Posted June 23 ’10

I was working away on my next novel, researching migrant issues, border policy, human trafficking and the mechanics of various drug cartels.  As I’ve mentioned–over and over–thousands of migrants are dying on U.S. soil due to our misguided border policies.  It’s tragic and I feel the need to address it in my next book.  Many don’t seem to care that these poor people are dying in our country.  Or they think that the “illegals” get what they deserve.   Who knew that there were so many racists in California?  (And that some of them resemble a few of my friends?)  Racism hides deep in the nooks and crannies.  Sometimes you really have dig to find it.  Racism is another theme I plan to probe with a sharp stick.  I’m guessing this next book is going to be kind of bloody.

Everything was going along just fine in my chaotic mind and the novel was vaguely coming together.  I had my main character Delilah blossoming into her neurotic self.  I had embryos incubating of a few really nasty men and one saint.  I’d brought back Felix Duarte’s girlfriend Violeta (Point Dume) whom I’ve decided is going to be even more prone to violence.   She still likes little men. She likes to get them in headlocks, holding them close into her enormous left breast, and pummel their skulls with the knuckles on her beefy right hand.  She still smells like molasses.   I was getting excited about my people and the places they were going to go.

And then BAM!  The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe exploded.  Like a lot of people, I sat in front of the TV, night after night, watching this unbelievable disaster.  Our oceans are already in trouble; this just seems like the end of the world.  I followed the story for about three weeks and then announced that I was going down there.  I had to see things first hand.  The world needed me and I needed to be the judge.  I would have jumped on an airplane that night—I am nothing if not impulsive—but I had about two more weeks of book touring for Point Dume.  So I made my reservation and finished my obligations.

I read the articles in various papers stating that BP was running the whole clean-up thing like a police state.  Journalists were being denied access to airspace above the spill site.  They were not allowed to ride in the boats and were even being turned away from oiled beaches where clean-up efforts were underway.  But that didn’t deter me!  I was sure that if I just got myself down there, I would be able to figure a way in.  Nothing would stop me.  (Sometimes the arrogance of my fantasies is off the charts.)

I thought I had a connection in Alabama, who could get me behind the lines, so I chose Mobile as my destination.   But my connection didn’t pan out.  I envisioned myself at the center of crisis after crisis.  Perhaps I would be the one to rescue that pelican in need, clean and save that endangered turtle.  No dice.  BP is very careful about who sees what and I didn’t see a single drop of oil—or much wildlife.  I drove from Pensacola, Florida through Bayou La Batre, to Gulfport, Mississippi.  I know for a fact that there were oiled beaches on the tip of Dauphne Island and at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.  I know that because there were roadblocks with armed sentries standing nearby to make sure that nosy people like me didn’t sneak in and take a bunch of pictures.  (Okay, I’m not positive the sentries were armed but the attitudes at the roadblocks felt militarized!)

Clean-up workers in Alabama

In other areas where there was no oil at all, I saw hundreds of people combing the sand for tar balls.  They work in 15-minute shifts.  Because there was no oil, there was no security and I walked out amongst these people.  I didn’t see any tar, no oil.  Nevertheless, these workers patrolled this beach for hours, dragging their ultra sturdy plastic bags.  At the end of the day those mostly empty plastic bags are stuffed into other plastic bags then consolidated in bigger plastic bags.  What happens to the plastic bags?  Couldn’t get an answer on that one.  I did hear a rumor that BP is very concerned about the bags of tar falling into enemy hands and appearing for sale on eBay.  But again, no confirmation on that.

There were ATVs zooming up and down the sand, speeding around, creating a real sense of emergency.  I have no idea what they were doing but I did wonder about the environmental impact of all those motorized vehicles on the dunes and grasslands.

15-minute break

I talked to a lot of people down there.  Everybody is angry.  Everyone mentions hurricane season.    Alabama is beautiful.  So is Mississippi.  The area is so obviously alive and important.  It is a place that should have been protected and preserved but instead we have something like 3,858 oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

View from one of the many beautiful beaches in Alabama

I’m home now, trying to get back to work on the new book.  I’m so glad I got to see the beauty of the South but I didn’t learn or see anything we don’t already know.  I left with the same question I had when I arrived:  How could we have done this to ourselves?