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Friday, June 14, 2019

A Father's Day Patiently and Gratefully Remembered

Listening well is an important skill, but so is listening patiently. Recently I learned that listening with patience, keeping your ears open to certain questions pays off, even after a lifetime and Niagara style waterfall full the twists and turns of a family’s journey. 

Listening with patience we can sometimes hear about something that answers questions we can hardly ask ourselves out loud.

Our family of five children lost Adolfo, Jr., our dad, on the day I turned three. He had gone to earn some overtime on a Sunday when an accident on the job took his life. Dad worked at the smelter in Douglas Arizona, processing copper from the nearby mine in the town of Bisbee, one of Arizona’s many copper mines.

I had a lot of questions.  Whenever the family talked about him I listened carefully to learn about my Dad. I had a few memories of my own of him.  Even today, 62 years later, I remember seeing him turn on the sidewalk coming home from work, watching him through our front screen door. He always handed me a candy from his lunchbox. He was 6 feet tall and broad shouldered. I remember him once swiftly picking me up from the ground when I fell off the swing set he had welded for me in the back yard. I remember feeling immediately comforted in his arms.

Getting information about my Dad was not easy.  Momma had her own problems. Their relationship had been difficult. Opposites attract, but it’s also true that opposites clash, and those two clashed in awful ways about money, women, just radically different life philosophies. So Momma was not a good person to talk to about him for her own many reasons about the past, but also the pressing problems of the present.  My four siblings were also just doing their best to get along without Dad and live their lives. I kept my ears open as I grew up but I didn’t hear much about him, so like a fading signal to a distant radio station, the times we talked about him grew less frequent. We all changed the channel to our present lives and the busy tumble of growing up.

In grade school I felt ashamed to not have a living dad.  Kids in my class wondered how exactly did our family get along without a father? How was my mother able to stay at home without a husband who went to work every day like their dads did? We had sold our home in Arizona and used the money to build a house in Laredo where we moved so Momma could have more support from family and her old girlhood friends. I didn’t know how to answer my curious classmates, but I also knew that they didn’t see how Momma could stretch a dollar. 

She was frugal because she had to be with the social security check she received every month and the small check she received from the Arizona Worker’s Compensation Fund. Not more than a few hundred all together. She drove across to Nuevo Laredo to buy our meats, produce, groceries. The boys got their haircuts in Mexico.

I kept listening and once in a while in the morning Momma woke up so happy  because she had dreamed about him. Tu Papá. But those times were rare. Strings of months would pass without a mention of my father. And in that way the years passed.  The decades passed.  The distant radio signal was hardly noticeable.

In my thirties, I found an unexpected clue about my father in an exhibit at the Institute of Texan Cultures on the Borderlands and the town of Zapata.  My Dad’s family settled Zapata when Texas was still Mexico. People I met at the exhibit claimed they had taken in my Dad when he was just a toddler after his mother had died. Some answers, and consequently more questions. How had my father been handed from family to family growing up?

More questions surfaced. At the 50th anniversary of the end of World War Two I was commissioned by the local PBS station to produce a documentary about San Antonio during the war. Naturally I looked at my own family and the war. Before he left Arizona for the war, my uncle, also named Adolfo, contacted his sister, Momma, and Dad encouraging them to leave South Texas with their newborn son to come live in Arizona at his home and use his car and start to work in the smelter for union wages. I still wondered, why had my Dad not enlisted in the war? Was he a coward? Did he avoid joining the war effort? I could have asked my mother or my siblings, but if the answer was that he had been afraid to enlist, I didn’t want to know, so I didn’t ask. 

My ideas about him were so shaky. My siblings remembered years of their own experiences with him, listening to him whistle and sing, his giant hugs and his 6 day a week schedule of hard work, but what I seemed to cherry pick from what I overheard about my father were the fights about money, the women. I didn’t want to know if he side-stepped serving his country. I didn’t want to hear more bad news about him.  

Then, just this year, 62 years after his death, with the help of Elda, my sister, my listening patiently suddenly pays off.

One of the family stories my sister is writing in her memoir about her life is about the many strikes for better pay and benefits that my father took part in at the smelter where he worked in Arizona.

