Go Back in Time for a Behind the Scenes Look: Perpetual Motion in “Tejas”

Words by Justin W. Coffey
Photos by Justin W. Coffey

If you were to ask a kid to draw one of the 50 States, other than their own, you’ll likely end up with a rough outline of the Lone Star State. It is, after all, the largest among those contiguous, and more than 100,000 square-miles larger than the next biggest, California. But maybe the reason a young one might doodle the Lone Star State – as opposed to, say, California or Florida, those big American bookends – is not because of its sheer size, measured in miles or kilometers, but because of just how big everything else in ‘Tejas” is.

Movies are made about the place, its people and their personalities. Memes and jokes are made around its residents, and their resilience. It’s a place unlike any other in the United States, where citizens will refer to themselves as Texans first, and Americans second. Its people are proud. And so, with a sort of anthropological objective on our agenda, we set out across this great State trying to discover why everyone is proud of the place, and what that all really means.

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All the art galleries…

Marfa is the kind of hipster art community I would normally hate. Galleries are tucked into formerly abandoned buildings in a town which, until the late 1990s, was nothing more than a long-forgotten leftover. Movies were once made there, namely the Western variety, and perhaps most importantly Giant, James Dean’s third and final film. But when the Spaghetti Western craze kicked off in the mid-1960s, Marfa movie sets shut down, and the tiny township turned quiet once again.

Then came Donald Judd, an American artist and sculptor known for the minimalism exhibited in his work. Judd moved there in the early 1970s and would spend much of his life in the little town until his death in 1994. Judd gave new meaning to Marfa, drawing art students and enthusiasts from around the world to the southwest corner of the State.

Our entry was much like that of anyone who wanders their way from the west – first a photo at the Prada store installation about ten miles outside of town, then down San Antonio St where cafes and art galleries, restaurants and wineries line the road. We had booked rooms at The Hotel Paisano, which opened its doors in 1930 and was home to Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean as well as 150 other cast members during the filming of the aforementioned flick, Giant. We ate dinner with friends and photographers, Lesley and Juni Villarreal, who call Marfa home. Juni gave us a bit of background on what the municipality was like when he was growing up, and Lesley noted just how much had changed since she had arrived some six years earlier.

When we headed east a few days later, I was a little sad to see the Paisano in my side mirror. And while I’m not necessarily a fan of overpriced artisan coffee shops, I can appreciate a good cup of joe (courtesy of Frama) in the middle of nowhere. Whatever the future has in store for this once sleepy Texas town, it will likely reinvent itself, as it has time and again.

And half-million-dollar cows…

The largest livestock exhibition and rodeo in the world is held in Houston, TX each year. Last year’s attendance was record breaking at more than 2.5-million people. You can smell the cotton candy and cow shit for miles out of the city. It is, for lack of a better word, huge. Knowing this, we planned to attend at least one of the 20 days the festival rages on. We chose the final Sunday, the night Garth Brooks would play the NRG Stadium, where more than 70,000 people would pack in to see the King of Country Western. This was also where the rodeo itself would be held, with standing-room-only tickets being sold at the gate and offering one of the largest prize purses in North America, at over $2 million. But first, deep friend Twinkies.

Houston is one of the most diverse cities in America – home to an estimated 1.1 million residents born outside the United States. Its residents are drawn to this hot and humid town for a variety of reasons. Oil, namely. But also, a robust fishing economy, among other things. My first time in H-Town was the quick and short kind. This time, though, we planned to spend some serious hours in the city, taking in the Livestock Show, as well as exploring its streets. From the fourteenth floor of our hotel, Houston looks a lot like Manilla. A dense and swampy place, with high-rises and skyscrapers growing from the lush jungle floor. It’s flat, which is why it is so susceptible to hurricanes and the like. It’s beautiful, though, in a way you might not imagine. Humid like some parts of the South. Hospitable like all of them.

We left early in a Lyft, assuming the Livestock Show and Rodeo would be, well, a bit of a shit show. To our surprise, it was all too organized, and before we knew it, we were through the gates and gnawing at a giant smoked turkey leg. We played a few carnival games, drank a three-foot tall margarita and then made our way to the alpaca costume contest (yes, you read that right). We watched old ladies ride around in little carriages, witnessed a rather uninspiring barrel race (turns out mules aren’t that fast), and then made our way through the maelstrom towards this year’s prize-winning steer, a silky-smooth caramel colored creature collecting a cool $410,000 at auction.

We didn’t get to see Garth. Turns out that ‘standing room only’ really means, ‘stand and don’t move forever.’ And as much as I might crush a karaoke rendition of Friends In Low Places, I’m not that much of a fan. We did get to see most of the rodeo, though. And left with a newfound appreciation for both the city of Houston and its beloved event.

Texas is too big…

I can’t possibly describe the entire experience in just 1200 words. And to be honest, that wouldn’t be doing the Lone Star State the justice it deserves. Yes, its citizens are proud. Perhaps for good reason. Texas offers its residents a wildly diverse, and yet altogether cohesive existence, where cowboys rub shoulders with oil tycoons, fishermen share tables with tech executives and people just generally get along. As they should. So, I could go on about this a bit more, maybe tell you about how cool Austin in, or that Dallas isn’t as awful as you might imagine. Maybe offer some insight into what living in West Texas might be like (hint: windy), or that even though we spent more than three weeks exploring the State on our motorcycles, we didn’t really see all that much of it.

What I can tell you, however, is that of all the places you can visit in America, maybe Texas should be the next one.

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