Friday, October 7, 2011

Week 2, part one

Here's another teaser. I'm purposely avoiding showing any interviews because they need more context.

Nogales, Arizona. I’m sitting next to the ac vent in my king-size room at the El Dorado Inn Suites, waiting for my clothes to dry. This hotel is pretty sweet. Not only is it really big and almost completely empty, it’s got faux marble slates in the bathroom and I have to leave the shower running to get cold water in the sink. But the room doesn’t stink and the manager is a nice old man who lives on the premises, above a row of rooms that he converted into a strip mall.

A word about our hotels. We’ve been in seven different ones already, and the whole “you get what you pay for” mentality is not proving to be true. For example, El Dorado has a ballroom, a restaurant and a bar—all closed. All you can get in the morning is hot coffee and some sweet and low. Econolodge in Tucson does indeed have breakfast, but only from 7 to 9, with the additional caveat that they toast their bagels ahead of time. I guess it keeps them from going stale too soon. In some hotels, such as the Zaragoza in Tijuana, we didn’t even get to test the food since we were out by 6 AM. El Norte in Mexicali was very thoughtful and gave me the only room with bedbugs out of the whole crew. Ironically, they kicked us out of the restaurant early on our first and only night, because they had to spray for ants and roaches.

We have not shared a room thus far and I intend to keep it that way. I’m pretty sure that if we did, the fragile balance holding together this production would collapse. Not only would we be over-worked, but we would have no freedom from each other, which would open up the way for the freedom to annoy and mutually frustrate ourselves.

All in all, with or without hot water or decent internet, there’s a certain fondness towards each hotel that cannot be helped. They’re our awkward refuge, the only place were we can literally shut the blinds on the making of this film.

Death smells like cotton candy

The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office is unique in the entire world because it is overloaded with the largest numbers of unidentified migrant remains. For the last ten years, they have had the difficult task of trying to identify thousands of these deaths and return the remains to the respective family members.

When I contacted Dr. Hess, the Chief Medical Examiner, I knew very well that the subject had been covered many times before by many different media outlets. It was up to me to find a way to make our experience unique.

The visit started well enough. Dr. Hess is an intelligent, middle-aged man who has obviously dealt a lot with journalists and filmmakers during his short tenure. I suggested that we sit down in his office and talk for a while, without the camera on. This was just a way for me to get to know him and more importantly, to cover my tracks as I tried to figure out what to do in the actual interview. I basically asked all the questions I had read about or the ones you would expect, focusing on the politics and statistics of the border while trying to find something else.

We eventually moved into the huge outdoor freezer. The facility was installed a few years ago when the department became overwhelmed with unidentified remains. The inside is lined with racks full of corpses in body bags, each of them tagged with their name, if they have been identified, and the rest labeled Jane or John Doe. As soon as Dr. Hess opened the freezer doors, we were flooded with what I described as a bittersweet, tangy smell. In other words, I didn’t find it very unpleasant, just kind of heavy. One look at José and Justin proved to me that they didn’t share the sentiment. The doc looked at me with slight amusement:

“I guess you think it smells like cotton candy or something. Most people, however, find it very unpleasant. Don’t stay in there too long, the smell will stick to your clothes for the rest of the day. Trust me, it will offend people.”

Once again, as a credit to the work ethic of the crew, not only did they work in the outdoor freezer, but they also marched right into the larger indoor unit. We rubbed the smell in so good that we were smelling it for the next two days.

At the end of our visit we finally sat down for an interview. During the whole day I had been trying to lead Dr. Hess into what I thought were deep questions about life and death. Once we got to the interview I tried as best as I could to touch on these subjects. I felt a great fascination with this man who has a unique perspective on death. There is no one tasked with a similar challenge in the entire world. The doc has to solve complex scientific riddles posed by remains that have been ravaged and bleached by the desert. Often times, the only marker available is DNA. Which leads to the second part of the problem, waiting for family members to contact the department and aid in a positive identification. This is difficult because the migrants are moving across many cultures. Remember that Mexico has a large number of Indigenous communities, many of them with their own languages. Migrants coming from this background might not speak any Spanish and might have never left their village, further increasing the communication gap when it comes to identifying and returning remains. There are also migrants coming from Central America, where communication is even more difficult due to weak government structures.

