"The bodies slump on the ground next to a car parked in the store's drive-through lane. The car is a white Dodge Intrigue with Colorado plates like mine and a soapy For Sale sign scribbled onto its tinted back glass. Two bullets flew through the passenger-side window, one for each person in the car. A surgical hit. Professional."
So begins Robert Andrew Powell's book This Love Is Not for Cowards. Powell, a former New Times staff writer, spent a year in Juarez, Mexico, the most dangerous city this side of Baghdad. He followed the local soccer team, Los Indios, as it struggled against relegation. All the while, a dozen bodies piled up per day as drug violence roiled the border city. Corpses were left dangling from bridges, heads tossed onto dance floors. Victims included players' family members, team coaches, and nearly Powell himself.
Powell's project began with a simple question: How could a city as murderous as Juarez have a professional soccer team?
deadly soccer in Juarez
After seven years at New Times, Powell left Miami in 2005. He was divorced and in his late 30s. "That's how you end up in Juarez, when everything goes wrong," he says. "I had nothing to lose."
This Love Is Not for Cowards begins with corpses and ends with the funeral of a fútbol franchise, but Powell's focus is really on life in Juarez. Against the advice of friends, he rents a cheap apartment in a middle-class neighborhood. And as he spends Tecate-drenched days with Los Indios' riotous fan club, El Kartel, Powell begins to see the city through a different light.
"Murder is essentially legal in the city of Juarez," Powell points out. "In this city where you can pretty much commit any crime that you want, almost nobody is a criminal."
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Powell profiles the team's players, owner, coach, and fans. Near the end of the book, Powell is sitting in a bar near his house watching a soccer game when a car bomb explodes down the street, shredding several policemen. Powell feels the blast. But instead of rushing home, he stays glued to the screen.
"The next day I ran a 10K road race along the same street" as the car bombing, Powell says. "That's when a friend in Juarez metaphorically slapped me in the face. He said, 'You don't have to be here. You need to get out.'"
Powell left Juarez a few weeks later and now lives again in Miami. He misses Juarez, even if he's glad to be gone.
"You can't live there if you're sane," he says. "That's the ultimate conclusion of my book: If you have options and you are sane, you have to leave."