An immersion journalist’s ill-conceived quest to illegally cross the Mexican border into the United States.
Although the banal title fails to capture the inherent danger of the task, former Army infantryman and Penthouse contributor Rico (Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green: A Year in the Desert with Team America, 2007) spends the first few chapters prepping the reader for hair-raising adventure. With the guidance of “coyotes”—mercenary guides who help illegal aliens cross the border—the author planned to put himself at risk and cross the border in the same covert, desperate fashion that hundreds of Mexicans attempt every day. Initially presented as a gesture of empathy for the poor souls trying to escape poverty-ridden Mexico, Rico’s quest never quite transcends narcissistic stunt journalism. The author orchestrates a dramatic buildup to his undertaking with foreboding stories of northern Mexico’s notorious Devil’s Highway and the deadly Los Zetas paramilitary group. But as Rico and his battered rental car sped along the U.S.-Mexico border to find an ideal illegal entry point, his biggest nemeses were curious cops and nosy border patrolmen. However, the author does offer objective profiles of the “Minutemen” near San Diego—vigilante civilian border patrollers with their own primitive means of curtailing illegal immigration. In Juarez, Rico made compelling notes of the city’s desperate poverty and the important ways in which it differs from sister city El Paso, Texas, but he’s self-conscious among the American aid workers—privileged college graduates who shucked their expensive degrees to help the poor—and betrays a hint of jealousy and contempt for these slumming do-gooders. Finally, after paranoia-induced acid flashbacks, constant hassles from the authorities and nonstop driving, Rico’s project began to take its toll. His final stab at crossing the border is unforgivably lame compared to the grand Lawrence of Arabia–style adventure he envisioned.
Delivers some tense moments but never fulfills its initial promise.