It’s a cold night in 1997, and I’m running down the streets in Juarez, Mexico. There is a group of young men ahead of me, four in total, who are themselves chasing after one other young man. One of the four is carrying a metal pipe of some sort. I’m having a hard time keeping up with them because the man they’re chasing is very fast, and the four are huffing and puffing to keep up. I’m more than huffing and puffing because I’m trying to keep my wits about me as I plan what to do once I catch up to them.
Just a few minutes earlier, I was standing outside one of the many nightclubs within a few minutes’ walk from the Paso Del Norte bridge that leads into El Paso, Texas. The Paso Del Norte is one way, north, so a huge line of cars trying to get into El Paso waits on the Mexican side, and the line can get to be a few kilometers long. If you’re ever waiting there at night on a weekend, you can look both ways and see nightclubs and bars catering to the American kids who cross over because it’s legal to drink at age 18 in Mexico. Few of those kids, the dumb ones, will cross over wearing their BDUs from serving in the American armed forces at Fort Bliss.
That’s what the man running from the other four was wearing, boots and all. He stood out like a sore thumb when he went flying past me and up the street. He was obviously lost, with a bewildered look on his face as he looked back and forth while looking back to see his pursuers. “Well, this is new,” I thought. Then the four men, wearing cowboy boots and jeans, came flying soon after.
“I’m going to kill you!” one of them yelled, and the soldier sped up some more.
My first plan was to run across the street and get in my car and give chase, maybe pick up the soldier and take him to safety, but the line of cars waiting to cross the bridge was causing a traffic jam in the entire area. I would have never gone anywhere. My second plan was to run past the cowboys and run with the soldier toward the bridge and cross with him. The bridge was maybe three kilometers away, and I was in good shape from playing soccer all the time. I could do it. Then I thought of the pipe the one cowboy was carrying, and I wondered if the other cowboys were not carrying firearms.
I looked back at the nightclub where a few minutes earlier I had been dancing with Alice (not her real name) and wondered if she would be okay. I had only stepped out to get some fresh air since I was tired from being up since five in the morning and everyone seemed to have been smoking in the club. What if I didn’t come back? Then I remembered she had found several of her friends, and they were all dancing together. I figured she would be okay, and that she would forgive me once she heard why I left.
So I started running.
The soldier was definitely heading in the wrong direction. He was running west, deeper into the downtown area and parallel to the border. He would have to double back then go north, or go north and double back. In essence, he would have to outpace the cowboys for a long distance. With all of them wearing boots of some sort, I was sure that it was going to be interesting to see them go the distance. Then I remembered I was wearing dress shoes I changed into when we go to the club, leaving my sneakers in my car.
If you’ve ever seen one of those races where people wear the wrong shoes, this was going to be one of them, though we were all still putting all of our effort into it. Slowly and steadily, I caught up to the fourth cowboy. The look on his face was one of surprise as he looked at me and I looked at him. It was as if he couldn’t figure out why I was there. He definitely didn’t know who I was. I sped up just a little more and caught up to number three and number two. One was within reach.
One had a pipe in his right hand and was running full speed after the soldier. The soldier was running slower and slower, and he was running in a straight line. It was as if he had never seen those nature shows where the prey zigs and zags this way and that to get away from the predator. He was making it easy for the cowboys in their cowboy boots — and me in my dress shoes — to catch up to him. It would only be a matter of seconds before number one caught up to the soldier, and there was no way we could prevent it from happening before we doubled back and then north.
A couple of years earlier, I took self-defense courses that centered around Shotokan Karate. It was definitely not like the karate you see in movies. It was very fluid, with not as many punches and kicks as one would think. We had some lessons in what to do with people holding clubs or knives, maybe a baseball bat. But I certainly wasn’t dealing with one adversary. Number one had numbers two, three and four with him. I reminded myself to line them up so the other three would be behind the first. That way, I would only deal with one at a time.
Seeing that the soldier was slowing down more and more, and number one just about to catch up to him — to the point he was raising the pipe — I sprinted even faster and launched myself at cowboy number one, knocking us both to the ground. The pipe went flying under a car. As I looked up, the soldier stopped for a second and then kept running. “Run that way!” I yelled as I was trying to get up, pointing toward the bridge. He stopped for a second and then started running north.
“Who the hell are you?” asked cowboy number one. Two, three and four then soon caught up. Number two stood over me while number one held me by a leg. Number three then took a swing, and my world was filled with light…
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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