But beyond all that, what interested me the most was the doc’s own views about death. Is he scared? Does he think about it often? How does he avoid getting depressed? But perhaps the question I really wanted to ask was whether there was a point to all this suffering. Had he found some sort of overarching insight behind the hundreds of migrant deaths that he investigated every year?

“I honestly don’t think about it too much. I guess I am like everybody else. Most people go about their lives acting like they’re invincible, and I pretty much do the same thing. I do not spend too much of my time outside of work thinking about death. It’s inevitable, there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Waiting for the coyote

There are moments in life where you have to stand up for yourself, no matter how awkward and painful, and way too long the experience may be. Tuesday the 4th of October will linger in our memories as one of these moments.

We had got off on a great start. According to me, Monday had been a half-day (read below), and Justin and I had spent our afternoon scouting locations in Heróica Nogales, Mexico, while José finally accepted that it was a good idea to wash his clothes in his hotel room. When we set out Tuesday morning, we felt rested and ambitious, ready to get some amazing material. But our plans soon began to fail in what would become a nearly-catastrophic chain of events that could have ruined our entire shoot.

I blame a certain Catholic charity for getting the ball rolling. Nogales, Mexico, has only one center that provides actual sit-down breakfast and lunch for migrants, and it is run by this charity. We arrived early in the morning and there was already a few dozen migrants waiting outside, but we were not allowed to film anything until we had direct permission from the head priest. They gave us the usual confusing and vague directions you get in Mexico, failing to clarify that the office we were looking for was back in the US side of the border. When we actually found the address, it turned out to be a liquor store. By the time we got a hold of the leader of the organization, breakfast was long over, which meant that the migrants were scattered around the city while they waited for lunch time. That’s when we had the bright idea to drive out into the hills.

Both of the cities of Nogales are basically glorified towns, small with not much to do. Literally two-hundred yards from the border crossing the hills begin, vast rolling landscapes of cattle and shrubs. The interesting thing is that if you follow the border for a few miles, the 20 foot fence disappears and the rusty pillars give way to a simple barrier made with barbed wire, the kind you find on any old ranch anywhere. This is where most of the migrants cross. The desert does not dissuade them, and this is where almost half of all yearly detentions have been made lately.

Our goal was to get some footage of the transition between this massive barrier and the cattle fence. We will have to console ourselves with our imaginations because we never made it. On our way there we got stuck in a sandy creek-bed for over 5 hours.

Obviously, since I’m telling this story, we’re all alive and well. But the experience was grueling. To get a sense of the danger hanging over our heads, consider that during the day the sierra is empty. We never saw a soul. But during the night, the entire countryside is crawling with drug dealers and human smugglers going about their business. These people have absolutely no scruples and they are territorial to the extreme. There’s no telling what would have happened to us if we didn’t make it out.

Allow me another short digression to explain that by this point in our general journey our van has a name: la wreck. I think it’s the best combination of the affection and basic lack of faith we have in the vehicle.

Anyway, there we were in that fateful ravine snuggled between two hills, with the rear left wheel of la wreck buried deep in the sand. I had been driving her along just fine, full of confidence and keeping mostly to the rocks. We were suddenly jolted as the rear end sank with that awful grating and spinning we would hear for the rest of the day. Nature had just been biding her time, waiting for us to get far away from any help. As soon as we got stuck I tried to create a positive atmosphere by loudly declaring to the crew:

“Hey, don’t worry about it. There’s no way that three dudes can’t take care of this.”

Of course, an hour later we had met with no success; in fact, things were worse. I had the bright idea of using dry branches together with rocks, which almost lead to la wreck catching fire. The wheel spun in place, the friction created heat and little chunks of tire burned off. We can only imagine what we would have done if la wreck would have caught ablaze with all our film equipment inside.

Time continued to pass by, you could almost feel it smirking at us condescendingly. The little folding shovel I bought in case we had to dig a toilet, was a godsend. crawled under the chassis to place the jack and pumped it to lift the tire while José and Justin placed rocks under it, repeating the process several times. We used our famous tarp and our floor mats to reinforce the rocks, and I would drive while the crew would push with increasing desperation. There was a point where I had to lay on my stomach and use my walking stick to tediously clear a space between the ground and the undercarriage. We resorted to digging with our hands, with a large oil pan and a piece of the dashboard. I even started to simply kick the sand away with my feet until my ankles were sore.

