Conor was in the same situation in that he was also illegal and broke. However, he wasn’t so stupid as to not realize that his white skin and Irish brogue meant that he’d easily get a job. Many of his friends would spend the day trying to get into a work crew (usually working on some middle class white person’s suburban lawn) but instead come home empty handed. The ones that spoke some English had a better shot of attracting the attention of the-white-guys-in-the-pickup-trucks that had the jobs. Conor wanted to learn Spanish, they wanted to learn English, so Conor did what he could. He also just generally loved people and their stories.
Juan Esposito over there under the tree getting a few more minutes of shuteye before the first pickup trucks would start rolling by had a good one. He was a paunchy 40 year old with an infectious laugh and a mustache Tom Selleck would envy. His wife had left him for some rich wanker in Spain one night. No warning, she just up and left him and their two kids. He worked several jobs (including in a brothel in Juarez cleaning up the various “messes”) for six months to save the money to give to the coyote that smuggled his family (plus his own mother) across the border. Now he was saving up for his own pickup truck, a 15 year old used Ford F-150, so he could start his own lawn service and get going on the next phase of his “American Dream.”
Enrique Garcia sitting next to him was on the other side of the immigrant story, his parents had smuggled him across the border as a kid. His English skills meant that he usually got hired every day, and he was smart and savvy enough to usually encourage the-white-guys-with-the-pickup-trucks to hire a couple more with Enrique as the translator. He dropped out of high school to help put food on two tables. Apparently, he had gotten a girl pregnant and now had a little kid to take care of. He had married her and was doing the best he could with what meager skills he had. He was trying to do right by his new daughter and wife as well as help out his parents too. Nevermind his cousins in North Mexico trying to not get killed by the drug cartels and get to America. Enrique had a big and generous heart and was always broke because of it.
That’s not to say that they were all saints out here in the lot. No, some of these fellas were real mean drunks, addicted to worse, or just generally worthless sods. Some were criminals sure (more than being simply an illegal that is); but Conor found that they were usually the exception rather than the norm. Most everyone else was just plain folks trying to pay for their needs and maybe a couple of wants from time to time.
People out here looked out for each other as best they could; they had to, everybody else just wanted to use them in some way. In the final accounting though, the guys in the trucks had all the power and the money. They were the difference between bringing home $20 worth of groceries or $80. Conor smiled ruefully at the snowcone stand over by Ross. It sold bottled water, ice, and snacks … mostly to the day workers that stood around all day in the lot behind it. The guy that opened it up – who was originally from Nuevo Leon himself – drove a new white Mustang now with sporty blue stripes. Well fair play to him, at least he charged a fair price which was better than Conor could say for some. Sometime around lunch, the nice evangelical church folks from the nearby buildings would show up to proselyte and bring the good word of God to these “poor ignorant Catholics”… and the unspoken-yet-implied offer of possible green card sponsorship for conversion.
Conor took it all in stride.
These things added fuel to his knowledge of the city, what was happening on the streets, and gave him material for his tales. He was also learning to speak Spanish and Mexican songs. The stories were all the same; love, loss, struggle, money, you name it. Conor’s favorite song was the epic tale of a man that traveled north Mexico, Texas, and California with his favorite fighting rooster.
The first of the pickups were showing up now. Conor made his way with a group to a fellow in a black Toyota Tundra. He had florid skin and dirty blonde hair and was sipping his Starbuck’s coffee that cost as much as a meal to most of the guys standing under the tree. He saw Conor and (as usual) looked confused to see a white guy amidst all “the Messicans.”
With a nod, Conor spoke “Good mornin’ to ye sir!”
The conversation went the same way as every other morning when Conor does this. Yes the accent is real, yes I’m Irish, well it might be possible I’ve overstayed my green card just a bit, no not much Spanish, happy to work, and then settling on a price somewhere between $10 and $15 an hour (closer to 10 for a full day’s work, closer to 15 for less). Then the question Conor really cares about, “Do ye need any other fellas sir?”
Mr. Starbucks nodded, “Yep, I need three more but I’m only paying $10 an hour, but I’ll take care of lunch. I need one of them to speak English.”
Conor wondered if he was part of “them” or not. Mr. Starbucks probably had Irish ancestry someplace that had dug ditches to build this country a century and a half back… hardships likely long forgotten by his now integrated and well-to-do descendants. Sometimes Conor felt like one of them, but in the end, he knew he wasn’t. Conor spoke up quick, “If ye’ll allow sir, I know just de lads.”
Mr. Starbucks nodded and Conor waved over Enrique, Juan, and Juan’s good friend Charro. For them it would be $80 in the pocket for groceries tonight or maybe an extra toy for Christmas. To Conor’s mind, what he could do didn’t amount to much, but it was damn sight better than nothing.
I really wanted to tell this short story, it’s really nothing important in the grand scheme of things, but it’s just insight into the way Conor’s head works. It’s also a story with a lot of personal touches in it. I admit, I’ve been in the pickup truck looking for day labor. I’ve worked alongside these kinds of Mexicans and wondered their stories (language barrier). The name Charro will forever be linked in my mind with a smiling man who I drove around one evening years ago due to hijinks at the place he was previously staying – conversation was fun, his broken English and my broken Italian. I’ve pondered the stories of the Irish in the mid-1800s and compared them to the Mexicans of today… and if you’ve never heard the song “Gallo Del Cielo” you should.