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Home | Tag Archives: José Oswaldo Rico

Tag Archives: José Oswaldo Rico

El Barrio Del Diablo: Life in Montoya – Dude, Where’s My Car?

In 1965, two weeks after starting sixth grade, we moved to a neighborhood in Montoya in the Upper Valley; traveling west on Doniphan, we turned left on Montoya Road to our house at 371 Ontiveros Street. The following story occured in the 1967. I was 13, out of school for the summer and ready to goof off for three months. Nothing could go wrong.

Papa owned a 4 door, all-white 1959 Oldsmobile and worked swing shift at Border Steel Mills. I became a chauffeur by default at the age of 12, when I started driving the Olds on the side roads to take mom to the grocery store.

She shopped at Farmer’s Market located at the NE corner of the “crossroads” – where Mesa Street ends at Doniphan Drive. It was one of those family stores with a diner inside, but its long since gone.

Summer days were moving right along and there was a little family reunion at our house. My oldest sister Gloria, came to visit from L.A., and likewise, my other sister Vicky and her husband Charles drove all the way from Fort Wayne, Indiana in a VW bug.

My brother Vince was noticeably absent, stationed overseas in Da Nang, Viet Nam. Concerned for his well being on a daily basis, we all watched the CBS evening news with Walter Cronkite  – hoping and praying the war with North Viet Nam would end.

Screen Shot 2016-11-12 at 7.49.50 PM (1)Papa’s all-time favorite watering hole and “second home” was Los Cuatro Vientos in Juarez, just across the street from El Mercado.

He’d easily spend an average of four hours getting loaded, smoking his Marlboro’s, bullshitting with friends, singing, playing “dados” ( yahtzee ), smoking and getting loaded some more.

Then he’d get in his car and drive home, negotiating turns and traffic lights in a condition that would alarm the most hardened city cops.

He somehow avoided getting pinched by the mexican police, crossed the border hoping the U.S. Customs agents wouldn’t detain him, avoided the El Paso police and the State Patrol along the Doniphan corridor to Montoya – for a total of 15 miles. Amazingly, he would make it home in one piece and collapse on his bed.bridge

We were always beyond relieved when he got home.

I couldn’t help but feel that it was miraculous every time he went to Juarez and returned home in such a state. Papa must have had a giant-sized guardian angel as his co-pilot.

It had to be Gabriel, the Archangel. Because of having to watch over such a high-maintenence mortal, an extremely fatigued Gabriel must have made weekly appointments with his therapist.

When papa finally quit drinking cold turkey in 1970 due to doctor’s orders, I bet that poor angel put in for an early retirement and bought a beach front home in Malibu. He earned it big time.

One afternoon during the visit, Gloria, Vicky and Charles were chatting in the living room. Mom turned to me and said, “Go get your dad’s

Mi papa, Antonio Rico Rubio ( 1965 )
Mi papa, Antonio Rico Rubio ( 1965 )

thermos and lunchbox from out of the car. I need to get his things ready soon”.

Papa’s shift started around 5 pm and the big bear was in his den snoring away. I went out to the car, walked around to the driver’s side…and stopped dead on my tracks.

I was standing next to a white Oldsmobile with a design on the side of the car. It had a sideways1959 Oldsmobile-32 V-shaped paint job that came to a point at the front door and widened further back towards the rear left fender. It was a shade of aqua with aluminum trim.

“What?”, I said to myself outloud, “That is not our car. Ours is solid white!” Confused, I opened the door thinking that Papa’s thermos and lunchbox would be on the front seat.

Wrong. No thermos, no nothin’…and, the interior was a completely different color. I sensed something really bad and ran back in the house. Mom was in the kitchen making another batch of flour tortillas. I told her the car outside wasn’t ours.

With a puzzled face she followed me, and I pointed to the color trim on the sides. Her expression changed to a look of concern as I opened the car door and revealed the interior. Panic set in.

She ran back inside and interrupted the conversation in the living room. Gloria, Vicky and Charles’ expressions changed in less than a heartbeat as they all hoofed it quickly out the door.

With mom and I close behind, my eyes shifted from one family member to another. There was murmuring and there was whispering. Perplexed, we all went back inside.

I sat with the others in the living room. Do we wake dad up? Are you kidding? He worked hard and we had an unwritten rule to never-ever wake him – unless the place was on fire.

Thankfully it never came to that; mom and I monitored him and would slip the cigarette away from his fingers at times when he dozed off.

So we faced a most unusual dilemma as I Iistened to my sisters discuss the “what, who, why, where and whens”. I sat transfixed, wondering what the hell could have happened. My thirteen year old mind was not able to attempt a detective’s process of elimination. The words “That is not our car”, were still ringing in my head…sounding like a broken record.

The first thing everyone asked about was dad’s set of keys. Yes, they were his. Mom and I checked them out and verified it.

Bewildered, we looked at oner another and asked, “How could this happen? How could these keys fit a totally different car?”

David Copperfield would be totally impressed. He would have hired Papa and used him in a new Vegas act, “And now, the Amazing Antonio and his wonder car!”