All in all, we failed 4 times before we actually got la wreck out and into more solid ground. The sense of joy and gratitude was universal and delicious, the way any meal tastes great after you’ve gone hungry for a good while.

Now unknowingly, we were facing that very special moment, that hidden gem in any potential disaster when you think you made it and things manage to get worse. I was busy cutting down a couple of small pines with my leatherman, which is a task that can only be accomplished with blind conviction. My plan was to drive la wreck through the terrain right next to the creek bed and I had to clear the way. At some point, José asked me to let him drive and I fumbled about with my answer and let him do it without clearly communicating the strategy. I’m not faulting him for his confidence and overwhelming desire to get the hell out of there, but within one minute la wreck was stuck again. The right mirror had fallen off and José couldn’t see well enough, plus my directions were confusing. He missed the path and drove her back into the creek bed.

It was worse than before. Her rear axle was lying in a harsh diagonal, with the same troublesome wheel a good 2 to 3 feet below its partner. The situation started to become unhinged pretty quickly. José and I were shocked to see Justin authentically flustered, with a wild look in his eyes pleading for some sort of sanity to remedy the madness we were in. We worked feverishly. At one point, Justin was digging out the wheel when a small scorpion crawled out. I shuddered and froze for a moment before yelling at Justin to get away. He promptly smashed it with the jack. This incident happened over two hours before we finally got out of there for good, and every minute before that I was expecting to get stung. I later found out that what we saw was a bark scorpion, which according to Wikipedia is the most poisonous scorpion in North America. Oh well.

The sun was setting when we finally got out of the sand once again. I literally jumped up and down and we awkwardly hugged and high-fived each other. We had passed some sort of important test, even if it was with a D-.

I firmly believe that if we had failed in our last attempt, we would have had some sort of a collective nervous breakdown. We would also have had to spend the night shuddering with fear hidden somewhere in the woods, clutching our gear and whatever poor weapons we could muster. At dawnbreak we would crawl back to find la wreck beat up and broken into, a sad monument to our failure.

When we got back to the hotel we gave ourselves 30 minutes to shower before heading out to eat a huge Italian dinner. I remember looking at all my clothes floating in my bathtub, including my shoes. I opened up the faucet as much as possible and watched as the laundry detergent started bubbling. The loud noise, the fizzle of the soap and the dirt stains in the water were all somehow very gratifying. I felt like I was looking at the landscape of glory.

A day and a half

Here’s a fragment from a usual conversation. This took place two days before we tried to start filming again and got stuck in the sierra:

Me: I think we need a break. You guys look pretty tired.

J&J: We agree. There have been too many long days and too little sleep.

J&J: And without regular meals.

Me: Hey, we do the best we can.

J&J: Today for example, we started hiking in the desert at 4 AM.

We had no breakfast and didn’t eat until evening.

Me: Don’t worry, tomorrow you get a half day.

J&J: What does that mean?

Me: It’s a half day, that’s what it means!

J&J: But we have to be at the Air Museum at 9AM and at the Titan Missile by 1PM!

Me: Yeah…but, you have to subtract the lunch break. That’s going to be like 2 hours.

J&J: Ok. But that’s still a 6 hour day.

Me: No, remember that if you have fun at the museums it doesn’t count. You have to subtract all the fun parts.

J&J: But what if we don’t have fun? Then it’s all work.

Me: Don’t worry, you’ll have fun.

J&J: And what about the car ride?

Me: Hey, that’s part of the half day. You can do whatever you want during the car ride.

J&J: As long as we stay in the car.

Me: That’s right.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Purgatorio: Week One

It’s Thursday morning again, which means we’ve been on the road for an entire week. We’re sitting in the Oasis deli in Ajo. The guys are looking at me a little weird because I’m the only one having beer with my coffee, but it’s the kind of moment when that’s exactly what must be done.

A lot has changed. Since Saturday we’ve averaged about 5 hours of sleep per day. Last night was the first time any of us has slept in, and I’m sure that the rest of the crew woke up with the same feeling of gratitude and disbelief I felt this morning when I saw the sun seeping through the curtain and I was still in bed. We’ve shot hours and hours of footage—Merced, Tijuana, Pine Valley, Mexicali, Yuma and Ajo—intertwined by over a thousand miles of road, epic landscapes, unique characters and sweltering heat.

I finally had enough time to sit down and write about the last few days. Here is a bit of the footage we have shot so far:

My name is Dan, Gadget Dan. I’m a native San Diegan, Native American non-tribal.

In retrospect, it seems fitting that our first day of shooting as a team was both humiliating and exhausting. Last Saturday we hung out with Gadget Dan, a wonderful 68-year-old minuteman/ environmentalist who kicked our ass hiking along the highways of the Pine Valley desert.

Gadget is a lone wolf. Instead of spending his time watching the border and reporting illegal immigrants to Homeland Security like most of his buddies, he’s out on the freeways and country highways picking up trash. He targets pickup spots where migrants wait for their ride to a big city. Gadget is a retired firefighter and he’s been at this for years, almost always alone, slowly honing his self-taught detective skills. Broken beer bottles, cigarette butts, Mexican candy wrappers, everything is a clue, everything a potential marker for some unseen illegal activity:

“This is the greatest cat and mouse game ever. You know what they say, man is the hardest prey to hunt.”

We met on around 10 AM near Pine Valley and spent the whole day hustling to try and document his kinetic activity. Gadget made us feel pretty pathetic. For 6 hours we did not see him take a single drop of water while we were panting and groaning in the boiling heat. He would run into a thick patch of bushes following a trail and the team would start to fall apart. Justin would fumble with the camera, José would get the boom stuck on a thorny branch, while I would despair trying to figure out how the hell to slow Gadget down long enough to get some usable footage. Imagine trying to shoot a situation that you cannot predict and you’re caught in a maze of tunnels, except add some merciless sun, thorns and a clear lack of physical fitness.

Finally, Dan made his way to a dead-end created fence and I managed to get him to sit down under a bush for a proper interview. We talked for over an hour. His dedication is amazing. Think about it, try picking up trash single-handedly in southern California. It’s an unending battle, and compounded with the border issue, its dimensions are truly daunting. And that’s what interested me the most, the seeming futility of his efforts. It’s hard for me to conceive of having a goal with such an open ending. Yet Dan does not despair. If no one else cares, he does. He spoke with simple gratitude for the little things he has achieved, from reporting suspects to the authorities to cleaning up entire ravines swamped with trash. I guess these small victories add up to some sort of meaning in the end.

Of the three of us, José was most impressed by Gadget’s story. He still talks about him every day. You see, José is from Zaragoza, Spain, but he has lived and worked in Tijuana for several years, often with immigrants who are suffering on the border. He had never met a minuteman but a lot of his documentary work is related to the border, so he had formed a somewhat negative idea of them in his mind. Regardless, he couldn’t help getting caught up with Dan’s energy. The truth is that our conversation was not really about the politics of the border; rather, at the heart of it was a great conviction and dedication to a goal. Maybe that’s the best way to confront a reality that is nearly impossible to comprehend.

We ended up grabbing dinner at Dan’s favorite deli in Pine Valley which makes a famous “minuteman sandwhich” upon request. Sitting in a park and watching little kids playing catch, we talked about all sorts of things but no more of the border, the three of us fascinated and happy. I guess there’s only so much that you can film, only so much that can be captured. In this sense, making a documentary is also an endless effort in search of a dream.

The Narvaez Expedition

At some point during my research for this film I ran into an article in Esquire about a journalist walking along the entire border. What caught my attention was a photo of the wall running through a sea of dunes. Vast and primeval, I knew immediately that this image had to be in my film.

I made the usual mundane phone calls required to prepare most things in a film, and to my understanding I had it all worked out: the permit, the route and most importantly, 4x4 transportation. But everything went to hell pretty quickly once we got there.

First of all, there’s a big difference between All-Wheel-Drive and true 4x4. The rental car got stuck as soon as we got close enough to read the Border Patrol signs on the fence warning “Stay 100 feet away at all times.” The good thing was that we were shooting at sundown and it was still 4 o’clock; the bad thing was that it was really hot at 4 o’ clock. Marco Vera was with us, he runs the cultural center Mexicali Rose. The four of us tried our best to not look pathetic as we attempted to rock our Ford Edge out of the sand, to no success. Finally, it dawned on us that we had brought a tarp, supposedly to set up a quaint little camp in the dunes. Soon, I was using it to drive out of the sand as the other guys pushed awkwardly.

