By Grant McGee: CNJ Columnist
The feds shut down one of our ports of entry with Mexico last week. The place is about six hours from Clovis, the one just south of Columbus in Luna County in southern New Mexico.
They re-opened the crossing after a bit. It was all over a shootout across the border in the Chihuahuan town of Palomas.
The news from Palomas made me a little sad. That town will always be special to me because it’s where I discovered a bit of real Mexican soul.
Palomas isn’t your typical border town. It’s far from any large city; wide-open fields are all you’ll find on the American side. Every other border towns I’d visited, like Laredo, Juarez and Nogales, were hustling, bustling metropolises full of people trying to drag you into their shops.
And the traffic, the noise, the heat … well, none of that stuff is fun.
I figured if Palomas was miles from any big city I might find a bit of the real Mexico there. What did I think was the real Mexico? I didn’t know exactly, but I knew I’d know it when I found it.
Palomas didn’t have any paved streets. It hadn’t rained in a while either, so a haze of dry dust hung over the town on that sunny November afternoon. I had parked my pickup on the town’s main drag and was walking through the dusty haze looking for a bit of real Mexico.
Maybe what I was looking for had to do with something my friend Nadine had said. “In Mexico,” she said, “You experience the absence of the terror of time.”
It made me want to go deep into the Sierra Madre south of the border and stay. Time has always seemed like a bloodhound at my heels.
I looked in the windows of the shops of Palomas. The same touristy stuff — explosively colored ceramic bathroom fixtures, statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe, blue hued glassware, light cotton embroidered clothes and such. Fragrances of chili, grilled meat and frijoles oozed out every time a restaurant door was opened.
I could catch these things in any southwestern border town. Now where was the real Mexico I was looking for?
Then I heard an accordion — real accordion music, each note dancing through the haze, calling me down a dusty side street to a cantina. It had those swinging doors like you’d see in an Old West saloon. I looked into the bar. It was dark and cool inside. The bartender was talking with a guy enjoying a cerveza. Locals were sitting at tables talking and drinking too. And in the corner: a guy with an accordion and another with a guitar, both singing … it was pure Mexican soul.
Maybe these guys wouldn’t get a major recording contract, but I sure liked what I heard.
I was tempted to go in and kick back with a couple of cervezas myself, but I still had to drive back home.
After hanging around the outside of the cantina for a while it was time to go. It was OK though. I was satisfied that I had found what I was looking for.
I’d like to go back someday, but things are a bit darker, a bit more hostile these days along La Frontera. But I know somewhere way south of the border I could find that wonderful music, and once again hear the heartbeat of Old Mexico.
Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: