Lubbock, TX to Midland, TX: 109 miles
Music for this leg: Metallica’s Master of Puppets, featuring ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’
What I read before bed that night: Three Of A Kind, by James M. Cain. Three short novels including Career in C Major, The Embezzler, Double Indemnity
Understand, the drive from Lubbock to Midland is for shit, aww-ight?
I love the desert and I love west Texas, but holy balls, Batman, that drive kills people!
It’s 109 miles of squat. Endless, scrub-covered, mesquite-dotted, handful of oil drilling rigs populated squat.
So 109 miles later I’m in Midland and first up?
A second heart attack!
Alive and kicking!
See, this joint (memorialized in the brilliant, but sadly unpublished Trey R. Barker novel Exit Blood) has burned about four-hundred and ninety-eight times. And yet in spite of it being nothing but a grease trap, it never burned all the way.
I had thought the last fire did it in. Apparently not.
That is where I learned to eat barbeque. Where I learned to savor a sweet sauce and enjoy the bite of a hot sauce. Where I learned what a hot link is and how brisket is best cooked slooooooooowwww.
Also where I realized there was no decent-folk way to eat ribs. Gotta dive in and walk away messy. If you ain’t messy, then you ain’t trying.
Sort of like sex….
So then I gawked at the nothingness that was downtown. It had been fairly vibrant in my day, but now there were weeds in the streets and the buildings seemed to wheeze with old age and exhaustion.
When I grew up, the city was full of major oil companies and there was money and vibrancy (not that those automatically go together) and projects and energy. But those companies bugged out years ago. Only thing left now is independent operators…wildcatters…and their offices aren’t downtown.
The emptiness left me a little melancholy. That would grow over the weekend.
Okay, so now the hotel. I was looking for a particular hotel – the West Wind – but couldn’t find it. When I was a wee tike, my step-paternal grandmother and step-aunt (how’s that for Arkansian?) stayed in that hotel when they came to town.
I was six or seven and lemme tell you, seeing my 16 year old step-aunt in a bikini was the first time I realized girls were different. I wasn’t sure why, or what to do with that information, but it rocked my socks, baby.
But I also wanted to stay at this particular place because my biological father once told me he’d stayed in that hotel in the 1960’s, and that his father had stayed there back in the late ‘40s when he was working for a geophysical outfit. Mostly, everything my sperm-donor told me was bullshit, but what if there was some sliver of possibility? Shouldn’t I take the chance to scare up some old ghosts?
Except I couldn’t find the damned place. So I found some other skank-pit and checked in. I love nasty places. The tenants are always fun and for whatever reason, I like places where I’m not entirely sure I’ll get out alive.
But then, after checking in, I was headed to see a friend and I stumbled across the West Wind. I made an illegal U-turn, motored back to the first hotel, checked out, and honked on down to the West Wind.
I walk in and on the phone is the quintessential west Texas hustler. Boots and a silk shirt unbuttoned to his moobs. Big, thick, plastic hair with what was, I’m guessing, about eight gallons of Brylcreem. And covered in bling. Rings. Bracelets. And the most horrifying gold necklace I’ve ever seen.
In the shape of Texas. With cubic zirconia where Midland is.
Hand to God, I swear it.
I coughed up a lung trying to cover my laugh and the guy makes me wait for…I don’t know…a week…while he finishes a phone call about some $725,000 land deal. I wanted to yell to the guy on the other end, “It’s west Texas…there ain’t no land worth $725,000!”
But I didn’t. I patiently waited for him to finish, at which point he checked me in and said, “Eighty bucks.”
“Total?” I asked.
“Taxes and stuff?” I pulled out my credit card.
His face crumpled. “Cash?”
I shook my head.
“Well, whatever. Eighty bucks.”
What’choo think the odds are that he’s got some sort of cash/credit card/transfer/withdrawal/slightly-illegal-sleight-of-hand tom foolery that kept my eighty bucks off the books?
I fell in love with the nasty-ass room. I hated that it smelled like a tobacco barn, but everything else was great. The bed sloped from head to foot and tilted slightly left. The table tottered and had cigarette burns all over it.
And the walls were orange. Serious orange. Not that fake-ass, watered down bullshit orange you see at McDonald’s or somewhere.
Real orange. Super-deluxe orange.
In this pic, the walls look yellow, as does the comforter, but trust me. It’s a crappy camera phone and the curtains were open. The walls are orange.
The comforter, however, is actually yellow.
I suspect the wall paint was a mistint and the hotel got it free…or damned cheap. Like a buck a gallon or something.
The TV was plugged into the wall. No problem. So was the lamp. Again no problem.
Except the wall outlet was controlled by the light switch on the other side of the room. To have the light, you had to have the TV. To have the TV, ditto the light. Matched set.
Hehehehe…I love shit-hole hotels.
And I love them because of the guests. Like the first one I saw at this place, peeking furtively out of his room at me. A few minutes later, he gathers up his nuts and comes out to see what’s up and fill his ice bucket. And what do I see?
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, an ankle monitor.
Dude’s on parole or house arrest or sentenced to the West Wind. Who knows. I wanted to ask him what his jolt was for, but he skittered away too quickly.
Next up? A crack whore with no teeth who wouldn’t shut the hell up. While making an incredibly sloooooowww trip to the same ice machine (damn ice machine gets more action than I do!), she wanted to know all about me.
At first, I just thought she wanted to pop me for a quick half and half in the janitorial closet. But then I realized the questions were more invasive.
She was trying to figure out what I might have in my room or my car.
Chick was casing me! Live and in person.
And I felt sort of oddly proud that she considered me worthy of robbing.
This, baby, is my kind of crowd. Sort of a spiritual homeland, which is odd considering I’m such a snob.
Because these people are the most interesting. These people fight for their lives every damn day. They fight against poverty and racism, against their own self-destructive tendencies, against institutionalized marginalization, against mental defects they neither understand nor recognize.
And because of that fighting, even when they’re being complete idiots and fighting those trying to help them, they are more interesting than any rich boy who got everything through his family connections and crybaby’s about how tough life is (and I include myself in that crybaby. Sometimes I get deep in my head and the whole world totters on the brink….)
Suck my ass, bitch. Get down outta the Wall Street Ivory Tower and see what life really is.
These are the people who populate my fiction.
The guys my best friend Brad and I saw I in the shooting gallery. The gang bangers we saw milling outside what used to be a very cool soul food café. The people who live within two blocks of an oil tank farm and have to breathe those pollutants every day.
These are the interesting people and it was good to see them again, to revel in their interestingness.
But there is another reason I write about them, I think. For as much time as I spend deep in my own head, I don’t like personal introspection too much (it makes me wildly uncomfortable). But I write about these people because I’m absolutely convinced that, were it not for a few friends who’ve stuck with me, I would be these people.
Okay, enough of that. Because that’s not what you want to read about, is it? You want to read about the reunion!
Come back tomorrow and we’ll have a short tour of Midland, then we’ll discover why I detest wannabe security guards so much.
It’s gonna be fun!