We talked over this scenario: Papa always parked close to the bar’s entrance. The other Olds must have been close by or worse, directly next to our car.

As he walked out of the bar with a giant-sized buzz, Murphy’s Law had set him up to fail: he walks up to the wrong car, the keys opened the wrong door and he was able to start the wrong ignition. Three strikes in a row…a triple-whammy. What are the odds? And where was the parking attendant…also in the bar?

A creature of habit in his altered state, the only thought in his foggy mind was to drive home and he did; in a mostly white Oldsmobile. Hey, close enough….I can end the story here.

After more discussion, a plan was hatched: first on the list was to take dad’s keys and return the imposter Olds and park it close to the bar as discreetly as possible – at 2 in the afternoon in the middle of summer, no less.

We held our breath and hoped our Oldsmobile would still be there in order to pull off the ol’ switcheroo. And that’s how it went down.

Gloria drove the mystery car while Vicky and Charles followed in the VW.

Mom and I stayed home and waited a couple long hours, till we finally heard them drive up. It was dad’s white Olds with Gloria behind the wheel and Vicky and Charles right behind.

They made it back in time – Papa was gonna be getting up soon. I wasn’t in on any additional conversation and don’t know if mom had any pointed questions once everyone returned. I was just glad that our car was back so I went to a friend’s house.

My sisters were setting the table as I walked out the door.

During dinner I’m sure that Gloria, Vicky and Charles dissected the day’s adventure – analyzing it once more in greater detail, then they probably turned to our quiet mom and said, “Great chile rellenos, mama”.

Did anyone tell Papa about this escapade? Hell no. Knowing my family, this unusual matter fell into a category you readers know very well as “better left unsaid”. And I never again thought about the mysterious Oldsmobile and who it belonged to. One of his drinking buddies? The bartender? A tourist?

But there was one thing. I should have stuck around that afternoon when Papa entered the picture and sat at the dinette table, with everyone’s curious eyes upon him.

Finishing his meal and coffee, and getting up to leave to work in his stoic manner, and with a five-day hangover for sure, I wish I could have said to him with a cat-that-ate-the-canary look on my face, “Have a nice day, papa”.

And Gabriel? I can’t thank you enough.

Jose Oswaldo RicoJosé Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor

Previous  columns HERE

El Barrio Del Diablo: A Look Back at Life in the Projects – 6th Grade: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

It’s the beginning of the 1965 – 1966 school year. We had lived at the Webber Way projects, a block from the Coliseum, for five long years. My sisters had already left El Paso; Vicky joined the Women’s Army Corps right after graduating from Bowie High School, and Gloria left a year after that…she and a couple of her friends moved to L.A. 

On the first school day as sixth graders at Burleson Elementary, we all gathered outside the front entrance amid excited chatter everywhere. I spotted a friend and made small talk as we noticed other familiar faces in the young crowd.rico1

The doors opened and we all moved inside like a herd in a corral.

My classroom filled with the previous year’s classmates and few new students, but it was looking much the same since the last time we were all together. I smiled and nodded at my buddies; Richard Aguilar, David Romo, Angel Sanchez and Henry Shaw.

And there was Elvia Rodriguez, a girl I liked. She looked the same with her pageboy hairstyle.

Her green eyes and cute smile brightened as she spoke with others. I thought to myself, “this year, I am gonna to talk to her!”

Our teacher Mr. Santiago, was standing at the front of the class smiling and welcoming everyone. From next door my Spanish teacher from fifth grade Mr. Garibay, came in and said, “Hey, I need some boys in my class”. “What?”, said Mr. Santiago a little surprised. “I got a lot of girls in my class, I need more boys….who can I take?” quipped Mr. Garibay.

The two of them scanned the room and chose a good friend of mine, the blonde and fair-skinned Henry Shaw, and a couple others got the hook too. I think Richard was taken. I was trying to make myself invisible during that morning draft. My name was not called and I let out a sigh of relief.

Just like that, eight school days had gone by. One afternoon after class Angel Sanchez joined me as we all exited the room. “Can I come over and we can play some games?” I said, “Sure!”, nothing like connecting with an old friend. We walked the four short blocks along Paisano Drive to our apartment.

As we approached I noticed the screen door was ajar and the main door was wide open; we walked up the three steps and found the rico2unit completely empty. The furniture was gone and all that remained was the silence that hung in the air.

I stood at the threshold staring in disbelief at the vacant rooms.

I’d forgotten for a couple seconds that Angel was standing next to me, also peering in. He piped up and said “Hey, you moved! See ya”, then turned and left.

I don’t recall saying anything…I was speechless. My buddy and eleven year-old visions of my sixth-grade at Burleson began fading before me as I saw him walking away.

 I continued standing there frozen in place, simultaneously staring at the empty apartment and looking back at Angel. He never turned my way. Not even a wave goodbye. I felt abandoned. Then it hit me….how am I going to say goodbye to my friends? Richard, David, Henry…and Elvia.

