I love the town of Terlingua and the people in it, so I hope you won’t get the wrong idea when I say the place is downright peculiar.
Terlingua is about twenty miles from where we live, an ugly collection of roadside shacks and metal buildings surrounded by breathtaking beauty. It’s our source for almost everything we can’t make or grow here. We drive into town every two days to stock up on the necessities: propane, food, table water, toilet paper, gasoline, etc. We can usually buy everything we need in Terlingua, even if it’s not everything we want.
We also go there to do our banking, take showers at the RV park, wash our laundry at the Laundromat and, usually, to take in a meal at one of the restaurants and catch up on the gossip. We usually don’t learn much, though. People live here because (and not in spite of the fact that) not much changes here.
The new things we do learn usually have to do with people’s pasts: that is, what they used to do in the outside world before escaping here. It’s not an uncommon thing to learn that the store clerk you’ve always taken for granted as “just a store clerk” once worked as an emergency room technician or a computer programmer or some other highly-skilled thing. People find their ways here because they’re smart. Terlingua is populated by individualists and anarchists.
Because of this, doing business in Terlingua is always a logistical challenge. Shop and restaurant owners only work when they want to, and their regular hours of business simply do not match up.
The health food store (our source of Pellegrino, organic half-and-half, Sumatra coffee, and real peanut butter) is open from nine to twelve and three to six every day except Sunday. The bank is open from nine to eleven and two to four-thirty Monday through Friday. The hardware is open from nine to twelve and one-thirty to five Monday through Saturday. The mail doesn’t arrive at the post office until noon each day, and the service desk is closed from noon to two-thirty Monday through Friday (except legal holidays and weekends when the post office is closed all day). Kathy’s Kosmic Kowgirl Kafe is closed Mondays, as are the Grub Shack and Che (our favorite, which is also closed Saturdays and Sundays). Susi’s Snack Shack is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays or whenever else Susi has something better to do. The woman who runs the H2O Store hardly ever is there; her water business operates on the honor system. There is a sign on the door at Whitehorse Station that says: “Open when can, Closed when caint.” You get the idea.
It’s impossible to drive into town whenever you want to and get everything done you need to do—efficiently, that is. If you show up at the Study Butte Store for propane anytime before three o’clock on Thursdays, you will have to wait until Ringo returns from his weekly run to Midland for supplies. On Friday we showed up at the Cottonwood Market looking for a roast and had to wait an hour-and-a-half before Rick got back from Alpine with the goods and they were unpacked and shelved. “We’ve spent more time in town today waiting than shopping,” I said to Paul.
The rules from establishment to establishment are different, too, and not always predictable and hardly ever consistent. For example, there is no smoking on the open porch of the Ghost Town Café; smoking is only permitted indoors. Go figure.
If you are an unreformed Type-A personality, you might not do very well out here. If you’re in the beginning stages of age-related memory loss, you definitely won’t. But then again, maybe you wouldn’t care.
Except for the occasional confused and exasperated tourist, no one else out here seems to mind.
We’re all peculiar.