I have always been a weirdo. Not your lovable, attractive, manic pixie dream girl weirdo, more like your chubby, loud talking, entire rotisserie chicken eating weirdo. Growing up, I learned to be one of the boys. As the brilliant Gillian Flynn said in Gone Girl, “...Cool Girls are above all hot.” I spent the bulk of my adolescence being best friends with plenty of boys, but they reserved their desire for thin girls who acted as great sidekicks, not the big pushy gals who had plenty to say for themselves. Often, I found myself excitedly telling a story only to be met by an exacerbated, “Ro, you’re yelling!” My girl friends would say in an irritated whisper, as if the jig were up on my ‘darling’ persona. Around college I thought I had finally shed my oddball status, or if not shed it, finally found myself in a world where my strangeness was no longer a liability but an asset. In art school I surrounded myself with a band of weirdos that made my wild nature seem less so.
There was Rio the Florida crust punk who peed on my couch one night and called to embarrassingly apologize the next day. There was Chad who loomed large in my fantasies, the six foot tall redhead with dreadlocks down his back and a lip ring, the front man of a local punk band Space Manatee. There was Anne my painfully shy, beautiful roommate, with tight curls like a depression era actress, who made tiny drawings of homes and latex molds of toy legs. While this world gave me a respite from my displacement, I learned that the rest of the world still stands stagnant in its regularity, and if anything returning to it was that much harder.
People told me, "you will just love Marfa. It’s the kind of place for you." The kind of place for you. The kind of place for a weirdo like you.
I awoke in the middle of the night in my warm bed in a wood bottom tent in Marfa, Texas. The air was freezing on my face, I was delishly warmed by a heated blanket. I had to use the bathroom, but the thought of leaving my cocoon seemed undoable. Eventually, I willed myself up, slipped on my boots, and long black hooded fur vest. The night air so crisp I felt the tip of my nose at attention and saw my breath as I made my way to communal bathrooms at the El Cosmico camp site. The row of ground lights marking the way to facilities shimmered in the inky black darkness and lead me to and from the warmth of my tent.
The next morning I got up early. The air had warmed and when I slipped out from under the heated bed, I was met with a slight chill, not the cutting cold from the night before. I walked to the communal sink and brushed my teeth and hair, and put in my contacts. The night before, I had made one of my usual rice cooker meals, I scooped myself a bowls worth, and dropped a handful of cashews into the room temperature mixture. I ate it at a picnic table outside of my tent. I dressed in black leggings, black tank top, wool socks, sneakers, and stuffed a sweatshirt into my backpack. I walked over to the parking lot and unlocked my bike from my car rack. Having missed coffee at El Cosmico, I decided to make my way over to Frama/Tumbleweed Laundry, a tiny coffee shop in town connected to a coin laundromat. I biked the flat road approaching Marfa’s small downtown in just a few pedal strokes.
The downtown had the narrow roads of an old cowboy movie and the eerie aesthetic of a high fashion photo-shoot. Marfa seems like rich art-world folk came down here and simply changed the names on the doors from Saloon to hip single words like, Capri and Frama. I biked past a place called Bad Hombres, formally just called Hombres. They added the “Bad” after our unfortunate president elect used this embarrassing phrase in one of the presidential debates. They had a reputation for being rude to customers, a "joke is on you," "can you roll with the punches" test, to weed out tourists who could not handle it. As someone with pretty specific food requirements and a weak stomach for spicy food, I biked right past this place, figuring I was exactly the type of customer they were trying to weed out.
I careened through the small neighborhoods, past pastel colored single story homes, some with multi colored christmas lights and elaborate inflatable Santas in the yard.
I rolled up to Frama and locked my bike to a set of stairs next to the coffee shop. A short handsome brunette man in his thirties stood over a chop saw, cutting slats of wood into smaller pieces, he looked up from his work and smiled at me. I shyly smiled back and walked around the front of the building. A young brunette girl with dreadlocks in a dirty white t-shirt grinned at me as I entered. I managed a friendly, “Hi,’ as I walked into the store. I looped past a row of laundry machines and walked up to the counter of a tiny white box coffee shop.
