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The Land of Texas

Right or wrong, as soon as we were south of the Mason Dixon line I felt like I had gone to a foreign country. For some reason, Arkansas made me especially anxious, mainly because of its terrifying prohibition against marijuana and the fact that I had an eighth of an ounce stashed in the camper. After we left Memphis, we took one look at the marshy nothingness of route 30 and drove straight to Texarcana.

When we got to Texas I really felt like a foreigner, even though everybody we met was friendly and nice to us. In fact, people were almost without exception so pleasant and helpful that it was impossible for me to reconcile the appalling behavior of Texas’s elected officials with the people we were meeting. Face to face, people are much friendlier here than we are in New England by a factor of ten.

After being here for almost three weeks, and having covered so much distance in this huge state, I have developed my own view of Texas that is independent of politics and what the media tells us.

For one thing, this state is huge, the geography is rugged, and the mountains and desserts are full of wild animals. People need their trucks to get from one remote place to the next, they need the fossil fuels to drive the trucks, and some of the people legitimately need guns.

Now that we have climbed up and down very steep mountains, scrambled over unpaved roads and traversed miles upon miles of empty dessert without passing another soul, I have inwardly yodeled the praises of our rugged, gas guzzling V8 Toyota Tundra.

Now that I have camped in close proximity to the Clampetts in a far-flung campground with no one else around, I get why people are tempted to arm themselves.

My theory is that it is the vastness that brings people together. Right out of the gate, we noticed that everyone, practically without exception, gives you a friendly wave and/or says “howdy” when you pass by. I soon appreciated that friendliness because in any one of the remote places I might find myself in, I might need help, or, be called upon to offer help. This system of independence and interdependence perfectly exemplifies the liberal democratic values that are supposedly anathema to any good Texan.

I have also noticed that people here seem to be very self-regulating and law abiding. The parks are quite understaffed and not as deluxe as what we are used to in New England (thanks to the handiwork of the elected officials), yet, they seem to function and remain free of litter and graffiti. Interestingly, the speed limits on the roads are so high that it’s hard to get busted for speeding, but heaven help the scofflaw who races through a small town or doesn’t use a turn signal.

The border has been particularly fascinating to me. Before getting to south Texas and spending some time on the Rio Grande, I assumed that there was going to be palpable animosity between Mexican Americans and Other Americans.

Food markets are a great place to get a bead on a place and the first one we hit down in south Texas was particularly edifying–specifically, the fruit and vegetable section. It was a beautiful sight, all that produce, the bins of dried beans, the tamale wrappers, dried peppers, steam tables filled with warm tortillas, and baskets full of cactus, which were cozily mixed together with the Holy Trinity of “all American” carrots, celery and potatoes.

When we were camped at Big Bend National Park, we made the trip down from the mountains to the hot springs on the Rio Grande. As we walked to the springs, we passed an impromptu table made from a rock in the dirt that held bracelets and scorpions fashioned from beads and copper wire. A handwritten sign in hesitant English told us the prices for the various items, and a plastic jar served as the receptacle for the money.

This is a threat to our tax base.

This is a threat to our tax base.

I wanted a scorpion, but what I really wanted was to leave a note for whoever it was who ran the operation, for no other reason than that I truly admired the scorpions and relished the idea of reaching across the border in a friendly way to whoever was behind the whole enterprise, yet, what I was contemplating is illegal.

Feeling paranoid, I planned to forsake the scorpions and go to the hot spring like a good Amurican, transfer the six dollars into my back pocket so that I wasn’t fumbling with my wallet in a remote, yet not so remote spot in a national park larger than Rhode Island, and then quickly make my illicit purchase as I left the area.

While we were hanging out in the hot spring, just twenty feet across from Mexico on a lazy and shallow stretch of the Rio Grande that anyone could have easily swam across, two buff, deeply tanned guys in heavy duty dessert regalia and sunglasses joined us. We teased them about joining us in the hot spring, but they demurred, claiming they had forgotten their bathing suits. Obviously, they were border patrol, trying to be undercover and failing miserably.

I purchased my scorpion as planned and hid it in a tin in the glove compartment. Now I had two things to worry about—my weed and my scorpion. I had made friends with the guys camped next door to us, and one of them had been busted for a joint and had spent a night in jail as he left Big Bend National Park. My head swam and my stomach lurched as I contemplated dogs running through our camper. In the end, we agreed that if they ran dogs through our rig looking for concealed Mexicans, marijuana or wire scorpions, I would take the fall for the weed and hope for the best.

