Road Foodie

Some people drive simply to arrive.

Marfa’s in the Rear-View

Posted By on March 16, 2009

marfayallcomebackOn my last day in Marfa, the town is hopping. It’s spring break: people and babies are everywhere in evidence. There’s an exhibit at Marfa Ballroom, the sheriff is grilling out east of town at the stables, then there’s music behind the old bowling lanes, and a wedding has taken over the Hotel Paisano. Plus, I’m packing. With me, this is no small feat.

In the morning, I scout a possible location for Country Living magazine, and fall head-over heels in love with the house and the lady, artist Mary Crowley, whose son built it for her. When I say “built,” do not imagine that he simply supervised the sub-contractors. This “built” means he personally stacked up the straw bales to form the walls, enclosed them in plaster, and fabricated each of the many arch-topped windows by himself, out of mahogany. Mary’s views out toward Blue Mountain in Fort Davis are stunning, and the place is so serene and full of love it single-handedly softens this rough and tough landscape. She is very proud of her son; he’s proud too, but as he kicks the toe of one boot with the heel of the other and glares down at the wide hat he’s twirling, he’s not about to step up and say so.
At the Marfa Ballroom, there’s an old FEMA trailer—you know, the ones they spent $86 trillion on, that didn’t work so good—that has been retrofitted (this word doesn’t begin to do justice to the make-over that’s been done on this mobile home). Solar panels power 1300 pounds of batteries, stashed under the floor. The trailer has a huge antenna, and can communicate with the outside world from any possible location. Push out the pop-out, and there’s a full workshop with table saw. In the back, a miniscule but festive bed-and-bath make this the ultimate in self-contained emergency aid vehicles.

The pop-out, popped out.

The pop-out, popped out.

Emergency Response Vehicle for the new millenium.

Emergency Response Vehicle for the new millenium.

“How much could you bring this in for, if FEMA were smart enough to order, say, a thousand?” I ask the master-mind and hands-on guy who stands around answering questions from the assembled hordes. He’s not planning on making more (sadly), but when pressed, comes up with the figure of $60,000. In FEMA terms, that’s probably similar to the price of a truck-ful of leaky canteens. Here is an excellent example of private industry. Now we just need some smart public money, not like the stupid public money we had when Katrina blew through.

cowboycoffee2I don’t know much about the grilling sheriff-event, not even its location. But as we are all becoming aware, I’m willing to forage (in the car, anyway), for meat. I head east out of town, and the landscape is looking unpromising until a small city of shiny horse trailers roughly clustered around a big barn appears on the horizon. I think we’re all aware that Texas is a state with a lot of money, even now. Three generations of oil money will do that to a state’s treasury. But what I discover down this dusty road toward the big red barn makes me doubt, for the very first time, the life-long assumption that being born a California girl was my best possible destiny.

The sheriff's sausages

The sheriff's sausages.


Head bean man.

Head bean man.


This event isn’t just free, excellent barbecue with all the fixin’s and cowboy coffee, it is the sendoff celebration for a 7-day trail ride across various private ranches and down to Big Bend; 30 kids from various area schools, many of whom have never ridden before, will be setting off tomorrow to much publicly funded fanfare. The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife has been putting on these rides for a couple of years now, and the event is the high point of the year for the organizers, scouts, helpers, and hands—not to mention the lucky children, who are selected by their schools based on achievement.
Onions? Onion.

Onion? Onion.

Pot-sal, of course.

Pot-sal, of course.

During the welcoming remarks, a big burly cowboy named Carl, whose brain-child this event is, got choked up talking about how, every year, it touches the lives of everyone involved. I have never seen happier kids and adults, more beautiful horses, and fancier riding tackle. I meet the forward scout, Horace P. Williams, a Buffalo Soldier (Company A – 9th Cavalry) who is getting on in years. “You’re the main man, right?” I ask, when he steps away from the sweet tea and chatter for a moment to groom his horse.
Horace Williams and his horse. Too-Tall.

Horace Williams and his horse. Too-Tall.


“Ahm jes the chief gate opener,” he demurs. In the cab of his truck, Horace keeps three different cowboy hats, carefully stacked; he sorts through them to find the perfect hat for horse-grooming. It just happens to sport a military medal or three. From his age, I’d hazard they’re Vietnam-era. Not so many horses there, but this man is a mounted soldier of the old school, nonetheless. He advises his horse to pose real nice, when I ask permission to snap a picture.

Marfa’s in my rear-view mirror now, and it seems both as though I’ve been there all my life and that I’ve just arrived. I made a few lasting friends, and did some good work. I fell in love with horses all over again. I ate well, in spite of the dearth of shop-ortunities. To find beautiful the bare, gently sloping golden plains of the endless space that is West Texas requires a more open mind than the in-your-face loveliness of the Hudson Valley in summer. Like the view from the east-side patio of my Marfa bungalow, my heart is big enough for both.
windmillsoap

(The little Windmill Retreat could not have been more comfortable, convenient, and peaceful. Every possible unobtrusive amenity was considered by the owners (and the renovators, before them); I highly recommend it to future Marfa travelers: see VRBO.com: Marfa: Windmill Retreat).

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