RV Diary

The Cowboy Way

Departed El Paso around mid day and left Joao and Matteo holed up in room 233 of the Hilton Garden Hotel to work on the Khaled Jarrar film.

John cleaned the RV, bought roof patching kit to fix all the damage done by Khaled's 15ft Steel Ladder we've been hauling all the way from Tijuana; we set off east towards the town of Marfa. Feels good to be back behind the wheel with wing-man John (who has a new cowboy hat he likes to wear and which makes him fit in somewhat).

The landscape opens up into beautiful rolling ranch land with almost no sign of human interference apart from the odd abandoned farm building, roadside diner or drive in movie-theater ... rusty, dusty, broken structures sinking back into the land - relics from a bygone era of America's post war golden age.

We arrived in Marfa and start exploring. It's a strange mix of small Texas town (The Last Picture Show) and high end art world. Galleries and Foundations inspired by the blue chip Minimalist artist, Donald Judd, who made Marfa his home from the 1970s, next to boarded up shops and almost nobody in the streets. Could not find any place open to eat so headed to the local bar to get a drink.

Ty (the owner of the Lost Horse Saloon) sits in the yard smoking a rollie and drinking a beer. I had noticed a portrait of him behind the bar that I thought was Lemmy from Motorhead. He wears an eye patch and battered black cowboy hat. We ask to sit down next to him and he begrudgingly nodds his head. John and I are wearing brand new cowboy shirts and city skin and as we start to talk, it seems like the fake cowboys talking to the real cowboy.

"You know the difference between Cowboys and Ranchers?" Ty started, "Ranchers sit in their houses and count the money and pay the bills and worry about the cattle sales ... Cowboys get drunk, chase women and enjoy the run of the ranch. Cowboys don't worry too much but they think a lot; reflect a lot, spend a lot of time out there talking to their horses and dogs and looking at the sky."

"There's a lot of Cosmic Cowboys in this town" someone tells me later.

Later his girlfriend Astrid, a German writer, joins us and we talk about Marfa and the pace of change and capitalist invasion which has all but destroyed small town life across America (and arguably across the world). I agree with Ty that its our fault if we shop at Walmart and Costco and follow the path the advertisers set out for us. "I have 48 tires on the ground on the ranch and I buy them all from my neighbor. I'd save $450 if I went to the chain store but I'm not going to do that."

Ty was not a fan of the Art World take over of Marfa either, saying that most of the money that comes in does not get circulated into the town. Later we spoke to a young waiter at the hotel who told us 80% of Marfa is owned by one group. Not sure if this is true but sounded kind of Bernie Sanders so we kept asking questions. He asked why it was so expensive to go into the galleries and we explained that galleries should be free but museums can cost money. He and his friends had never set foot in any of Marfa's art establishments.

Ty and Astrid left to play poker but let us park the RV in their parking lot. Ty offers to let us fill up with water from his hose which was good because we were nearly dry. When your traveling, you rely on the kindness of strangers ... that's the Cowboy Way.

Stephen Stapleton
Marfa, Texas