Looking across the Rio Grande at Mexico from the hot springs

Looking across the Rio Grande at Mexico from the hot springs

The Rio Grande is shallow, Texas and Mexico are geologically staggering, and the border is very porous. We watched a Mexican guy ride back and forth between the two countries on his horse. I chatted with him and petted his horse. He was riding across the river between the US and Mexico to tend to his own scorpion operation like the one we saw near the hot springs. Meanwhile, our government is losing its mind over border patrol and terrorists.

We left Big Bend National Park via the State Park and were just congratulating ourselves about avoiding Border Control when we got stopped as we turned north toward Marfa. We lied about our scorpion and made small talk with the agent about the frigid temperatures of the night before. Later that evening, we ate in a restaurant run by Mexican Americans and frequented by white border patrol workers and Mexican Americans.

I’m no expert, but it seems like people are finding their own way, independent of Fox News and the anti-terrorist/illegal immigration agenda.

In stark contrast to the Texas of pickled pigs feet, barbeque, pick up trucks and big hats, is Marfa. Apparently, back in the Seventies, someone packed up Brooklyn, NY and moved it to the dessert. There is a good explanation about Marfa and the minimalist artist Donald Clarence Judd (the someone from the Seventies) that can be found on Wikipedia. As for me, I am not drinking the minimalist Koolaid, but I have really enjoyed the town, the dessert, and the neighboring town of Alpine.

The orange trailer is the office where you pay on the honor system it seems--have yet to interact with the owner. The green building is the wonderful communal kitchen/laundry spot. Such a luxury!

The orange trailer is the office where you pay on the honor system it seems–have yet to interact with the owner. The green building is the wonderful communal kitchen/laundry spot. Such a luxury!

Marfa has a desperate-chic minimalist vibe. Everything seems to be hidden so that when you do figure out that the decrepit stucco building is actually a fantastically good restaurant, you feel like the coolest person ever. Ditto when you are able to purchase six great T-shirts and a hat in a thrift shop for $7. Skinny-jean hipsters mingle with ranchers and if you weren’t paying attention, you could easily fail to notice Marfa and drive right through it.

Marfa will probably be our last stop in Texas before New Mexico.

Hasta pronto!

 

 

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  1. Sarah Gray says:

    As a New Englander who lived in TX for 15 years, I found your first post a bit jaded, as I did those of your responders – some disturbingly ignorant. I realize there is a perception, via the media, that paints Texans in one unflattering (to those of us in the northeast) hue. I, personally, found upon arriving and living there, the usual rainbow that anyone with any traveling experience knows is the truth…we are ALL represented in one form or another in most places and most cultures…we just need to find our peeps (my almost 16 year-old would be horrified by my terminology!). I was also concerned because you seem to have traveled, for the most part, through some of the ugliest areas of the state, and though there are many in such a vast place, there are just as many lovely places, so felt that its rough beauty might have escaped your notice. That said, I love your wry and discerning eye, Lavie, and held my tongue, figuring you would see the wildly varied, reckless, frontier-like beauty in such a place and report just that. I have not been disappointed. Can’t wait til you return, as I would love to swap some stories with y’all!

    1. admin says:

      I felt like I was super jaded before I arrived here and have really had my eyes opened since being here. For example, the idea that I would ever “get” guns and gas guzzlers blows my mind, yet, having seen what life is really like in this huge state, I have a much better understanding. I also went in assuming that I would not fit in, but people have been amazing. We just tumbled out of a bar here in Marfa where we spent a very enjoyable time with a guy who makes coatings for oil rigs, his friend who makes drill bits and another oil guy who hates the “enviro-nazis back east. None of that really mattered in the end because we found a lot of common ground. As for the beauty, it isn’t lost on me–Once we were out of the oil fields, I have found the landscape jaw-dropping. I wish that everyone could travel around and meet the people from “Red state/Blue states”. We tried to leave Texas today, but couldn’t seem to do it, and will probably stay through tomorrow so we can party on super bowl–which no one really cares about– with the people we met today. I’m glad you hung in with me through the ugly part! We are having a blast.

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