bout what
October 2010
Marfa, TX
posted: October 29, 2010
 

The drive from San Antonio was a long one. We had booked a campsite at a place called "El Cosmico: Gourmet Camping." It sounded much more up our alley than the National Forest in Alabama, i.e. they had restrooms and it wasn't in the middle of nowhere. Plus we had our new big L.L.Bean tent from Lynn and John, we had gained back our courage and were ready to give camping another try, especially if it was gourmet.

Along the way I ran in to my first minor car trouble issues. My "change oil" light came on. Ah! This is of course is not a terrible thing and a car will give you a fair amount of warning before any desperate means for action need to be taken. But I pulled over anyways and walked up to a man in a jumpsuit who I figured was a mechanic. I said, "Excuse me sir, I'm not exactly sure how to check my oil could you help?"

Turns out the man was a TV Repairmen but... he was nice enough to help me anyways. We put a little oil in the car and he recommended next chance I got to stop for an oil change. Thank you helpful stranger!

 

We rolled in to town just before seven. 

 

The camp ground was pretty hysterical. They had yurts, teepees and fixed up airstreams available for renting but on our budget we had to settle for the "primitive campsite." The office was a house in the middle of a field that was decorated inside like some swank sixties bachelor pad with oddly shaped furniture that was neither a pleasure to look at or sit on. A broad shouldered woman in a floor length dress took our twenty dollars and showed us where to set up. On our way across the field a man appeared and asked the woman if it was okay for him to fire up the hot tub. She said yes and he vanished as quickly as he had come. This place was odd. She handed us a map of the town and pointed to a star that said "bar." 

"That's the bar. You can meet locals there if that's what your in to. They've got burgers."

We thanked her and off she went. We wrestled with the tent for a while before we finally got it standing and were able to step back and admire our work. Compared to the shitty Walmart tent this thing was a palace. Thanks Lynn and John! We ate some food we had left over from lunch and talked about how cool we were. We did this a lot. "God we're cool. Look at us. Could we GET any cooler?" 

Not really. But kind of. ;-) But believe me this narcissism, as narcissism often does, would bite us in the ass later.


 

Anyways we decided to try and check out the town a bit, see what kind of a nightlife Marfa had to offer. We climbed back in the car and set off. Now this next part I don't really have a good explanation for. I don't know what I was thinking! For some reason I concluded from the map that the town was to the right of the campsite. Even though you could clearly SEE a town to the left. I thought that the map must mean that the real town of Marfa was to the right. Anyways, Annie fought me on the logic but not hard enough because to the right we went and in to the dark dark night of West Texas. But in some ways I am glad for the mistake because I learned something very important about the way the mind works. Or rather what the mind can do.

 

Now in West Texas there is nothing. There is nothing for miles and miles. It's just this giant empty space of nothing. And when the sun goes down it is DARK. So not only is there nothing but you can't even see the nothing that is there. It's just this long road going in to nowhere and all you can see is what your headlights illuminate. So we are driving, I am still convinced that the town will appear somewhere down this road. We start listening to the XX. Which you can listen to here for a full sensory experience of the mindset we were in during this time spent driving in to nowhere. 

 

"Do you think 'firing up the hot tub' really meant firing up the spaceship?"

"Where did that guy even go? He just disappeared."

"There is no one around to hear us scream."


 

Things started getting pretty weird. Like... really weird. A vast expanse of nothingness gives room for the mind to create stories to fill that void. In the total darkness of a never ending road, aliens exist, the boogie man, crooked cops, serial killers, monsters, you name it. The mind, when given nothing to work with can create a world you thought you'd stopped believing in when you turned eleven. I am embarrassed to admit it but I think I drove about twenty miles down this road, my stubborness willing the town of Marfa to appear after every curve. Finally, we saw some buildings. No lights were on but we could make out the forms in the darkness and then, like something out of a bad horror film our headlights shown on a road sign: GHOST TOWN. We screamed, I am not joking. Annie grabbed my arm and I stomped on the breaks, spinning the car around as fast as I could and booked it the twenty miles back to the real Marfa with my tail between my legs. 

 

Oh and by the way, on the way back we hit our first Border Patrol Station. These things are all over Texas, whether you are cruising the border or not. Giant German Shepards sniff your car and crank policemen ask you where you've been and where you're going, etc. But because this was our first and we were already unnerved by our misadventure I had no idea what to expect. 

 

"Do I need my passport?!"

