Published: May 2007
Charles Bowden

What was your best experience during this assignment?

The town of Douglas sits on the border about 20 miles (30 kilometers) east of Naco, Arizona. I was parked along the metal fence when a Border Patrol unit pulled up. I braced myself for some reprimand, when this young agent rolled down his window and said, "You really shouldn't be here. They'll throw rocks." I nodded and then asked how long he'd been stationed on the line; turned out to be about a year, and did he miss the green of Iowa. "And Maid-Rite sandwiches," I said, a kind of sloppy joe made without sauce and—by border standards—scant of seasoning. The agent all but swooned.

What was your worst experience during this assignment?

People in the town of Naco on the Mexican side are terrified when it comes to talking about the drug trade. The comandante in nearby Agua Prieta was murdered recently. And Naco itself has gone through something like 12 police chiefs in three years; the job is simply too dangerous. One man in Naco told me there is no drug trafficking in the town. But as he spoke, he smiled and shook his head up and down to let me know he really meant yes.

What was the quirkiest experience during this assignment?

I was making notes in a bar in Naco, Arizona, when the bartender suddenly denounced all federal law enforcement. She'd gone to the market to buy some berries, and they were six dollars a pint. Now, she was demanding more illegal immigration.