I sat on the steps trying to figure out what had happened. Where was everybody? I couldn’t wrap my brain around this weird scenario. The timing was way off, especially with the school year just starting.

 My thoughts were racing in different directions…then a couple hours went by and it was getting near dusk. “This is nuts… where’s my family?” I was beginning to panic. Somebody’s got to come soon.pontiac

After what felt like an eternity, from around the corner our 1958 Pontiac pulled up. My big brother Vince was driving and he looked annoyed. Papa was in the front seat gazing straight ahead.

 Judging by his expression, I figured he’d been drinking – again. Mom was in the back seat on the right side, avoiding my stare. Vince looked at me and said, “ Get in.”

Get in? Did I have a choice?

Should I have said, “No thanks, I really like it here…I’ll catch up with all of you later?” But I didn’t dare. In my mind, I was still thinking: what the hell is going on? I was confused, upset, abandoned and in a state of panic.

All those emotions were thrown together in a blender and served as a bitter psychological milk shake.

As we hit the road, no one spoke. It was one of those car rides where silence was golden – but in this case, it was tarnished badly around the edges. I didn’t look back as we left the apartment and the barrio we had lived in for five years…I was brooding and self-analyzing. Like the others, I remained quiet.

If I had said something like, “Hey dad, when I got home, the place was empty! I think we got robbed!”, he would have fired back, “They should have taken you and left the furniture”.

RosasWe drove west along Paisano – past homes, buildings, “el centro” and finally the outskirts of town. Traffic lights were now spaced further apart and darkness filled the sky for miles.

I didn’t know we were on a road called Doniphan as we passed an isolated bar called Rosa’s Cantina.

As I looked out the window, the night reminded me of a time when mom and I walked home at a very late hour.

As we hurried she uttered, “La noche parece osico de lobo,”The night is like a wolves’ mouth. She had plenty of sayings like that one.

I couldn’t see much when we finally rolled to a stop on a gravel road that evening. Whatever neighborhood we were in had a street light at a distant corner but from our vantage point it didn’t help much. We used flashlights to get around as we unloaded the remainder of items from the trunk and got the quiet house lit up.

It was obvious the major move had taken place earlier. Furniture was in place. I now stood inside a three bedroom home with a large living room and decent sized kitchen! The bath was at the end of the hallway and Vince and I got our own rooms!

This time the move made sense. Papa would not have to drive the 50 mile round trip to his job at Border Steel Mills from central El Paso; he now had a 10 mile commute one way.

The new neighborhood was called Montoya in the west side known as the Upper Valley.

Papa sent me outside with a flashlight to turn on the water pump. “Hay viboras papa?” I nervously asked him about snakes in the dark of night. “Si hay. Nomas chifla y se asustan”. Huh…just whistle? Snakes are afraid of whistling?

I did not question the abstract response nor did I think his advice was comforting – I could never whistle worth a damn. I stepped into the night’s abyss and found the pump room door on the side of the house and opened it.

There stood the big water tank with a gauge, decorated with several large spider webs. On the right wall was the electrical switch and I flicked it on.

Back inside, mom was organizing the kitchen. It was getting late and I asked her if I could skip school the next day; mom was tired…she nodded yes.

The following morning was quiet and bright with the morning sun revealing other homes in the neighborhood – two across from us, and two more at the end of the road.

Our new address was now: 371 Ontiveros Street. Mom and I were the only ones home that morning. I had no idea where Vince was, and I guessed papa was working. I found more houses at the end of Ontiveros as the street dog-legged south on Sixta Drive.

I ventured outside and behind us were acres of green alfalfa. My eyes widened, “We’re in the country!”

About a hundred feet away, on the other side of the house, was brushy ground with large mesquite bushes growing wildly. In the distance was a levee road that caught my attention.

So much for helping mom.

New neighborhood and new friends. Our front "lawn" facing the barren Ontiveros Street in Montoya. I'm on the bottom left.
New neighborhood and new friends. Our front “lawn”
facing the barren Ontiveros Street in Montoya.
I’m on the bottom left.

I got curious and walked around for a couple hours familiarizing myself with the sights and sounds around me. I walked to the levee and saw the Rio Grande for the first time. I found a canal with a fast current of brown water and next to it, a field of hundreds of cotton plants standing at attention.

There was a buzzin’ chicharra in a tree, then a small grey lizard sprinted past my feet. Miles away, a train’s lonely whistle echoed in the warm air. This was gonna be way different than life in the projects.

When I got home for lunch mom said I would have to get signed up for school the next day.

The last eighteen hours been surreal…an unexpected move followed by waking up in rural El Paso…it was a change for all of us that was literally like night and day.

Even though I felt like somebody had owed me an explanation the day before, in hindsight it was a rescue of sorts. For me and my family.

We all got away from life in the bowels of the projects – from a controversial neighborhood known as El Diablo. Gracias, papa.

Then I wondered…where do I catch the bus if I want to visit my friends back at Burleson?

Jose Oswaldo RicoJosé Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor

Previous  columns HERE

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