West Texas

Coyotes routinely stroll down the middle of street. Roadrunners scurry about on important errands. Rattlesnakes hide from the blistering sun. The whole cast of every “roadrunner” cartoon exists in the back yard! There are even 18 wheelers roaring by at 80 miles an hour. Now look again and see the pump jacks in there steady rocking or gas well heads in uncontrolled burn offs. You really cannot describe West Texas, you have to experience it. Some love it and some cannot get away fast enough. Few leave without a renewed perspective.

The stories in this section reflect the changes to my perspective. There is no claim that this is a complete picture or even the most accurate. In fact it may well be that it is best to understand these reflections as coming from some one who once lived two blocks from the White House and routinely walked down Pennsylvania Avenue to get to work. The contrast is the prism of this view.

Some of these stories describe people who make west Texas their home either from choice or circumstance. Some describe events that pull the people back to the area. All of them need to be viewed as a reminder that the country and culture that we see on TV has nothing to do with life in west Texas and many other parts of this nation. The successes and failures of the Bush presidency were predictable given the influence of growing up in this part of the world.

The Permian Basin is the geologic description of this part of North America that used its former sea bed environment to create an enormous resource of oil and gas. It is difficult to imagine anyone moving to parts of this high plains desert without the need to extract the minerals from the ground. People here refer to a ten to fifteen foot tall mesquite as a “tree” and protest loudly when it is pointed out the purple sage easily grow to the same height. It is easy to talk about the beauty of the many variety of cactus when they bloom and ignore the other 50 weeks of every year that they offer only spines to passersby.

The land is flat. Every heavy rain produces flooding in the small cities in the area because there just is not any drainage. There are places that locals refer to as rivers that leave people scratching their head wondering if there was ever any water at all. There are berms in many of the school playgrounds that I am certain were put there to teach the younger children what a hill is and why walking up hill is difficult.

There are two major cities, Midland and Odessa. They are separated by 20 miles of interstate and hundreds of years of ethnic and economic prejudice. Midland is the proud boyhood home of George W. even though the “house” was put on a trailer and moved to the museum in Odessa. There is a divide. People who own oil wells and leases live in Midland. People who make those wells work live in Odessa. Hispanic influence in the area is large, but much more so in Odessa. There is a natural rivalry between the cities. Odessa folks had a wonderful time chiding there Midland neighbors over the “buried” secrets of Laura Bush's teenage car accident that left one student dead during both presidential campaigns even though both cities voted republican. As one resident said, “Bush is a really bad president, I don't agree with anything he does but we make our money from oil.”

There is a university in Odessa, still a point of hard feelings for those in Midland who wanted it there, that is largely ignored. The faculty is so insulated from the community that the word “cowboy” was exorcised from documents because it excluded Hispanics, a belief that can only exist for someone who thinks of “Bret Maverick” as a cowboy. There is a school here because the entire Texas higher education system is supported by the oil, but there is little reason to attend college if your future is welding pipe on a rig.

Odessa is the home of the original “Friday Night Lights”. Yes, the racism is real, the football obsession is real and no, the movie did not go far enough. The area really does focus on high school football in a way that rivals the obsessions of pre-teen beauty pageants. For many, children playing football is the entire culture. The Coen brothers did a wonderful job of capturing the area in their film “No Country for Old Men”. Part of their success was the type casting of Tommy Lee Jones, an actual west Texan.

Wiley Coyote would be very much at home here. He would understand the harsh climate with harsh customs that frequently leave you as a hood ornament for a truck. Oil defines everything that is done (people do not recycle). Yet, if you are seeking a place that has third-world simplicity and still reminds you of life in the United States, there are worse places to live.

Lee McGavin
Leander, TX 2009

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