The railroad left the small West Texas town twenty-six years ago, and Cascade lay deserted for most of the next two decades. The traffic on I-10 rarely found a reason to stop: going west, El Paso seemed a better choice to stay for the night; going east, the next city, Hasselton, promised better motels, restaurant, and better water.
At an altitude of 4,734 ft, Cascade never had any wells, and water is piped in from Hasselton. The townspeople use it sparsely because of its cost. In motel rooms, signs ask travelers to preserve as much water as they can.
The sky here is ringed by jagged mountains, and the sun is brutal during the day and in the evening hours dissolves in violent and fiery reds. Construction is difficult, expensive, and the population has been stagnant – not too many teenagers choose to stay in town, and fewer return after college. If in centuries past a hermit had looked to flee civilization and punish his body, he would have looked with tenderness upon Cascade.
Today, Edward Costa and his family are running most of the town of 546. He owns both motels, and his son and daughter are operating Cascade’s two gas stations. The profits are modest, but land prices are negligible, and Costa has long paid off debts and mortgages.
His patience and steadfastness have been rewarded. For the last seven years, Cascade has made a slow comeback. Three souvenir shops have opened on dusty Main Street, and Costa has built a forty-bed hotel with pool, sauna, and a state-of-the-art gym. The debris in still-empty lots has been cleared away, and old Corollas and Jeeps have been replaced with shiny Nissans and Suburbans. The surrounding mountains still choke Cascade, yet the lack of new citizens is at the core of Cascade’s budding fame.
“Some people look down on us,” Costa, a bear of a man with steel-gray hair and polite demeanor, explains. “They think we’re perverts, deviants, and sinners. But,” and here he raises the empty palms of his hands, as if to show that he isn’t hiding anything, “God’s ways are mysterious, and Pablo has done no harm to anyone. God is working through him.”
Come spring, cars turn off the highway and find their way to a freshly cemented parking lot at the foot of Craig Mountain. What a spring visitor looks up to once he gets out of the car is a vast garage with twenty-seven white-and-blue doors. Adjacent to the richly adorned adobe structure stands a small house. It seems older than the garage, and its walls are cracked and dirty. Yet this is what the visitor has come for. In this small hut, Pablo the Oracle has lived his whole nineteen year-old life.
“He’s never left the house,” Adrian Gutierrez, a close neighbor, says. “At least not on his own two legs. They have to carry him on a stretcher, otherwise he might break a leg or an arm, or all of them. But he’s smart like the devil.” Gutierrez laughs, rubbing his neck. “Have you seen the Caddies yet? Whoa, you’ve got to see them. That’s how he gets around.”
Thirteen Cadillac Escalades are gracing Pablo’s garage. There are also two Ford Excursions, three Lincoln Navigators, two Toyota Land Rovers, and six Hummers. The interiors of the cars have been customized. Only the original driver’s seats remain, the rest has been transformed into curving divans, with suede or velvet surfaces.
The last vehicle in Pablo’s garage is an ambulance. “Sometimes something goes wrong inside his body,” Gutierrez, a stocky, sun-burnt man in his forties, who works construction in El Paso, explains, “and they have to keep him alive for an hour or two. The next big hospital is in El Paso, so he bought that ambulance. He could afford to buy that thing. If it’s an emergency, they send a helicopter, but Pablo likes riding in cars.”
In 1998, Pablo’s aunt Elmira, his only relative, erected a ten-foot wooden cross in front of the hut. Early visitors reported that the Jesus figure’s wounds were bleeding, but before authorities could investigate the case, the cross disappeared.
In Albert Costa’s view, the priest, who comes every Sunday from El Paso, had it taken down in order to keep “the Lord’s image clean.” But, he considers, “If it should have been a fake, maybe Elmira took it down herself. Maybe she thought it was a bit much, you know. A beginner’s mistake.”
Pablo’s miracles did not need any ornamentation, even though they still have not been widely publicized. Press, in Pablo and his clients’ case, is not desirable. Word of mouth, however, ensures him a steady and steadily increasing following. “After all,” Gutierrez smiles, “who wants their face in the papers, telling everyone you just won a million dollars, or ten or twenty.”
