Musings and Misadventures

Two Sides of a River

Some power is collected like a squirrel gathering nuts, some power is as innate as the color of your eyes.

Oil prices define most Texans in some way or another. At $65 a barrel a dear old friend of mine went to the oilfield. By the time it hit $85 a barrel he was running a company and tapping friends for talent. One day he sent a private plane for me, trying to insert people he trusted around him as oil rocketed to a $115 peak.
We never did make that deal work, but it was a memorable trip and an experience I think back on often when I think of the Mexican border or of natural leadership.

The first morning of that trip, he and I sat in the pickup outside a little West Texas cafe reminiscing about old times while we waited in the pitch blackness for the kitchen to open for breakfast. It was still dark by the time we had fueled up on coffee and headed over to what was sufficing as an equipment yard for a rapidly growing frac tank company- a strip of cleared pasture surrounded by greasewood with a little tin shed in the corner behind a collection of typical oilfield detritus-pipe racks, big hunks of metal I couldn’t even identify in the dark, and a random flattened Lone Star beer can kicked across the gravel.

In the shed, a bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling revealed about ten young men. All Hispanic. All bright-eyed and clean-cut. I immediately liked every single one of them. They were the best of what the blended cultures of the Texas-Chihuahua border breeds. Spanish commitment to God, honor and duty paired with American industrial ingenuity.

The outsider and the only woman in the room, I hunkered down into the collar of my denim jacket in the darkest corner and tried to study the situation without influencing it as they worked out the logistics of delivering frac tanks across West Texas and New Mexico for the day. My friend was a naval officer. Not only born to command but trained to command. I had worked for him, drank entirely too much wine with him, known him at his best and at his worst and sort of took for granted his ability to own the command in a room, but as I sat in the dark listening, I realized there was another dynamic force in the room.

There was really nothing in his physical appearance that set this man apart from the rest. Perhaps his dress spoke a little more strongly of Mexico; the cut of his boots, the embroidery on his belt, but nothing overtly set his appearance apart. He stood at the right of the circle of men and a step outside the group, ever so slightly aloof. He spoke very little, yet every eye went to him for approval when a decision was reached. I couldn’t stop watching him. There was real, innate, leadership in this man.

That morning was nearly a decade ago and I’ve since learned that man’s story and realized he and I each looked across that tin shack and saw the other for exactly what we were.

When I was a young girl, living in the shadows of Santiago Peak in the Big Bend of Texas, Mexican drug cartels were just discovering how lucrative and powerful drug trade could be. A three hundred mile stretch of the Texas border had come under the influence of a particularly ingenious and crafty drug lord whose business acumen gave pause to even the powerful Medallin cartel as far away as Columbia. I knew who he was. I rushed past the gas station in town where much of his trade flowed through. Hell, I knew pretty much where he lived on the southern banks of the Rio Grande because it just wasn’t all that far from my house. Most of all, I remember the day he died in a shoot-out with a joint task force of US and Mexican law enforcement because a friend working for the border patrol stopped by our ranch after the raid to tell us about it.

In the 1980s, as the drug trade heated up along the Rio Grande, it was common for families involved to send their children to live at least a hundred miles north of the border in the safety of small Texas towns. The man that so impressed me that cold, dark morning in a little tin shack was one of those children. His father was the second in command of the most powerful drug cartel in northern Mexico when he and I were teenagers on opposite sides of that muddy stretch of water that separated our nations.

As oil prices ebbed and flowed since that morning, his intelligence and natural command have stood him well and he has helped guide several start-up service companies to success with the innate ability to command I saw that morning. I’m not sure if he even graduated high school. He was simply born to be a leader of men. Although his father was an outlaw, he understood respect, honor and dignity and conveyed those traits to his son. His son used them to lead countless Mexican families to financial success in the Texas oilfields. Some power is gathered, some power is born…

He and I have a strong albeit remote, relationship. We’ve probably never shared three hundred words, but we have kept tabs on each other through intermediaries over the years, occasionally sending salutations to each other. He once called me some clever phrase that I can’t quite remember, but the gist was I was his sister from the other side of the Rio Grande and we both had brown river water for blood in our veins.


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