in laredo

After weeks of feeling like Delta had the walls slowly closing in on us once more—we’re vaccinated but of course Wolfi can’t be—it was amazing to get out of the house and roadtrip it down to Laredo for my reading with Carlos Flores. It took a lot of finagling to pull off that kind of freedom of movement, Greg taking Wolfi in the morning and my parents in the evening, for which I’m grateful. Asra was traveling with me, so I put together a playlist for our ride, and we blasted Bad Bunny (boricua trap melancholia) and Lil Nas X (his new gay arrival album–poppier than I expected) and old Calvin Harris (Scottish DJ with a core emotionality that has always stabbed me in the heart). I told Asra about how before Harris was well-known, he couldn’t afford featured artists and so he just sang his own stuff, and he thought that was pretty funny.

Monster trucks, Eurowenches, and wrenching desire : the inimitable Calvin Harris

Forgot to mention at the reading that my grandpa was born in Laredo, that lots of people of his generation who ended up in San Antonio were born there, a generational way station as their families moved al Norte. That there’s always been that connection between our cities. Forgot to circulate my mailing list sign up sheet—half the reason for doing a reading. But I felt like a working writer for the first time, traveling unknown to another town to show my stuff, though between gas and food I think I ended up losing more than I made in book sales. On the first weekend of hurricane season, Ida ominously rolling its way up the Gulf to New Orleans, the heat felt different in Laredo in a way Asra and I couldn’t put our finger on, the sun more intense or the air drier—or wetter? We couldn’t tell. The Phoenix Bookstore was beautiful, an old brick house originally built in 1880 and lovingly restored by the bookstore owner, just a few blocks from where I remember crossing the Puente Internacional with my dad as a kid. Later he told me a story about how when he was a kid his own parents loved to come down to Laredo to shop, returning with bags of Mexican candy, in particular the candied sweet potato my grandpa loved.

At Phoenix I bought Asra a book and we shared an iced mazapan latte—that disc of powdery Mexican peanut candy crumbled into coffee and milk—which was amazing. The reading itself went great. The bookstore was a wonderful host and it was lots of fun to read alongside Carlos, who read from his borderlands satire Sex as a Political Condition and a forthcoming novel called The Pillars of Creation. Tho hard to hear, here’s a livestream of part of the event shot by Margie at The Phoenix.

On the way back to San Antonio we stopped at a thoughtfully designed rest stop in rural La Salle County with nature trails adjacent and admired the wild olive trees and nopales bursting with deep red purple tunas. There I realized that, unlike Greg, I’m no good at the immediacy required to document experience at the same time I’m having it: in addition to forgetting the sign up sheet, I’d only taken one single pic from the whole trip, Asra at The Phoenix reading a book called Hot Pteradactyl Boyfriend. Realizing that, I thought I’d better take another, of the tunas up top, as we walked around the grounds of the rest stop, foraging for some to take back home. Later, looking for dinner, we drove thru Cotulla and Dilley for the first time since we drove through South Texas flyering for Frack-aso, an art show I helped organize a few years ago responding to the fracking boom in the Eagle Ford Shale (which also inspired the rare earth mining plotline in Luz). The last time I was here, during the boom, the main streets were full of shops and diners and hotels. Now with the boom gone bust almost every storefront and hotel was boarded up.

Shuttered Japanese restaurant in Cotulla, TX.

We ended up driving thru Burger King in Pearsall for a couple Impossible burgers as the Backstreet Boys’s “I Want It That Way” came up on the playlist. Window open as we waited for our order, I cranked it–a sort of ironic joke, poking fun at the fact that we both actually really like the song. Leaning out the window to hand us our bag of fake meat fast food, the teenage drive thru worker didn’t raise an eyebrow. Probably too young to get the joke. Or maybe, knowing what a work of art it is, he thought we were super cool.

Did he? Asra said as we drove off, diving into his Impossible Whopper.

Ha, no. He actually didn’t. But he should have!

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