I groped for my wallet in my backpack, stuffing my sweatshirt back in when I reached it.
“You’re bag is like mine,” said the barista.
He gestured to his backpack behind him, its contents pouring out onto the counter. He looked to be in his early twenties, white with brown hair, a few tiny black line tattoos dotted his arms, the imagery of which I could not make out. He was painfully thin, his cheekbones jut out at sharp points, but his face seemed soft and childlike despite the hard corners.
“Oh yea,” I said. “I need my whole life with me, you know? Just in case.”
“Oh sure,” he agreed, “I was the weirdo in college that carried around my record collection with me at all times. I was so shy I hardly talked to anyone. I had no friends, so my records where my friends.”
This seemed like an odd admission to me, not exactly shy now, an intimate bit of information for a girl who was just buying coffee.
“Did you have a player with you too? So you could listen to them at any time?” I asked.
“How would I be able to carry a player?!” He asked incredulously, as if carrying his whole record collection where not a feet in and of itself.
“Oh I don’t know. I supposed however you carry the records.”
“Well I don’t do that now anyway, I’ve got real friends these days. I’ve got an organ too. It doesn’t work, I’ve been meaning to fix it. I was going to ask Dan Stark, when he had a chance.” He name dropped someone in town as if I were supposed to know them.
“Oh, is he a musician in town?” I asked.
“Yea and he built his own organ. I figured he could fix mine. I got it back in East Texas, near where my folks live. It was $35 on Craigslist so I figured I needed it. I’m kind of a hoarder.”
I envisioned his Texas home wall to wall with broken instruments, dusty records, and stacks of papers.
“I’ve gotten rid of a lot of my stuff. I’m moving so I needed to fit my life into a small car. It’s been kind of nice, not having much, less to keep track of.” I smiled and he did too.
“What can I get you?” He asked finally.
“Just a small coffee please. Black.”
I sat down at a corner table and pulled out my laptop to write a post.
The pretty dreadlocked girl from outside walked in with two other friends, all sun weathered, a thick blond girl with short dreadlocks, and a lanky thin brunette man with a scraggly beard. Two of them sat next to me in plush arm chairs, the blond girl made her way to a corner table and pulled out a pack of crayons and sketch book. Two white men with long hair and tanned faces walked up to them.
“Hey, guys.” One of them said in a strong surfer accent. “Did I hear you guys say you were biking across country?”
They smiled, “Yeah,” said the girl, “We are coming from Maine.”
They reminded me of girls I knew from New College, a neighboring school to mine in the small town of Sarasota. Their hippy ease was something I admired about many of those girls. They embodied “Cool Girl,” with their sculpted bike-toned calf muscles, tanned faces, and the sort of fearless energy that does not let being a woman keep you from sleeping in public. The two boys were from San Francisco, they explained. They sat and chatted with the two girls, leaving their male counterpart to look on board and eventually leave the coffee shop. The four of them sat at a large table animatedly talking about sleeping under the stars and how cold it had been the night before.
“You can sleep at our RV if you guys want,” offered one of the men, casually. “Or camp with us. It’ll be cool.”
They meandered in and out of the shop, strolling around but using the coffee house as home base. A tall black man in a red t-shirt walked in with one of the girls.
“Would you guys like to be an extra in a movie right now? It’s $200 for 2 hours of work.” The dreadlocked girl's eyes went wide and she smiled huge.
“Abso-fucking-lutely!” She said, shaking the man’s hand.
I filed out of coffee shop watching the bike girls getting ready for their cinematic debut. They pulled their hair back with long scarves and put on mascara.
I biked across the street to a small gallery, the name of which I cannot remember. I walked into a house, the interior gutted to make room for white walls featuring simple watercolor portraits and tall wood sculptures.
“Hello!” said an enthusiastic woman with long gray hair and a strong German accent.
“Are you part of the bike gang?!” she said smiling.
“Oh no, I’m just riding around here. I am traveling by car not bike.”
“Well take a look around, please ask me if you have any questions.”
I wandered the gallery slowly taking in the unusual textures of the exhibiting paintings. We discussed the artist's travels and how it was integral to her work.
