Moby Goes to Brownsville, Texas

Brownsville nestles in the very southern tip of Texas, with the Rio Grande and Mexico on its south and west, the Gulf of Mexico to the east, and all of Texas stretching north.

Brownsville, TX

Forbes named Brownsville #182 on their Best Places for Business and Careers (2014). The numbers:

  • Median Household income: $35,855
  • Median Home Price: $78,300
  • Cost of Living: 13.3% below national average
  • College attainment: 17.1%
  • Net Migration: -370

Also making the list:

  • #1 Denver, CO
  • #2 Raleigh, NC
  • #3 Portland, OR
  • #27 Boise, ID
  • #193 Flint, MI (just 11 places below Brownsville)
  • #200–last place– Atlantic City, NJ

Read the full report at Forbes/Brownsville.

Urban Dictionary is less flattering:

Texas’s south most city, a city of 200k people, 100k of which are American citizens.
Starting at its southernmost point which lives firmly in the 1850’s, add a decade per quarter mile until you reach the northern city limits and you will have finally have reached the 1970’s.

On our way to Brownsville, in an act of ignorance or stupidity, we drove small roads along the border from Del Rio south to Brownsville. Our few fellow travelers were oil workers, border patrol, and armadillos. When we reached Brownsville, we were graciously and generously hosted by Anna and John, the parents of daughter Natalie’s pal and business partner, Stephanie. A big thanks to Anna and John (who questioned the safety of this border road into Brownsville) while showing us a fine time.

We found this poor fellow dead on the road. Larry propped it up for the photo.

The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is related to anteaters and sloths. Armadillo is Spanish for “little armoured one.” They sleep up to 16 hours a day and spend the other 8 looking for bugs and getting run over on roads.

Larry had never seen an armadillo (dead or alive) before, so this one got a close look.
Photo from Wikipedia, that most reliable of Internet sources:

An armadillo skeleton with plates cut away from left side.







The dusty drive into Brownsville was fine, but Brownsville itself was way more interesting than Larry’s smelly armadillo.

Brownsville’s downtown area has fallen on hard times. After 9/11, it became difficult to cross the border into Matamoros, Mexico. Historically, Brownsville and Matamoros were one town, sometimes referred to as Matamoros-Brownsville, a city now cut in half by a border and a wall. Even more problematic is the drug violence the plagues Matamoros.

This photo is from a National Public Radio report, dated April 1, 2015, about drug violence in Matamoros. See the full story here: NPR Matamoros Story

Matamoros had a reputation as a laid-back border town and was relatively quiet when NPR paid a visit last year. Now, a feud between rival drug gangs keeps citizens inside and visitors away. (Kainaz Amaria/NPR)

El Jardin Hotel is a prominent landmark in downtown Brownsville. What is now an empty shell was once the Rio Grande valley’s swankiest hotel. It opened in 1927, and in the following years, it hosted luminaries like Howard Hughes, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Joan Crawford. In 2013 it was purchased with plans to turn the building into apartments and ground floor retail restaurants and shops. When we were here in November 2015, there was no sign of construction. Maybe someday . . .

Read more here: El Jardin Project.

What I love most about El Hotel Jardin is the faded message at the top of the building: Welcome Mexican friends.


This welcoming message from the past is a blunt contradiction to the reality of today’s border wall.

According to a report by National Public Radio (Read it here), “the federal government has spent $2.3 billion to build the fence — 649 miles of steel fencing, in sections, between the U.S. and Mexico, designed to help control the illegal movement of people and contraband.”

Question: How do you get past an 18′ wall? Answer: A 19′ ladder.

We spotted this on a wall in downtown Brownsville.


I called in my Spanish-speaking experts for translation.

Daughter Natalie said it means: The person who doesn’t escape is a fool.

Natalie’s pal and business partner, Stephanie, joked:  I think it was done by El Chapo. Hehehehe! 

Stephanie’s pal, Yvette, a photographer for the Brownsville Herald offered: This a battle cry of the enslaved working man, hence the bold, box-type font in a bright red color against the neutral cold, white wall, the intentional “bleeding” of the color represent a tortured soul . . . or a really bad artist.

The person who doesn’t escape is a fool.

Seems about right to me.


Downtown Brownsville is also home to Texas Southmost College. That word southmost puzzles me. The online Merriam-Webster dictionary says it means southernmost. Other dictionaries don’t recognize southmost as a word at all. The school was created in 1926 as The Junior College of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. It morphed into Texas Southmost College in 1949.

Strange name but great palm trees!

This Brownsville middle school has a great mascot. Go Ants!!!


After touring Brownsville, we headed a few miles to Boca Chica beach, on the Gulf coast. The Gulf coast in Texas, legally and practically, is a road. The sand packs hard, the tides are small, and there are few natural barriers. So drive away!

This photo, swiped from a Wall Street Journal article (Read it here), shows the mouth of the Rio Grande. Mexico is on the left, Texas on the right. We drove Moby along the Texas beach shown in the lower right-hand section . . . and camped.

Aerial Views Of The U.S.-Mexico Border On The Rio Grande
MOUTH OF THE RIO GRANDE, TX – MAY 21: The mouth of the Rio Grande releases fresh water into the Gulf of Mexico forming the border between the United States (R), and Mexico (L), on May 21, 2013 at Las Palomas Wetlife Management Area, Texas. The area, popular with tourists as well as wildlife, is also attractive to drug smugglers bringing their product north from Mexico into the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Larry scavenged a refrigerator carcass for his outdoor kitchen. While tuna grills under a pink sunset sky, Larry does some thinking about oceans and borders and walls.

Welcome Mexican friends, welcome.

7 thoughts

  1. I went to Brownsville once. In 1975, the year before I started at Reynolds, I lived in Corpus Christi working as a substitute teacher. I saw my first scorpion and my first flasher there.
    Great Blog!

  2. This is one of your best blog entries although I did feel bad for the armadillo. In all, poignant and poetic. I give it an “A.”

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