Marfa, TX... and other places you can't catch a cab / by vanessa

(Written last week, but I've only just gotten around to posting it.  I'm a very busy girl.) I have spent the last 3 days in West/Southwest Texas. You know what you do in West and Southwest Texas? You do?

Marfa, TX

Good.  Please share with me.  As far as I know, you don't do anything that involves technology.  Which is 95% of my life.  So I mostly just looked at plants and stars.  And my friends.  Thank god for my friends.  And plants and stars.

We started out on Friday.  I flew into Austin, also known as My Favorite City in the United States.  It's a bummer to fly into Austin and not take yoga or go to The Whole.  But, everyone was waiting so Hav picked me up and we were immediately on our way.  (I tried the ol' "Hey I forgot a jacket, so I should probably stop by Lululemon."  He told me I'd have to freeze before we'd delay our trip any further.  Or that's what I heard, anyway.)

Marfa is about seven hours, or roughly four Dairy Queens away from Austin. It is a largely flat drive, punctuated only by stops for Blizzards and chew.  (I don't chew, Mom.)   We arrived at Hav's friend's house, an adorable adobe on a street with no sign.  This speaks more about the size of the town than the street.  We unpacked our stuff, and I immediately started searching for Internet connectivity.  I had a piece that I needed to post for a related article in Magazine of Yoga before 9 p.m.  I walked into the home office.  The router looked like no other wireless router I've seen before, and I know these things.  Ugh.  Hav made the mistake of suggesting that I post in the morning, which prompted an accusal from me that "You've never supported my writing!"  Fortunately, he has a high threshold for my outbursts.  Everyone left and I promised to catch up.  Which I did, but not until I had checked every place in town for some semblance of a connection.  (Whoa.  That sounds woo woo.) It wasn't until I resigned myself (surrendered, if you will) to missing my deadline that I walked into the bar where my friends were waiting and found a free internet connection.  Thank Krishna.

Padre's is, I think, the only bar in Marfa (pop. 2121).  On Friday night, the entire town pushed Padre's to its capacity to see Black Joe Lewis, a seriously fun band from Austin.  If the crowd were just a weensy bit more raucous, I think we would have seen undergarments flying.  That's how good they were.  Here's a little known fact about Marfa:  it contains the largest concentration of hipsters per capita of any city in the United States. And if you were in Padre's that night, you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a pair of Wayfarer spectacles.  Not that I swung any cats, deceased or otherwise.  I was too busy taking advantage of the four dollar Kettle One's w/ lemon wedges.

*Said eggs

On Saturday morning-ish the grand plans we made to ride bikes through town became grapefruit mimosas at Cochineal.  They know how to bake an egg*, sir.  Also, the host looks like Harry Potter in skinny jeans and topsiders.  After breakfast we headed through town to shop the wares.  First stop:  JM General Store, a great one-stop shop for all of your chic home and clothing finds.  The best part of shopping with friends around your birthday is that all you have to do is marvel over something, and said friends do things like buy it for you.  I recommend the approach.  Especially if you really want a Native American duvet.

Repetition.  Subtlety.  Whoa.

Post-shopping we hit Chinati, a museum in the middle of nowhere, and also the center of all things art in Marfa.  We ran into the guys from Black Joe Lewis and all sludged through exhibits on repetition and subtlety.  I feel like the artists were playing one big joke on me.  Endless fluorescent light exhibits ...  imperceptible differences between sheets of paper on a wall...  Good one, fellas.  This is probably the time when I should explain that Marfa is the kind of town where Type A artists go for rehab.  ("Rehab" mostly because, with spotty cell service and untrustworthy wireless connectivity, you are forced to withdraw from the wired life.) The town itself is one big exercise in artistic detail, from the post office font to the clean, modern lines of the laundromat logo.

Lo's expression, speaking for itself.

On Saturday night we trekked up to the McDonald Observatory, which is about 40 minutes from town.  I'm sure you've heard of it.  It's the place that sponsors the Star Date vignettes on NPR.  I love those Star Dates.  We booked a tour for 6 p.m.   When we reached the observatory, our guide, Kevin, explained a bunch of neat stuff about stars, planets, nebulas (globular and planetary), and galaxies.  It was in this two and a half hour session when I realized I could have probably been good at science.  (#unfounded) Mostly because I relate everything back to metaphors.  For example, did you know that globular nebulas are where stars are born (kinda), while planetary nebulas are where stars go to die?  I like to picture a space aged hospital and a cemetery, respectively filled with comets in bathrobes.  Among our sitings:  Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus, M2, M15, and some other stuff.  Plus they fed us cookies, which I liked.  I considered the evening a success.

The drive.  Pretty, right?