My sister recalls the tension in the family when my father announced he was going on strike with the union. My mother knew we’d be short on money and she argued with him to not go on strike. Strikes were a gamble. He knew some strikes you win, and some you lose. There had been some epic losses within recent memory for workers who went on strike at Phelps Dodge where he worked. Staging a strike was a dangerous gamble.

But, always Dad would answer Momma's protests saying that he had to go on strike. He had to back up his brothers. My sister, just a little girl herself, says she over heard this and wondered who were the brothers my Dad had in Arizona? Weren’t his brothers back in Texas?

Despite the gamble he was taking and Momma’s reluctance, Adolfo joined the strikers every time the union staged a walk-out. 

Here is where the patient listening pays off. Where the distant radio signal about my Dad all these decades later gets louder and stronger.

In a documentary my sister saw, she learned about the Bisbee Deportation, now a 100 year old tragedy. It happened some 30 years before my Dad’s participation in strikes at his employer.

In the Bisbee Deporation, the striking miners—More than 1200 of them, all immigrants, Germans, Irish, Polish and mostly Mexican were rounded up at the crack of dawn in their homes, gathered onto the Bisbee baseball field where they were held with a machine gun aimed at them. They were then herded at gunpoint into railroad cattle cars.  Sixteen hours later the workers were unloaded 230 miles away in the New Mexico desert. There is where they were dumped and prohibited from ever again returning to Bisbee. 

Each time my Dad and his brothers went on strike what had happened to the strikers in the so called Bisbee Deportation had to have been front and center of all the worker's minds.  They all knew about what had happened in the Bisbee Deportation, and yet they had the courage to go forward despite their fears and strike for better pay and benefits.

My sister read me what she had written about the strike and I immediately went to ITunes to download and view the documentary, Bisbee ‘17. My immediate reaction was shock, but slowly I noticed that something in the territory of my memory had shifted. It was like sand dunes blowing away and uncovering a trait about my father I’d never considered:

His courage in joining his ‘brothers’ and going out on strike. Against the will of his wife. Facing the possibility of losing his job, or maybe more, like the workers in the Bisbee Deportation. And with the shifting of the sands, my father was revealed as someone I was proud of. That feeling opened up something else. 

Knowing about Dad’s courage going on strike despite the company’s history, prepared me to ask that question that I had been too scared to ask before. The question about my dad not enlisting for WWII. I called up one of my friends, a former Vietnam pilot and now a history buff who knows a lot about World War Two. I now felt I could handle whatever I was about to find out. I had learned something important, and nothing I would learn would change that. I asked my friend if he could tell me why my Dad hadn’t served in the war?

My friend asked me, “Did your dad have any children during the war?” I answered, ”Two at the start and two more just after the war.”

“Well, the fact he had children and he also worked at the smelter which produced copper for ammunition, both are the reasons your dad didn’t go to the war.”

It was like receiving a wonderful gift hearing those words. I was speechless. I then put two and two together. I remembered that my uncle Adolfo was a bachelor when he had enlisted and helped our family to move from Texas to Arizona. He returned after the war with a Purple Heart to work at the smelter alongside my father, marry my Aunt Eva and have a family of nine kids, the same number of children in the family he was born into. 

I was rewarded for listening patiently.  I next remembered how Enrique Solis, a professor of mine and I, exchanged notes ten years ago about how his father in El Paso worked the same job with the same employer as my father had in Arizona. As I continued listening, I remembered the checks we received each month from the Arizona Worker’s Compensation Fund that helped support our family. He explained because Texas is a right to work state, where strikes are illegal, if his dad had were to have died on the job like mine had, his family would never have received monthly assistance from the state’s worker’s compensation fund because there is no such thing in Texas. Those benefits are not available to Texas workers. My dad and his ‘brothers’ going on strike in Arizona had helped to win those worker rights and protections for workers in that state. Protections that followed us even when our family moved back to Texas.

My dad’s courage in going on strike, unbeknown to him, would help feed, house and educate his whole family for decades after his death. This includes Momma’s education, who for years attended evening Adult Basic Education classes to learn English, History and Math that were part of the Great Society legislation of LBJ’s presidency.

