Greetings from the Road: Bye-Bye West Texas

West Texas Sy-lo-res

Texas Big Sky

I’m beginning to feel like a rock star on tour. I wake up in the morning thinking: Where am I? What day is this? My internal clock, it seems, is still on CA time. I stay up late, get up late…

Therefore, our usual late start got us into Marfa, TX at about 4:45 p.m. – too late to visit the Donald Judd/Chinati exhibits — the focal point of the town, pretty much. At the risk of, possibly, disappointing some of my friends, Marfa, at first sight, disappointed me.

It didn’t feel like Texas. It felt like Texas with a makeover (kind of like what happened to N.Y.’s Time Square). Too pristine. The paint was too fresh and shiny. The galleries, too precious. Call me picky, or maybe because I’d been in L.A. a little too long, it just felt a little too Disney. Designed for tourists.

Or maybe I was just a little too spoiled by the authentic feel of West Texas, thus far.

So we wound up driving on through to Alpine, 20 miles east of Marfa, and found a room.

Alpine Cowboy Sign-lo-resMuch more my speed, which is to say, quirky and unapologetic.

In celebration of our wedding anniversary, we had dinner at a restaurant called La Trattoria. I don’t know about you, but anytime I’ve had an Italian dinner in an as-far-from-an-Italian-neighborhood-that-you-can-get, Frank Sinatra is crooning rat pack songs out of the restaurant speakers.

The food was tasty and our waiter addressed us in a twangy, charming “Y’all.” I love that.

The next morning, whatever day it was (who knows), J.C. visited the barber shop.

BarberShop Little Man-lo-res

Conversation overheard by J.C. while in the barber chair:

Guy #1 checks his phone. “Damn,” he says. “Every time I’m out of the office they send a text message sayin’ that there’s donuts.”

“I just had breakfast burrito next door,” says Guy #2. “You know why they call it the West Texas gut bomb? Because it gets the job done.”

“Yep.”

“You know,” continues Guy #2, “my brother’s been in the airforce for six years and he’s just now getting out.”

“Well, I did my tour of duty in S.E. Asia,” says Guy #1. “When you got back and were redeployed to Washington, they didn’t give you the same kind of support as they did over there, if you know what I mean.”

Head shaved, and with a unexpected glimpse of W. TX under the radar, J.C. returned to the room and we checked out of the hotel. We had an early lunch at the Gulf Station Café, which, in its former life, was an old filling station.

Gulf Station Cafe-lo-res

On our way to the car, I noticed a small group of senior citizens causing a minor ruckus on the corner. They were protesting the war (and everything “Bush”). Talk about stereotype busters.

Support Troops-lo-resJ.C. had his camera and shot a photo. The guy with the HONK sign said, “Are you with Cheney?”

“God, no!” I said. “No way.” And we all laughed.

Driving around, we spotted the local Cowboy Church. Maybe it’s a congregation in W. TX, because we would see others.

Cowboy Church-lo-res

Trying to keep to some kind of schedule, we left Alpine and, a little while later, stopped in Fort Stockton, TX for gas.

About ten years ago, I drove through West Texas on my way to Austin. I wanted to check and see if “The World’s Largest Road Runner” was still around Ft. Stockton.

It was. But it had undergone a makeover. No longer the hokey red and white concrete monument of its former incarnation, this new roadrunner had been cast in plastic and painted to a high sheen.

Road Runner-lo-res

Progress, I guess. Too bad.

We merged back onto the I-10 and headed east. About every fifty miles or so, we had to scrub grasshopper guts off our windshield. Grasshoppers are everywhere in Texas — and they’re huge.

Poring over the road atlas, I noticed that in Ozona, TX there was a monument to Davy Crockett. As a kid, I watched the Davy Crockett show on T.V. (Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier…).

So it was a good excuse to take a break from the Interstate and check it out.

The monument stood in a leafy park in the middle of town, across from the local gunsmith shop. It was a gorgeous art deco sculpture.

Of all the Davy Crockett quotes that could have been carved in stone beneath his effigy, this is what they chose:

“If you know you’re right, then go ahead.”

A few things that are peculiar to Texas, which I was able to confirm with my brother, when we arrived at his house in Austin:

Every few miles or so, two different signs are posted along the Interstate:

–       DRIVE FRIENDLY

–       MAINTAIN YOUR VEHICLE

The intention of both is to save police officers a very long drive in order to rescue you if you break down or crash into someone else.  So, the message is: be nice to fellow drivers, change your oil, put air in your tires, be good to your car.

Some other things I learned about Texas from my bro:

Everyone there says “Y’all.”

Some accents are much more twangy (and hard to understand) than others.

Texas is the home of Dr. Pepper.

They say: I used to could (as in, “I used to could ride a horse, but I can’t any more.”)

They often preface a comment with with: “I’ll tell you what …” (ever watch King of the Hill?)

Not long ago, a Level 5 tornado hit 14 miles north of Austin ripped the hide off cows.

I was a bit sad to leave Austin and leave my brother and his girlfriend (both of whom I’d not seen in over three years) and briefly wished we could pitch our tent there – until my brother reminded us that, despite the generous amount of rain we were experiencing while there, the heat of summer is searing and long.

Shades of L.A….

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