When I think of El Paso, I think of Ciudad Juárez. I don’t think of the current state of Juárez and the violence. I think of classic Juárez. Mercado Juárez.
In the late 1960s, my retired parents had a passion for travel. They’d just load up the Impala, pull onto Highway 9 and drive wherever the wind took them. And why not? They had the time. And regular gas was going for about 30 cents a gallon.
We covered a lot of miles and saw a lot of cool places in a lot of states. My favorite stop was Juárez.
This was a Juárez where an 11-year-old tourist (me) could cross the bridge from El Paso and wander the marketplace alone. This was a Juárez rich with beautiful colors and exotic smells. This was a Juárez with friendly merchants who would fall victim to my mad negotiating skillz.
You could carry 10 bucks and be a big spender in the mercado. You could buy a large serape for about $2. You could buy a splintered wooden treasure chest for about $2, a gigantic ceramic pot for $3, a marble chess set for about $2. You could buy all that and have enough left over to buy a couple of packs of horse-biscuit cigarettes.
That was the late 1960s. I went back a few years later and it had gotten grittier. In the mid-’90s, I made it back again, this time with my wife, but I didn’t recognize the place. The vitality was gone. It seemed more dangerous.
On the walk back to El Paso over the bridge, I was stopped by border guards (which I kinda expected because I fit a certain profile with them). They barked orders at me in Spanish, but I could only make out the word amigo a lot. They had let across my fair-haired wife without question, prompting me to yell, “Hey! I’m more American than she is!” Realizing they’d angered a tourist of Native American descent, or that I was no fun to pick on, the guards let me back into the USA.
I haven’t been back to Juárez/El Paso since. OU has been back there for a couple of Sun Bowl games, including a 2009 appearance, but I haven’t had the urge to venture into that part of West Texas anymore.
It’s definitely one of those places where you can’t go back, even to score some horse-biscuit cigarettes.
ABOUT THE GAME: For OU quarterback Landry Jones, who played high school football in southeast New Mexico, it should be like a Friday-night game. In front of friends and family, Landry will want to impress and he should. Don’t expect him to have much trouble with UTEP’s defense, which wasn’t very good last year. (Imagine OU’s defense against Baylor last year every week.) TV cameras will be focused on Mike Stoops all night, waiting on him to morph into the Incredible Hulk if a UTEP receiver breaks loose in the secondary. OU wins 42-3, but expect Mike Stoops to be all moody about losing the shutout.
DINING SUGGESTIONS: Word on the street is that Chico’s Tacos is the bomb, but not really that good if you’re sober. Another suggestion from the locals: H&H Car Wash. If you don’t have the time, check the Cincinnati Avenue area east of campus around the Sun Bowl and Haskins Center.
FROM THE MAILBAG: Last week, my post on Penn State drew scores of angry comments from Penn State faithful after it was picked up by PennLive.com. My favorite comment: “Reading this garbage has taken 2 minutes of my life that I will never get back.” (Actually, I got through the post in less than 90 seconds. I timed it.) Meanwhile, in a Facebook post on my page, retired journalist Shirley Ragsdale commented: “Methinks the PSU apologists protesteth too much.” Tulsa World sports writer Eric Bailey also commented: “Remind me never to take a ride through Pennsylvania with you. :)” And former OU linebacker Dante Jones, who took a lot of heat from the Penn Staters, posted on his Facebook page: “I guess I can never take a trip to Happy Valley.”
FAVORITE SWITZER ERA-SUN BOWL MOMENT: It was 1980, and it was determined that the OU-Nebraska winner would head to the Orange Bowl in Miami while the loser would spend the holidays in El Paso for the Sun Bowl. The night before the game, former Nebraska coach Bob Devaney is taping his TV show in Lincoln when Switzer walks onto the set and hands Devaney a bag of tacos from the local Taco Bell. Lots of guffawing and back-slapping ensues. The next night, OU wins and ends up in Miami while the Huskers prepare for Chico’s Tacos.