Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pumping Iron & Illegal Border Crossings

It's not very often that you get to be the only person at Snap Fitness, but the other night, that's exactly what happened.

Klecko was breezing through his sets getting all beefcake, and then some other guy had to come in and disturb my bliss.

Now if you haven't noticed in my over 120 blog postings, I do like rules, and the guy who just crashed my work out was breaking a slew of them.

First off, I was wearing an Orange T-shirt that says "Saint Paul Sourdough" on it, and this Twit comes ambling in wearing an orange T-shirt as well.

Dude, rule #428 of "Guy Code" has always stated with complete clarity that only one guy gets to sport orange at the gym.

It's exponentially worse if there's only 2 cats in the weight lifting section of the facility and they have a matching pumpkin wardrobe.

But then I remembered how just the other day my friend Dara had been telling me that I would enjoy life a lot more if I didn't judge people, or always felt a need to know "why" about everything.

That's easy to say, but now the guy walks by me and when I look down.....I Spy, that he's wearing Jesus Sandals.

I would be a liar if I told you that I didn't want to slap him at that exact moment.

There really are very few absolutes-absolutes in this world, but Jesus Sandals while bench pressing is cause enough for Polish Jesus to send you to eternal hell.

Eventually more people came in.

Two of the guys that came back into my section were guys from Mexico. I don't know if they have the ability of navigating the English language,because when they work out they encourage each other, or give each other grief in Spanish.

So after the Mexicans did some quick dumbbell sets to blast their biceps, they stretched out and went to another part of the gym to work the treadmills.

Almost everybody at Snap wears I-Pods while working out, the Mexicans don't however because they have each other.

So Jesus Sandals waits for them to get out of ear shot and when they do, he makes mention to me in a hushed voice that a guy probably gets strong and fast when they have to "skip" across the border.

Not only was this comment uninvited, but if it was supposed to be a joke, it wasn't even clever.

I was on the leg press machine at the time, and after finishing the set, I looked at the guy and said.....

"People rocking Jesus Sandals should never point fingers!"

I hurt the guys feelings. He thought I was going to admire him, or his wit, instead he got a cup full of Klecko disdain.

Either way, I spent my 32 minutes of "Dreadmill" time, thinking about some of the stories different people in numerous bakeries have told me about crossing the border.

I'm going to write it as if I were them talking, but some of these explanations were passed on to me years ago.

I will do my best to repeat them exactly as they were told to me.

Chai was a Hmong Baker from Laos that worked with me while he was attending college. For a man that wasn't much bigger than a hand puppet, Chai was incredibly strong, but also possessed discipline and humility.

I remember one night,all of the bakers were bored. It was a slow night and people decided to pass the time by picking on Chai.

In a bakery, if you really respect somebody, it isn't considered rude to bust their balls a little, in fact, in some ways it's viewed as some kind of blue collar tribute I guess.

With Chai the ribbing almost always started by somebody reminding him about the time a guy struck up a conversation with him on a University Avenue bus stop. To make a long story short, the guy suggested that the 2 of them kill some time together at the movies.......

However for Chai he wasn't aware that the movies were in shoe box sized stalls, and most of the plot points revolved around men exploring each others love.

Most of the Hmong's I worked with were not against homosexuality,it was more like they never considered it a viable options.

Good Ol' Chai would just get a huge grin on his face and smile while exclaiming....

"USA, crazy man, boy kiss boy, ha ha, USA!"

Then somebody temporarily shifts gears and actually asked a question of merit. They wanted to know if Chai's trip to America was difficult.

"When my family decided to leave Laos, they didn't mention it to any of us. Instead they woke up us kids, and each one of us was handed a bag and told not to speak a single word.

My family traveled through the jungles at night and slept during the day. It took us close to a week to get to the river (he told us the name of it, but I forgot it)

We had to wait for one more day to pass, because you had to cross the river at night. It was still dangerous, There was patrol boats and spot lights shined from the shore.

