Selected for inclusion in Best American Travel Writing 2013
The year I didn’t walk 1,900 miles along the US-Mexico border, I purchased a detail map of the border states and Northern Mexico at the Circle K in McAllen. In my mind’s eye, the Pacific Ocean glistened crystalline blue when I finally arrived in Tijuana along Monument Road, sun-cracked and solitude-wizened.
I debated whether to travel with a dog or a donkey. I liked the image of the latter better, for the sake of the book jacket, but there were logistical problems. How does one transport a pack animal across a transnational frontier?
I quit my job at the International Museum of Art and Science (slogan: at IMAS, hay más), an eclectic amalgamation of amateurish rock and insect collections and Mexican folk art bequeathed by civic-minded Oaxacan tourists. Like me, the museum couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to be about, or perhaps was convinced that it could be more than one thing at a time.
Two camps: those who thought I was crazy, and those who wanted to know the details of my route, which I preferred to leave to chance or my imagination. In either case, everyone wanted to know: Why was I walking?
The year I didn’t walk 1,900 miles along the US-Mexico border, the truth was that everyone seemed to be doing something with their year, then writing about it. There was the man who lived without electricity in Brooklyn, the woman who didn’t take out the trash, the two separate guys—one a believer and one an agnostic—who lived like Jesus would.
The truth was that I dreamed of writing a travelogue that would forever alter the dynamic of the American conversation about immigration and the border. I wanted a conversation piece for life, something to bust out at parties when, as usual, I couldn’t for the life of me think of something halfway intelligent to say. More than that, I wanted a story to tell myself about my life, one with a page-turning plot and a clear beginning, middle, and end.
The truth was, why not? I was already there, my girlfriend Laura and I having been deployed at the same time as the US National Guard as part of a teaching corps that, ironically, favored a military lexicon. She had quickly become a star educator; I had even more quickly become a devastated dropout with half-hearted suicidal impulses and a dead-end job at a dead-end museum. Her previous boyfriend had moved on from her to Harvard, and the recurring thought haunted me: Was I her rebound? His unaccomplished, ham-fisted doppelganger?
The truth was that I’d thought up the idea and told the first person I saw, in the hopes that my public declaration of intent would shame me into doing something significant with my life.