Listening and waiting gave me information I’ve wanted to know about my father for all my life. I learned our Dad’s courage and hard work provided for his family after his life ended.

62 years after his death, I’m glad that I kept listening and I'm so grateful for my sister's writing her memoir.  Now my understanding of my father is deeper and to my amazement, something I’m proud of and thankful for.  I see the results of his courage and hard work in the lives of my Momma, myself, each of my siblings and now in the lives of my nieces,  nephews and their children.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Labels-Can't Live With Them-Can't Live Without Them

Look at a calendar and you can see that it tells you if it’s today or yesterday and what day it will be tomorrow. Things get a little murky for me sometimes in my interior calendar. I know it’s 2019, but like my grandmother who lived in the cultural traditions of three centuries, I sometimes slide unwillingly between the deep past, recent past and the present.  Take being gay. There are days, I recall, when I may have wished you could have taken away my gayness. But, that’s the thing. Isn’t it? What part of me would that be? My heart, body, mind?

Recently I participated on a panel about being gay. The purpose was to help inform staff, volunteers and parents of students in San Antonio about how to improve schools' services to students who are other-than-straight. 

Of course, I mean students we are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and questioning of their young sexual orientations and natures. I'm reluctant to use labels these days when the Latinx-Chicano debate divides us precisely when we need unity more than ever. 

I think all the labels may help the statisticians, but they may be part of the problem. I'm not certain they help or hurt in changing the minds of staff, teachers and administrators who encounter students-other-than-straight in hallways, classrooms and conferences with parents. Come to think about it "other than straight" is just as clunky.

Well, It Really is 2019! 

I was there to facilitate for the participants, all who dealt directly with students in schools. I had sponsored our college's student activities club for LGBTQ students for the last ten years of my teaching career. I know they are exactly like other students yet also have their own specific challenges and concerns. 

I opened my brief talk with Mary Oliver‘s wild geese translated in Spanish. I felt it was important to introduce the topic of students and their natural sexual orientation with the work of a celebrated poet who happened to have been a lover of nature as well as a lesbian. 

I saw a remarkable interest and acceptance from the participants of the conference on learning ways to assist students traveling this path of being-who-they-are and loving-who-they-love in the face of many obstacles. 

I learned from the PFLAG representative who I worked with in preparing for the panel, an amazing and generous woman named Lauryn Farris, of an exercise that we could use to let the participants experience (for at least a few moments) one aspect of what it means for many to be gay, even in 2019. 

The Impact of Silence's Four Questions: "Who are the 3 most important people in your life? What are the 3 places that have special significance in your life? What are 3 things you most like to talk about?

We passed out a piece of paper with three questions written on it and asked the participants to find someone that they did not know and to introduce themselves. In the first part of the exercise they were to write their responses to the questions quietly on their own. The second part was to attempt a conversation with this new person about something important about themselves, but to exclude from the conversation anything that they had written in response to the 3 questions. 

As the tables full of school employees completed the written exercise and began the verbal part of the exercise, the atmosphere in the hall really got interesting. Tables buzzed with stop and start conversations. After a few minutes, I asked the participants how it felt to not be able to share something important about themselves? That's exactly what it was like to be a young person whose orientation was other-than-straight meeting somebody new and not being able to speak openly with them about parts of their lives that were private or could be held against them.

A Table To My Left Gasped In Astonishment. 

I looked out onto the crowd and I understood that the goal of the exercise had been met. I asked some of the participants who wanted to share to do so. At the far end of the room a woman stood up and told a story about her daughter who is a teenager and is gay. She said," I have known my daughter is gay since she was seven, but it’s a different story for my husband. When my daughter recently asked me if she could bring her girlfriend home for dinner, I wondered how my traditional Mexican American husband was going to respond. I worried about it all week. When that young lady came to the door my husband stood up from his chair, extended his hand and introduced himself and it was a good evening for everyone." It really is 2019!

Or Is It? 
At the end of our presentation a woman approached me and asked me in Spanish if I could explain to her the difference between gay and transgender. The interior calendar in my mind slipped and slided and made me feel dizzy. I nevertheless explained the differences with cheery detail, and she listened carefully. As she left, I recognized that if the basics are still missing for some school staff, then there is still much work ahead to guarantee all students in schools feel secure that they are accepted in their totality, whatever their natural sexual orientation and identity.