“So where are you headed?” said the gallerist after we exchanged pleasantries.
“I’m headed to Los Angeles, but I’m from Atlanta.”
“Oh, what are you planning to do in LA?” she asked.
“Isn’t that the question.” I said laughing. “I was working as the event manager for a contemporary institution out there, but I just needed a change. I really want to be making art work again. I just found I was not doing that there.” As soon as I said it out loud, I knew it was true.
“Well it’s very hard to make art work with a full time job.” She said understandingly. “I think that’s brave. It’s very easy to just stay where things are comfortable. It’s much harder to try something new when there’s not an immediate force making you.” I smiled. It was comforting to hear, especially from someone who works with artists from all over the world.
“How did you end up in Marfa?” I asked changing the subject.
“How does anyone end up anywhere?” She smiled, “I met somebody and it was either I come here and we do this or I don’t. So here.” I did not ask if she was still with that ‘somebody.’
“Was Marfa your first stop in the US?”
“Oh no, I’ve been all over. The midwest, California, you name it. I’ve never been to Atlanta though, just the airport.”
“It’s nice.” I said.
We talked for over an hour, about the artwork, about travel, about being a woman alone in the world. When we were finished she walked me to the door and surprised me with an affectionate hug.
“Good luck my dear. I think you’ll do great.” She said.
“Yeah?” I replied, flattered but less sure.
“I do,” she smiled and waved at me as I hopped on my bike peddled away.
I headed to Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum based on the ideas of minimalist artist Donald Judd. I locked my bike to a tree and went inside. I was instructed to walk a narrow path through the desert brush to Judd’s 15 untitled works in concrete. The work consists of 15 enormous concrete boxes open on at least one side. The works dot the landscape in an organized almost religious fashion, but are so seamless with their surroundings they could, to the untrained eye, be mistaken for an unfinished construction site or building foundation. I walked the meditative steps around the portals careful to watch my steps for snakes as instructed. I ran my hands along the concrete sides of the massive monuments. I did not anticipate how much the striation in the concrete mold would make the surface of the objects look like wood grain. The sun lowered as I walked and cast strong angular shadows along the surface of Judd’s work. They reminded me of communist block homes I had seen in rural China. Concrete boxes with side walks that dead ended into the desert.
I walked up the path to his 100 untitled works in mill aluminum, 100 works installed in two artfully renovated former artillery sheds. All the surfaces on the aluminum were galvanized sending light bouncing from the windows onto the works and back. They stood neatly organized in the artillery shed like stoic factory workers, individually they would have made little impact, but collectively interacting with the setting sun, the effect was breathtaking.
By the time I made it back to my campsite, the sun had set and the temperature had dropped significantly. I pulled on my floor length fur vest and camping boots, and grabbed my food bag to head to the communal kitchen.
The kitchen had an excellent set-up with a large sink, two hot plates, and lots of counter space. Since I was the only one there prepping I spread out. I chopped the carrots and broccoli I had purchased earlier that afternoon at The Get Go. A woman came running up the kitchen with two stylish tweens in tow. The girl about eight or nine years old brushed her long blond hair out of her eyes.
“I want to make the first one.” She said excitedly.
“Ok you guys, let me just get a little set-up here. I have to see what they have.” She looked in the cabinet next to the sink. “Darn, they don’t have a frying pan.” She frowned, the kids clearly getting antsy shifted in their seats on the picnic bench.
“What are you making?” I asked. "I’ve got a little pan, it’s small, but you can use it if it’ll work.”
“We are making grilled cheese. Maybe I can just do it right on the burner.” She thought out loud.
“Well if you need I’ve got some oil you’re also welcome to use.”
“Thank you! We are not very prepared. Their parents are working on a movie in town and they decided it’d be fun to come spend the night in the tent here, but we just sort of bolted out of the house without all of our stuff!”
I marveled at the kind of parents that have their kids stay the night in a $175 tent on whim.
“You are welcome to use whatever you need.” I smiled.
A brown haired girl in a puffy vest, a large blond dog trailing behind her on leash, walked up. The kids came running to the dog eager to pet her ears.
