When you kayak alone on rivers, you get to do a fair amount of hitch hiking. Luckily, when you’re standing in goofy looking clothes, dripping wet and shivering, people tend to stop. It looked bleak in unpopulated north Alabama, after my run on the Little River, but then a Park Service law enforcement guy took pity on me. I sat shotgun with his shotgun.
Ben Franklin picked me up after my first paddle on the Rio Grande, an eight mile section through Colorado Canyon in Big Bend State Park, upriver from the National Park. Ben Franklin and his wife Debbie. I wasn’t even hitching, just contemplating my impending bicycle shuttle into a headwind, with a seat I’d forgotten to tighten. He pulled,over, offered a ride and I accepted. Debbie gave up the front seat and sat silently in back of me the whole way. Ben was the very epitome of the good ole boy Texan stereotype. Very polite and expansive. I told him about my paddle and he asked if I’d seen any Mexicans. I could tell right away that if I said, “Why, yes, I saw three and shot them dead," he would have been fine with that. It went south quickly with a diatribe worthy of a Minuteman blog quickly building.
“…And none of these politicians will touch it, not even John McCain, who will most-likely be our next president. And Hillary knows she just needs to get these illegals to vote for her and she’s all set.”He’s referring to the Texas primary, just a few days away.
“But illegals can’t vote,”I protest in that gentle way I learned when I first started hitch-hiking.
“BUT THEY DO! How do you think Bill Richardson got elected governor of New Mexico?”I attempt something lame about legal hispanics recognizing the need for a solution, but bristling at the overt racism inherent in much of the anti-immigration voice. He doesn’t buy it.
“I used to feel that way, that compassionate conservative stuff. But I tell you what: it’s like someone breaks into your house, steals everything, cooks you breakfast, then asks to stay.”I don’t really follow the metaphor, but luckily we’ve arrived back at the van.
The next day after my overnight paddle, truly freezing from a temperature drop of 40 degrees, I was picked up
by two more classic Texas characters, Boyd and his wife’s first cousin, Charlie. They threw my boat in the back of the truck and told me stories of canoeing the river as kids and taking mules up to the little villages on the Mexican side. I sunk deep in my seat, lulled by the beautiful heat blowing through the cab and the soft cadence of their thick Texas accents.