Our day in Marfa started out with such promise: we found a laundromat coffee shop, a quirky combination that checked two big boxes for our town day. While our clothes were getting clean, we sat down with our surprisingly good coffee and the first WiFi we’ve seen in six days and set to work planning out the next leg of our trip. Guadeloupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, I-25 corridor of New Mexico, here we come.
You can’t help but people watch in a coffee shop, especially when trying to get a feel for a new town, and eventually Kate leaned in and whispered, “why does everyone look like they were flown in from Williamsburg?” It was true. This tiny town in rural west Texas seemed to be populated by twenty-somethings in ill-fitting vintage, rocking outfits that said “summer of love, but in Sweden” or “seventies gym class.” Ok, interesting, let’s find out what they’re doing here.
But first lunch. If you really want to get to know a people, find out how they eat. Fortunately for us this is still Texas and you don’t have to look far to find an abuelita making burritos in tortillas made in house. But this was the first place that had a photo of Anthony Bourdain on the wall. And Kevin Bacon, and Mathew McConaughey, and Mark Ruffalo, alright… what is this town? The burritos were good and all but not star power good. We hit the street looking forward to discovering Marfa’s appeal.
There was some cool architecture. What this place was doing with two fancy hotels was still mysterious, but we discovered the old store fronts to be filled with many art galleries, which is nice to see. Nothing really spoke to us, and a lot of the other stores were empty, and we still couldn’t quite understand what people did here to live. That’s about when we discovered that the legions of hipsters in heels were coming from a hotel/campground filled with rows upon rows of yurts, looking like a really bland circus. This wasn’t their town, they were just visiting.
Now, maybe it’s the big change in altitude we’ve just done, or the desert sun getting to me. And it could be too much time on the road making me cranky, or perhaps I’m at that age when we start the long slide into curmudgeon until we’re Waldorf and Stadler in their box razzing the other muppets. I’ve been making time to do my meditation in the morning, plus I had a shower and a burrito today, but I couldn’t help judging these kids taking over the sidewalk for photoshoots on the railroad tracks with cowboy hats. We’ve seen a lot of Texas so far; big cities, suburbs, small towns, and we’ve been out here on the f’n range for the better part of a week, and I have never seen so many cowboy hats. Sure, people wear them, but not in the concentration per capita I was seeing here, and never purple ones, or casually slung off the back like a reversed necklace.
Kate was done but I wanted to understand this place. So we went to Chinati, the military base turned contemporary art space that seems to be the cornerstone of this towns culture. A lot of the site was only accessible by $25 guided tour, so we started with the big free part to see if shelling out the fifty bucks would be worth it to us. Nope. Large, unadorned squares and cubes of concrete stretched a long line across the field. Was this cement trough with a spigot part of the installation? Did the brochure provide any insight? Nope and nope. Maybe the artist was trying to redeem brutalism as an art form, or say something about man’s inhumanity towards his fellow man, but we weren’t getting it.
We considered going to the Marfa Prada store, apparently Instagram famous, but it was 30 miles away. A simulacrum of an expensive, high fashion brand in the middle of the desert performing no function seemed the perfect metaphor for this place. So we drove in the opposite direction to Alpine, a cool little college town that felt like a real place. Another cup of coffee, another big planning session, a week’s worth of groceries, and we are prepared for what comes next.
Reflecting on the day, I wasn’t sure why Marfa bothered me. There have been plenty of towns we’ve passed through and wondered aloud to each other “how is this a place?” Or “what do people do here?” It looks like people are having a good time in Marfa; let them have their scene even if I don’t get it. I think the reason I get judgmental is because we get lumped in with these folks sometimes. There’s a fine line between hippies and hipsters, and we’ve reaffirmed where we fall on the spectrum. The silver lining is Kate and I were on the same page, though she was nicer about it.