Saturday, January 20, 2007

Marfa, Texas

If you haven't heard of Marfa, Texas, you should really go read up immediately. But I'll give you a crash course right now. Marfa is definitely in the middle of nowhere. You can fly there if you own a small plane, or you can fly to El Paso or Midland and then drive three hours. There isn't much on the way to or from Marfa, but the drive gives you plenty of time to try and condition yourself to stop saying "Martha" (a feat which I admit I still have yet to officially accomplish).

The sign on the way into town boasts that the population currently stands at 2121, but John, our waiter at Blue Javelina, and a (sometimes) member of a punk rock band in town, just had the first baby of 2007 in the region, and I don't know if the sign has been changed accordingly. So let's call it 2122. When you drive through town for the first time, it's hard to imagine even that many people living there.

There are no official stop lights in Marfa, unless you count the four way stop at Highland and San Antonio. It has a flashing red light, just in case you don't see the stop signs. There are no chain restaurants or stores, with the strange and glorious exception of Dairy Queen (two nights in a row--best Blizzard from any Dairy Queen in any state, period).

There is, however, a beautiful courthouse, the Presidio County Courthouse, which was completely restored in the last few years. There are art galleries, one of which is featuring Andy Warhol's The Last Supper. There is a radio station, though the tower has just been repaired and there has been a delay in getting FCC approval to get back on the air, so 93.5 in Marfa, Texas, is, for now, conspicuously silent on the dial. There is the Marfa and Presidio County Museum, which doesn't look like much but has a bunch of pictures and details about the history of the area. And, if you ask, they'll show you a video about the Marfa Mystery Lights.

Oh, the Mystery Lights. That's right. Marfa even has a history of UFOs. I was a skeptic at first, too, but then we drove nine miles east of town to the official viewing station (built by the state; looks like a rest area). It's lit with red lights, so as not to obstruct your view. You won't want anything interfering with the view. You've never seen stars like you see in west Texas on a clear night. And you've never seen anything like the Marfa Mystery Lights. Anything you read about them will not do them justice, and even seeing pictures and video won't help.

You have to go for yourself. You have to stand, like we did, on the viewing platform. You have to lose feeling in your toes because the temperature is in the 20s. You have to stare at lights on the horizon and be scared to death when you realize that they are moving too fast and too erratically to be the reflections of car headlights (one theory), or some people out in the desert messing with flashlights (another theory). Scientists have done studies, average joes have stared for years (since the first recorded sighting in 1883, at least), and still no one knows what they are. But I can tell you one thing. They're awesome.

Marfa seems to be a place isolated from everywhere else, but then little things happen that remind you that the world is indeed still small. Christine picked up a CD in the Marfa Book Company that looked like the kind of music we would like. It was a singer named Amy Cook, whose album is record 001 on Marfa Records. We opened the CD to find that Alex Hedison, whom I've worked with and whom you may remember as Ellen DeGeneres' former girlfriend, did the photography for the album. And then, when we got back to Los Angeles, we found out that a longtime friend of Christine's got married in the courthouse in Marfa four days before we arrived (she is from Texas, loves Marfa, and had told Christine about loving it long ago), and left for her honeymoon less than 24 hours before we pulled into the parking lot of the Thunderbird Hotel.

When you drive a little bit out of town to look at the surroundings (like the remnants of some of the sets from the movie Giant), you will feel like something is different, something you can't quite recognize at first. And then it will hit you--you don't hear anything. The silence in that part of the world is the kind that, even after a few seconds, will make you say something outloud just to hear your own voice, or to remind yourself that you remember how to speak. It's that intense. It will make you have an exchange that you thought only occurred in bad dialogue in films and television:

"Listen. Do you hear that?"
"I don't hear anything."

You will love Marfa. I didn't think it was anything I would care about, and then we went. And now we're looking at properties and trying to figure out if we can support ourselves while I work at Dairy Queen and Christine sits around thinking about how much she loves Texas. We'll find a way.