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Super-Sized Road Trip: Leg 2 to El Paso

January 30th, 2017 · No Comments · Football, NFL, Road trip, Sports Journalism

Day 3 of the series and Leg 2 of the road trip to the 2005 Super Bowl, 434 miles from Phoenix to El Paso, Texas, Jacksonville — part of the 2,431 miles across Interstate 10 from Ontario, Calif., to Jacksonville.

(The following report came before Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, became globally notorious for drug gangs — and something of a “no-go” area for American tourists.)

From February 1, 2005

EL PASO, Texas — Raul Gonzalez is not the sort of salesman who gives up easily. He is Mexican, he hustles jewelry in the crowded warrens of the Ciudad Juarez central market and he deals with U.S. tourists who have just crossed the border with Texas. Normally, he is as tenacious as gum on a huarache sandal.

This Sunday, however, he won’t bother working late.

“No people coming to shop, you understand me?” he said. “They all watch the game.

“The Super Bowl, senor.”

Gonzalez will be at a Super Bowl party — like many Mexicans in this sprawling metropolis of northern Chihuahua state.

“We meet people in our home and make tacos. We eat many tacos during this game.”

As we follow the cross-continental Road to the Super Bowl — Interstate 10 from Ontario, Calif., to Jacksonville, Fla. — we veered next to Mexico at El Paso, here at the western tip of Texas.

From the I-10, a traveler can gaze across the Rio Grande River valley and see the homes and shanties of Juarez on the dusty brown hills opposite.

Juarez is a city of some 2 million, nearly four times as large as its neighbor and nearly as fascinated by the National Football League’s big game.

On Sunday, there is no baseball, there is no futbol,” Gonzalez said. “Only the Super Bowl.”

To prove his point, he produced a Juarez newspaper. The lead story in the Spanish-language sports section was the arrival of the Super Bowl teams in Jacksonville.

Alfonzo, the English-speaking bandit cab driver who took us to the Mercado Centro (for $30, round trip), said football is huge in El Paso and nearly as big in Juarez.

“The NFL is popular in all the Mexican border towns,” he said, as he negotiated the crossing into Mexico in his battered station wagon. “Soccer is the biggest sport, but everyone knows about the Super Bowl.”

In the trash-strewn streets of Juarez, just south of the border, NFL paraphernalia is easy to find. Much of it is on the backs of its citizenry. A Cowboys jersey. A Raiders T-shirt. An expensive, leather Kansas City Chiefs jacket.

“The Cowboys are the favorite team in El Paso and in Juarez, too,” Alfonzo said. “Then maybe the Broncos.”

Raul Gonzalez, the merchant, suggested “the Houston Tejanos” (Texans) also are popular in Mexico because one of their owners is a Mexican. Two co-workers nodded.

The stretch of I-10 from Phoenix to El Paso is heavily influenced by Mexico. You sense the cultural connections in place names and surnames, in food and music.

Anglo-American culture seems muted, even fleeting. Especially here in El Paso, essentially just the northern quarter of one huge Mexican-American city.

While still in El Paso, we asked for directions to the border crossing. The third person we approached spoke enough English to understand the request and took us to a bilingual Mexican-American who pointed the way.

Earlier, on a brisk, sunny day perfect for cross-country driving, we stopped to see Colossal Cave, just south and east of Tucson.

Super Bowl, Colossal Cave. The parallelism seemed proper.

Colossal Cave snakes deep into a mountain’s side and is fascinating. The stalactites and stalagmites are spectacular and the temperature inside is a perfect 70 degrees year round. It would be a great place to live if the smell of bat guano were not so overpowering.

Natives of the Ho-Ho-Kam tribe found shelter in Colossal Cave 500 years ago. In the late 1800s, Wild West outlaws holed up in it.

But it isn’t particularly colossal, which our guide conceded.

“It goes back to a journalist who saw it in the 1920s,” she said. “He was asked what he thought of it and he said it was an amazing, colossal cave. And people started calling it ‘Colossal Cave’.”

OK, so journalists are prone to exaggeration.

An hour later, we left the I-10 again briefly to see the poetically named ghost town of Shakespeare, just south of Lordsburg, N.M.

The ghost town was closed. Somehow, it was appropriate.

From Lordsburg, it was over the Continental Divide, through Las Cruces and into El Paso, west of the Pecos. And a few yards north of Juarez.

We didn’t leave Juarez without pumping a few dollars into the Mexican economy. Doesn’t everyone need an unlicensed San Francisco 49ers poncho for $15? “Almost free, said one of Raul Gonzalez’s fellow merchants, concluding a sale.

When Gonzalez and his friends sit down to tacos, Sunday afternoon, they will be rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles over the New England Patriots.


“Patriots are too far north,” he said.

Today: On to San Antonio, 558 miles


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