Brownsville, Texas

In the Time of COVID. Day 75

June 1, 2020.

Brownsville, Texas

Covid quarantine is an order that most reluctantly accept, while others quiver and refuse to tolerate limitations on their freedom. How did we get this way?

Quarantine and it’s sibling, house-arrest, hung out in Brownsville when I rolled into that dust strewn, Texas frying pan in 1973.

In the heat of the day the exterior walls of Hotel Casa Blanca seared the eyes. Squat and single storied, it hugged a corner on a dirt-track road, just east of town. It was covered with a low shed roof.

There was one exterior door near the desk so tenants could be accounted for. Ramon, the owner, checked me in. He must have been the fattest guy in a half a mile.

For $4 a night, I had a lock, a door, a narrow bed, a bare bulb with a pull chain hanging from a two by four in a 6’ by 10’ cubical. No window, no ceiling. Above the wall, 3 feet up, corrugated roof. 6 penny nails driven into the wall to hang clothes. There was a large men’s bathroom down the hall. A smaller women’s next to a common kitchen. Rows of cots lined the hall. They went for $2 a night.

Casa Blanca accepted every ethnicity. It had a constant population of about 40. Derelicts and winos mixed with workers off shrimp boats. Being a deck hand on a shrimp boat paid for shit. Just enough for a cheap flop, communal grub and an extended drunk.

I still had my sea legs. My head tossed with the rocking motion of the Gulf. I showered, hand washed a change of clothes and pitched in 50 cents for a plate of red beans and rice. I hit the sack.

A high pitched panting awakened me, in deep night, outside my door, a begging, terrors, then “shut up God Damn you” and kicking. I looked out. Fat Ramon was jabbing a cot with his boot. He shouted “shut up Johnson, God damn you”. Then he dumped water on the cot. The crawling insects stopped digging their way out of Johnson’s skin. Silence. Fat Ramon waddled back to his office dangling an empty plastic pail from a chubby pinkie finger.

In the morning, Johnson came up to me in the kitchen. I’d paid for a plate of grits and gravy. He offered me 3 dollars and asked me to buy him a bottle. Another guy, slowly moved his head from side to side. Johnson couldn’t leave the premises. The Casa Blanca was a cheap drunk tank. A hard-ass detox.

I stowed my gear behind the desk and went looking for the Greyhound Station. A wayward brother lived in Tyler, 550 miles north.

A brief peace came the next day as the bus rolled through lush green horse ranches on the outskirts of Austin, headed for Tyler east of Dallas.

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