Friday, February 16, 2007

Alpine, Marfa, Ojinaga, Mex, Presidio

So I've been driving around the region in the big Brown Chariot checking things out. First stop Alpine, mostly because the Marfa Book Co (where I'm at now) was closed for construction on Wed and I wanted to check emails from Father Bill, James Linville (the architect) and Doug.
Alpine is a pretty neat town. Sul Ross St University is there. It was the only place outside of UH that I considered to be an option for graduate school (History). I'm glad I didn't go back to school, even though I would have liked the actual history part of it. There's a cool Italian-style coffee shop called The Trattoria that has free WiFi. It's right next to the Amtrak station, which I wanted to check out as well since I plan on using the train system whenever I can to get back and forth to and from Houston. The coffee was decent, served in a clear tall glass (the Poopie Face made me aware that coffee should be served in opaque glassware a few years ago). They also serve food and sell Olive Oil and pasta.
Small counters of specialty items for sale seem to be a trademark of the quality shops in the Big Bend region. I fully plan to embrace that. Perhaps we can have a counter of various apropos goods in our entryway. There is definitely room.
There was a guy trying to talk to me there. I gave him my recently perfected not-very-nice blowoff of one word answers to his questions and fairly obvious disinterest. It's a good thing, too, because the next customer took his bait and got her ear talked off. More funny was that he claimed to write for a "few newspapers out here". He later admitted, after avoiding the obvious next questin, "Which ones?" that he was "stuck out here and doing some freelance writing". That means no buyers, in my book. I then realized what this guy was doing in this shop as one of the hottest women I've seen in a long long time (wow!) walked in with a 3-4 year old boy, dropped him at the house computer, and took her place behind the counter. That's what this guy was here for- to talk HER ear off. Hilarious.
Oh, yes, cool thing about the (deserted) Amtrak station- plenty of parking marked "public" and cars that have been in that lot for literally years- like somebody took the train out and never came back. Parking is important for my train rides to Houston. The fact that it's free and trouble-free will make this dream possible.
After I got through with teh computer I walked the town. Unfortunately, the guitar store was closed this day since the owner was sick. I like that about this place- in Houston that would never fly, but maybe it should. Alpine has quite a bit of what you would need to have a normal life out here. Good thing it's only 15 minutes away. I ended my Alpine stay with a trip to Railroad Blues, the Big Bend territory's self-proclaimed #1 live music venue, which I believe.
Railroad Blues has been open for about 14 years. It's clear to me that the two owners have a passion for good rock, country and blues acts- acts that would go over particularly well at places like Galveston Mardi Gras or the Heart of Texas Biker Rally plus acts that play at the Continental Club and The Rhythm Room in Phoenix.. The bar itself is fairly large and they have an outstanding selection of bottled beer- perhaps 100 different varieties- plus plenty on draft on the wall. There's lots of neon and beer company banners- like out in area code 281 in Houston- and a pool room. I was there for happy hour. Lone Stars were $2.00 and there was a crowd of probably 15-20 people on this cold, sleety Alpine day. Everyone was having fun, and most were older (40's-50's) and smoking cigarettes. Very blue collar crowd.The place didn't stink like cigarettes, though and I was later told they had spent some good money on a filtration system. Good idea! The stage was properly sized, though the contraints of a ceiling beam kept it from rising up above a foot and a half off the ground. Equipmet was middle of the road JBL with the sound board positioned properly in the enter of the room beside the bar. Acts that have graced the stage there range from local stuff all the way to bands that would play 3000 seat theaters in some cities. I am sure the owners of this bar have lost plenty of money over the years keeping such a solid lineup of talent. They have probably made some money, too, and have definitely earned a good reputation for a live music venue. However, they definitely seem to lack any cutting-edge or even youthful acts in their roster. There's plenty of all this to go around so I think that when we open I will stay off their acts and focus on creating our own complementary identity and band roster.
Lastly, I may go see the Small Stars there Saturday night if nothing is going on in Marfa.
Yesterday I went down to Mexico. Ojinaga is just southwest of Presidio. I took the trcuk down there and walked around for about 2-3 hours. Saw the whole thing, pretty much. That town is so poor and kind of sad. Very very quiet. I saw nothing strange there, but was hit up for money a few times (and I look rough this week). It's clear that the drug running trade you hear about coming through here is likely the economic driver. I say that because there is NOTHING else and the town is pretty torn up- lots of abandoned buildings, ruins and vacant lots. That being said, it looked like the population is fairly content. This is real Mexican Indian culture territory- dark skinned and quiet. I even triedn to buy a sombrero, but couldn't find one for sale. I had a few beers in various cantinas that smelled like toilets, but it was an endearing and comfortable experience, despite what it sounds like. Oh yeah, there's great "radio Ranchita" AM radio Station in Ojinaga with a cool old sign in a run down storefront with the front door propped open. XERG AM 1230- Radio Ranchita. I didn't go in -dammit- got to work on the Spanish- but I love it. Anyway, by the time I was sure I'd been through the whole town I went on and left.
The border patrol situation is a pain in the neck. Long line of cars to gett in to the U.S. Surly Border Patrol agents who definitely thought my story of just going in for the day was either BS or just stupid. Probably the latter. Oh yeah, the questions. A bunch of them, but my favorite, "You're opening a live music club in Marfa? THAT will be interesting!" is probably what kept him from writing me a ticket for the two beers I didn't declare that I brought in (the sign didn't specify alcohol, although I was sort of testing it as it was).
Presidio- like a U.S. version of Mexico. Lots of small stucco frame houses and dirt roads. Few shops, few amenities. Sprawling. This place reminds me of a cleaned up verison of the outskirts of Tijuana where we built those houses back in high school. I went to the grocery store. Pretty crappy but functional. That's pretty much it for Presidio and I remember that ten years ago it was the same story.
Back to Marfa- tired- and made it through the local Border Patrol station no problem. The agent there seemed to be genuinely interested and excited that there will be a club for him and his fellow buddies to go to. Maybe we'll have a Broder Patrol/ INS special.
Adam came over around 10 PM when I was reading and I gave him the dual Coleman lantern tour of the dark club. Really fun.

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