 

No.. you do not need a passport if you are in Texas and you are planning to stay in Texas. Come on Lila. Get it together! Anyways... that could have gone smoother but we got out alive thank god. We then decided we better go ahead and continue the night as we had originally planned. We went BACK to the real Marfa. Which was... of course, the town to the left of the campsite. 


 

We went to the town bar the woman at El Cosmico had told us about which I believe was called Padre's. A woman working at a gas station told us that it used to be an old funeral parlor. Great, we thought, more ghosts. But we went anyways. It was quiet inside, and huge. A giant room with wooden floors, walls and ceilings. It looked like they had a stage area for live music but nothing was going on that night. A juke box was playing but when no one was there to add their quarters, no music was played at all. They had Shiner on tap, the cheap Texan beer of choice next to Lonestar, which to me tastes like stale popcorn. Annie got a whiskey and diet and we sat observing our surroundings. There were a couple people at the end of the bar, some young hip looking women and an older man in a cowboy hat. They didn't seem to have much interest in us at all. Like I said before, in most every where we went we got a bit of attention just for being unfamiliar faces in a very familiar place. But not in Marfa. We decided to check out the back patio in hopes of finding some friendlier locals. There was a woman in roller skates talking to the man in the cowboy hat who had been at the bar. We had to kind of aggressively bully our way in to their conversation but even when we had managed that it was hard to stay afloat. So instead of forcing our way in to this small town pretention we simply asked, "so what is there to do in Marfa?"

 

The Marfa Lights. The Marfa Lights are supposed to be this glowing orbs that roll across the desert. Some unexplainable phenomenon. There was an observation tower off the highway they told us about so we figured... mind as well. Not like the people in the town were anything to rave about. Maybe these mysterious glowing orbs would suit us better. So off we went...

 

We sat at the observation tower for hours, staring off across the desert... Needless to say we did not see any orbs that night. But who cares because the stars in Marfa were well worth the overnight. They sky was unbelievable. If you think you've seen stars you are wrong. I mean I grew up in North Carolina, we got stars. Nothing like this. We fell in to an in depth conversation about "what else is out there." We couldn't be the only living creatures in this universe and if we were... why? We drove back to the campsite that night exhausted and filled with questions. Cuddled down in our palace of a tent and fell asleep to the sound of West Texas wildlife. 


Austin, REvisited
posted: October 27, 2010
 

 

In retrospect I feel I have left out some key points of Austin and perhaps should have not of skipped over it so readily. I forgot to relate the stories of going to Kathleen's parents house. Kathleen's mother is a doctor of chinese acupuncture, a medical practice my mother swears by. She offered Annie and I each a free treatment. The morning I woke up for our appointments I was attacked by one of the fiercest migraines of my life. The pain was unbelievable and caused me to miss my scheduled appointment with Mrs. Jackson. Which caused her to worry about us and coming looking for us. By the time she had arrived the pain had subsided and I was able to make it to her home office. I told her migraines were not a constant occurrence in my life, perhaps once or twice every six months. She concluded that I had most likely been putting too much stress on myself and the small break of being in Austin has allowed my body chance for attack. She gave me some de-stressing points along with some for immediate relief of my headache. I left feeling rejuvenated. I have grown up with acupuncture treatments but for Annie this was a first. She was impressed with her experience. 

 

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Austin. The most interesting thing to both of us was the wildly popular food cart culinary culture that had exploded all over the city, which was cultivated in California. They had whole little "trailer park food courts." And these were not your average taco/hotdog/falafel stands. You could get sushi, southern food, veggie wraps, gourmet chocolate, anything! It was cheap too! Of course this phenomenon would not catch on as quickly in a places of less desirable climates. Outdoor food wouldn't hold up well through icy winters. But in Austin, it works. I ate a fried avocado taco from Torchy's taco cart. It was fantastic. I wasn't hungry enough to sample as many of the food carts as I would have liked to but I plan to return and try more! Plus we were invited to spaghetti night at the Jackson's.

 

I don't know what it is about dad's and spaghetti but they sure know what they are doing. I can't quite describe what a pleasure it was to spend the evening with the Jackson family. They had such an inherent family bond, yet were also so warm and welcoming to us. They couple had this youthful love and attraction to each other, one that most assume dies over a certain number of years together. It was comforting and gave me hope. Plus the spaghetti hit the spot.


