Jan Reid and three friends were in Mexico City in April, 1998, to watch Reid’s friend, a young Mexican boxer named Jesus Chavez, fight. On the evening following the fight, they visited a bar in a rough part of the city, the Plaza Garibaldi. When it was time to leave, they got into a taxi to take them back to their apartment. This was when their nightmare began. The driver took them on a detour, after which they were tailed by another car. Having taken them almost to their apartment, the cabdriver stopped unexpectedly in the middle of a block. From the car behind emerged two gunmen who jumped into the taxi, which sped off onto the freeway. One gunman demanded all their cash and one of Reid’s credit cards. Then the taxi stopped and the four men were ordered out of the car. One of them, David Courtney, made a run for it, while Reid angrily threw off the grip of one of the gunmen, whom he calls Honcho. Furious, Honcho advanced toward Reid. Reid, who had had some boxing training, aimed a straight left-handed punch at him, but the punch fell short of its target. Honcho took aim with his gun and pulled the trigger. Reid felt searing pain in his abdomen and spine and as he fell to the ground he cried out, “I’m killed.”
This is the opening episode in Reid’s engaging memoir, which then goes back in time to describe his childhood and youth in Texas, his later interest in boxing and his friendship with Chavez, and his marriage to Dorothy Browne. This leads to another, more detailed account of the shooting and of his long period of rehabilitation, during which he was convinced, correctly as it turned out, that although diagnosed as a paraplegic he would eventually be able to walk again. During his rehabilitation, he examined what led him to throw that failed punch at the gunman: Was it courage or recklessness? Bravery in the face of mortal danger or a mindless machismo that had been ingrained in him since childhood?
Reid was born in 1945 and grew up in small Texan towns. His family was blue-collar middle class, but Reid went to school in Wichita Falls with the children of oil millionaires. A skinny boy, unsure of himself, he was teased because of his first name. He was not athletic, but even at the age of eight he was fascinated by boxing. However, his mother would not allow him to pursue it. A stint in the Marine Corps reserve toughened him up, and he later got involved in a fight with some local toughs, which he lost. Vocalizing a theme that runs through the book, Reid comments on the futility of the redneck macho culture that equates manhood with hooliganism. Many young Texas men never grow out of it. “But if you’re lucky,” Reid says, “you become someone else.”
In his mid-thirties, Reid was still unmarried, unsuccessful in relationships, and living alone in a rented cabin on a hill overlooking a valley. He worked out on a heavy punching bag, grew marijuana, and hunted rattlesnakes. Then, at a party in Austin, he met Dorothy, who was twice divorced and the mother of one girl, Lila. Courtship and marriage followed, and eventually, after seven years, a move to Austin.
It was in Austin that a friend took Reid to a boxing gym owned by a former boxer named Richard Lord. An old interest was quickly reawakened; Reid sparred and worked out regularly. Thirty years after his mother had banned him from boxing, he was finally learning to fight. At Lord’s gym he met Chavez, a twenty- two-year-old Chicano boxer from Chicago. Chavez was an illegal immigrant who had served a prison term for armed robbery. After completing his sentence he had been deported by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) back to Mexico City, but he had quickly made his way back, unauthorized, to the United States.
At the gym, Chavez directed the workouts. He was a hard taskmaster and an excellent teacher for Reid; they became good friends. In spite of his prison conviction, Chavez was a decent young man who wanted to make an honest living through boxing. He also represented all that Reid had wanted to be as an athlete, and gradually Reid came to think of him with affection as a surrogate son. Chavez fought regularly in Austin and became a contender for a world superfeatherweight title; he was well known in the community and was commended by the mayor for his work with youths who were in danger of getting involved in gangs.
However, when Chavez applied for a Texas driver’s license, the INS caught up with him. Immigration law in the mid- 1990’s was...
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