A few weeks ago I started eating yogurt again and this was the beginning. I’ve avoided dairy products for the last twelve or thirteen years due to my chronic sinus issues, with some exceptions (I did have a “Real Food” by Nina Planck phase, when I drank whole milk and ate Fage yogurt – unfortunately I was also smoking weed every night and eating peanut butter puffins out of the box washed down with hot chocolate. I also had an eating cheese fairly regularly “boyfriend who only ate crap” phase, lots of frozen pizzas in that one.) On Fridays we have pizza at work (yes, I have a great work environment!) and I pretty much have a dairy extravaganza after which I feel kind of bloated and gross. But that is probably because I end up eating four pieces of pizza in a day because that’s my big cheese day!
So a few weeks ago, I was trying, as I always do, to eat less, because, I guess, thinking about that every day seems extremely important to someone like me, and after my so healthy lunch of salad with grilled chicken and a client meeting after lunch, I was so fucking starving and only yogurt would do. I WANTED YOGURT. The building where my meeting was has a market, and I purchased two yogurts and ate one in the car on the way back to my office. It was exactly what my stomach wanted. My stomach had been having aches, pains, and various difficulties dealing with the food, beverages, and vitamins I put in it, even when those vitamins were “Digest-eaze” or something like that. But it loved the yogurt immediately. It NEEDED the yogurt. And it’s been different since then. It’s been better, and it’s like it knows who it is now, and it knows when it wants four slices of pizza and when it just wants one. It knows when it wants a couple Lone Stars and when one glass of wine will do.
I had a trip planned with a close many years friend from my past life, my very meaningful past life in Detroit. I was ecstatic to have a road trip partner after a few years of traveling alone. It was exhilarating at first – the solo South Dakota road trip to visit my Dad in 2012. Not as cool the next year when trips to Montana, Yellowstone, and the Finger Lakes of New York (for a wedding) just felt kind of… lonely. And we have all had the kind of vacation where you come back more stressed, more tired, like my “return to L.A.” trip a couple years ago. When you come home the “I tried to see twelve people in a five day time period and have a vacation too” kind of tired. Not fun. Not worth it, honestly.
Nothing does it for me like a road trip. I need to escape or feel like I am escaping from my urban professional first world problems. I can describe the same feeling everyone like me describes of getting in the car at 8:45am to go to work and wanting to merge on the nearest interstate and disappear. Isn’t this what being American is? We have boundless space to start over in, if only momentarily.
So this road trip was supposed to be all that American frontier escapism – national parks (my nerdy thirty-something obsession), “endless highway”, roadside attractions, cheap motels and potential camping, and, in the middle, a few days spent in Marfa, Texas, seeing the art of that town and the surrounding Big Bend area. It was going to be relaxing, recharging, and, I was pretty sure, my life was going to change. In the vacation planning period, I referred to our “Epic Life-Changing Road Trip”.
I knew I was going to love Marfa, but I didn’t know what the takeaway would be. One of our days there was to be spent at Big Bend National Park (a couple hours away), and my travel partner and I both agreed: “two days in Marfa will be enough.” After all, there are only two thousand twenty one people there.
So we’re going back. Like, as soon as possible.
I don’t want to tell you about Marfa. You can Google it and read the articles and watch the videos and YouTube it and if you’re into that kind of thing, you’ll want to go there too. I wanted to go because I’d heard NPR stories about it and wanted to see Donald Judd’s art and stay in a tent camping hotel and the Hotel Paisano, where James Dean and Liz Taylor stayed when they were filming “Giant”, which I saw in my James Dean phase in high school.
I wanted to go to Texas. It seemed like a destination to rest out the middle of our road trip in peace and style, because we had New Mexico destinations on either end of the Marfa portion. Texas ended up feeling like another country. And thank god, because one of the largest themes in my life at the moment is the need to travel internationally.
Plus, everything here seems the same, doesn’t it?
I think of myself as a pretty chill person, I really do. I mean… I have high standards for myself and my lifestyle. I like my toenails painted. I like my hair shiny. I like to get up in the morning and have orange juice and coffee with almond milk and, ideally, something with syrup. These are the things in my life I like to control. And then when I walk out of my house with shiny hair and perfect nails I want the world to impress me and give me something new daily. I want adventure and I want intrigue and smiles and conversations with people I just met, and then I want to walk away from those conversations and go back to my orange juice and my almond milk. I don’t hold others in my life to my incredibly high standards for my self and my lifestyle, but I do prioritize those things above all else at times, to the occasional detriment of my own adventures.
At any rate, I have become a bit high maintenance.
I ate a burrito almost every day I was in Marfa. This included a fancy burrito from a food truck that had white beans and black rice, a burrito made by a dear Mexican woman in her kitchen, which was also a restaurant, and a burrito from the gas station. My eating a burrito from a gas station is major. That burrito was good.
