Until I actually went to El Paso, I’d heard nothing but negative commentary about the place. Terms of un-endearment such as “the original Hellmouth” coupled with “boring as all get out” and “seems to lack a reason for existing” and, everyone seems to agree, “dirty,” were all used when describing the city to me. One thing they never tell you about El Paso is that it just might be one of America’s best kept secrets. Which had me wondering…do El Paso natives and visitors have a tacit agreement to simply spread lies about the place so it stays desolate and stunning?
Megs and I pulled into El Paso after an 11 hour drive from Dallas. Needless to say, we were fried like chicken skin sans meat underneath. Floppy. Exhausted. Dazed. And despite filling the hours with Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere on audiobook, photo opp pull overs, our first A&W ice cream stop, and our usual congeniality, we were both maybe a tiny bit tired of being locked in a car with one another.
We realized our homestay, Annette, wasn’t home yet as we rolled into El Paso – she was celebrating her uncle at a gala – so we turned to our smart phones for ideas on dinner. The first exit we pulled off on had us in the heart of a part of the city that looked like it had rocking Mexican food. Lines were long (seriously out the door long), though, so we kept driving and wound up at a brewpub just down the street from Annette’s place.
Looking “carstruck” (you know – smooshed hair, wrinkled clothes, weary smiles, weird breath, skin dry from the AC, glazed eyes, and the ability to be in tandem with your car buddies without even trying) we stumbled, starving into this pub where a very nice man (also called a waiter) brought us not only delicious beer but ginormous rocket salads. Yes, in the middle of El Paso there were arugula salads that had me perked up and dancing in my chair. Megs had the same reaction, and soon we were chattering away like we hadn’t just sat in Huckleberry Fit together for what felt like ever.
El Paso just got better. Annette texted to tell us how to get into her house, so we were able to unload the car. She then texted to tell us how to let her dog in, and within moments we were hanging out with Buddy in a room that looked like a cozy 60’s log cabin compete with wood paneling, drinking beer that Annette offered us via text (I LOVE TECHNOLOGY), watching TV and being giggly beyond all reason in our pajamas. All this only continued when Annette and her husband got home.
They had invited some of their close friends over, a plethora of men who showed up at the back door, let themselves in, and settled down after making fun of each other. We decided to try the vodka Megs and I had brought as a hostess/Thank You! gift and tongues were loosened to the point that chatter erupted and there wasn’t a lull in conversation for the rest of the night. The guy I’d been yammering with the most surprised the heck out of me when he admitted he was supposed to be the guy I was set up with, but had backed out because he got nervous, and was now regretting that choice because I was obviously just a normal human being. I grinned, but had to say it was too late – I had a date lined up the next day (more on that in the next post).
Megs and I shared a bed, and I only tried to cuddle with her once. Come morning, I awoke and went running up into dusty hills that had jagged rocks jutting out of them. Yards were covered in drought friendly plants and rock gardens and a lot of decor (gnomes, flamingos, and curious works of art). I wound up at the site of an armed forces plane crash, paid my respects, then ran up a giant pebbled trail that screamed, “There might be snakes!” but didn’t have any to my eyes. The sky was bluer than blue, the landscape every shade of brown. Being alive felt amazing.
Back at Annette’s, she’d made us coffee and breakfast, and had even made plans to go to one of her favorite local restaurant with some of their friends from the night before. They figured they could get the scoop on my El Paso date first hand while feeding us one more meal.
Holy. Cannoli. Lunch at Ardovino’s Pizza was a slice of heaven (oh, I’m so punny!). Seriously though, well appointed, amazing beer selection that Megs and I had to skip on as we were driving, pizza that makes your heart sing, giant nosh-worthy salads (I’ve never seen so many greens on this trip!) and even the music selection gave the place a pulse without being too wild. As we sat inside and dished about my date, a dust storm blew into town giving everything a strange haze, wind attacking buildings and people and cars. Having never experienced this sort of weather, I hesitated in walking outside. As it turns out, dust doesn’t much hurt, it just makes you feel a tad grimy as though you have texture instead of being simply skin.
Great food, great people, great outdoors…I have to admit, I really liked El Paso. Maybe I caught it on an exceptional day, but just in case, let’s give the town a little more credit.