Friday, March 8, 2019

View from the Borderlands: The P Words, Politics and Power

View from the Borderlands: The P Words, Politics and Power: Let’s say your crazy aunt is visiting. The one who climbed out the window at night when she was a teenager. Let’s say she’s calmed down no...

The P Words, Politics and Power

Let’s say your crazy aunt is visiting. The one who climbed out the window at night when she was a teenager. Let’s say she’s calmed down now and is ready to lay some good wisdom on you.

Here’s what she has to say about a dirty subject hardly anyone wants to talk about:
The “p” words, politics and power.

Why are politics and power such touchy subjects? We’re really hesitant to learn that close-to-the-heart friend or relative thinks about something important in a different way than we do, and that disappoints us. But this aunt is bringing up both politics and power even if it makes a hairball mess. Maybe some good conversations get started. Also, how well is it working for us by not talking?

A Deep Dive on The P Words, Politics and Power

1.         Begin where you are. Informed political action, whether it’s voting or volunteering should always start with issues, values and concerns we deeply care about.  I learned to write my own Ten Commandments after reading The Happiness Project. The first of the Linda Commandments may be the most important, “Let Linda Be Linda,” which it’s never too late in life to learn. I don’t like salmon because I prefer prime rib and I avoid scary movies because I already studied for years with nuns.  Preferences are a good doorway to understanding politics. We like what we like and don’t like what we don’t. What are a few of the things that matter most to you? Writing a list of ten things that you care about deeply tends to clarify your ideas. Your list could include loyalty, freedom, family, animals, oceans... That list could lead to stepping away long enough from streaming video, Cheetos or what-not to get personally involved in the next election, or just as importantly, volunteering to read superhero comics to little kids at the grade school near you or across town.

2.              Move the focus outward and extend the timeline. This one takes more than a few days or weeks but pays off in big dividends.  Start with the folks that you see most frequently.  Take the perspective of a researcher collecting information by asking questions rather than giving your perspective. Besides, you already know how you feel! You’re trying to find out what and why people think about their lives, their homes, opportunities, their state, country and world. What are their concerns and what solutions do they believe in? What are you learning and how does it stand up to what you used to think?

3.              Check your inputs. What sorts of news, views and opinions are you consuming? Is your information diet skewed toward conspiracy theories and fear-mongering or do you have a news-free diet that helps you control your anxiety? Watch your use of social media, print and TV for a day or two to see if you can identify if your diet is on or off balance. Eli Pariser  offers some help understanding the kinds of political content the Internet feeds us, based not on seeing both sides of an issue, but on our previous browsing patterns, keeping us online, in our bubble and making content providers mulah.

4.              Revisit the Classics. What book or film first took the top off of your mind about politics and power? The ABC’s of power and politics have been laid out for viewing by anyone in books and films that are more than beloved. They are timeless and tireless teachers about we humans and our power plays. Here, in no particular order, are some of your Tía Linda’s favorites that made her the cranky old aunt she is proud to be:
A Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood), Lord of the Flies (William Golding), To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The Diary of A Young Girl (Anne Frank), All The President’s Men (Woodward and Bernstein), documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America (POV/PBS) Animal Farm (George Orwell), Brave New World (Aldous Huxley).

5.        Don’t Believe Everything You Think. This is so hard to do when our conversations have become so guarded that disagreeing with each other is often perceived as dangerous. I know Michael Jackson references are tricky right now, but I'm going there. Start with the wo/man in the mirror. Check the validity of your beliefs with these relatively short reads on politics and power: Hans Rosling’s, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World - and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. (I fell in total love with this man watching his great TED Talks) and Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

View from the Borderlands: Around the campfire with Roma

View from the Borderlands: Around the campfire with Roma: It's not surprising to anyone who studies media why Steven Spielberg seeks to not allow certain films produced for Netflix to compete...

Around the campfire with Roma

It's not surprising to anyone who studies media why Steven Spielberg seeks to not allow certain films produced for Netflix to compete in the Oscar competition.

It's expected, then, that a new distribution and production system such as Netflix will provoke alarm from those invested in the traditional systems of film making and exhibition. 

