Heard around the West

  • Sharing the road calls for a lot of forbearance

    Brian Reid


Believe it or not, some well-heeled people in Mexico pay for the privilege of pretending to sneak across the United States border illegally. They are, in a word, tourists, mostly upper-class professionals who pay $15 each to mimic their less-fortunate countrymen, reports Cox News Service. Though safely in a nature park in the central state of Hidalgo, some 700 miles from the real border, the fake border-crossers hurry through the desert in groups of 20 or so for almost six hours, all the while pretending to be prey. "Hurry up, the Border Patrol is coming!" a guide yells at them as sirens wail. Just what are these privileged Mexicans learning? Tour organizers, who are members of an indigenous community, say they’re "trying to build empathy for migrants by putting people in their shoes." As many as 90 percent of the 2,500-member Hnahnu community have crossed the border to America, so "We do this to show the people what it’s like, to make them more conscious," says an elder. Participants seem to relish what critics call a "risk-free adrenaline rush." One said, "It was cool — it was fun," while another marveled that "it was like being in their flesh and bones." Well, almost. As one migrant supporter in America put it, "Someone crossing the border knows they could die. Someone on this tour knows they will have fun." Miriam Miguel Ramirez, 31, who lives in Mexico, said she learned a lot by becoming a mock migrant along with seven of her sisters and cousins: "It changes your image of the immigrants," she said, "of the courage they have."


Feed a few raccoons in your backyard, and boom, before you know it, they’ve evolved into a gang of "masked marauders." In Olympia, Wash., a "fierce group" of raccoons has killed 10 cats, attacked a small dog and also bit a woman trying to rescue her dog, reports The Associated Press. "They’re urban raccoons, and they’re not afraid," warned Tamara Keeton. She helped start a "raccoon watch" after attending an emotional meeting in the neighborhood, which is close to a nature trail. Residents also hired trapper Tom Brown, who hasn’t had much luck. After finally catching one raccoon, he said, "They are in command up there."


In a recent issue of Flux, the magazine of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, managing editor Richard Gould offered invaluable advice on selling Bibles door-to-door: "You’ve got to get inside the house to do it. I don’t know why, but no one buys a Bible on a porch." His technique? "When the occupant opens the door, tell her it’ll just take a minute of her time to see what you’ve got. Then put your head down, grab your case, and start wiping your feet vigorously as though you’ve already been invited in." Gould says even if you’re far from the door when you start your feet-wiping routine, just keep at it. The door will open, he says, because "they don’t want to be rude." One time, however, before Gould’s feet could go into action, a homeowner ran out, sucker-punched him, then ran back inside. "I really don’t blame him," Gould says. "Trying to get poor people to buy overpriced stuff they can’t afford in the name of God isn’t much of a job. I’m proud to say I wasn’t very good at it."


Change one letter in a word, and you change everything. The Grand Junction, Colo., Free Press advertised a "WENCH" for sale for $400. We think "she" was really a winch. And an ad in the Telluride Watch — not a misprint — revealed that air pollution is an expensive privilege in a high-altitude resort town: A fireplace permit in Mountain Village was on offer for $75,000.


The movie Snakes on a Plane was designed to scare theater-goers, but a lot of folks are just as unhappy when they see snakes on the ground. Transplants to the Sonoran Desert from the East Coast and Midwest are naturally apprehensive, since they’ve built their dream houses and pools smack in the middle of the snakes’ territory. When homeowners see a bull snake or rattler coiled in the brush, reports the Arizona Republic, they’re liable to grab the phone and demand help. The fire department in Scottsdale, Ariz., says it fields as many as seven or eight snake-removal calls a day, though by the time help arrives the snake has usually undulated on. The Phoenix Herpetological Society has pithy advice for people stricken with horror when they see a snake slithering down the street: Says Russ Johnson dryly, "Well, let it go down the street." As for those snarky serpents on a plane, Johnson guesses they were just "corn snakes with fake fangs."

Betsy Marston (betsym@hcn.org) is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column, Heard around the West.

Sep 20, 2006 02:14 PM

Betsy, you can poke fun at people trying to develop some empathy. But the truth is that many migrants are from Central America and treated very badly in Mexico.

Also, accept that history tells us that people always migrate away from poverty and towards a better life. I comfort myself that we -- the eurocentrics and anglophiles who venerate the Conquistadors and Colonists -- deserve to let the Indios and Mestizos take back their land and lives.

And in reference to herpetophobia in movies and elsewhere; I showed my doctor a mobile phone pix of a beautiful mouser coiled and rattling to give me plenty of warning and he asked me: "you killed it, didn't you?" and I replied that I knew of large dens in an area where he fishes and told him of the usefulness and beauty of wild reptiles. He was horrified and said "I'll never go fishing there again.

I take no joy in anyone's death; but news of Steve Irwin's demise gladdened me in the knowledge that he'll make no more cable TV shows creating "monsters" out of common critters.

Oct 23, 2006 12:12 PM

Please, get off your high horse. Cable will replace his t.v. show's slot with another good old fashioned hour of sex, scandal, drugs and violence. At least Mr. Irwin created a generation of animal lovers, not to mentioned the world of good he did for the animal kingdom. Steve taught me that some common critters have monstrous abilities, I think it would be hard to portray that in a way other than the way he chose to on his show, let alone make it interesting enough to capture the attention of an 8 year old for an hour. Maybe you just misunderstood him and need to develop some empathy of your own. -wcheng