September 16, 2018
EL PASO, Tex.: We were heading to El Paso, another warm place at the corner of the country. After our tough night at Pacacho, we needed a cool Sunday night at the El Paso Marriott Courtyard, a 350-mile trip. We backtracked to Eloy for Mass, then pushed on towards Tucson. The turn east after Tucson meant that our long southern detour was over and we finally were pointed toward home. We shared the driving, taking turns catching the sleep we didn’t get last night. I was excited about seeing El Paso, a key junction point of two cultures. Also, reported to be a lovely place with a mild climate, and a big college football town.
Across the state line into New Mexico, you face another anonymous landscape of sand and scrub. The remoteness of the state is brought home along I-10 by the breadth of the desert, out to the horizon in most places, here and there accented by bare, craggy peaks, and scattered shacks and mobile homes. In many states, I’ve noted, the prosperity of the largest cities is set off sharply by the poverty and accompanying social problems fostered by isolation of communities miles from the large urban centers that are rewarded by business investment and effective management by strong local governments. Not my original theory, but I think an accurate one.
The New Mexico leg isn’t a long one. The desert starts to show more green, and the approach to Las Cruces is spectacular, from a high point the city shows itself as a broad swath of attractive stucco, stretching for miles against a high ridge of the rugged Organ Mountains. The interstate then turns sharply south towards Texas. Crossing the border, you can’t miss the sign that announces the vastness of Texas: “El Paso 40, Beaumont 851.” Beaumont, bordering Louisiana, is at the easternmost point of the state. I gulped.
We unpacked at the hotel then set out to stretch our legs. “Go to the plaza and turn right,” the desk clerk instructed us. Within a few blocks we crossed San Jacinto Square, a lovely spot of green set off by twinkling, delicate white Christmas lights strung through the trees. Young people socialized and children played on the manicured turf while their parents relaxed on benches nearby. Unfortunately, we then turned left.
Away from the square, downtown was deserted, not a restaurant, bar, or coffee shop open. It was a Sunday evening, sure, but no one was on the street. El Paso, I guessed, has not yet figured out how to bring people downtown on weekends. The streets got darker, a little seedier. We kept walking until the legs were well-stretched, and then some. Finally, a few hundred yards from the international border, we turned back. A block away from the hotel, like Hemingway’s clean well-lit place, was a decent restaurant. We had a nice dinner, toasted our 350 miles, and went to bed.