A Q&A With Jan Reid
Jan Reid, a Texas Monthly writer-at-large, has had many close calls throughout his career as a writer—enough to fill a book. But one experience stands out as more than just a pickle. In April 1998 Reid traveled to Mexico City to watch his friend Jesus Chavez in a boxing match. The trip was a success until the last day, when he and his friends were hijacked by their taxi driver and two pistoleros. During the attack, Reid took the opportunity to fight back and received a bullet to the spine. Here, he reflects on the experience and what it has meant.
texasmonthly.com: You wrote about your Mexico experience in your book Close Calls. What made you decide to examine the matter further in your latest work, The Bullet Meant for Me?
Jan Reid: Well, I didn’t really intend to write a book about the experience. I did write an essay about it, which was published in GQ and was the end piece of Close Calls. It won an award and got a fair amount of attention. It caught the eye of a fine editor in New York, who approached me through my agent, and said, “I think there’s a book here if you want to do it.” So I thought about it and decided that it was something I did want to do.
texasmonthly.com: What did you expound upon?
JR: The end piece of Close Calls is the prologue to The Bullet Meant for Me. The first half of the book deals with my childhood and cultural things that created a chain of events leading up to the robbery. And afterward, I write about the physical recovery and the emotional and psychological things I had to deal with. I also talk about how I feel about Mexico. And, on a parallel track, I write about my friendship with Jesus Chavez, which was a big part of the book in a way that I really didn’t anticipate.
texasmonthly.com: Was the writing of this book therapeutic for you on your road to recovery?
JR: Yeah, it was in a lot of ways, but in some ways it just extended the experience.
texasmonthly.com: In this work you explore violence and masculinity. Instead of playing it safe and letting your attackers rob you, you fought back. What was going through your mind at that point? What made you act? Do you think your training in boxing had any effect on your mind-set and behavior?
JR: Well, what immediately made me act was a real fear for my life. My friends and I were pretty certain that the plan was to kill us. Then it was sort of spontaneous insurrection. I was trying to get away from there. It was all just instinct and adrenaline. It just happened. I just blew up. And the boxing was influential. It flashed through my mind that I was bigger than this guy and I had some skill. That was the thing that triggered the instinct.
texasmonthly.com: How long did the incident last?
JR: It’s hard to be certain. The hijack probably lasted between thirty minutes to an hour. It was a long time. And then once it happened, it was seconds.
texasmonthly.com: In retrospect, would you have handled things differently?
JR: I have often wondered what would have happened if I had been conditioned to run instead of fight. But that was just part of my upbringing and cultural background. And I’m not sure it was feasible for me to run, just because of the way it happened. But anyway, there’s a whole lot of second thoughts, what ifs.
texasmonthly.com: Do you think that machismo is a socialized construction or a natural tendency?
JR: I think that “fight or flee” is as old as time—leopards and antelopes. But machismo is far more a social construct than a natural phenomenon.
texasmonthly.com: Has your concept of masculinity changed since this happened?
JR: It probably has. It made me think more about what masculinity is. I never thought of myself as being a particularly macho person. I had a good deal of criticism about the way I handled the situation. But I don’t beat myself up over it. What happened was not something I did. These were murderers, thugs. They were the ones who were out of control. It wasn’t me.
texasmonthly.com: Do you think that if we work to reduce violence in our everyday lives (sports, movies, TV), it would have any effect on the amount of violent crimes? Or do you believe violence is an inevitable part of the human condition?
JR: I think that it could. I don’t know how much, but I do think that it has an effect. How you reduce it and measure the effect on crime, I don’t know. Also, we’re talking about a violent crime in another country and another culture. If we address those things in the United States, it’s not going to have anything to do with violent crime in Mexico City. But humans are violent. There’s no intellectual rationale for it. Boxing is violent. Football is violent. Basketball is violent. Hollywood is certainly violent. Violence is part of the human condition.
texasmonthly.com: Is it true that Chavez was deported because of an involvement in a robbery?
JR: Yes, well sort of. It’s more complicated than that. There were some other things having to do with technicalities and immigration laws.
texasmonthly.com: You have written that, in your opinion, his deportation was unfair. Did your experience being robbed change this opinion?
JR: Absolutely not. In fact, I testified at his hearing for a pardon in Illinois and made just that point. I am a victim of armed robbery. I take it very seriously. But people change. I thought that part of our system of justice is that you can get a second chance. The idea that with the stroke of a pen they could remove all leniency or access to courts was a terrible injustice. And eventually, the INS agreed. The law is still being fought about bitterly. But in his case, a capable attorney persuaded them to realize what they had done was wrong.
texasmonthly.com: What has become of Jesus Chavez?
JR: He’s got a green card. He’s a permanent resident. He’s living in Austin. I see him all the time. He’s doing extremely well. He’s the number one contender right now.
texasmonthly.com: Has the situation in Mexico improved since your highly publicized attack?
JR: I’ve heard it has improved some. But I have a close friend who had a similar situation happen to him a few weeks ago in Mexico City. So it’s still a very dangerous place.
texasmonthly.com: Do you have any advice for Americans traveling to Mexico?
JR: Stay out of Mexico City.
texasmonthly.com: Are the police in on this?
JR: Mexicans believe that. I don’t have any evidence that the person who shot me was a cop. But it was a standard reaction in Mexico City that that was the case.
texasmonthly.com: How has this event changed your outlook?
JR: Well, I don’t take another minute for granted anymore. I’m a lot more cautious. I’m not as reckless as I used to be. I’m not as confident that if I’m in a close call, I can get out of it. It took me a long time to grow up.