I expected to find handsome sheriff Matt Dillon keeping the law, shooting the bad guys off their horses with a pistol from a hundred feet away. I imagined saloons with swinging doors, dusty cowboy hats, busty women in lacy dresses, and flame-haired Miss Kitty slinging suds behind the bar. I imagined boozy ne'er-do-wells sweating it out for the night in lockup while doofy Deputy Chester paced around the police station, ignoring the drunkard's taunts.
So I was disappointed to find just another lazy, humid, impossibly sunny Kansas town, a west with all of the wild tamed out of it by phony old-timey storefronts and a watered-down imitation of Boot Hill. There might have even been a staged gunfight in the dusty streets, the excitement of which was quenched considerably when the men who just got "shot" stood back up and dusted of their trousers only moments later, sporting not so much as a bloodstain.
But I do remember having lunch at a dirty, divey bar/grill with my family, which even then was the kind of place I felt at home. This was the first time I encountered a functional shuffleboard (unlike the relic in my grandmother's attic that had been weighted down by decades of dust and junk), and though I didn't know the rules I derived endless enjoyment from sliding those metal pucks across the lacquered wooden plank dusted with sand. It was also the first time I ate a patty melt, and I still remember the way the white sandwich bread, heavy with butter and grease, squished like a wet sponge between my tongue and the roof of my mouth. I've still never had a bar burger so delicious.
I also remember my aunt's backyard, where there was a single cactus standing tall amidst a patch of dead, brownish grass, a gnarly old plant that was deep green and almost menacing. I had never seen a cactus that big before, only the little ones sold in grocery stores, the kind with thin, almost soft needles that my mom had to dig out of my back a few years earlier when, without considering this particular consequence, my dad brought one home as a present for my brother and me. I wanted to touch it, but I knew it would hurt me, so I regarded this cactus with something approaching reverence.
And that summer in Dodge City, that cactus was as wild as the west got. Whenever possible, I always did like for things to be exotic.
|South Padre sunrise|
|South Padre sunrise, a few minutes later|