It takes a village – or at least a minivan full of Mexicans

I recently told the tale of how T arranged for the whole neighborhood to come set up his new barn for free. It has been requested that I impart the truth about how he and I got it out of that rental truck in the first place.

TRIGGER WARNING: Neither liberals nor conservatives will find this story at all heartwarming. So suck it up, weenies, and click the link if you’ve got the stones.

T knew we were in trouble before we ever loaded the truck. I’ve presented him as an unflappable boulder of optimism, and he could be that. He could also melt down like a little girl at the worst time. As that big beautiful barn became big intimidating stacks of stuff, the simple physical impossibility of what he’d set us up for warred with the equally simple fact that we were in it now and there was no way out. It’s been a long time but as I remember it, both Landlady and Ian spent quite some effort getting him peeled off the walls and back on track.

The problem wasn’t the effort. We were putting out maximum effort and we would continue to do so; we knew that. The problem was that it absolutely wouldn’t be enough – we had a time crunch and we were not going to make it. The rental truck had to be driven up home, unloaded and returned to the renter by Monday afternoon or we would pay an obscene penalty that was simply out of the question. It was now Sunday afternoon and the truck wasn’t even loaded. There was nobody on the other end to help us unload it. The two of us weren’t strong enough to do the job in a few hours.

Around sundown Sunday we finished packing the truck and cleaning up the site. T and I were to leave immediately in our two vehicles, the yellow Jeep and the rental truck. I drove the truck, not because I’m a big hairy truck driver but because we decided it was least likely to be randomly pulled over by highway cops and I have no driver’s license.

We planned to stop briefly at the place where we’d crashed for the weekend to pick up our stuff, then immediately hit the road and drive through the night. Disaster struck before we even set out in the form of a brake warning light. Hey, I’ve driven overloaded rental trucks on long road trips before. Call me timid, but I consider brakes very important. There’s a whole mountain range and a major (a really major) canyon between here and there. Ain’t doing it until I know why that light is on. Sorry.

So kissing our already absurd schedule goodbye, we called the rental company. Which eventually, clearly feeling no urgency, dispatched a mechanic. It turned out to be some minor sensor, as I recall, but we didn’t actually leave until early the next morning. We were so screwed.

The revised plan was forced on us. Emptying the truck ourselves was previously unlikely; it was now simply impossible. Remember that this was before the time when there was anything remotely like a ‘neighborhood.’ There was no one to call who was going to show up out of any sense of friendship. I had a single card I could play, and if it didn’t work it didn’t.

In those days I had a townie job. Not coincidentally, Ian had had it before I did. We worked for a guy who ran a little shop that fixed chainsaws and generators and such. This guy is a long story in himself. He was a redneck’s redneck. To hear him tell it he’d hunted everything that could be hunted, been married far too many times, mined gold, bootlegged firewood from government land. He was an amazing lump of profane, racist stereotypes – and contradictions. He’s hard to explain. But what he definitely was, was a nexus of the local old-boy network. If something could be done locally, he knew how to get it done.

T and I conferred by cell phone. Before we passed through town on the way home, I pulled over at the shop. I burst in, cornered my boss, and said, “Mike, (let’s call him Mike) I’m in deep. I need a minivan full of Mexicans, and I need it right frickin’ now.”

See, in every small southwestern town no matter how improbably remote or obscure, there is a subcommunity of hungry people from somewhere in Central or South America. I don’t know why – there just is. We’re talking about people with no ties to the location. People who, no doubt by following some very bad advice, ended up wherever they are looking for work so they could make money to send somewhere else. Most of these people don’t speak English at all. It’s just barely possible that some sets of paper might not be completely in order. I don’t know – I didn’t ask. I was in a hurry and it slipped my mind.

Anyway, in each of these places, attached to each of these subcommunities, there’s a guy whom they refer to as “Jeffe.” Yes, I know it’s a cliché. You need to know the Jeffe. At that time, I just knew of him. The Jeffe is the guy who knows the people who supply the work that makes the money. He has power. In my admittedly limited experience, he mostly uses it benevolently. Practices the art of doing well by doing good, you might say. I’m absolutely certain in my heart that he is scrupulous to a fault on all matters pertaining to employment eligibility. And tax reporting.

