For Anita Hernandez, a 71-year-old public housing tenant and former field worker who lives on $160 a month, the shutoff of natural gas Friday to this south Texas town came inconveniently as she was just about finished cooking a supply of frijoles and tortillas on her gas stove.
Before the day was over, however, inconvenience had turned to worry for her, and tears filled her eyes as she weighed the impact on the city's children of no gas for cooking, no gas for hot water, and no gas for heat come winter.
It is a measure of how poor this 8,100-person community is and how little it possesses (beyond its hardworking and friendly people) that the loss of gas became just another vanished necessity (there also is no hospital and ambulance service here anymore). This level of poverty, with half the families receiving public assistance of some sort, led the recently assertive La Raza Unida political part that controls the city council to declare 2 1/2 years ago that residents could not pay sharply increased gas charges and that the city would not pay its supplier, Lo-Vaca Gathering Co. of Houston.
But, while city officials continued to press for a solution, many residents began adjusting, if only their diets or their cooking habits. Margarita Rivera, 28, and mother of four, packed food, children and husband into the family car, and drove to the home of a relative with butane gas to cook dinner and heat her infant daughter's milk.
While they cope, however, other people like Mrs. Hernandez blame both Lo-Vaca and the city - the city for having gotten all gas shut off when some people were paying their bills, and Lo-Vaca "because they don't take time to think about people like me."