The Border Town

Beast

“That’s awesome,” the steely-eyed, bearded bartender announced as we made our way to the counter in the dimly lit bar. There was but one local watering hole near the town of Naco, Arizona and we’d located it after a tiring week slaving away on our respective internet-based jobs. The Beast Brewing Company was situated in the back corner of a square parking lot in a shopping mall; the only other open business at 6:00 that evening was the laundromat next door where surly locals sucked cigarettes while waiting for their permanent press to dry.

“I’m sorry?” I asked, reaching down to pat the head of a silvery brown pit bull eager for affection. I assumed the bartender might have been referencing one of my copious tattoos; this is often how people begin conversing with me about the large amount of ink I’ve obtained over the years. At first, it was peculiar and caught me off guard, but I’d become used to folks randomly saying, “Nice!” or “That’s awesome,” in my general direction without prior provocation.

Awesome

“My dog. His name’s Awesome,” the bartender repeated, sounding only slightly miffed. We smiled and slid onto our stools. Clearly, we had found the place to be for the evening. We happened upon Bisbee and the nearby Naco mostly through word-of-mouth—and an eagerness to escape from the nightmarish RV park where we’d been staying in Tucson. This was roughly our twelfth straight month of traveling, and the horrors of RV park life spanned the gamut from black mold and handfuls of six- or eight-legged creatures invading your privacy in the public bathrooms, to forcibly witnessing other residents’ domestic proclivities in the wee hours of the night. The utterly un-aptly named Miracle RV Park was situated in a less-than-savory part of the city. We were assigned a spot in the front of the park next to the highway where every night sirens whined, drunks and addicts wailed their night songs, gunshots and oversized motors rang out with unceasing frequency. Neither one of us got more than a couple hours of sleep each night. And the bathroom situation in that park was, in a word, bad.

Fence

The park in Naco was decidedly better. Located roughly three blocks from the border of Mexico and the imposing wall-fence that separates our two great nations, we still heard gunshots and coyotes yelling throughout the night. But the bathrooms were spotless and the people there were pleasant and mostly hung out on the adjacent golf course throughout the day, rendering the park itself quite silent. The town of Naco offered virtually nothing in the way of entertainment or convenience; there was no grocery store or gas station within the town limits. There was, however, a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Station and an imposing fleet of vehicles that we saw quite literally everywhere we went. The previous day, we had taken the Walrus hiking in the Coronado National Forest and on the way back down the trail, ran into an agent on foot patrol. We stymied his progress down the sharp and winding mountain path, bombarding him with questions.

Coronado

“They’ve got so many ways to get through,” he told us candidly, referencing the Mexican immigrants who illegally crossed the border in Naco and the surrounding area. We were perched on a treacherous edge of the path. “If they run down something like this, I don’t even bother chasing them.” We gazed downward and understood: one wrong step off the path could mean a broken ankle—or worse. “They have special footwear and can evade the infrared detectors. They know so many tricks. A few years ago, they were coming over in the 100s—no way we could’ve caught them all. Pregnant women, little children.” Coming from a landlocked state nearly 1,000 miles from the Mexican border, we weren’t privy to the situation as the agent reported to us. This was fascinating.

“What’ll it be?” the bartender finished serving a young couple in business attire and came over to where Awesome had posted up in a chair next to us and was languidly hanging out.

“We’ll do a couple of your Sandman pecan porters, please,” Levi told him.

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