Midland, for those not in the know, is midway between Fort Worth and El Paso, which translates in English to the middle of nowhere. Vintage postcards said the place was "the land of the modern pioneer", which, I suppose is better than, "a place you don't want to live if you can help it". Midland sits atop a geologic formation known as the Permian Basin, which, fortunately for the town, is filled with oil. Population wise, Wiki says Midland is the 24th most populous city in Texas which puts it someplace between Mesquite (144,788) and Waco (132,356), two cities not on my bucket list.
dead airline is the most peaceful place in an airport, but it probably beats the reverie you’ll find in line at a tchotchke shop while waiting to buy a $47 neck pillow that is guaranteed to look stupid hanging from your backpack.
Once we landed in Midland we had plenty of time to hang out in the Midland International Air and Space Port (yes, that’s really its name) since we’d taken advantage of a free offer to check our bags. We had to wait at baggage claim while the airline found some undocumented laborers to carry them from the plane to the terminal. My sister had plenty of time to pick up our rental car.
Pliska Aeroplane, the first airplane in the state of Texas. It was built in Midland in 1911 as a knock off of a Wright Flyer by John V. Pliska, a blacksmith, and Gray Coggin, a chauffeur and auto mechanic. It didn't fly very far, but since Texas had an airplane before Oklahoma, there was general rejoicing.
JumBurrito, we went over to my brother’s house to get to work. As soon as we pulled up to the place, two neighbors came over to tell us how much they liked Rob, how nice he was to their kids and so on. I was pleasantly surprised since he and I often had a difficult time getting along. Obviously, they saw a side of him that I didn’t.
Rob’s house was a disaster. I’m not going to go into a lot of details other than to say that his house was the dirtiest place I’ve ever seen, and since I have plenty of experience cleaning up student rentals, I have some bona fides in this department. We wore masks and gloves and at one point even Tyvek suits as we filled three 20-yard dumpsters with the leftovers of Rob’s life.
I’m glad his neighbors liked him, but why didn’t they tell someone that his house was unfit for human habitation?
When I cleaned out my mother’s house and my aunt’s house, there were occasional nostalgia-inducing moments where I would open a drawer and find an old birthday card, prom photo, or postcard of some motel in a town I’d never heard of. There was nothing like that at Rob’s house. Unfortunately, I never understood the gravity of his mental health issues and how they affected his ability to take care of himself.
Cleaning up the place meant garbage bags, duct tape, and so on, so we made a bunch of trips to Lowe's and the local hardware.
Wall Street Bar and Grille. It was a place my brother went to from time to time. For all his issues, he knew how to find a good meal. The restaurant was near the George H.W. and George W. Bush United States Court House.
Midland Menus describes the place as “Midland as Midland gets.” I couldn’t tell you how long it had been there, but a long time. Even the menu was old fashioned: steak, chops. No artisanal, heritage, free-range, non-GMO tofu dusted with kale pollen in this place. The service and food were top notch. And the place still hands out matchbooks too.
Day two we were back at it and my nephew found the find of the trip, a VHS copy of Knockers #29. I didn’t get my phone out to take a photo since I didn’t want to accidentally drop my phone into a garbage bag.
Johnny’s Bar B-Q. Johnny’s is a local landmark and has been in town seemingly forever. BBQ in Texas is a very personal thing. As they say in gay bars, "One man’s meat is…..OK, well, I don’t need to go into that right here.
The owner, Tami Gilleam, has to be the friendliest bbq lady in all of West Texas. When my sister told her that she’d moved away from Midland in 1990, they chatted away as if they were long lost high school chums. Tami couldn’t have been nicer. She was way too polite to mention that the three of us smelled like my brother’s house, which no one would mistake for the Chanel No. 5 factory.
The bbq I’m familiar with is pork, most frequently served as pulled pork, in a sauce that’s either tomato or vinegar based. North Carolina is famous for its pulled pork. My thoughts on pulled pork are the same as my father's on drinking: if God made anything better, he kept it to himself.
In West Texas bbq, is typically beef brisket, though there are other options like turkey and so on, if you’re a weenie. And in Texas, lots of bbq is cooked over mesquite. North Carolina has lots of problems, but thankfully mesquite trees aren’t one of them.
Tami also told me that Laura Bush’s father was a friend of the original Johnny. He and Johnny used to engage in tomfoolery involving drinking, gambling, and whatnot back in the day. I didn’t ask for a whole lot of details since Carolyn and Bryan were waiting to get back to the work site, so, when you go, be sure to ask Tami about it.
On day three of the clean-a-thon, Bryan flew back to North Carolina. But Carolyn and I were there for two more fun-filled days.
The George W. Bush Childhood Home. It’s near downtown Midland, my nephew’s old school, and the Pepto-Bismol House. The site consists of the house and the visitors center that’s across the street.
We were the only visitors in the place. Based on our experience, tourists needn’t worry about a timed ticket, or the shuttle bus from the satellite parking area, or getting ptomaine poisoning from something in the museum café. If you want an intimate experience, it’s the place to go.