“She’s friendly,” the girl said, recognizing the nanny’s anxious face. “You can pet her all you like.”
She put her box of food and cooking gear down next to mine.
“Hi, I’m Jordan,” she said to me. “I like your fur vest.”
I laughed, “I’m Ro. It’s nice to meet you.”
We all prepped our dinner under the shelter of the El Cosmico kitchen, a large sign reading “Raging Feminist” lit next us. I laughed at the sight of us women prepping our food, traditional woman’s work, under its banner.
Jordan told me she was a painter. She had an interest in farming and natural dyes and was heading to the Bay Area to try and work with an Indigo artist out there. The artist grows their own Indigo then makes paintings and fabrics with their blue dye. Though she was rather vague, I got the impression she had come on hard times or heartbreak and her move was also about transitioning into the unknown.
“Have you seen the Marfa lights?” She asked.
“No, not yet.” I said, “I want to tonight. I was too comfortable in my heated blanket to think about getting up and going, but tonight I won’t be so chicken. Do you want to check it out together?”
She seemed surprised by my suggestion, so much so, I wondered if I had miscalculated our interaction and been too forward.
“Sure that’d be awesome.” She said finally. “I’d really like that.”
We agreed to meet back at the lobby at 10pm after we’d both eaten and put away our things.
The Marfa lights also known as the Marfa ghost lights, are tiny twinkling lights that occur on the horizon of Route 67. Tourists ascribe them to mystical phenomena, ghost activity, or UFO sightings. Most likely they are reflections from headlights and campfires, but it is still fun to drive out into the desert, and will yourself to experience the paranormal. Jordan drove us in her truck. Her sweet dog sitting in between us, we talked about where we had been and where we were headed.
“I've been on the road about three months now.” She said looking at the road straight ahead. “Came from Pennsylvania. All the way through East Texas. I’ve been seeing family most of the way, so it hasn’t been so bad. Plus I’ve got this old girl here with me, so I don’t get too lonely.” Jordan patted the dog curled on her lap.
I told her how I’d been doing the same, staying with friends mostly. Marfa, being the first place I actually stayed on my own. I told her about my blog and how I was trying to live a healthier lifestyle medicine-free. “Hence the tupperware of rice I was cooking.” I explained.
“Wow, “ she said. “That’s so cool. I’ve been saying I should write about my traveling, but I never actually get to it.”
“I need a goal.” I said. “I sort of treat it like a job. It gives me a purpose that I can schedule around. Otherwise I feel aimless.”
“I get that. I just usually end up wasting a lot of time these days staring off into space. I should probably try and make something.”
“You definitely could. Have you been painting at all?” I asked.
“Naw,” she shook her head. “Just wastin’ time mostly.” She said this last sentence with a melancholy that let me know she was not just talking about painting.
We parked in the Marfa lights viewing sight lot and walked the circular building to a set of standing binoculars. We watched groups of people bundled up from the cold pointing out into the distance. “Oh is that it?” We overheard, “Or that?! That’s it!”
We all strained our eyes into the distance waiting for something to cross our gaze, what exactly we were not sure. Eventually, we saw a group of blinking lights low in the horizon. They popped in and out of view and glowed ember to red and ember again. I joked that it was probably some person out in the distance with a strong flashlight, he’d been there since the fifties trying to attract tourists to Marfa with the promise of paranormal activity. Jordan and I laughed and turned our attention back to the lights blinking in and out of existence. We watched for about half an hour and when I could not handle the cold anymore, we hopped back into her car to El Cosmico.
Jordan pulled into the parking lot. “It was really nice to meet you.” She said earnestly. “I think it’s really cool what you’re doing, the writing and all.”
“Thanks.” I smiled flattered that my silly little blog could matter to anyone. “Good luck in San Fran. I bet you’ll be a killer Indigo grower.”
“We will see.” She said sheepishly. “We’ll see.”
We exchanged information and got out of the car heading towards my campsite in the dark. I was glad I had met Jordan if only for a brief few hours. It was reassuring to meet another woman deep out in West Texas, just trying to make sense of what the next move was. I really hope she finds Indigo out there.