August 6, 2007

wt Greetings from San Angelo, Texas! I’m about 450 miles or so north/northeast of El Paso, Texas. It’s a warm clear night, with a gentle breeze, and there ain’t much going on here, I can tell you that!

What do you think of when someone says to you “El Paso” or “West Texas”? You probably think of dusty, railroad cow towns with a depot and a downtown of false-fronted buildings with little stores and restaurants on two sides of a long main street, right? Well I do – or at least I did until today. And in some ways I wish that could still be my picture of what those places were/are.

But reality is often far from the expectations or pictures we all have in our minds. El Paso, for example, is as far from a dusty railroad cow town as you can get – in fact, it is a sprawling city with various neighborhoods (some quite attractive) perched on top of various buttes and hills that front the larger mountains to its north and west. While there are undoubtedly nice sections of the city, there are also significant areas of the city and its surrounding suburbs that are, frankly, old, industrial, and kind of crappy looking.

I took the I-10 as far east as Fort Stockton (approx. 275 miles) and bailed off to the north, wanting to see what the backroads of West Texas were like. I wasn’t disappointed – I quickly found myself virtually in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by an endless horizon of sagebrush and hills, with not a speck of humanity to be found as far as the eye could see in all four directions. As I headed to the northeast, I began to pass through a number of small towns – towns with the name of McCarney, Big Lake (“Home of the Fighting Owls”), Barnhart, and Mertzon (pop. 900) – towns that had at one time benefitted from the oil boom (numerous historical markers along the way describe the various strikes) but now lay dusty and dying, clinging to whatever dwindling populations they have to sustain their identities as a living, breathing organisms. At least Big Lake had a municipal golf course – The Great White Shank was dying to try it out, wondering how his iron play would fare in that incessant West Texas wind).

I was hoping to find a small, locally-owned restaurant where I could have some authentic Texas BBQ, but unfortunately, here in San Angelo that was not to be in the cards. Frankly, this town is nothing but a giant McDonald’s french fry – everything is happening on the outskirts (there’s a “loop” that goes around this town) and the core of the town is empty and dying. My goal was to avoid restaurant chains as much as possible, and I did my damndest to find a local establishment I could eat in, but ended up at a Texas Roadhouse down the street from my hotel. Actually, the food (chili and a half-rack of ribs washed down by several Lone Stars) was very good, the company at the bar was enjoyable, and Chelsey the waitress told me everything I needed to know about Austin, my destination two days hence.

But I’m still left to wonder about the West Texas of my dreams, and whether or not it only exists in some kind of a Hollywood back lot fantasy, or whether there is, in fact, such a thing as a dusty old railroad cow town anymore.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:11 | Comments (2)
  1. Doug: I had the same dreams in England only mine was to ride a train where the compartments had the sliding doors like in all the old movies. Was disappointed the first four legs of a trip to and from Stratford on Avon but eventually got my dream. Has Hollywood really made that much of an impression on us?

    Comment by Auntie Marge — August 9, 2007 @ 6:08 am

  2. Hi Auntie – thanks for your comment; I think you’re right, but any disappointment has to be countered by the joy of those dreams and fascinations to begin with. After all, maybe if Hollywood didn’t put that intrigue or impression in our heads, we’d never be inspired to see if they’re really true.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — August 9, 2007 @ 9:47 pm

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