The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnThe Land of Oil and WaterrnA sign above the cafe adjacent to thernmotel across the highway from the railroadrntracks in Lordsburg, New Mexico,rnproclaimed the good news in faded redrnletters on a flaking white background.rn”Whiskey and water,” I told the waitressrnwhen she came with her pencil andrnpad. “No bar,” she explained. “Butrnthere’s a sign.” “The bar is cerrito.” Shernbrought a Tecate and a water glassrnrimmed with salt, and I tried her again.rn”I’ll have the filet tampiqueiio, mediumrnrare.” “Sorry. No tompff^ueno left for toniiightrnplease.” “Then I want liver andrnonions with hash browns.” “No liver agaiiinrntonight sorry.” So I ordered chickenrnfried steak and ate while a group ofrnold people were taken from a seniorrncitizens’ bus and fed fried chicken andrnmashed potatoes with gravy, peasrnfrom a can, and Jell-0. Southern NewrnMexico—where even sane people andrngrownups see UFOs and rumors ofrnspace aliens are common, bicyclistsrnvanish from lonely stretches of road intornthin air, and weird anomalies presentrnthemselves unexpectedly in the vastrndeserts—has a surreal quality that isrnmore palpable still in the area of thernMexican border which exists as a kind ofrnno-man’s land where the various humanrnelements seem never to merge; tornachieve a common form, identity, orrnunderstanding.rnAround Animas the desert gave wayrnto a yellow grassy plain on which the AnimasrnMountains appeared to float likernbergs of black ice beneath a platinumrnsky; elephantine cottonwoods already inrnbud along the winding creek formed arnpointillistic screen between the greeningrnbottom and the tin roofs of ranchrnhouses glinting in the indirect light. Beforernan experienced friend warnedrnagainst it, I had planned to drive fromrnJuarez across the Continental Dividernwhere it follows the Sierra Occidentalrnwhose stony peaks pointed above thernsouthern horizon. Much of the marijuanarngrown in Mexico comes from thernSierra Madre; a gringo passing throughrnthe region, if he is not shot by the growers,rnhas a good chance of being murderedrnby smugglers, or by the federales.rnAt the foot of a pass in the PelloncillornMountains from which Colonel Cookernand his Mormon Brigade in the Mexican-rnAmerican War lowered their wagonsrnby ropes, a Border Patrol officer satrnin a green Ford Bronco monitoring hisrnservice radio. “Have you caught anyrnaliens running around up here today?”rn”It’s too high and rugged for them. Butrnin Douglas we’re overrun by aliens, andrnsmugglers. Our force has been increasedrnrecently from 50 to 60 agents, but wernfigure that’s going to be the ceiling.”rn”And you still could do with twice thatrnmany men.” The officer grinned. “Yes.”rnDouglas, Arizona, was founded inrn1901 by a party that included the familyrnof Justice William O. Douglas, andrndeveloped from an economic base ofrncattle-ranching, cotton-growing, andrncopper-smelting. Since the 1970’s whenrnthe Justice’s environmentalist allies gotrnthe smelters closed down, the populationrnof Douglas had dropped from approximatelyrn30 to 10 thousand people,rnwhile that of Agua Prieta, its sister cityrnacross the border, swelled to one hundredrnthousand, many of them waitingrnto sneak into the United States underrncover of the pall of smoke rising fromrnthe city’s perpetually smolderingrngarbage dumps. I took a room at thernTravel Lodge where, in an atmospherernpungent with curry, I had difficultyrnmaking myself understood by the manager,rna native of New Delhi. The Chinesernrestaurant adjoining the tavernrnwhere I went for a drink displayed arncrucifix together with a hanging ofrnOur Lady of Guadalupe on the wall.rnAt La Fiesta Cafe on 8th Street theyrnserved an excellent menudo—souprnmade with hominy and tripe—and steakrntampiqueiio. The patrons were mostlyrnwell-to-do Mexican ranchers and theirrnwives: beautiful women of the purernSpanish type wearing tailored slacks andrnsilk blouses ornamented discreetly withrnsilver. The waitress failed to understandrnwhen I ordered scotch-and-soda, thenrnbrought a water-glass brimful of rawrnscotch in which two minuscule ice cubesrnfloated.rnI was awakened the next morning byrnroosters crowing and a man in the repairrnshop behind the motel hammering outrnauto bodies. On the sidewalk in front ofrnthe Gadsden Hotel where I went forrnbreakfast an old man stopped me to inquirernas to what part of Wyoming I wasrnfrom, having recognized the broncbusterrnlicense plates. A saddle stiff withrntwo canes, he said he had cowboyed inrnWyoming, Utah, Montana, and Idaho,rnand mentioned in particular a ranchingrnoutfit near Douglas, Wyoming. “Notrnthe Cannon Land and Livestock Company?”rnI le nodded vigorously. “No, butrnI’m acquainted with them folks.” Thernskylighted lobby of the Gadsden Hotelrnwith its grand staircase descending betweenrnmarble columns had been filmedrnfor ten or fifteen movies, one of thernmore recent featuring Paul Newman,rnand Pancho Villa once ate a meal in thernhotel’s dining room. I went into the coffeernshop and sat at the counter beside arnsmall brown man in his 70’s: spare,rnweathered, his silver hair touched withrnLatin black. As I drank strong coffee hernleaned to me in the unabashed self-presentingrnmanner Anglos find disconcertingrnand said confidentially in a heavilyrnaccented voice, “We ought to have arnGringo Day around here—eh? Sundayrnis the only day of the week when theyrnaren’t all over here on our side of thernborder.” His family, the old man toldrnme proudly, had been in the UnitedrnStates for five generations, and his fatherrnarrived in the Douglas area in 1898.rnHe himself was part Irish, part Scot, partrnEnglish. He spoke a few incomprehensiblernwords, paused for the reaction, andrnasked, “You don’t understand? That’srnGaelic. You’re a Scot, I can tell by lookingrnat you. You ought to know Gaelic.”rnA hard wind driving out of Mexicornlike an invisible broom pushed wavesrnof trash across the chain-link fence onrnthe international border. A pickup truckrnwith Sonora plates, pieced together fromrnthe body parts of differently coloredrnAPRIL 1995/49rnrnrn