In the 1950's and 1960's, media scholar Marshall McLuhan studied the way a new medium like television will overtake another, such as radio, by adapting and supplanting its parts (soap operas and sports programming) the way all conquerors dominate new territories.

Newspapers and TV, mediums that once held the reins on information supply to their mass audiences also cried foul when the Internet turned their booming business model into a splintered spectrum that offered specialized news and information, in unlimited supply, 24-7, to infinitely specialized audiences. 

Mass mediums such as books, newspapers, magazines and movies are by definition in the business of reaching the masses. In this model information is in short supply (limited pages, movie houses to exhibit in) to its audiences. Netflix, which is also a mass medium, has a different system of supply and demand that guides its business. Digital movies are not housed in warehouses or distributed in trains and trucks. They are easier to store and distribute via streaming.

The Alfonso Cuaron film, Roma, does more than leap-frog cinema's established structures.  By telling a worldwide audience the story of a Mexican household and its struggles in Spanish, and in black and white, it actually returns us to the communal campfire from which all story-telling was born. The need to tell the mainstream story for the you guessed it mainstream audience that was inherent in mass media and which held sway for more than a century, is no longer important.

Roma is an artist's work.  Roma is a highly personal project that is also politically damning as it both rips the bandages from the Mexico's wounds to its college students from 1968 and 1973 while also telling the story of displaced indigenous peoples that is just as timely today anywhere around the globe.  

Are you catching a whiff from the smoke of the campfire yet?  I think we can expect more intimate story-telling in the future if the Netflix model for Roma is any indication. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Reporting from somewhere over San Antonio

I had just lost my TV news reporting job—Well, to be more precise, I had been fired from my TV reporting job. Publicly fired. Like in- the- newspaper-publicly. I hardly had any savings and my rent was coming up due. I stood in front of my bedroom mirror and wondered just  how did I get here? What had happened?

First of all, I’d moved from behind the camera to in front of it— sort of by accident —by necessity, really. I had studied in college to write for TV and Film and to work behind the camera and I did that during college. But later the only jobs I could find in the newsroom, where I wanted to work, were on-the-air.   Since I had worked following a bunch of news reporters around, I figured with my Alfred E. Newman reasoning, that if some of the folks I’ve been working with could do News Reporting, so could I. How hard could it be? That’s the kind of girl I’ve always been —take a shot at it.  So, I did.

Second of all, and, it’s happened to me once or twice before, things don’t always go as planned. Well in my case, there was this man at work.  More precisely, a married man. Ugh. Just know, Yup, it got thick as mud. Even thicker. As thick as Chapapote. 

Back to me losing it in front of my bedroom mirror after this brief linguistic aside. “Chapapote” is the word we Laredoans called tar or asphalt. It’s the Aztec word for Tar. The original “hot mess”. These digressions are the blue in the blue cheese. The mint in the mint julep. All the good stuff’s in the digressions. Bit of a  cuentista in me. Storyteller. Maybe this tendency gives you a hint at why dry, factual TV news reporting was not working out for me.

Chapapote— Cool word, huh? Did you know you know some Nahuatl too? We can thank the Aztecs for Avocado, which comes from ahuacatl. Also thank the Aztec Nahuatl language for our tomato, guacamole, chili, cacao and best of all..chocolatl, which in Spanish is ’chocolate’, and in English is chopped to be chocolate.

Yay Nahuatl. Still spoken by millions in Mexico. So, not surprising the words had jumped across the river the way all kinds of our border culture jumps back and forth in the borderlands, the way its been since 10 thousand years ago when the Aztecs traded their goods with cultures all through the Great Lakes regions. 

You may still want to know more about me and the married man— It was all just a hot, Chapapote mess  —there won’t be much more about him. Only to say that once he and his wife became pregnant,  I moved 150 miles away to San Antonio.

But let’s go back to Laredo first. I grew up there. In the 60’s, Reader’s Digest magazine, which was a big deal at the time, named Laredo the poorest city in the United States. That wasn’t any news to us. We knew how poor we were.  Just look out the window onto our dirt streets. In Laredo, streets were an important topic. Besides the old western song “The Streets of Laredo”, the streets were rutted, caliche dust storms. Any vehicle no matter how slow going raised clouds of fine silt that drifted in doorways and windows and made it into  every nook and cranny of our homes. We knew that things were not right. For sure not like the homes and neighborhoods we saw in movies and on TV.  

