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Herb Palmer: Borders may disappear on the continent of the Americas

I recall with pleasure my trip to Mexico City in the early 1950s. Driving a 1948 Buick Roadmaster, my wife, daughter and yours truly crossed the border at Laredo, Texas, and drove into a strange country, a land of cactus and wild flowers.

I recall with pleasure my trip to Mexico City in the early 1950s. Driving a 1948 Buick Roadmaster, my wife, daughter and yours truly crossed the border at Laredo, Texas, and drove into a strange country, a land of cactus and wild flowers.
A few miles into Mexico, we came across a small, seemingly deserted village with a few vacant huts and buildings. But as we stopped momentarily to view the small, rundown adobe dwellings, they suddenly came alive as dozens of children with uplifted hands beseeched us for "nickels, nickels and more nickels." We happened to have some, with a few dimes and quarters as well, that made them very happy.
Driving along a good highway for 100 miles or so, we entered the city of Monterrey. We stayed at a large, modern, comfortable hotel. The following day, we drove up the mountains on another good road, which guaranteed our safety by having two sombreroed Mexican soldiers with rifles sitting sleepily every 10 miles or so. There was a small village with restrooms where we were met by a group of children and their teachers with greetings and, again, outstretched hands. We hurriedly got out our Spanish dictionary to get directions to the restrooms. Whew!
Continuing on our journey, we arrived at a tourist center in Mexico City and hired a driver to get us to our hotel and drive us around for the rest of our visit in the city. Mexico City was a miracle of wonders with beautiful parks and large open gondola trips through colorful flowered lagoons featuring Mexican xylophone orchestras and singing. There were open shops and fine restaurants, where even today the American dollar is worth nine pesos. There were also, of course, the bullfights, ancient pyramids and the vast cactus farmlands to grab our attention.
Times change, but even today, along the United States and Mexican border, you can relax in an atmosphere where hearts and minds, money and culture, are merged into an exciting adventure. Every day the throngs move in and out of the United States viewing the movement of 1 million barrels of crude oil, 432 tons of bell peppers, 23,800 light bulbs, 166 brand new Volkswagen Beetles, 16,250 toasters and $51 million worth of auto parts. In fact, everything from little plastic knobs to air conditioners, including cell phone chargers.
And there are the people, 800,000 crisscrossing legally every day, not to mention the 46,000 or so who illegally hop fences on their way to jobs in the United States as meat packers in Iowa, carpenters in Georgia or gardeners in Pennsylvania. They know that as a whole they can get jobs that no one else wants, save money and even send some home.
Sometime in the next few years, Mexico will pass Canada as our top trading partner. America's 4,000-mile border with Canada is basically defended by a couple of fire trucks, and most Americans think that's about all we need. The southern border is about half as long, but needs the equivalent of an army division to patrol it. However, at the beginning of this century, there may be no country on earth with as much potential for growth than our southern neighbors.
From the moment you set foot in the boom towns of the Rio Grande Valley, you sense that you are entering a gold rush, free spirited, corrupt and not stoppable. Stand on the corner some morning in Laredo, Texas, and watch the continuous movement of 8,000 trucks per day hustling the economy north and south, 18-wheelers full of bulldozer claws and baby cribs, passing through a town that once didn't even bother to pave its streets.
Today, the banks are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. All roads are being widened, their shoulders littered with pieces and bits of blown-out-tires. Gerald Schwebel's bank, the biggest in town with assets of more than $6 billion, has a small fleet of jets at the airport standing by to fly bankers to Europe, Asia and points everywhere else in the world.
In the cool morning air, the shoppers come, old men and women from Nuevo to Laredo, walking across the downtown bridge (which we crossed for pennies in the 1950s). Mexicans walk to Wal-Mart's parking lot, making that store one of the most profitable in the nation. Hispanics have taken over African Americans as the country's largest minority, and their numbers continue to grow.
If President Bush and Mexico's Vincente Fox manage to solve the problems of their two nations, who really need each other but don't completely trust each other, this North American continent could give way to the century of Americas, and the borders between Mexico and Canada might just disappear.
(Editor's Note: Material in this column was obtained from a news feature written by Timothy Roche and Terry McCarthy in TIME magazine.)
On the lighter side ...
Ole and Lars were golfing. On the fifth hole, they drove over a little hill toward the green. To their surprise, they found one ball in the cup and one 2 inches from the cup. Since they were both shooting Titleist balls, they didn't know who had the hole-in-one. So, they called on a nearby golfer, Bert Getz, to act as referee. Bert looked the situation over and finally inquired, "All right, which of you was shooting the orange ball?"
Ole says that Americans are funny. "First dey put sugar in a glass to make it sveet; den a tvist of lemon to make it sour, gin to varm dem up, and ice to cool it off. Den, dey say, 'Here's to you,' and drink it demselves."
-- Ole and Lena Joke Book

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