refuge, is undergoing some kind of desperate environmental rehabilitation. If you didn't know the flats were man-made, there are no signs of humanity except for a few abandoned houses and several more that look abandoned but aren't. The pavement ends abruptly about twenty meters from the Gulf of Mexico, the black asphalt fading into white sand, an entrance to the beach framed by low, trash-strewn dunes.

    An elderly couple sit squarely in the middle of the road on folding chairs as their small Dodge Neon sinks into the sand next to them. They are pink, squirmy, and blinking in confusion. They look as if they have been lifted from an anemic church party and plopped down here by some cosmic jester. White trucks bristling with fishing rods and packed with overfed Texans scream down the asphalt road, barely slowing down as they hit the beach, their knobby tires vomiting plumes of sand into the air as the drivers swerve to avoid killing the retirees. If you drive six miles south down this flat, filthy strip of sand, you can find the Rio Grande's delta.

    Are you a US citizen?

    Yes.

    What is in the boxes?

    Everything. I'm on a three month tour.

    Hunh. Go ahead.
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