We were checking in when a woman came storming out of her room to the desk and said,
“There’s shit on them sheets.”
The South Indian manager sighed with unmasked irritation but, true to local custom, tried to provide accommodating customer service.
“We can give you a new room, m’am,” he said. “New sheets and everything.”
I had just finished signing the credit card slip. The Super 8 was barely a mile off I-10, and we’d just spent six hours waiting in Ciudad Juárez to enter the United States: me in the parking lot on the El Paso side of the Córdova bridge, Jorge in a small room crammed with people waiting for the final stamp that would signal the end of this round of bureaucracy, one small but crucial victory in an ongoing battle for legality. I had pictured a triumphant embrace, Jorge beaming at his arrival and me leaping into his arms, Stella grinning a beefy German Shepherd grin: I allowed myself to feel that swell of embarrassing patriotism that sometimes overtakes me against my will watching Olympic sporting events.
But Jorge was embittered after his first U.S encounter with a bored official who, after $1500, a week spent holed up in a Ciudad Juárez hotel room, and the epic, unrelentingly hot wait at the border, didn’t know what a K1 visa was, and made Jorge wait for a half an hour at the counter while she asked her supervisor what to do. When he finally came out, Stella had just devoured a sweaty papaya on the curb and wasn’t feeling so hot, I was sitting exhausted and fed up under a street lamp, and we all wanted nothing more than for the day to be over.
The highway chains had bristled with neon against the flat Texas night, then disappeared, one after the other, as we zoomed east and north, and when we had finally escaped the predictable detritus of sprawl around El Paso we took the first black, quiet exit, parked at the Super 8, took a moment to admire the sprinkling of lights like plankton spread flat and wide over the valley, and came in for a room. There, we met the woman, and soon after marooned ourselves in sleeping bags on our $48 bed, sheets beside us in a bundled heap on the floor, drinking beer and watching CNN.
“Bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos!” I said.