Tuesday, May 23, 2006
When I was 19, I left my home in New York. Actually, without going too deeply into it, I fled. And I ended up on the Mexican border in a dusty town of Laredo, Texas. What an adventure ... what food ... what music. And the people were so sweet and humble, a land full of incredible contrasts. The culture shock of going from a place like New York to the Mexican and cowboy communities of south Texas was jolting, to say the least.
I can still feel the intensity of 109 degrees in the afternoon sun, standing in the desert outside of Cotula, south of San Antonio. The sun was so intense it literally pounded up off the stone and rocks and you could feel it pulsating against your skin. And yet, that same furnace of a desert, come the winter rains, would burst into a carpet of yellow, purple and white flowers in January.
And the food. How can I describe a fajitas steak grilled over hot mesquite coals that are covered in raw onion? The steam of the onion broils into the steak with the nutty flavor of the mesquite. That, plus a hot flower tortilla, a cold Tecate beer and a hammock about 6 in the evening as the sun starts to go down ... it's heaven.
But mostly the people left the biggest mark on my young heart. They are so sweet and humble. And willing. And hard working. I know there is a lot of angst and discussion over those that come to America illegally right now. But when you're living there and meeting them in the streets ... not criminals or vagrents ... but family people, fathers and sons mostly looking for jobs, you're heart really goes out to them. All they want is an honorable chance to work.
And there are those that argue that America was built of folks just like that 200 years ago. And it's true. But this isn't America of the past, this is America now. America with 300 million people, and laws, and property, and economy. And this is America with strangers hijacking planes and slamming into buildings. My cousin worked in the 81st floor of the second tower hit on 9/11. It's a different America than it was 200 years ago.
I was just a kid, bathing in all of that new experiance. I found a part time job as a DJ on KLAR AM there in Laredo. One night, I played a song by Roger McGuinn and The Byrds called Turn, Turn, Turn. By the time the song ended, for some reason, I decided I would leave Laredo and become a folksinger, of all things. A few months later, I landed in the tiny hamlet of Mousie, Kentucky with my guitar and banjo.
Fast forward to 2006 ... Last night, Roger McGuinn was on WoodSongs. For the second time. And after the show, along with his amazing wife Camilla, we had dinner and talked for a couple of hours. He's an amazing man, a brilliant musician and artist, a loving husband. And a pretty cool hero to a young guy playing records at 4 in the morning in a dusty little town so long ago.
As Roger and Camilla left for the hotel at midnight, I couldn't help but relive the night that I played his song on that radio station. It changed everything in just two minutes and thirty seconds. And I can still see the desert. I can still taste the fresh flower tortillas. I can still hear the sound of frightened people walking past my house early in the morning as they made their way up from the Rio Grande and into the deserts outside of Laredo, searching for the hope of this place called America.
folksinger - tree hugger