Our mayor and the local political machine that ran the city were big time corrupt. Here’s an example: the mayor’s ranch outside Laredo had  paved roads. For miles. Paid for by residents’ taxes. The streets in our neighborhood went unpaved and dusty for years until my mother and our neighbors arranged to pay for our own paving. Then there’s the heat. Our temperatures are so hot that the tar in the asphalt melts— and if you should find yourself walking around barefoot around for some reason, say poverty— the soles of your feet would get all sticky and stained with Chapapote. 

As soon as I’d graduated from University,  some of us returned to Laredo and worked for the local TV station. I got a job making signs to use in local commercials.  My friend, Mark got a job as a cameraman and immediately went out and shot a news story about the sorry state of the streets of Laredo. He set his tripod in the back seat of a news car and filmed roller-coaster, dusty jarring footage of our unpaved streets of Laredo.  His footage ran on the news at 6 that night. The mayor phoned the station raising a big fuss and the next day Mark was re-assigned from the news room to  production where he got stuck shooting car lot commercials.

After stealing money from us for forty years, the mayor and his minions had become so corrupt that they got careless and got caught. Accounting irregularities in the millions—When the oligarchy finally crumbled, CBS Sixty Minutes came down to South Texas and they ran a segment showing our dummkopf mayor— who we dummkopf residents had kept electing — outright admitting what a crook he was. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Still don’t.

So, fast-forward past the married guy at the Laredo station, and now I’m working in the big city of San Antonio. This was the pre-cable, pre-Internet era, and TV was tops.

It was also the era of appointment television. If you wanted to watch a program, there was no DVR— you had to watch it when it was airing.  It’s so different now in the age of streaming. In San Antonio, the station where I had worked had the highest ratings.  If the TV was on, people were most likely watching us at 5, 6 and 10.

But now I was out the door and for me the glory was gone. I couldn't call up a city official and say, "Hello, this is Linda Cuellar, News Channel Five calling." All my clout was clouted over. I looked in the mirror and saw that I had to get used to it.  At 27, I would soon be too old to get another TV job. No one would recognize me in the supermarket anymore.  So, here I was fired. In public. In the paper.  No picture with the article thankfully!

There were three of us that were fired —all of us women-- and two weeks later, two men took over our three jobs, sharing the extra salary between them. Three women out. Two men in.  You do the math.

Here’s how I much later figured out how it all happened. First, however another brief digression to media history—

Remember this is before the Internet and audiences for the few stations in town were enormous. There was short supply of content and great demand from audiences.  In 1980, one of our local anchors made a million dollars a year.  For an example of how much smaller audiences are today, consider in 1980 the TV show Dallas had a 34.5 rating. This week's top show NCIS got a 7.5 rating.  With limited supply and lots of demand, TV and radio stations operated their extremely lucrative private businesses using something they still use today which belong to the American people, the public airwaves. Internet and Cable don’t use the public airwaves, so they essentially are private businesses. Stations are licensed by the government to use the airwaves through The Federal Communications Commission. The FCC at the time favored stations that complied with affirmative action laws —Those were good days for women and minorities and I was a two-for! I had a university of Texas degree in radio TV film. I was bilingual. But it’s not what helped get me jobs in media.  Stations got to check off two columns every time I hired on because I am both a woman and a minority. With the arrival of The new republican president that advantage disappeared. Reagan’s administration pulled the cord on affirmative action in the government and its agencies. Licenses weren’t going to be weighed against who they hired anymore. 

That’s how three women were replaced by two men getting the salaries we had been earning.

 After I lost my job in tv news I immediately took a news reporter announcer position at a radio station for a lot less money—But, it paid the rent.

