Robert Schriver gets a break after filling up the Rio Grande Parking lot on a recent Saturday. The lot is usually full well before noon on weekends, though it’s easy to find spots during the week, he said. (Photo- Jay Koester)
Robert Schriver’s job seems easy enough. Wave the cars in, collect the money. But it can come with its share of troubles.
“I’ve knocked some teeth out. Some people want to cause trouble.”
Robert parks cars at a Rio Grande Parking lot right at the base of the Santa Fe Bridge, which is the starting point for many trips to Ciudad Juárez. I see Robert there so often, I assumed he owned the lot and that the $4 per car he collects went straight into his pocket. Turns out, I’m not so bright.
“Do you think I would be standing out here in the sun if I owned this place? Come on, now, don’t be stupid.”
In fact, at least some of his troubles come from the owner of the lot. They’ve had some battles over the years, even some punches thrown, but Robert has been working the lot since the 1990s, and they have found a way to sort through those problems.
The Schriver family may not own the lot, but it’s still a family operation. Robert said he’d probably leave the job, but he stays for his dad, Ralph, who works the lot with him, along with his aunt.
Everyone who drives or walks by seems to know him, though perhaps not his name. They all say hello, but everyone calls him guero. “Any spots left, güero?” “Come have a drink with me in Juárez, güero!” “Qué pasó, güero?”
Even the folks who don’t like him, the drunks or the owners of impounded cars, they call him güero, too. Just with a few extra expletives thrown in.
Personally, I’ve never gotten used to being called güero. Even after 15 years of living in El Paso, I don’t like it. To me, it feels like people are saying, “Hey, white boy!” Which essentially is what they are saying. But Robert says it doesn’t bother him. What does bother him is when people, when he was younger, would see the scars on his head, and name him after the doll in the movie “Child’s Play.” He dislikes the name so much, he doesn’t say it.
“You mean Chucky?” I ask. He just gives me a look and doesn’t answer.
For as long as Robert has been working, he’s worked at this corner of the border. Before he worked at the lot, he had a job at the used
clothing warehouse just a block away at Santa Fe Street and Montestruc Court.
Like many who have been in the building, he has a ghost story. He said he was once sent to a lower floor by himself, and he saw a ghostly figure. When he realized it wasn’t a human, he ran.
“It was dark, and I was freaked, so I ended up running straight through an old plaster wall. They told me I had to fix it, and I said, ‘No way.’ There was no way I was ever going down there again.”
Robert, who graduated from Eastwood in 2000, speaks perfect Spanish. Formal Spanish? No. In fact, when I ask where he learned Spanish, he just says, “I don’t know. I just picked it up.” But, perfect, nonetheless.
“You wouldn’t last long at this job if you didn’t speak Spanish,” he says.
But despite his Spanish skills, and spending the day parking the cars of those heading to Juárez, he doesn’t cross the border anymore. He says he quit during the worst days of the city’s violence and has no plans to return.
Like every person with a pulse in El Paso, he has his Juárez stories, though. As we discuss the times we’ve had to pay the mordida to the Mexican police, he laughs remembering the time he got so mad at how he was being treated, he paid a cop $40 for the right to punch his partner in the face.
“You can get anything you want in Juárez, if you have money, including the joy of punching a cop in the face,” he says.
Ahh, the joys of Juárez.
Haven’t been in a while? Well, now that you know where to park, here’s some more inspiration: The Kentucky Club, long the favored watering hole of many a güero checking out Juárez, has added outdoor seating.
If there is anything better than sitting in the Kentucky Club, soaking up the history and being in the same space where John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor and Benjamin Alire Sáenz had drinks, it is sitting outside the Kentucky Club, enjoying a beer or one of their famous margaritas while watching the action on Avenida Juárez.
Look north, and you can see the Franklin Mountains peeking above the line of cars waiting to head into the United States.
Look south, and you watch vendors hawking newspapers, taxi drivers hustling for customers and the club life begin to come alive as the sun goes down.
If you haven’t visited in awhile, it might be time. The terror of past years has faded, and if you’re still nervous, well, you don’t have to go too far on your first visit — the Kentucky Club is only a couple of blocks in.