San Antonio
posted: October 27, 2010
 

Once again I extend a gesture of apology. The truth is my trip has ended, I am home in North Carolina, tired but in one piece. I will not however use this as an excuse to give up on the blog. Because you all, my dear friends, do not know the whole story! And what a journey it was. I will keep going from where I left off and fill you in on the great south west, the west coast, and the trip home. The next stop on the trip was one of great emotional turmoil for me. An important speed bump which caused me to slow down and reevaluate the way I was going about my travels.

 

We left from Austin fairly early. Saying goodbyes and our deepest gratitude for the friends who had allowed us a break from the road. Our next stop was San Antonio, Texas. It was out of our way a bit but after we had done some research and seen pictures we really couldn't resist. Plus words like "out of our way" were rapidly becoming irrelevant. Because really, what was our way? And who or what was to say what was out of it or not? 

 

My mom had an old college friend who lived there and who had offered us a place to stay for the night. She and my mother had gone on a European trip when they were around the age of Annie and I, so in a serendipitous way it made since to meet her. Lynn and John had moved to San Antonio from Chapel Hill over twenty years ago. They were both well versed on the culture of the city and ended up being full of great recommendations for things to see, do and eat during our visit. 

 

We helped Lynn make a delicious shrimp risotto upon arrival. Her daughter Adrian was in town, on break from working helping cleaning up the oil spill in New Orleans. I got to hear some stories about my mom's European trip which excited me cause I'd never heard much about it from her. The phrase, "you think you know someone..." flickered in my mind. 

 

Lynn and John didn't have much room at their house for us so they recommended we stay with their good friends around the corner. They had two empty bedrooms which was quite luxurious compared to what Annie and I had been used to. However, the quiet solitude of an empty foreign bedroom allowed my mind to wonder freely for the first time in weeks.  I have a tendency to beat myself up if I don't go above and beyond my own expectations. I began to critique myself, annoyed my blogging was behind, wondering if I was getting anything done the way I had wanted it to be done. Was I absorbing enough? Was I just going through the steps? Had I taken enough notes? Would I remember? Would I write? Would I do anything I had promised I would do? It wasn't until I made a phone call to the one person who I knew would lovingly kick my ass and tell me to keep going and to stop being so dramatic. She calmed me down and sent me in to one of the most restful nights of sleep I had had on the trip so far. I was out there in the world, if I was scared I should be scared. If I wasn't scared I wasn't doing my job. Somehow the fear was a comfort. 

 

 

The next day we went out to see the Missions of San Antonio: San Juan, San Jose, Concepcion, Espada. San Jose was the best, if you're definition of best is biggest and well intact. It's an unusual feeling standing somewhere once used and populated and now empty and useless other than to be seen and appreciated. History runs rich in the south west, a bloody history which is somehow magnified by the sprawling desert it is surrounded by. The great Alamo, most likely the most famous mission of them all was located in the middle of downtown San Antonio, across the street from a Hard Rock Cafe and a Starbucks. I don't know if it is necessary to explain why this was hard for me to appreciate. We didn't even go in. 


 

That night Lynn had plans with her friends so John and Adrian decided to join us for dinner. San Antonio, of course, is well known for it's fabulous "tex-mex cuisine." Though our two locals had been to many places around town and had lots to recommend we decided on a place new to us all. Now I feel guilty for waiting too long for this blog because now I cannot remember the name of the place. But perhaps Annie does and I will be able to comment on it later. Anyways, if I ever do recover the name of it I would highly recommend it. It was actually much more authentic mexican rather than tex-mex. I had a dish with Nopalitos which is a pickled cactus. Delicious! After dinner we went down to the river walk. This was my favorite part of San Antonio. It felt like being in Europe. The walk was along the river, below the city. Gondolas riding up and down, people out drinking and eating along the banks. It was gorgeous. I stood on a bridge with Annie, feeling a kinship with her over being lost in a strange land. Feeling constantly ungrounded yet a comfort in her company. We sat with John and Adrian at a bar listening to a local jazz band and drinking a cocktail. John was quite knowledgeable about the music scene in San Antonio and he knew the group playing. We went back to the neighbors house that night, ready to head out the next morning. John and Lynn were kind enough to dig up their old tent of the garage so that Annie and I wouldn't have to use our junior size orange Walmart contraption again. Our next stop would be Marfa, TX. It came highly recommended.