Now, I did not make a great deal of money at my old TV job, but I was making even less at this radio job. Plus, I had to work a split shift announcing the news from midnight to 5 a.m. and then I’d go out in the heat of the afternoon to do live radio reports on traffic. I’d drive to the airport and board a clear, plastic bubble about the size of the cab of a small pick up --un-air-conditioned.  Inside this roaring heat bubble I sat, cradling a Diet Coke between my knees to keep my tummy from getting nauseous. I’d always had sitting-in-the-backseat- nausea, riding-in-boats-nausea, carnival-ride nausea.  Add helicopter nausea to the top of my nausea list.  The helicopter pilot was a taciturn guy who had been bumped from doing the traffic reports when I came along. He certainly wasn’t in my corner. He had the not-too-much-confidence-inspiring name of Captain K. He flew us very competently around the reflective, steamy air space hovering over traffic on the winding circular freeways of San Antonio,Texas, average August temperature at 4 p.m. 104. 

From inside this baking-in-the-heat whirlybird that roared from take off to landing at noise levels that I can only compare to being front-row center at two side by side heavy metal concerts, I had to monitor three things:

Number one, my Diet Coke. Number two, whatever the DJ at the radio station was playing or saying because every 6 to 8 minutes he would throw it to me to report about rush hour traffic as we flew over all the usual cluster of humanity in cars inching for home below us. I'd do this live, with no script. Not easy for me, the camera-person-turned-news reader to speak off the top of my head. My News Director, who had hired me, liked and encouraged me, but her programming counterpart, the Program Director not so much. I wasn't blonde and bouncy like he liked his women. But I have to admit, sometimes his criticism was justified. Sometimes I stumbled and stammered  My rough edges were really showing some days. My Alfred E. Newman, "how hard could it be?" logic was not really working for me. Number three thing I had to monitor:  the police radio channel. I had to listen carefully because that's  how I learned about car accidents on streets all over town that I needed to warn drivers about avoiding. There were the usual street names like you'd find in any city. Names like Main, Broadway or the numbered ones. We also have streets with all sorts of names going back in the city's 300 year history. Names like Nacadoches, Flores, Alamo, Houston, San Pedro, Culebra, Bandera, Losoya, Durango, Blanco as well as street names that led to ranches like Jones Maltsberger, Callaghan, or Babcock. 

The hot days passed one by one and the rent was being paid. My time with Captain K up in the whirlybird doing traffic reporting was getting easier and the program director at the station had stopped yelling at me every single afternoon. So things were looking up.

Then suddenly things took a turn for the worse. A huge truck on the freeway flipped over and dumped a load of asphalt across three lanes causing a massive traffic delay.

Well, I got so excited that day, something newsworthy had finally happened, that I referred to the contents of the truck not by the English terms “asphalt” or “tar” or even the Spanish term “brea” --as in the La Brea Tarpits in California--but  by the Aztec term “chapopote" ——I said it just a few times on the air, but when I finished my report my program director went bananas — he screamed at me "Why are you always speaking Spanish on the air?" I answered, "What do you mean? "Chapopote" ? That isn't even Spanish!  Do you mean each time I sign off with my name LINDA CUELLAR? Is that what you think I'm doing, speaking Spanish ? It’s my name, dude!!

It would take me a few days to finally catch on, but what the guy at the station yelling at me was saying-- in an indirect manner— because even he knew it was wrong-- was that he wanted to hear me pronounce Spanish street names with an English pronunciation instead of Spanish-- Blank-oh, Floor-es, Dure-ang-oh instead of Blahn-ko, Flo-ress and Du-rahn-goh. Too bad. I was pronouncing all words as well as I was able.

Between flying around like a sun-scorched Peter Pan in the heat above traffic and juggling way more than my upside down tummy could handle, both my time in-the-air and on-the-air was coming to an end. T’his time in a happy landing kind of way. In my usual how hard could it be approach, I applied for a new job, not coincidentally also located at the airport— working as a public relations manager for the airport.

 When I got the phone call at home letting me know I’d been selected, I found out I'd beat out a ton of candidates because of my on-air experience and my in-the-air experience flying around in the heat trying to keep it together with Captain K. I rushed back to the mirror in the bedroom and jumped up and down like Mary Tyler Moore in the snow.

And my salary? Twice what it had been in my TV job —plus the newspaper wrote up a nice story about my being hired. And this time with the story about me there was a nice big photograph.