The very nice director of the site greeted us and asked us what brought us there. My sister said “I’m a Republican!” which fortunately meant that we didn’t have to go into the “We’re in Midland to fill a dumpster with our brother’s crap” story right out of the starting gate. The woman was the epitome of Texas friendly. My guess was that she’d have made everyone from Al Gore to Dick Cheney feel right at home.
The house isn’t very big—1,500 square feet, but it was home to George H.W., Barbara, W. and his sister Robin, plus JEB, and Neal, who were born after Robin died of leukemia. Youngest son Marvin and daughter Dorothy were born after the family had moved out.
Whoopee Cushion in the Bryant experience. No one would ever mistake the Bryants for the Bushes.
I’ve only been to one other house museum of this vintage, so it’s a new experience to look at someone’s idea of a 1950s kitchen and think, “Oh, my grandparents had that exact roasting dish”. I don’t believe that any items actually belonged to the Bush family though the china matches a pattern the Bushes owned, and the refrigerator was formerly Laura Bush’s mother’s “extra” refrigerator. That is, what my family would call a beer refrigerator.
Mount Vernon or even the Herbert Hoover Birthplace in West Branch, Iowa but if you are taking a break from cleaning out your brother’s house, by all means go. The gift shop was nice too. George W. Bush isn’t to everyone’s liking but compared to certain presidents with orange hair and tiny hands, he’s speeding down the HOV lane toward being immortalized on Mt. Rushmore.
Permian Basin Petroleum Museum. The museum is all about Midland’s A#1 industry.
Admission was $12, which I thought was steep. We started out our visit with the orientation movie. Big mistake.
Without a doubt the Petroleum Museum had the worst movie I have ever seen in any museum. The film was called Mythcrackers which is a takeoff on Family Feud. The chipper host quizzed the contestants about fracking, oil reserves, and so on. Real edge of your seat type stuff. I couldn’t figure out if it were intended to entertain high school kids, but it didn’t entertain, educate, or even amuse us in a kitschy way. Frankly, it was a bit patronizing. We left early; it was that bad.
There was gallery of mineral samples; I skipped that.
Chaparral racing cars built by Midland homie Jim Hall for the Can-Am series of races in the 1960s. They were really cool, but their connection to the oil business is tenuous. You could sit in a replica car as a photo op, but that experience wasn't designed with someone of my age and natural grace (or lack thereof) in mind.
If you go to the Petroleum Museum, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Go right to the cars, call it a day, and leave.
After topping off our tanks at the Petroleum Museum, we headed down the road to Midland’s more blue collar neighbor, Odessa, immortalized in the Buzz Bissinger book, Friday Night Lights. We weren’t on our way to a high school football game. We were going to see Odessa’s version of Stonehenge.
their own Stonehenge would lure visitors from nearby I-20. I don’t think that archaeologists, or whoever decides these things, can really say that the Druids who built Stonehenge, didn’t build it to stimulate their own tourist-based cultural sector. This Stonehenge, on the campus of the University of Texas-Permian Basin, is a very un-Texan-like 14% shorter than the real deal. The stone was donated by TexaStone of Garden City and apparently the company said to the LDD (Latter Day Druids), this is what’s free, deal with it.
This is the first fake Stonehenge I’ve been to, but according to Wikipedia they’re practically a dime a dozen. Carhenge, built from old cars in Nebraska, still exists but Fridgehenge, Phonehenge, Tankhenge, and Twinkiehenge have come and gone. Surely Moanhenge, made from discarded VHS porn tapes--Knockers #1 to #28, perhaps, is on the drawing board somewhere. If you build it, they will come..so to speak.
If you're into Stonehenge replicas, you should check out Clonehenge, a blog about that very topic. Who knew?!?
What could possibly top a Texas Stonehenge? The Odessa Jackrabbit, that’s what.
John Ben Shepperd, the man who spearheaded its construction in 1962. Shepperd was a segregationist and anti-communist, but pro-rabbitist, who, for whatever reason, thought that Odessa would benefit from a giant fiberglass jackrabbit statue. No, I don’t know what he was smoking.
Jack Ben Rabbit, who was wearing a red ribbon in a promotion of the local school district, is flanked by two historical markers. One, put up by the state of Texas, dishes out the facts about jackrabbits—fast, big ears, prized for food by the plains Indians and white folks too. Standard stuff.
The other marker, erected by Odessa Heritage in 1990 is about The World’s First Jackrabbit Roping. It’s worth repeating in full, through the magic of cut and paste:
Texans really know how to write a historical marker, don’t they?
After another day of work at my brother’s, my sister and I threw away our work clothes and headed back to Pennsylvania. Rob’s earthly cremains, which one of his friends delivered to us at the start of our trip, went ahead of us in a Priority Mail Flat Rate Box that I accidentally mailed to the wrong address. Oops!
Rob wouldn’t have wanted to go with us anyway: he hated flying coach.