A couple minutes later, as we were basking in the glory of sweat and frustration and shaking the sand from the shredded tarp, we got our first visit from a Border Patrol agent. She looked at us like you would at a homeless person at the gas station. I shamelessly tried my best to elicit as much pity as possible and it seemed to work. She called her supervisor who in turned called his supervisor and we got cleared. The funny thing was that we were cleared only for another 100 yards since it just so happened that we were on the edge of two operating sectors, and the one we were in apparently could not call the other to let them know of our presence. I asked the agent if we could drive to reach the area where the dunes are big and the fence bobs ups and down along the top:

“You head over there and you’re going to get stuck. That’s for sure. As for me, I talked to my supervisor and I’m off the hook. And that’s good because I’m going home right now.”

We were left in that special road-trip despair that combines too much lack of sleep, too much sweat and too many failed hopes and expectations. I saw the sea of dunes rising before me like a huge and epic speed bump, otherwise known to us as a Mexican “tope.” Those few minutes we were stuck in the dunes revealed all my plans to be for naught. I was about to declare the we should come back the next day, maybe in a dune buggy, when José woke me up to the truth of documentary filmmaking:

“Listen, we’re already here. Let’s put all the meat on the grill and walk out there. This is what it’s all about. What’s the worst that can happen?”

Sure enough, we were soon trudging along the dunes, using muscles that usually go ignored. José and Marco held up the rear, telling dirty jokes to avoid thinking about the trek, Justin and I would discuss shots, and I would constantly reassure everybody that “we were only going just a little further.”

Its amazing how slow time passes when you’re walking on giant sand dunes. My watch was like a smirk on my wrist. The amount of heat radiating from the environment was criminal. We couldn’t take big steps, it was like pretending to be a senior citizen without all the perks of using a walker or the comfort of having nothing better to do. When we would stop to get water, the ceremony was preceded by a round of hearty cursing that somehow helped us all feel better. True to form, I would get asked often if we were there yet, and I would see in their faces the crushing look of disappointment and weariness when I would answer: “it’s just a little further.”

Let it suffice to say that I had a lot of time to think about the results of a mutiny. Just how far can you push people based on a shared idea? How long before they turn on you, and rightfully so, for literally leading them into the desert? When will they start feeling that it’s pointless? Maybe I’m giving the experience too much credit and the crew too little, but I figured that we were right on the edge of a serious moment. In my naïve mind, I likened us to legendary expeditions. Less then an hour had gone by and we were already like Cabeza de Vaca, wandering along the edges of the unknown, this time with the advantage of a camera. It was only a matter of time before we would each other and be enslaved by the local tribes.

My fantasies were frustrated when we arrived at a good location. Justin has this cool app on his phone that determines the trajectory of the sun in the sky as well as the time and place for sunset. I’ll always remember that the sun set at 6:39. Everyone was focused, we worked together with that special pride and strength that come from knowing that you suffered for some sort of a purpose.

As dusk set in we were approached by another Border Patrol agent. He was a young guy who couldn’t help gawking at the camera. He let us continue shooting and Justin got right up against the massive pillars of the fence. The agent stopped us, he was obviously worried.

“I wouldn’t get so close if I was you. That over there is Mexico. You never know what can happen.”

There was nothing but a field of dunes on the other side.

Riding with the last cowboys

It might seem odd to include dog-catching in a film about the border, but a while ago I realized that there is a strange connection between the dog-pound and the war on drugs. I was busy pondering this allegory as we sat in the darkness just before dawn outside the Mexicali pound.

It was still dark when the crews of dog-catchers began to arrive, and I soon found myself chatting away with Dr. Cruz, the director of the Animal Control Center. He’s a bombastic man who obviously loves the attention. He looks me right in the eye with a smirk as he shakes your hand and tells you that he’s the proud founder of the Animal Control Center. In the middle of our conversation, we see a small puppy fumbling about next to the main building. He squeals pathetically as a catcher swiftly scoops him up and returns him to his cage. The director shakes his head, a little too grave and solemn:

“Let me tell you, those are the ones that hurt me the most. But ni modo, what can you do?

The dog-catchers begin to start up their Ford Rangers and stretch in the parking lot while blasting an exquisitely filthy banda song we had just heard at a pharmacy the night before (my translation):

I’m cheating on you with another broad,

She’s here with me at the hotel,

I’ve already taken her pants off,

And her underwear as well,

Just to let you know how shameless I am…

The three of us looked at each other and right then and there we knew we were up for something special. By the end of the day, even José, who’s a true dog lover, acknowledged that dog-catching is tantamount to an art form.