There were limitations in Marfa that I enjoyed. It was comforting to know that I didn’t need to have access to restaurants and multiple bars every day of the week. Much of the town is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the famous art can only be viewed at certain times too. It created an atmosphere of not trying to cram everything in, and that was fine. I never thought I’d leave not having done and seen everything I wanted to do, but I did. The beautiful thing was that because I couldn’t view art, shop, and go to restaurants all day New York City style (and, let’s face it, Denver style), I met amazing people in Marfa who I spent time with when I was there. And that guaranteed that when we went to karaoke on Monday night we saw all the cool people we’d already met. Because Marfa is the only really small town I’ve ever been in with you know, a bunch of cool people. And therefore it wasn’t boring, or small-townie, at all.
Add to this that I had to share for the first time in several years because I decided to take a trip with a dear and wonderful friend. I know, I was on vacation, we were road tripping, economy style, but hey – I’m thirty-six and I live alone in an apartment with my choice of two beds. I’m not used to this. And it was good for me.
The day we got to Marfa we stopped to take photos at the famous Prada Marfa art installation that announces you’ve almost arrived. A young couple from El Paso on their way out of town stopped just after us, got in some of our pictures (annoying), and freaked me out about where we had chosen to stay for three days, where a film festival was right then taking place. They bemoaned the lack of open places to hang out, and mentioned that there was a Dairy Queen (which funnily was a landmark people used often as the only chain restaurant in town). I was worried about getting gas, eating, and the fact that I’d gotten a friend to fly out from Detroit to go to this place. “Why are you worried?” She said. “It’s going to be fine.” And we literally stepped out of the car in Marfa and it was so fine. Just slightly below the surface, it was completely amazing.
I’ve lived in New York (Manhattan and Brooklyn), Los Angeles (Silver Lake, Los Feliz, Echo Park, oh, and… the valley), Detroit (Woodbridge and Hamtramck), and Denver since graduating from college. I’ve seen all kinds of cool kids acting cool, including myself, for years. This just doesn’t fly in Marfa. You can be cool, but you gotta be nice. You’ll probably end up with a goat at some point. That’s just how it is there. You’re in the desert, you’re isolated, you can’t get your dry cleaning done, you see the same people every day even if you’re visiting, and you just don’t stress about what my friend and I have begun to refer to as “Non-Marfa Bullshit”.
We had the hardest time leaving Marfa on our last day. Our new friends were letting us nap in their air conditioning, laying in the beds of their trucks under tin roofs with us, and engaging us in “we can’t leave this conversation” conversations over fries, inviting us to crash at their place for one more night. They were helping us solve what I’ll now refer to as the “Marfa Makeout Mystery” which involved me, a desert dance party in the dark, and a couple black-haired men. In Denver, my friends and I make dates to get drinks, play tennis, eat brunch, hike, go to the Eldorado Springs pool, the Underground Music Showcase, ride bikes to yet another event at another bar of which there is a choice of multiple events almost every night and for some reason it only seems as great as Marfa like once a quarter, etc., etc., etc. My life becomes a calendar blur and I forget what happened two days ago because the same kind of shit is happening all the time to me all over what is becoming a big city. I’m doing stuff all the time, but am I really here?
Marfa just felt like hanging out, the space to exist beautifully. And, I guess I didn’t mention the Donald Judd minimalist influence that makes Marfa the most perfectly curated place I’ve ever been – in an authentic and at once worldly and small-town fashion. Because, ultimately, I just don’t want people to move there and ruin it. Though I want to move there or at least vacation there three times a year. And I promise I won’t ruin it.
People think Denver is relaxed and everything; I mean, people dress casually here. But relaxed is the opposite of this town. Obsessively outdoorsy and active is more the deal in this area. Trying to move past Non-Marfa Bullshit, I wondered why I feel like it’s an important thing to try and run a 15K in the fall. If I’m being honest with myself I know that outside of setting a goal for myself (albeit a goal that doesn’t advance me in life at all and ultimately muscles up my thighs in a way that’s not always cool) I really hope that running that much will make me magically skinny and runners know that isn’t the case. Thinking about being skinny = Non-Marfa Bullshit. Not eating dairy = Non-Marfa Bullshit (unless you are legitimately lactose intolerant). Tinder = Non-Marfa Bullshit. Texting multiple dudes = Non-Marfa Bullshit. Getting involved in family drama = Non-Marfa Bullshit. Booking things two weeks in advance that are just happy hours = Non-Marfa Bullshit. Feeling like every event you have to attend requires making a dish or buying a bottle of wine = Non-Marfa Bullshit.
I know I was on vacation and maybe life in Marfa isn’t magical every day for the people who are from there, or who live there now. But I’ve been many places and I haven’t ever felt that way in a place like that. So I’ve learned something.
I started tearing my apartment apart to go minimalist immediately when I got home. I want to clear the space to feel the way I felt in Texas. Like I could walk into it and be there.