For the past seven years, Pablo, who has never visited a schoolhouse and did not receive a private education until the age of fifteen, has predicted the outcomes of state lotteries. According to believers, he has never failed.
Pablo does not ask for payment. He has never bought a lottery ticket himself, but happy pilgrims have shown their gratitude and made sure that the Oracle receives the best medical attention possible.
Pablo was born in 1982. “In a town as small as this one,” Albert Costa muses, “it is sometimes difficult to suppress unhealthy tendencies. You know what they say about isolated towns like ours, ‘narrow shoulders, large feet and heads.’ It’s unfortunate, but it’s not his fault.”
Pablo’s father was also his mother’s oldest brother. According to town folklore, Santiago and Gabriela Diaz were inseparable from an early age. It is reported that Santiago, once his sister drew attention from other boys, stabbed one of them, injuring his rival severely. After that incident, Santiago was said to have left for California to avoid prosecution, but Costa is sure he never left town. “If you want to stay hidden in this region, it’s no big problem. Really.”
At age fifteen, Gabi Diaz gave birth to her son. But Pablo left her womb with weak bones; his spine was never able to support his body.
Gutierrez is convinced that this wasn’t the first misstep inside the Diaz family. “Don’t get me wrong. I love this town and the people. I’m one of them. Life is hard in Cascade, but we’re family. Sometimes however, we’re probably too much like family. I don’t ask any questions, but if you look around – I resemble a lot of people here.”
Pablo might have died early without sufficient medical support or, as some Cascade rumors have it, would surely have been killed by Gabi’s father Manuel, a former railroad worker who had lost his job and supported his family by cleaning chemical tanks outside of El Paso.
Yet Gabi foresaw the difficult birth and went to the border city to have her child. Only when Pablo was two years old, did his mother return to her hometown. How she took care of herself and Pablo in those two years is subject to much speculation.
Trying to protect Pablo from her raging father, who disowned his son and daughter, Gabi died at the hands of Manuel Diaz on Feb. 18, 1984. Manuel went to prison, and instead of restoring his family’s honor, he brought about the end of that family. Maria Theresa, his wife of thirty-one years, committed suicide after her husband had been sentenced to twenty years in a state penitentiary, and Manuel died ten years later in a prison riot. Pablo had to be raised and cared for by his aunt Elmira. Santiago, the boy’s father, who many claim to have seen sneaking around Pablo’s residence, is still at large.
Gabi’s infant son only moved with pain, never learned to walk, and was often believed to be on the brink of death. Pablo’s teeth were small, soft, and his jaw unable to handle harder foods. Yet he was known as a gentle child who didn’t complain much, and early on he showed an even, some call it meditative, temperament.
When he was thirteen, still illiterate, and entertained only by television and children’s picture books, Pablo, one Saturday evening, surprised his aunt’s family by muttering the correct lottery numbers moments before they were announced. Elmira Beltran has refused to talk to the media about her nephew, but it is rumored that Pablo had no idea what he was doing and what effect his talent might have on his family.
Maybe because Pablo revered the Reverend Billy Graham, or maybe because he watched mostly Westerns, singing along feebly with Gene Autry, the young teenager refused to give his aunt the winning numbers before the next drawing, even though he admitted he knew them days in advance.
He wouldn’t use his clairvoyance for personal gain, but, as rumors spread like wildfire, agreed to help strangers. And while he refused to buy lottery tickets, he allowed his aunt to accept gifts from grateful pilgrims.
“It’s an act of God,” Blanca Grappoli, another close neighbor, says. “God is with this child. Who knows what else he’s capable of?” Yet she contends that Elmira Beltran is far less godly than her nephew. “The gifts? The Caddies? The money given to the community? That’s Beltran’s doing. I know for a fact that she has people sign contracts before they receive the winning numbers. Pablo, I’m sure, has no clue what she is doing behind his back. For him, the cars are toys, wonderful toys that allow him to get out of the house.” Grappoli’s own son, the same age as her famous neighbor, is studying chemical engineering in San Antonio. She has lived in Cascade for over forty years, and expects to be buried here one day.