Crews are made up of 3 catchers. Their Rangers are equipped with a big cage covering the whole bed and a smaller one pressed against the window to hold puppies and chipmunk dogs such as Chihuahuas. Once they get to their route, two of the guys ride standing on the rear bumper, hanging on to a bar at the top of the cage. The crazy thing is the tools of their trade are leather gloves and a lasso. That’s it.

So there we were, José and I crammed on top of the bumper, holding on as best we could, while Justin was inside filming the driver, named Rigo, as he sped through a middle-class neighborhood. Obviously, the director had put us on light duty with his most veteran crew. Even so, this neighborhood had more dogs than you would ever see anywhere in the States. We would come across a potential catch and the guys in the back would jump off the moving vehicle with so much skill that José and I would often not even notice. The strategy was simple: basically, the guys in the back jump off and the driver would get out up ahead, in order to form a triangle around the dog.

The first catch was a brown mutt who fought as hard as she could before getting the rope caught in her mouth and right around the neck. The catchers were incredibly quick, yanking her against the truck, throwing her in the cage and releasing the lasso in a matter of seconds. We were flabbergasted.

Maybe it’s a male thing, I can’t say for sure. But pretty soon we were caught up in the adrenaline rush of the chase. Every street held promise and every dog was different. We chased one particular greyhound in circles over and over without success. He was that one dog that got away. Others were sneaky and cowardly, running behind fences where they barked at us in defiance from the safety of private property. Some of them tried their best and failed. Of the 3 crew members, Rigo was specially impressive. Many dogs ran directly away from the two guys who jumped off first and Rigo would get right in the dog’s path and catch it on the run with a skillful side swipe. The dog would fly up into the air with a short yelp and a graceful curve before slamming down onto the pavement and getting tossed in the cage with the others.

In the hour and half we were there, the dog crew caught about 7 or 8 strays of all sorts, including several dogs who obviously had owners. The rules of the game are simple and straightforward: on the street with no leash equals a trip to the pound. There you go. All of the guys we were with had been on the job for many years, even though the pay is very low and they’re exposed to a lot of danger and injuries. I couldn’t help but wonder about the powerful attraction of it all, the purity of the chase. Their world is clearly defined, from the house door to the street. There is something about their job that is very honest and basic, I would even say dignified.

The hard truth is that there really are too many dogs on the streets of Mexico. Apparently, there are places in Mexicali with more dogs than people, and that’s after several years of the pound sacrificing over 20 thousands dogs annually. It’s not like any of us were happy that these dogs are getting caught and sacrificed. I would compare it to looking at the work of soldiers. It’s superficial to condemn them just because we believe that war or killing is bad. Rejecting them outright misses the real heart of things. What seemed to be really cruel was hearing that many owners do not bother to pick up their pets. They have no commitment to their animals whatsoever. And in some way, this grotesque selfishness is magnified, looming large and ominous over the entire border.


There’s a lot I’m leaving out. For instance, at some point between Tijuana and Mexicali we saw a boat in the middle of a vacant lot in the desert—a boat on a trailer and nothing else. There was an ungodly wind beating down the nearby mountains. It was so intense that after 5 minutes my nostrils hurt. José described it as if we were being repeatedly punched by a weak but determined senior citizen. We stood there for an hour getting footage of this stranded dream that someone once held. Everybody complained, me most of all, but no one complained seriously. I mean to say that nobody quit. After a week I know in my heart that this is the spirit of this crew.

Lastly, I don’t know if it comes through in this diary, but there’s been a lot of really funny moments on this shoot. We spend much of our spare time re-living them and laughing heartily. There’s not enough space to tell them all, or rather to be honest, I would probably kill the joke by telling them. But we do laugh constantly. Imagine us chuckling and grinning on the roads of the black volcanic deserts of northern Sonora, driving at 55 mph, with the ac off, the windows down, all of us sweating like pigs because we’re running out of gas and have an hour to go before we reach the next gas station. Picture us roaring with laughter as we joke around with elementary school kids in terribly poor villages of southern Mexicali. Think of us laughing and making the best of this trip.