The portrait over this bookcase is a good likeness of my friend, Garland Miller Lasater, Jr. It’s a wonderful picture painted by his friend, the artist Scott Gentling, but no painting can begin to capture his larger than life Texas persona. I didn’t stage the photo; I just took what was there but the books beneath the portrait speak clearly to the scope of his interests – art, travel, science, philosophy, nature and other cultures.
What you can’t see in the portrait’s background are a few fine pencil lines of physics diagrams and mathematical formulas – two of Gar’s passionate interests. This is not an ordinary (if there is such a thing) Texan, and though the contents of Jimmy Nelson’s book in the stack on the top shelf has nothing to do with us, Before They Pass Away is an apt description of the reason we needed to get together.
I hadn’t seen Garland in over ten years, and Marilynn had never met him or his wife, Mollie (left), a force all her own and the main event in a future blog. Standby for Mollie’s story and how old Texas blends with the Ivy League and cutting edge educational philanthropic commitment.
Over the years, Gar and I had written, talked, and stayed in touch but hadn’t spent any real time together. We’ve been friends since we were young Marine Corps fighter pilots, but at 80, our fighter pilot days are behind us – way behind us – and we don’t have a lot of time left to tell the old stories or make up new ones.
Gar suggested a Grand Tour of Texas. We would meet in El Paso in the far corner of West Texas and work our way across the state, seeing the sights, natural and man-made, until we ended up at their home in Fort Worth. He proposed we rent a big SUV, buy four chairs and a table for roadside relaxation, a cooler with water and snacks for refreshment, and a Jambox for the soundtrack. I suggested Jerry Jeff Walker and he offered up Bruch and Dvorak – an eclectic mix – just like the four of us.
M and I were jazzed and El Paso seemed like the perfect place to start, since it’s the ancestral home to the paternal side of Marilynn’s family. We decided to fly-in a day before the Lasaters to check out the town and do a little family recon. M had the address of the house her father grew up in and a picture of her grandparents’ gravesite, and she wanted to see both as part of the quest to know more about her family heritage.
We dropped our bags at the hotel, Ubered over to the cemetery, and with the help of a groundskeeper found the family plot that included both her grandparents and great grandparents (below). It was neatly tended, caused a little emotional hiccup, and closed the loop for M. An interesting aside here is that all the men in her family worked for the railroad in one capacity or another, and Sydney, her great-grandfather, was an engineer who died of steam burns when his engine overturned on Christmas Day in 1923. It sounds like the folk tale of Casey Jones and the Wabash Cannonball, almost too dramatic to be true.
Following our visit to the cemetery, we opted to have our first on-site Tex-Mex dinner in the large open-air bar at the Hotel Indigo. M had a margarita and I couldn’t resist a shot of tequila and a beer. The guac was perfect, the lime juicy, and the corn tortillas freshly pressed and starchy.
Imagine my surprise when the check arrived and my tequila shot came in at $79.80. One and a half ounces of tequila for $79.80? It had to be a mistake, so I chased down the bar manager to get it corrected and was told I should have asked the server the price. When we ordered I noted there were no prices on the bar menu but when I asked about the brand, Dragones Joven, all the waitress said was that it was “a very good tequila.” And it was. Crazy. Wouldn’t you think she’d have done a little caveat emptor if the price was going to be the same as a good rental car? Alas, as Billy Pilgrim said when Dresden was burning, “So it goes.”
The following morning, despite my tequila buyer’s remorse, we decided to check out the local scene while waiting for the Lasaters to arrive. We discovered downtown El Paso to be an uncrowded mixture of old (Plaza of the Alligators) and new architecture (El Paso Museum of Art) and very walkable. We especially liked the Plaza de los Lagatros, a memorial to the time when the pond in the plaza had real alligators swimming around to the amusement of the locals.
Our Grand Tour of Texas was shaping up, and with the arrival of our traveling companions the excitement was building. After a Tex-Mex reunion dinner at L and J’s Café and a good night’s sleep we were ready to go. Gar and I provisioned the Suburban at Walmart, picked up Mollie and Marilynn, and set off for our first road destination – Marfa – the trendiest little art town in the middle of nowhere Texas.