Austin, Tejas
posted: October 14, 2010
I drove almost clear across the state before I had to pull over and sleep. Our second favorite place to sleep in the car is in hotel parking lots. We think it is ironic and clever. Maybe? Anyways we stay in a Hampton Inn, in who-knows-where Louisianna, for most of the night. I wake up at sunrise and drive to Lake Charles. It seems to have become tradition to greet each morning after sleeping in the car with staring out across a lake. (if you remember, i did the same in Tupelo) Austin is next. This is good news for us, familiar faces and a little R&R.
We stayed at my friend Kathleens for two nights, it was nice to see her. It had been a long time. Annie was very excited about being able to eat fresh vegetables again.
Then there was... Jaqi Alie. Jaqi is my friend from Chicago, though I have never actually seen her in Chicago, she comes to New York a lot. She had just moved to Austin and turned out she had moved right around the corner from Kathleens. Jaqi Alie is always up for a good time. This should be her patented phrase. This is why I love her. Now I will explain to you all... that if you have never been in a car driven by Jaqi Alie you should keep it that way. Unless you are a person who enjoys feeling like at any moment your precious life could end. Austin will probably soon have signs on the roads warning drivers against her. She had a really cool neighbor named Clay, artist photographer... red head... nice guy. And then of course there was Kyle Walker, future skateboard legend. He was there as well... I really don't want to spend too much time on Austin because as far as the road trip goes, it was a rest from the road. Though not for our livers... sorry family, it's a honest blog. These pictures sum it up pretty well.
 
Though we did "float the river." Which simply means sitting in an intertube, with a beer if you're in the mood, and floating down a river. This sounds relaxing and easy right? It should be.. unless your me and you leap out of your intertube, discover the water is only a couple inches deep and watch your tube float far away... along with your friends who are laughing too hard to help you. Then... if this is the case, as it was mine, "floating the river" can be a whole 'nother animal. Luckily Clay was not as useless and Jaqi and Annie and he retrieved my tube and returned it to me. Thanks dude.

New Orleans Part Two and my Deepest Apologies.
posted: October 14, 2010
Hello friends, family and others. If you were ever a fan of boutwhat I'm sure I have totally lost you. I did lose my computer charger but that is no excuse for having the last blog post be from New Orleans. I am so embarrassed. Let's see, it's going to take some backtracking to catch up. Well... a lot of back tracking. But perhaps it will go quickly. Let's give it a whirl.
So apparently it is tradition, if not of everyone, but of my fathers, to have oysters and a pimms cup in new orleans. Annie was back at the great and helpful droid phone and we found a place that had half priced oysters and cocktails called Luke. The restuarant ended up being owned by celebrity chef, John Besh. We were not exactly dressed for the occasion but we sideled up to the bar anyways. Our bartender turned out to be the best thing to happen to us in New Orleans.
 He took pity on us two straglers and decided to help our cause by boozing us up. I had complained to him about the overly sweet daquari I had consumed on Bourbon street the night before so he made me a REAL daquari. Which, for those of you that do not know is simply rum, lime juice and simple syrup. TAsty. He then took it upon himself to give me a little history in the literary world and made me Hemingway's twist on a daquari, which added a hint of grapefruit and maraschino. Even better. Annie made a friend at the bar named Matt who was on a bit of a trip himself via airplane. But he was from Chicago and loved food so that kept Annie in happy conversation while I continued to drink... Yes. This whole scene.. if you would like to imagine was quite hysterical. First of all we are both in jeans and t-shirts in a restuarant where the dinner entrees go for forty dollars a plate, second of all we are slurping down two dozen oysters and various cocktails and third of all... it totally kicks ass. Why not? A man named Roy sits down next to me, he is from Lafayette and writes nonfiction books about dealing with difficult youth. He is trying to determine what one component of his meal is and I inform him it has something to do with watermelon
Roy is incredibly excited about our trip. Roy likes Crown Royal and coke. Our bartender friend, I think his name was Thomas but I cannot be too sure, decides to get really decadent at this point. "Can I offer you ladies some absinthe?"
             "Indeed you can!" we say.

 
He tells us the story behind the absinthe and runs us through the whole tradition of absinthe drinking. He says NEVER to let anyone burn sugar in to your absinthe. It burns away the alcohol and does nothing for the taste. So... for anyone who was ever melted sugar cubes in to their absinthe... you've been doing it wrong all along.
After a healthy amount of free top shelf booze we leave the bar happy and... surprisingly... hungry. We were told to go to Mother's, authentic creole style food. It's right around the corner. It's a small counter service style place where you are intended to eat gigantic poboys but we spring for the gumbo and et tu fe. Our portions are tiny for the price and though tasty... I am sorry to say we leave disapointed. And to top this off, I'm sure from a mixture of various cocktails and perhaps a bad oyster, Annie gets sick. It's time to leave New Orleans... I grab a coffee, run to get the car and off we go in to the night. Another car camping night follows.

