Doing the Durango Tango

Green onions. I just can’t seem to stomach them anymore. The sight of the blue rubber band that holds the little bundle together still makes me wonder.

There’s a story behind all those fruits and veggies so nicely organized for our convenient shopping experience. And even with the slightest whiff of the tender scallions, I flash back to that day in Mexico. I can see the weathered hands of the men, women and children that slave 15-hour days, a stack of those blue bands around each wrist, to make $12-$20 each, depending on how fast they can bundle.

The day starts at 3 a.m., where people of all ages are packed into old vehicles at the carpool line. After a 30-minute drive, we were dumped into a large field.

All of a sudden as if out of nowhere, hundreds of laborers raced to the fields, to pull as many onions as possible out of the semi-frozen, November earth. In the hours before dawn, each family had amassed mountains of green onions the size of Volkswagens. The rest of the day was spent bundling the shoots in the hopes of bringing home what was to them a decent wage.

“Siete, siete y mas rapido,” said the woman sitting to my left. Apparently my bundles were too big, and I worked too slow. The powerful stench stained my hands and clothes and I knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy this once cherished ingredient for some time.
I also didn’t speak Spanish, making things even more confusing. My friends who did got to chat with the locals and laugh at their jokes (most likely about me) while the hours dragged on like a hangover.

“They think we’re government spies,” said one friend. “Why else would four white kids be out here picking onions?”

I began to ask myself the same question. A few days before and with a bit of hesitation, I jumped in the car with my college roommate, who asked if I wanted to go to Mexico. She wanted to visit a family she lived with in high school about 50 miles south of Yuma, Ariz., in the Cienega de Santa Clara (near where the Colorado River meets the ocean, or at least used to). Although I didn’t imagine beaches and margaritas, I also didn’t imagine working the onion fields on my first visit to Mexico.

Looking back on the experience makes me realize many things and always makes me thankful for my jobs in Durango. Yes, jobs plural. Like most folks wanting to live here, I work your typical Durango tango and live paycheck to paycheck.

Yet I am rich beyond my wildest dreams when I compare myself to the onion field workers. And that is what I have to remind myself this time of year, when I get bogged down in credit card debt, health insurance payments and rent that weighs in on top of recent medical bills. In the last two years, I have had both shoulders and a knee repaired, partly from years of too much fun, partly from genetics. I am only 27 ... but that’s another story.

The funniest thing about the D-Town tango is not the cruel twist of physical fate, but the fact that although I may have three jobs at one time, they are not always the same three jobs. In addition to my home base at Four Corners Riversports, you can find me pouring coffee, pulling weeds, painting fences, renting snowmobiles, transplanting willows for environmental consulting firms or taking care of peoples’ homes, pets and kids. By year’s end, I usually end up with about seven W-2s.

People don’t believe me when I say I don’t get a tax return and usually end up owing taxes. “But you don’t make any money,” they say incredulously. Exactly. One friend, who is good with numbers, was so convinced something was wrong, she tried to help me calculate my taxes. We wasted five hours of our lives only to find out, I still owed money.

I console myself with the reasoning that a refund simply means you overpaid and are getting back money that was yours to begin with. Regardless, I get caught in the spider web of our tax system, and no matter how I try to justify it, I still have to pay. I am not going to complain about it or whine about why the rich don’t pay more. People might ask, why not get mad? Isn’t that the point? You work your butt off and can’t even go grocery shopping.

But the more I think about trying to get mad, it brings me back to experiences like the onion fields. My life is pretty darn good here. I can certainly get mad about where our tax dollars are being spent and I can still question, within our class warfare, what constitutes a “fair share,” and not just for people who own jumbo jets and NFL teams but for those who collect unemployment, welfare, food stamps and Medicare
According to a variety of statistics and reports, it’s accurate to say that only about half of our country’s population is responsible for paying income tax. In other words, if you are not considered poor, by standards that are subjective and always changing, you pay federal income taxes. A single person with no deductions who only makes $18,000 a year, like me, is not considered “poor.”

Although living on this income in Durango can be a struggle, it’s the price we pay to live in a place where the activities we live for are right out the back door, bum knees and shoulder willing. In the grand scheme, I can appreciate that it’s a small price to pay for living and working where I want, with or without green onions.

– Stacy Falk

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows