Fifteen years ago I ran across an article in “Texas Monthly Magazine” touting Marfa, Texas as the next “big deal” in the art universe. The author gushed on about Donald Judd, a prolific artist based in New York City who had moved his home base and all his toys to dusty little Marfa. Up until he arrived, Marfa was known as the backdrop for the 1956 movie “Giant.” After the article hit, van loads of weirdo artists from Austin showed up and claimed the town as their own. “Keep Austin Weird” was now “Keep Marfa Weird.” The mostly Hispanic population thought the gates for Hell had opened and released its hipster demons on their quiet township
For reasons I can’t recall, I became a bit obsessed with visiting this desert town and made myself a little Marfa bubble that grew larger with the passing years. I am also an artist and figured there was something life-altering in Marfa I needed to experience. The lure of the Big Bend desert kept calling. Time marches on and I forget about Judd and his art colony until a few years ago. I figured it was time to make the trip to Marfa.
My wife and I decided that after our summer vacation in Ruidoso, New Mexico, we would drive down to Marfa and scratch one item off of my bucket list. At my age, every trip becomes a bucket list item because my shelf life could expire any day now.
Five hours of driving through the Chiuauan desert landed us in Alpine Texas and the 1950s era motor hotel “The Antelope Lodge.” Retro doesn’t begin to describe this place. Very little updating has been done since the 1950s and the stucco cabins reek of the halcyon years of family road trips in large station wagons. I believe that the Cleaver’s may have stayed here. I can imagine The Beaver and Wally sitting in the courtyard eating Moon Pies and drinking RC Cola in the 100 degrees heat.
Marfa is a short hop from Alpine so the next morning we are on the road early, planning to catch breakfast in Marfa. I’m thinking about bacon, eggs, and pancakes Texas-style while Maureen is wanting fluffy biscuits and sausage gravy. Yum Yum.
Driving into town, the scenery is not what we expected or what I had found online. Dilapidated house trailers surrounded by broken down rusted cars line the highway on both sides. Not the best greeting for visitors. My bubble just sprang a leak.
Once in town, we realize that everything is closed. The art gallery is open on Saturday only, the Hotel Paisano lobby is closed until 5 PM, the Hotel St. George lounge doesn’t open until evening, the square is deserted and the only signs of life are some foreign tourists taking selfies in front of a boarded-up hardware store. My bubble is leaking air big time.
Now officially starving, we search for food, and found “Marfa Burritos,” the only restaurant open, and calling it a restaurant is a stretch.
A burrito is $7.00 and a warm can of Coke is a buck. What the hell, it’s food. The kitchen is located inside a ramshackle frame house; peeling paint and rotted siding give it that weathered west Texas appeal.
A young man and woman are ordering their burrito from the cook. They smell like incense and the girl has more armpit hair than the guy. I figure they must be from “El Cosmico,” the transcendental hipster enclave of yurts and vintage travel trailers that everyone online is raving about.
The outside dining area needed a little attention. A feral cat was munching on a half-eaten burrito that fell from an overflowing trash bin, and ants and flies are everywhere. I’m thinking Marfa doesn’t have a health inspector.
After breakfast, we decide to visit the Prada exhibit, which the Marfa website says is located just outside of town. Some years ago, two German artists constructed a small building full of Prada handbags and shoes in the middle of the desert, and it became the main tourist attraction for Presidio County. The other attraction is the Marfa Lights; twinkling orbs that dance around in the mountains east of town. The locals claim the lights are Aliens or maybe disgruntled Indian spirits. Some of the older folks believe they are the ghost of James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizebeth Taylor, the long-departed stars of the Giant movie.
We drive for twenty-minuets and no Prada. We check Google maps and find it is another half-hour’s drive to Prada. To hell with that, so we turn around and motor back to Marfa. My fifteen-year-old bubble just popped. We decide to return to Alpine, pack our gear, and head for home. No more bubbles for me.