On Sunday morning, we drove to Big Bend.   Big Bend is one of my favorite national parks for its expansiveness, beauty, and quietude.  I remember three years ago being in Patagonia and feeling like it was so similar to southern Texas, for those reasons.   I still do.  It is as if it hasn't been touched for centuries.  And, in the ten years that I've been traveling to Big Bend, its cell reception, in case you were wondering, has not improved.  (Although that could just be AT&T.  Verizon's probably better.)  On the drive, we stopped in Terlingua, to eat at a cafe which will remain nameless because I really liked the owners, but I was also kinda grossed out.  The restaurant held maybe six tables, and we were its only patrons.  They smoked while we ate (she a cigarette, he a pipe) without regard to things like laws prohibiting smoking in restaurants.  I wanted to see their fingernails.  As we left, their cat ran in the front door.  Hav tried to stop it, but the cat wasn't having any of it because well, you can tell, she is ALWAYS indoors.  On the tables, I'm sure, except for when people like us walk in and she's shooed through the back door.  It's not all health code doom and gloom though.  What they might have lacked in say, regulatory regard, they accounted for in heart.  Really sweet people.

A black bear.  (Not ours.) (Photo courtesy of

After the questionable breakfast and stone hunting at a nearby rock shop, we finally arrived at Chisos Mountain Lodge in the Chisos Basin.  If you go, book Cabin 103.  We didn't get 103 because it was already booked, but you totally should.  We were in 104.  That's okay too.   Once checked in, we stashed our stuff and set out for a trail called The Window.  The pinnacle of this trail is a beautiful keyhole view of the mountains.   You have to walk a couple of miles to afford that site.  On the way, we passed a couple who told us there was a bear up ahead.  Sure enough, but 1/3 mile later, we saw the bear in the middle of the trail.  Actually Hav saw him first and jumped back, which frightened the bear into retreating up a small, wooded hill.  I assumed the bear defensive position, which varies depending on how you were raised, but it wasn't needed.

The Window

We trekked the remaining mile and a half to the peak, stayed for about thirty seconds, and headed back.  I've been told before that I'm not about the journey, I'm about the destination.  I would agree.  I lose all perspective when I'm either cold or hungry.  I was both.

When we returned, I grabbed my laptop and headed to the lodge, where the only wireless connectivity for 40 miles could be found.  I had to.  I had a conference call I was supposed to be on and we had zero cell reception.  Yes, on Sunday.  My life is just that awesome sometimes.  I carefully chose a spot at the lodge, outside near the bathrooms, far away from anyone else so I wouldn't be that guy, and dialed my co-worker via Google Talk.  Apparently, I didn't get far enough away to escape the chiding of a lodge worker who delighted in walking by several times, just to snicker.  As if I go through a project plan on vacation on a Sunday in the middle of a beautiful national forest because I think it's fun, douche-kabob.  When I got off my call, I went into the gift store to buy a Scrabble board.  The lodge worker came in.  "Finish with your call?" he smirked.  And this is when I escaped into a magical dreamland.   One in which I stabbed a stranger without punishment while asking him if he felt better about the choices he'd made in his life by making fun of mine.  The price of the $32 game snapped me from my daydream.

After dinner we played a quick game of Scrabble and set our alarms for 6 a.m. so we could catch another hike before heading back to Austin.  Unfortunately, it doesn't get light until around 7:30 in southern Texas.  We didn't have time to wait around, so we decided to forego the hike.  And this is where Havis vowed to never travel with me again in a million years, ever.  (The first time was when we went to Norway and I made us late for our outbound flight.  Oops.)  The next significant town past Marathon is Ft. Stockton.  We had a quarter of a tank left of gas when we hit Ft. Stockton.  Hav told me to stop and get more.  He said there wouldn't be gas for another 100 miles.  Nuh uh, I countered.  I kept driving.  Turns out, he was pretty close to right.  Who knew?

About 65 miles in the gas gauge was below empty.  I grabbed my phone frantically searching the Around Me app for the nearest gas station.   I panicked as we went in and out of reception.  The screen finally displayed our choices:   deviate from I-10 and drive 14 miles out-of-the-way to Iraan, or continue on 35 miles to Ozona.  I chose the former, and we coasted the last few miles into town.  I tried to play it off like I knew all along that we'd make it, but the truth is, I was calculating how fast I could run per mile in the event that I needed to.

By the time we made it back into Austin**, we heard news that Hav's dad had to go back into the hospital, which is really sad.  Also sad was the looming knowledge that I had to get on another plane back to New Jersey within 24 hours, by way of LA.   Looking back over the weekend, I recall all of the failed connectivity attempts.  By the end of it, I had adjusted.  I'm considering it a major breakthrough because, while Mercury's retrograde was in its shadow and I obviously would have been totally justified in making it my scapegoat, I chose instead to figure out if I could appreciate the radio silence.   And while I wasn't exactly the picture of equanimity, I was better at it than I expected.  And that's what I call success.

**The highlight of Monday, just after staving off certain death at the hands of my travel companion, was seeing Leslie.  And busting her w/ this copy of Yoga Journal.

It is the virtues, not the faults...which constitute one's true legacy. -- Gandhi