Perhaps my visiting Maine pal, former University of Maine prof Phyllis Brazee and I got too silly, smiling near the needless razor-wired border wall, thrusting Nogales, Arizona, into a war zone.
Phyl wanted to see our quiet border town, fifty miles from Tucson. Our field trip included a delicious lunch on the Mexican side at La Roca, followed by a short stroll to the secret border crossing known to Nogales locals.
An unexpected line greeted us. Seeming to be the only gringos queuing up, I asked a few people, “Habla Ingles?”
“Why the long line? Is it a Friday afternoon thing?” One young woman spoke poquito Ingles and said she didn’t know. We waited patiently. Most of our compadres did, too.
A nearly toothless man carrying a broom appeared next to us, leading a nicely dressed man into the line ahead of us. The interloper handed him 20 pesos. No one balked at the affront to traditional line protocol.
Tasting success, the scruffy entrepreneur identified us as senior citizens. Directing us to the front of the line, I knew that the sign “Sentro” didn’t mean senior (I tried that before and was rebuffed by the border agent), but it was the Mexican version of Global Entry.
Another prospective entrepreneur appeared, weaving crosses and hearts out of palm fronds. No one whisked out their wallets.
Here’s a good one, I thought, when a cheerful father and daughter arrived with a guitar. They planted themselves farther up the line. I couldn’t see how they made out.
Around forty-five minutes passed pleasantly. I noticed an engaging older-than-us Mexican woman. Her name was Consuela, which means consolation in Latin. She wore a large cross around her neck and pretty purple flats. We smiled at each other.
“Yo tengo un nieto; se llama es Foss,” I proudly announced, the one Spanish sentence I had memorized from a class I took. She didn’t seem to get my sentence but we managed to understand our three names, communicating with hand signs and more smiles. As we inched closer to the crossing, I clasped her hand.
In Nogales, Arizona, Consuela walked down the opposite side of the street with a younger woman, perhaps her daughter. We waved and smiled at each other a few times. On either side of the border, we could be friends.