 

New Orleans
posted: October 3, 2010
The time I spent in New Orleans was heavy with a sense of falsitude. Perhaps it was because we spent most of our time in the touristy area and the city was quick to fix that part up. It is harder to find authenticity in a city that caters to visitors. I wanted to find the same sense of sincerity we had found in other cities but it was harder for me to navigate. I was running after jazz and kept bumping in to frozen daiquiris. Does this make sense? My general experience in New Orleans, I regret to admit, was one of missed opportunity. However, that does not mean we did not attempt to tackle the city.
Upon arriving in the city we went straight down to the French Quarter. We grabbed a table at Café Du Mont and ordered coffee and beignets. They were great, I mean, you can hardly go wrong with fried dough. This is not actually an opinion of mine, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. But I’ve heard it said before. We were surprised by the couple at the neighboring table paying for out breakfast though.

People had already begun drinking out on the streets at one in the afternoon. We perused some shops and listened to some street performers. Then decided we should start thinking about where we were going to sleep tonight. Not wanting to resort to a parking lot, especially in New Orleans.

We found a hostel on Felicity street near Magazine street which we were told was a neat area. The hostel was great, clean and friendly and full of all kinds of travelers. I’d highly recommend it to anyone. It was called AAE Bourbon Hostel. If anyone is ever traveling though, check it out.

That night we took the trolley car down to the Quarter. Out of imagined obligation we bought daiquiris. Mine was much too sweet and gave me more of a headache than a buzz so I abandoned it for a beer at Flannigan’s Pub. Which came recommended to us by our friend David in Birmingham. But to our disappointment our attempts at conversation with the bartender and the customers were not fruitful. We poured our drinks in to plastic cups and kept on trucking. We walked to Frenchmen street hoping to see some music but most of the bars had a cover charge. Ah sigh… our night wasn’t working out how we had planned. We decided to go back to the hostel neighborhood for one last drink and maybe a late night po boy. Then clambered in to our bunk beds for the night.
Our second day in New Orleans was much more successful than the first. We started with a splurge on brunch at a place called Dante’s Kitchen. We both tried alligator sausage, Annie’s excuse being that alligators live in water so they were kind of like fish. Hmm… It wasn’t very good though. Similar to a fatty chicken. We weren’t impressed. But the rest of the meal was fantastic. Crab Cake Benedict and stone ground grits. Primo.
Now everytime I eat chicken or a hamburger I'm not hardpressed to go out and look at a bird or a cow but for some reason after trying the gator sausage we were itching to see some gators. So off to the bayou we went. Swamp tours cost money so we attempted to lead our own which resulted in a lot of mosquito bites and almost walking on to part of the swamp that looked like grass. Plus, no gators. We kind of gave up on this point, plus, Annie had to pee. And for those of you who know Annie, you will know this is a frequent and urgent occurance that must be taken care of quickly. So I pulled the car over at what I thought was an abandonded barn like structure called "Bayou Barn." Annie ran off to pee while I stepped out to take some pictures. Then... a man appears. An old toothless man in a rhinestone studded cowboy hat and rubber boots. He asks what we are doing there and I tell him we are looking to see some alligators. And as fate would have it... this man, his name I discover is Wilbur,has some gators. I'm not sure what he means by "I've got some" but I follow him anyways. He's got some swamp behind the barn and he walks up to the water and starts making this bizarre noise, I can only describe it as a mixture of a cluck and a honk but low and behold... out of the water come about five alligators. I kid you not. I was like you have GOT to be kidding me!

 
Wilbur explained he'd been looking after these gators for ten years and that they always come when he calls them. He's got a real quiet and garbled way of talking, I could only try and guess what he was saying but from what I gathered he had a special relationship with these alligators and he comes down to the water every day just to... hang out with them? But he warned us, as fond as he was of them, he would never allow himself to trust them completely. After all.. they were alligators.
 
i know i've been so bad about keeping up with the blog. i appologize to all of you and plan on cranking some out very soon. our travels have been amazing and i have this fantastic feeling they have only just begun.

 

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