We built a raft and started out that night. When we hit the river, I couldn't believe how fast the current was. I was really afraid. Spot lights were flashing, my parents were telling us kids to remain quiet, but then our raft got caught in the spot light.

Everybody panicked, we all jumped in the river and did our best to swim across shore.

I am pretty sure that it killed my brother, and I know it killed my mother. The crossing did not go as my father had planned it.

We had people waiting for us on the other side, so when I finally made it across, I went to look for them, but I got caught by bandits instead.

When they realized I was young, they beat me up and made me tell them who I was. When they knew, they just visited different refugee camps in Thailand and asked if anybody knew who I was.

When they ran into my family that lived in such a camp, they demanded $10 000 or they said they would kill me.

My Parents didn't have that much money so they said they were sorry.

The bandits told them they had 48 more hours to acquire the balance.

Many people from the refugee camp had been through similar events, so everybody pitched in.

When the bandits came back, my father said we have $4000. That's it. Either take the money or keep the boy, we have nothing else."

As Chai was reliving this episode, a oven man named Pee Wee chimed in.....

"So Chai, where were the bandits keeping you, in a safe house?"

Matter of fact like, Chai explained that he was kept in a large kennel, like the kind they have at the Humane Society.

Then he concluded his tale.

"The Bandits figured $4000 dollars was better than nothing, but the people in the refugee camp later told my parents that one kids family offered $5000 ransom, but the bandits killed him. They wanted to set an example so families of the kidnapped wouldn't issue low ball offers."

After getting into the refugee camp, Chai lived 3 more years behind a fenced cage. Throughout his captivity he wrote letters (as many of his friends did) to gain admittance to France, but for whatever reason, the French wouldn't take any of these people, and the majority of them eventually came to the Twin Cities.

Then there was Tony the Pony, he came from a small farming village in Mexico. I worked with him for 5 years before he dared to mention crossing the border into America.

The moment he raised the topic many of the other Mexicans in the shop became squeamish, some even reprimanded him, but the Pony was the ringleader of this group and told them to grow up.

He went on to insist that you had to pay for protection to cross the border because there were so many Mexicans on the Mexican side, and Americans on the American side that would hunt you down, steal from you and in some cases kill you.

"They don't want to leave witnesses you know, maybe somebody's brother or uncle will come back to kill them for revenge.

You gotta remember man, when you are making a crossing, almost everybody has around $5000 - $15 000 start up money in their pockets.

If you roll just one person a day, you'll become rich, so instead we just pay money to a man and he will bring a truck and a bunch of people will crawl into the storage part.

They load you in the desert, and it is not unusual for the driver to point to one of the women, and that woman has to have sex with him. sometimes she will have a husband, and he cannot say anything because if the woman does not do it, the people will beat her because the driver will threaten to leave them stuck there, standing in the sand.

Yeah, the driver will make her have sex, and some times make everybody who is crossing watch.

It is some crazy business man."

I couldn't believe how twisted this reality was, how exploited many of these people were.

When I mentioned how wrong that was, Pony shook his head in agreement.

"Being scared, and poor is a bad combination man. People will do some really weird s*** to get ahead.

The trucks I have rode in would take us to Cali, and most of us were dropped off at vineyards or farms.

You'd make s*** for wages, but you were in America so it was worth it.

Some of the women didn't like to work so they thought they would just go into the fields and screw the guys on payday, but then there started to be times when a bunch of guys would hide, and when the woman came....they would take her over and over and none of them gave her a penny.

The best thing you can do is work hard in Texas or California, build up your bankroll and then make connections with people in a city that is as far away from the border as possible."

Pony ended up leaving my crew after his son fell into a gang. One night in a fight, his kid got his head kicked so hard, and so many times that the circumference of his melon practically doubled.

Those are just 2 of dozens of stories I have heard about border crossings. I have yet to hear one where the journey wasn't surreal.

So the next time you come into Snap Fitness, make sure that you are not wearing orange, try to wear a pair of Adidas not Birkenstock s, and most importantly, don't talk a bunch of crap to me about people whose lives deal more with survival than pleasure.