T, I add parenthetically, was a fantastic cook. He did have this one peculiarity that he couldn’t make food in small quantities. He used to joke – I swear I have no idea why – that he only knew how to make food in quantities enough to feed entire cell blocks. He also knew that there are two paths to the heart of a worker from south of the border. Well – three, counting a knife. The other two are peppers and cerveza. We were extremely cash-poor – the aforementioned minivan contents were not in the budget, or anywhere near the budget. While of course these new people had to be paid, if they went away singing our praises it wouldn’t be because of how much money they were paid. So the least we could do was arrange for a pleasant working environment. While I went off to clean out my pitiful bank account, he loaded up on food and beer. “Mike” made a single phone call, and an actual minivan overloaded with people who might have come from Mexico showed up in surprisingly short order.

They were dubious, to say the least, about the prospect of being trundled off into the desert by two pistol-packing white guys they’d never seen before. But they did follow along. And then they put in two killing hours in the hot sun unloading that truck. With enough people to form an assembly line, that’s all the time it took.

After all the urgency, we found ourselves abruptly back on schedule. We fed and beered our suddenly very happy visitors and sent them on their way with a few bucks and a six-pack apiece, swept out the truck and got it back to its owners in plenty of time.

And that’s all there is to that tale.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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11 Responses to It takes a village – or at least a minivan full of Mexicans

  1. MamaLiberty says:

    Did you luck out, or what? Just think if you had not known “Mike!” Yowser.

  2. Zelda says:

    Claire’s very sanitized politically correct version was a great read that I enjoyed and have re-read many times, having been there and done that. Hope she won’t be offended that I like your gutsy very real version. Wish you could include this story in your book. I’ve lived in the southwest and know how the system works, and it works very well. Those men show up, work nonstop, do very good work, shake your hand, collect their “pay”, smile and wave goodby. It happens that the driver may not have a valid driver’s license or if he does, it belongs to someone else, and the license plates may not belong to that minivan (one set of plates can be attached to anything with wheels, why buy more than that?) There aren’t many opportunities to hire them where I live now, but political correctness be damned, I’d hire them if I could. Liberals, conservatives and weenies of all kinds, get over it, put a sock in it, whatever it takes, and really, really listen to this story.

  3. Claire says:

    Zelda — I forgot I’d ever written about the Mexican minivan incident! Since I had the extreme good fortune not even to be in the state when these broiling hot, incredibly tense, events transpired, any account of mine was third-hand.

    And nope, I’d never be offended that a friend (who was there, after all) wrote a better account than I did. My very first “bond” with Joel, such as it was, consisted of me being intrigued at this strange guy on the old Claire Files forum who thought like me but wrote with more wit. I hope somebody with some publishing and PR smarts notices these wonderful accounts and helps Joel make serious money off them.

  4. Joel says:

    To be honest, I forgot Claire wrote about this too. Or I’d have hesitated to write it this morning.

  5. Claire says:

    No reason to hesitate, Joel. You have more reason and more authority to write it than I ever did! (Now I’m going to have to go back and see what I actually said. Must have been years ago on the old blog, so thank heaven for Bill St. Clair’s archiving.)

  6. Zelda says:

    Absentmindedness does have a positive purpose. It may cause the temporary loss of sunglasses, but without it we wouldn’t have gotten Joel’s version of the story. It is in an article Claire wrote for Backwoods Home – still have the issue, still read the story over, still enjoy it. I too hope Joel makes serious money from his stories. Love his Attitude and his Wit. I have my rustling handshake ready with extra included for an autographed copy any time his book is done.

  7. Tennessee Budd says:

    “..in it now & no way out.” I’m reminded of “Cold Harbor” (the book–I can’t stand the sight of Zellweger; looks like a poor Kewpie-doll copy to me). In it, 2 old men are to move a piano via wagon. The job is clearly beyond them, & they know it, but they’re country folks, & Southerners to boot. I’m paraphrasing ’cause I don’t feel like digging my copy out, but one says to the other “We have the advantage of it; we’ve got it to do.” I’ve believed & used that ever since. Some folks don’t get it, but it’s true. If it has to get done, you’ll do it. You may not yet have figured out how, but the advantage is that you’re not gonna stop until the job is done. That confidence, fatalism, whatever, is a force multiplier. Here in the forested hills, or in the high desert, same-same: we just have to, therefore we will. How? Dunno yet. Let’s ponder it awhile.

  8. C says:

    To think I missed that part of the adventure.

  9. Zelda says:

    Claire’s version is issue 122 March/April 2010 of Backwoods Home. Got it out and read it again.

  10. anonymous says:

    We live in an area that is full of such ‘workers’ – give them a hot meal at noon and a cool drink every two hours and they will do a HELLUVA lot of work quickly. Most of them aren’t much over 150 lbs. but they do twice the amount of work that most Americans will do for half the money – sorry gringo but that is the truth.

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To the stake with the heretic!