Posted By bbinns on February 17, 20092.15.09. Las Cruces to Marfa, 240 miles. Two states: New Mexico and Texas.
Dining alone is something I do quite often. I prefer to dine at the bar, because even if the bartender is too busy or not the friendly type, I feel engaged with another human. I’ve never felt the need to read a book, although sometimes I’ll take a few notes. Once in Florence, after C had flown back to California a day ahead of me, a waiter happily announced “You are thinking!” I had been gazing at nothing with a little secret smile on my face. Indeed, thinking. Dining alone on Valentine’s Day in one of the most romantic restaurants in the West, however is a different cup of tea. It’s like holding up a sign that says “I’m lonely,” even if you’re not. In any event, when I get to the Double Eagle in Mesilla, my bartender from the previous night, Matt, is nowhere in sight, and his stand-in says management doesn’t allow dining at the bar on Valentine’s Day. Indeed, the place is jam-packed-crawling with cuddly couples (many of the male partners look somewhat shell-shocked; perhaps they are in the throes of doubt as to whether This Will Be Enough). So I order a Caesar to go and have a glass of decent chardonnay (our friend Stephan Asseo’s 98-point wine, L’Aventure, is behind the bar—as he’ll be tickled pink to hear). While I sip and wait, I chat with a friendly couple who winter in Bernalillo from their icy northern California home. Bob and Casey have come down to Las Cruces for the weekend, and we trade tales of southern and northern California, New Mexico, food, friends, and the discomforts of separation from one’s significant other. They’ve recently endured a month apart for grandchild reasons, and Bob, who is older than Casey, says “When you get to be a certain age, you just don’t want to waste time apart, because you don’t know how much of it you’ve got left.” No Valentine card could be any sweeter than that. It turns out that Casey is an accomplished amateur food photographer (www.visionlightgallery.com, search for “Casey Heisler”). Three of her pictures are below….LOVE the crabs. (Hmmmm, and how long will it be before I get to eat shellfish again? West Texas ain’t exactly famous for it.)
It’s been 24 nights since we left cousin Robert’s serene home in San Luis Obispo, and 2 ½ weeks since C flew back east for the start of the semester. In spite of the fine places I’ve seen, the good food I’ve eaten, and the fascinating people I’ve met, the attraction of the open road has—to be scrupulously honest—begun to wear just a little thin. It’s time to unpack, find a treadmill, and do some laundry.
Luckily, today it’s finally time to head to Marfa and begin The Grand Experiment: a month alone in a pretty little bungalow, working on a personal writing project—shock: No recipes! Whether I’ll be disciplined enough to get some quality work done, or just get lonely and be easily distracted, these are things as yet unknown. Having Stella along will certainly help. I’m planning to stop in El Paso for a BBQ lunch at Smitty’s (recommended by the estimable roadfood.com), plus a major stock-up at Albertson’s, the last supermarket I’ll be seeing for a month. Finding space to put anything else in the over-loaded Toyota is a problem I’ll face when the time comes. In El Paso, I ask C to find me a dog park for Miss Cabin Fever, and he guides me in carefully via Google Maps. Although I find the park, there is no dog-enclosure, and no dogs there. What I do get is a fine view of the Cordova bridge across the Rio Grande to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Heading into Mexico, the few cars are whizzing along at good speed. Coming into the USA it looks more like a parking lot.
Smitty’s is, to my bad luck, closed on Sundays. Here, the Live Search function on my iPhony proves it’s worth: I hold down the button and say “barbeque!” It directs me smoothly to Smokey’s Pit Stop BBQ, just a few blocks away. This rather unlikely-looking spot does boast a few praising (and old) framed articles from the local press, so I order pork ribs with two sides: red beans and rice, and slaw. The beans and rice are nicely sausage-studded and actually far tastier than the ribs themselves, which are kinda tough, and can’t hold the stub of a candle to those Baby Blue’s Memphis-style ribs I stupidly passed on a few posts ago. I will have to put my nose to the grindstone looking for their equal while I’m in Texas. I wrap two of the three ribs in foil and poke them into the milk-crate between the fabric softener and six liters of Kirkland Extra-Virgin olive oil. Then, I relieve a suburban Albertson’s of eggs, large amounts of drinking water, mayo, broccoli, cheese, smoked salmon, Worcestershire sauce….and then: Giddy-Up! We’re off!
It’s not a long drive: 190 miles from El Paso to Marfa; if we could afford it, C. could come visit me and rent a car. But not this year.
About halfway, all traffic is funneled off the I-10 through a border patrol inspection site, and a really cute sniffer dog runs round the car with intense purpose. “Do not pick up hitchhikers!” screams a sign. I am near Mexico, and the peso has lost 50% of its value in the last six months. I don’t think I’d want to stay down there, either. Is here still better, in spite of everything? I’d hazard a yes. I leave the I-10 at Van Horn and head due south and then a little east on the two-lane Rt-90. About 30 miles east of Marfa, out in the wide open West Texas that I do, oddly, love, I come upon the Marfa Prada store. It’s not a real store, you understand, but an art installation. Oh those artsy Marfans!
I’m close now, and the next phase of the adventure begins right now. Watch what happens.