Down in the west Texas town of El Paso... I saw two of the most beautiful people in the world. For that is where my friends Margaret and Mia live. Mia is Margaret's daughter, for anyone who doesn't know. I met them in Las Vegas, then they moved to Jersey, then I moved to Jersey, then they moved to El Paso, then, as you know, I decided to quit my job and go on a month long road trip, zig-zagging my way cross-country. It had been almost a year since I'd seen them and there was no way I wasn't gonna zig (or was it a zag?) through El Paso. Plus, I had never been in Texas (except the airports.. everyone has a layover in Houston or Dallas eventually) and it had been far too long since I had had good Mexican food! I rolled into town at dusk and we met at one of Margaret's favorite Mexican restaurants right off the bat.. she knew what I wanted. Holy god, the food was so good! Jersey and New York just do not have this kind of stuff. Oh, and it was pretty damn awesome to see Margaret and Mia, too!
There's Mia, she's seven and couldn't be more pretty, smart, funny, loving, or toothless. We had a great time watching TV, building forts with couch cushions, playing train, bowling, and playing on the playground at her school. I had sure missed her. More than just a good kid, she really is an amazing person and I am so glad that she and her mom are happy and living in a great place in El Paso.
As for El Paso, like the T-shirt said, it ain't Kansas, and that's a good thing. It's a really pretty town, I thought, yet not like I pictured it at all. It is a desert, but it has mountains that run right through it and give the neighborhoods a more interesting texture. It is a sister city to Juarez, Mexico, which you can see right across the river and the Border Highway, marked by a giant Mexican flag, a flag I'm told is the world's biggest.. who knew? By the way, if you ever go to El Paso, do not go to Juarez.. ever. It is pretty much the center of one of the largest drug cartel gang wars in Mexico, and therefore the world. It's sad, but I repeat, it is not a place to go.. ever.
There is a place you must go, however, if you ever find yourself in Texas: Whataburger! I have many friends from Texas (everybody in Vegas was from freakin' Texas it seemed) and they all talk about Whataburger as if it is the holy grail of burger joints. I have had many a fast food burger (some say too many, I say that is impossible) and I was always skeptical of the supposed greatness of Whataburger. I've had In N' Out, how much better could this place be, really? Well, by golly if those Texans don't know of what they speak.. Whataburger was purty dang delicious! Maybe I was just super hungry when I had it, but I swear the burger was at least as good as In N' Out, the fries were better than McDonald's, and even the ketchup was somehow better than typical Heinz. I was impressed and vowed to get another one before I left (a promise I kept with great enthusiasm). My only complaint about the place is how the name is pronounced; everyone in Texas says it like they are saying "water-burger," not "what-a-burger". Why is this? No one could explain.
The second big tourist stop on my visit was the El Paso Saddleblanket. All along the highway heading into El Paso were billboards insisting that I come see the Saddleblanket world headquarters, where I would find untold quantities of western... well, stuff. I didn't really know what the hell was gonna be there but I knew I wanted to go.. I like all things western; in fact, I always wanted to pretend I was a cowboy. Actually being a cowboy would probably suck, but pretending to be a cowboy could be ideal. Anyway, the Saddleblanket turned out to be a huge complex of wholesale stores selling everything from big Texas style ranch furniture to Mexican trinkets, pottery, and jewelry to actual saddle blankets and other horse tack. It was an impressive display and the prices were good, too.. I bought my T-shirt and a couple cowgirl bags for the girls and mosied on out of there.
The final highlight was a genuine Texas steak dinner at The Edge of Texas, a cool old restaurant (formerly a whorehouse, seriously) outside of town on a real working 88,000 acre ranch... Yeeee-Haw!! We had us some genuine Texas steer and, let me tell you what, it was mighty fine. Mighty, mighty fine. And the big open sky as evening fell is what Texas is all about in my city-slicking mind.. seeing that every night would be the good part about being a real cowboy.
But, of course, the best thing about El Paso is that my friends are there. They'd probably be the best part of whatever town they were in, I think. Not only was it beyond-words great to see them, but I love that I got to see with my own eyes all the places and people that they've been telling me about for years.. I can really visualize their stories now. "Hey," I can say, "I know where 'that' (whatever they're talking about) is!" I like being able to say that.