chapter 27

El Indio Trouble

    There was never any air traffic control problems at El Indio

International Airport, but on occasion there was minor congestion with

traffic along the highway. It was accepted doctrine in that country that the

airplane always had the right-of-way when using that little stretch of


    It was also accepted doctrine that the pilot would not take advantage of

this right. It simply acknowledged the fact that, in order to do the

important work that had to be done in such a remote farming community,

others might on occasion be inconvenienced. It was simply a long

established custom in that community. And given the fact that years could

pass without a lawman passing along that fizzled-out little stretch of

highway, no one had ever questioned that doctrine.

    But one day a fellow did challenge my right to be parked right in the

middle of that highway. You might have known that it would be some

trouble-making white man. This fellow was a squinty-eyed ranch foreman

about sixty years old. He lived somewhere out beyond where that little

dusty road lost itself in the mesquite. He had that lean, leathery, cynical

look of the Southwest. The Lonesome Cowboy grown old.

    As he drove north toward civilization that morning, the first little

ragged end of hard surface highway he came to had an airplane parked

right square in the middle of it.

    He got out of his pickup and walked over to me. I could see right away

that he was trouble. He gave me a mean look and said, "I guess you know

that it's against the law to operate an airplane off a state highway?"

    "Yeah, I know that," I said.

    He didn't say anything else. I didn't say anything else. He left.

    A few days later he was blocked again. I could see he was needing a

reason to get mad about something. "Too many years in the brush

country", I thought to myself.

    He should have just punched me in the mouth, like he wanted to do.

That choice of attack would have been entirely successful. Instead, he

chose sarcasm as his weapon. That was a mistake. I could out-sarcasm

any man who walked on two legs.

    "I guess a rich aviator like you don't have to obey the law like the rest

of us poor folks," he drawled.

    "Not at all, sir," I replied with mock courtesy.

    "Well, I guess you must have some kind of special laws that let you do

anything you want on this here public highway," he pressed on.

    "Well, sir. As a matter of fact I do", I rambled. "I have special

permission from the Governor of the State of Texas himself to fly my

airplane off this here highway."

    "Yeah, sure you do. And I guessed you got some kind of letter from the

Governor himself saying you can park your damn airplane right here in

the middle of this here state highway?"

    "Why, yes sir, I sure do," I went on. "I got this here special document,

personally presented to me by the Governor himself in a big ceremony at

the Capitol up in Austin. Didn't you read about it in all newspapers?

    "Yeah, sure you do, you smart-aleck son-of-a-bitch", he spit out! "Sure

you do! Yeah, you think you can just come out here and park your damn

airplane anywhere you want! Yeah, by God, you just think you can come

out here in this country and do anything you want to!"

    I was starting to get a little tight around the jaw-bone. I didn't say


    "Yeah, sure you do", he went on! "I'd like by-God to see this here fancy

document from the Governor himself! I'd like by-God to see that

son-of-a-bitch! I guess you carry it folded up in your hip pocket."

    "No, sir", I answered tightly. I figured that I was already in this

confrontation up to my ears and I might as well see it through to the end.

"I shore don't carry an important legal document like that with me. I keep

it locked up in my lawyer's safe. Tell you what. I'll be back in Laredo next

week and I'll have my secretary mail you a copy right away."

    "Bullshit," he sneered, and turned and stalked away!

    Never knowing when to keep my mouth shut, I called out after him,

"Don't forget to check your mailbox." He stopped in his tracks, turned, and

came back toward me. I could tell he had decided to punch me in the

mouth after all. Lucky for me, a couple of my hands eased over into his

path. After that, he gave us all a good cussing and drove away, never to

be heard from again.

    I was glad to see him go.

    The strange thing about this encounter, I later realized, was that that

old ranch foreman was just exactly the kind of man I would have wanted

to know. I would have wanted to talk to him, to listen to him, to try to

understand the events of his life that had brought him along that highway

so many years before me. I know that we would have become the greatest

of friends.

    And never having known that man bothers me. Will I find myself in the

same spot one day? Someday, in some lonely corner of the world I have

yet to find, will I find my own life drawing out the same way? When the

trail closes in behind, and there is no place else to go, will I be just

another trouble-making white man, needing a reason to get mad about


    I will always remember my work at EL Indio as one of the more

satisfying periods of my life. Perhaps one day, when I have grown too old

to fly, or work, or care, I'll go back to EL Indio and move into that old

ranch house at the end of the road.

    Who knows? It might not even be too late to find that sweet little





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