Here's the Beef: Barbacoa is Spanish for "food coma" (Photo: Tim Murphy). Our guide in San Antonio was a geography student with an affinity for roller derby,* high school football, and Mexican Coca Cola (the kind that comes with sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup). Oh, and Texas secession.
"We probably talk about Texas forming its own country more than we talk about Barack Obama," she confided, speaking for her friends. No kidding; later on, as she showed us around San Pedro Park, she pointed to an old brick structure and noted, "This building's been around since before the United States was part of Texas."
Rachel's case for secession wouldn't find much common ground with Rick Perry, though; to her, breaking away would only be the mildly humorous first step. All 50 states should break apart, and then keep on subdividing from there, into counties, and then towns, and then small, walkable, autonomous communities where everyone knows everyone and no one would ever, ever, think of building a WalMart. There's something of a small-government streak there, but mostly it's just fiercely anti-corporate (Mexican Coca Cola notwithstanding), in a way that reminded me of the folks who want to restore Vermont's independence so that they can ban chains and eat nothing but locally grown produce.
*A fun fact: To compete in a formal roller derby league, you first need to come up with a nickname and then have it approved by the association. For instance: "AC Slay-her," "Abraham Drinkin'," "A Kate 47," "Admiral Jackbar," and "Ammo-Zon"—and those are all just the letter "A." Check out the full list here.
(Photo: Tim Murphy)Marfa, Texas—I have some closing thoughts on Texas' ultra-weird Big Bend country in the pipeline, but while you wait, here's a really quick sketch I found in my notebook, from the Marfa Lights Festival in (you guessed it!) Marfa:
"We do not preach a religion; we tell people about Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior," says Betty Scarbrough, of Alpine. She's wearing a white t-shirt with "Free Hugs" written in blue letters, and, as you may have guessed, giving out free hugs.
"People from all over have forgotten how to hug," Betty tells me. "We'll tell people 'We'll give you a free hug; we're not trying to convince you of anything.' Last year, I hugged a man, he said it was the first time he'd been hugged in 40 years! Can you believe that?"
At the big Christian music festival up in Midland, Rock the Desert, they had a prayer tent about 10 times the size of the one here, but then, Marfa only has 2,100 people, so what would be the point? They've been doing this fair for two years; a family in town asked them to come and they said yes, of course, so they come on over from Alpine. "It's just a way of going out to different places" and making a difference.
So that's the idea behind "Free Hugs." But how does it work logistically? As this delightful Times trend story notes, there's no right way to hug. What happens if someone goes in for a bro-hug*?
"Usually I will reach out, I will embrace them," Betty says. "I know that some people are not front-huggers, so I get them from the side, like this."
*Until I sat down to write this post, I, like you, was hopelessly unaware of the fact that the bro-hug has become become the subject of serious academic research. This Denver Post piece gives a pretty good introduction to the debate. Money quote: "At least two professors -- Kory Floyd at Arizona State University and Mark Morman at Baylor University in Waco, Texas -- have dedicated part of their careers to studying the male hug. The two often collaborate on research." Collaborate? I believe the term is "scholarly embrace."
Window Shopping: This art installation, just outside the West Texas town of Valentine, is called "Prada Marfa," for reasons that should be obvious. Kind of brilliant, right? Just don't expect to walk out with a new pair of kicks; after an initial rash of vandalism, the items inside, from the Fall 2005 collection, were outfitted with security devices to prevent theft (Photo: Tim Murphy).
Quick: Find the extraterrestrial life form in this photograph! (Photo: Tim Murphy).Marfa, Texas—Long before it became an improbable hub for minimalist architecture, Marfa (population 2,100) was known for its lights—the oft-witnessed, never fully explained multi-colored orbs that hover and dart over the Chinati Mountains at night.
Some say the lights are the result of gases rising out of the Chihuahan desert. Others say they come from Apache campfires or visiting space creatures. In Marathon, about an hour down the road, a man named Eric suggested that the lights come from military helicopters (you can imagine how terrifying that must have been in 1883, when the phenomena was first reported.)
In 2004, a team of students from UT–Dallas conducted a four-day field study to show that the lights might come from automobile traffic reflecting from the state highway, which is totally lame, but, what's the word, plausible?
No one ever pulled off to the side of a highway to watch car headlights, though, so Marfa is sticking firmly behind the "unexplained" aspect of the unexplained phenomenon. At taxpayer expense, Presidio County constructed a viewing platform and visitors center on the outskirts of Marfa, where out-of-towners can throw down a few quarters to try to see the lights at night. It gets brisk traffic: When we stopped by in the early afternoon (before the lights would even be visible) there were at least a half dozen people there, including a few, like Richard Brown of Odessa, who claimed to have actually seen the things.