Mar 1st, 2019, 10:28 PM

To the Border

By Katie Zambrano
Street sign on the back roads of Texas. Image credit: Katie Zambrano
Across the Flatlands of Texas to Eagle Pass

The car ride grew bumpier the longer we drove, and as a result I was jolted awake after hitting my head on the backseat window. I reluctantly opened my eyes and to no avail, I saw nothing. Miles and miles of dry and deserted flatlands spread out before me. My tired eyes soon readjusted to the early afternoon light and the radio that was once muffled became loud and clear as I became more awake. I straightened up and desperately tried to roll the crick out of my neck that had formed over the past two hours of napping.

I had always sat in the back of the family car and I always had a perfect view of my father. During this road trip, one that we had taken many times, I studied my father as he had his eyes planted on the road and a steadfast demeanor about him. My mother sat comfortably next to him scrolling through the news on her phone while my brother jammed out to his music next to me while the sound poured out of his headphones. All I could do was moan: “Are we there yet?”

This drive, this journey, was just one of many that I had made growing up as a child. As a Texan native, I am no stranger to the fact that the Lone Star State is one great, big world of its own, metaphorically and literally. It can take days to reach the border of the neighboring state and the hours are consistently endless. Luckily for us, we were not trying to leave the state, we were just trying to get as far south as possible, to the border. Coming from Austin, that would take you almost four hours—three if you ignore the speed limit. As a child, four hours can feel like a lifetime, especially when the landscape that envelopes you appears barren and desolate.

Closed for business. Image credit: Katie Zambrano

As expected, my kid-self grew agitated after being trapped in the car for what felt like an eternity. My mother earnestly promised: “Only one and a half more hours, one if we don’t make anymore stops.” As she delivered this information to me from the front of the car—a prime place in the vehicle, might I add—I fell silent and slid back down the slippery leather-upholstered seat. I turned on the miniaturized, poorly-pixelated television mounted on the back of the headrest and played one of the same seven episodes of The Office that I had seen a hundred times over. I laughed on my usual cues and ignored the purely raw earth that flew past me as the car continued along the dusty road.

After two satisfyingly hilarious episodes, we had reached our destination. We all took a moment and collectively sighed in relief. Eagle Pass, Texas. To the child in me, it was no man’s land. A town that does not receive recognition unless you have some family ties to it. I jumped out of the car the moment my father put in in park and stretched out every inch of my aching body. The rest of my family poured out of the car and my mother began collecting the trash that had accumulated during the ride. My father desperately rubbed his eyes for some relief and my brother leisurely exited the vehicle as if he did not just spend the last four hours crammed in the back seat of our deceivingly large SUV.

A glowing Texas sunset. Image credit: Katie Zambrano

We walked toward the sherbert-colored apartment complex, passing the same older gentleman that was always there, planted firmly on a wooden bench. The automated doors glided opened and I was hit with the arctic chill from the loud air conditioning unit above. We piled into the elevator and rode up to the third floor. We got off and headed down the long, fluorescent-lit corridor. My mother led the pack as she excitingly knocked on the door before her. My grandfather opened up and we were greeted with a warm welcome. A familiar smile was all that I needed to make the long journey worth it.

Time moved much slower in Eagle Pass. Its people embodied a leisurely lifestyle and almost everyone knew one another. This forgotten city has grown since my mother and her siblings once inhabited it. At just barely 30,000 people, Eagle Pass manages to capture an essence like no other. Located just across the southwest of the Rio Grande river, the city finds itself situated on the border of the Mexican town Piedras Negras, Coahuila. A mere 3.5 miles separates two towns that in nature are one, but in reality are worlds apart.

Abandoned building in Piedras Negras. Image credit: Katie Zambrano

On our more eventful trips, my family would pile back into the car and drive those 15 minutes across the border into Mexico. I can vividly remember the rush I would get; entering another country and without my passport no less seemed absurd, but invigorating nonetheless. Once we made it pass the lengthy car line to get into Piedras Negras we would drive straight to the center of town. Some of my fondest memories of my childhood can be traced back to that town’s center. The ageless gazebo that never seemed to decay where my brother and I would play or the pastel-pink paleta shop that seemed to have every flavor known to mankind where we would devour our sticky treats in a matter seconds. All of these beautiful memories remain timeless and all occurring in a place that no one would ever think twice about.

A trip to this seemingly forsaken town did not make sense if we were not there to visit my beloved late grandfather, however those trips have proved to be a imperative part of my identity. Besides crossing the border, Eagle Pass was one of the closest things I had to connect with my roots. A city like this is about the time spent in it with the people you love and cherish, not the activities you partake in or the attractions you visit. Towns like this have nothing but their time to offer, and it is with time that you begin to understand where got to the place you are at now and allow you to connect to a force that is bigger than you believe.