She confides that Pablo’s biggest delight is a trip to El Paso, where he directs the driver to a Jack In The Box drive-thru. “He’s able to eat the mushier parts of their food. He loves milkshakes.”
If Pablo, as Grappoli suspects, is able to work more and even bigger miracles, he hasn’t let on yet. Beltran keeps a close lid on her nephew’s life; he’s rarely seen in public, and never outside his car. Yet the steady stream of cars turning off the highway and into Cascade, speak volumes.
Jeff McMahon, a construction worker from Miami, Florida, has made the trip with his wife and two children. His ’86 Chevrolet broke down three times on his way to Texas, but “That punk won’t do it by phone. Who does he think he is?” Disgruntled pilgrims like McMahon are the minority though. Most people seeking the Oracle’s favor, are happy to be given an opportunity of a lifetime.
Pablo has predicted the right outcome in most states of the lower 48. The increasing number of pilgrims has led to decreasing earnings, but Albert Costa is sure that, “there is still enough for everyone.”
Representatives from both the Catholic Church and the Texas state lottery have investigated the case. The pope is said to have taken interest in Pablo, but the church has yet to embrace or condemn the Oracle. State authorities have not been able to mount any charges against him. “He doesn’t know anyone, he doesn’t have any shady visitors, he doesn’t need the mob to help him,” Gutierrez says with a shrug. “It’s just Pablo.”
In Cascade’s souvenir shops, you can buy posters, postcards, and beach towels bearing Pablo’s idealized image – he resembles baseball star Alex Rodriguez – a halo surrounding his curly dark hair. “We’d love to have Rome declare him a saint,” Costa says, “but it’s a long shot. Then again, our town has survived more than a hundred and fifty years, on little more than devotion, hard work, and spit. We can wait a little.”
In the meantime, El Paso archbishop Richard Broadhead, has condemned the pilgrimages to Cascade. Without word from Rome, he has stopped short of passing judgment on the nineteen year-old, but has denounced Pablo’s SUV fleet, as well as the greed of the fortune seekers.
Broadhead is a lean, energetic man in his sixties, with a long face and sunken cheeks. “God does not play the lottery,” he says sternly, sitting in a white armchair in his El Paso office. So far, he has refused to visit Cascade and “grace this nonsense with the church’s presence.”
“Handing out millions of dollars to families, even families in need, is not church policy. The church is about spirituality, and Cascade is nothing but a cheap circus, as far as I can see. Pablo Diaz was born in sin, and who tells us that it’s not the devil working through him?”
While the town of Cascade is grateful to its most prominent citizen, the lotteries would like to plug the hole Pablo is tearing into their earnings. Offers to pay off the Oracle have fallen on deaf ears, threads to sue him have led nowhere.
“The only thing they can do is change their system or close down the lottery,” Costa claims. “But it’s a bureaucratic process. It’s slow.”
A small group of townspeople, however, is not happy with the Oracle. “He’s an idiot, a cripple, born from vice and lust. And why doesn’t he give the right numbers to the ones around him?” Jesus Sanchez, president of Cascade Against Blasphemy (CAB), asks. “We are his kin. But what do we have? Why does he insist on helping strangers? It ain’t right.”
Last May, shots were fired at Pablo’s car. CAB denied its involvement, but Sanchez and his followers had to deal with broken windows and death threats in the aftermath. On the broken facade of the old movie theatre, a relic of the railroad past, a spray-painted warning reads, “You want to die? Go mess with Pablo!”
No one was hurt in the May attack, but the Oracle’s fleet has been equipped with bulletproof glass to forestall any further assaults. On a recent August night, with veins of red crisscrossing the sky, Pablo’s favorite Escalade, painted a custom dark purple hue, and equipped with gleaming rims, left the garage. Beyoncé Knowles latest hit made the behemoth vibrate. As it passed a group of pilgrims, signing up for audiences the next day, a small, spidery hand appeared in one window, waving.
“The Oracle,” someone shouted, and the crowd applauded.