Skunk smell mild compared to snowstorm


LaGRULLA, Texas _ I'm not one to travel long distances for a long period of time. Whenever I need to get to a certain destination I travel by plane. It's fast and easy.

But in order to do my job properly, I had to travel the 2,141 miles from Oregon to South Texas with the Martinez and other migrant families.

To put it in a few words, it wasn't fun.

The first day was all right. I guess the excitement and newness kept me going. But that wore off real fast.

What really got to me _ and quite honestly, got me terrified _ was driving through a snowstorm in Utah. I've never driven through that type of weather before, much less through a canyon. I'm from San Antonio, Texas, where we may get one inch of snow every 10 years.

I had had three hours of sleep after driving 13 hours the day before and then I found myself under horrible weather conditions.

It took about two hours to drive through the canyon near Utah Lake. I also happened to be last car in our caravan. All I kept repeating to myself was, ``You can't stop now. Just keep driving and continue on ahead.'' I also kept hearing one of the last things a friend in Walla Walla said to me the night before I left: ``Be careful, drive carefully and take care of yourself. But most importantly, drive carefully.''

When everyone pulled over to regain composure and to make sure everyone was all right, one of the other drivers practically had to pry my hands off the steering wheel.

I was also in desperate need of a cigarette. But I don't smoke.

It was at that moment that I stopped and looked around and noticed that I was the only woman driver in our group.

There were four men, four women and five children. The men knew how to drive, as did three of the women. Yet I was the only one who ever got behind the wheel. The other women were always passengers.

After we drove through the snowstorm in Utah and later the next day through sleet and icy road conditions in New Mexico, the men would good-humoredly joke about me and how scared I was.

Raul Martinez would even say, ``But you were never scared when you would drive by yourself from Boardman to Walla Walla every weekend. And there you drove at night and went 80 mph.''

He exaggerated a bit, yet I did point out to him that I always drove in good weather conditions.

Only after the men continued joking about me for a while longer did Iris, the Martinezes' daughter-in-law, speak up. ``That was the first time she ever drove in snow and she did it by herself,'' she said. ``None of us (women) have ever tried it.''

That kept the men quiet for the rest of the trip.

Raul's wife, Maria Elena, also kept pointing out to everyone that I drove most of those 2,000 miles without much help.

The Martinezes' son-in-law, Christobal Saenz, did take over the wheel of my car twice: when we got out of the snowstorm because I was too nervous to continue, and once at night because I was too sleepy.

The rest of the trip went by without much mishap, although I did go over a deer that was dead on the road, and a skunk. The smell in my car was unbearable for days, but after that snowstorm I felt I could handle anything.

This trip taught me something about myself: that placed under any conditions or situations, I don't give up.

But what I really wanted to learn was what pushes the migrant workers to such extremes. I didn't learn that, and I don't know if I ever will.

During the preparation of our returning to Texas and while on the road, I learned that they wait until the last minute to do things. And then, they are always in a hurry.

We knew on Oct. 23 that we were going to head home five days later. I had been packed for two weeks. When I returned to Boardman from Walla Walla the Sunday night prior to our departure, I found the families still packing their belongings. It was midnight and things were still scattered throughout the apartment.

So I asked Iris, ``When did you start packing?''

``Today,'' she answered.

Then I asked Maria Elena, ``If you knew for days that we were leaving on Monday, why did you wait until Sunday to start packing?''

``I don't know,'' she said, almost embarrassed. ``Because that's the way we are, I guess.''

Then there was the road trip.

We spent 12- to 15-hour days driving, without much sleep and only stopping once per day for a warm meal. The rest of the time we stopped only to refuel and to ask each of the drivers if they could continue another 300 miles or so.

I understand trying to beat the terrible weather that was heading our way, but there was also their mentality of hurrying to get home.

Christobal had even told me, ``Once we made it from Texas to Walla Walla in two days.'' And he was very proud of that.

So I asked him, ``If you know that you're supposed to start a certain job with a harvest on a certain date, then why don't you prepare yourselves and give yourselves ample time to get there without having to drive such forsaken hours without sleep?''

He too looked at me embarrassed and only said, ``I don't know.''

I asked Maria Elena Martinez the same thing and reminded her that just four months ago her son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren where in a car accident in Idaho as they were heading home to Texas. Her son had fallen asleep at the wheel and their truck overturned.

Maria Elena just stared at me and said, ``I don't know. That's the way all migrants are. But don't ask me why because I don't know.''


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