Marathon, Texas holds a special place in my heart. It is a small town in Brewster County, in that grand region of West Texas that holds the magic of Big Bend and the wide skies that accompany it. The last census data shows that Marathon’s population has long held just under 500 over the last two decades. The few people that I have had the pleasure of meeting in the area have always been welcoming and sincere.
On a very personal level, following the public announcement of a dissolving relationship many years ago, I told myself that I needed to head West, just to get away. It was the end of December and a trip based on a whim. I don’t know what I was looking for specifically, nor if I would be able to come back once I found it. I had a clouded head full of emotion that I was trying to logically process through. I was extremely grateful for the hospitality of former Camp friends (Sarah, Emilio and Erin) who let me crash at their places along the way as I broke my journey into smaller driving stretches.
Big Bend felt like an accomplishment I had yet to add to my personal list. As I hopped into my midsize vehicle with a cellphone, wallet and maybe a couple of changes of clothes, I made my way out West.
There was a cold front that was moving across Texas that the road trip ready version of me did not pay much mind to. However, when the usual commute timeframe went from a regular to a crawling pace due to snow flurries and iced over highways I still pressed on. My lack of an all terrain tire presented a challenge, but slow and steady would hold out fine toward Ft. Stockton, where I would momentarily pause for some gas and relief from an otherwise arduous journey. I saw a Carl’s Jr. at the gas station and thought to myself that I would readily find food a little further down the road.
I pressed on the accelerator to exit the parking lot of the gas station. As I was maybe 100 yards from the stop, the water turned slush at the station collected in the treads on my tires and began to set in the freezing conditions. My once practical midsize vehicle started to lose traction, fishtailing a bit side to side before it slid atop a patch of ice on the road. I was able to rest the vehicle safely on the side of the road momentarily before I regained some composure and returned to the journey.
The snow which continued to fall would dance across the black pavement of the route, whimsically moving east to west and accelerating upward in its movement as though it was a small funnel which would not ever touch the ground. It was distracting movement if you let it be, as one has to use all faculties to stay alert. When I had pulled into Marathon, the sun was close to setting. I hadn’t yet secured a room for the evening, but was hoping that I would figure something out so that I wouldn’t make my car a makeshift cabin for the evening or a further drive to another town for accommodation.
I was able to secure a room at The Marathon Motel for a reasonable price. The Motel has a bit of an Alfred Hitchcock feel with a vintage sign that some birds found to rest atop. Overall, however, the warmth of a room for the night and a friendly suggestion on the only place that might be open for food was welcoming. The Gage Hotel was the suggestion for food, with their White Buffalo Bar and 12 Gage Restaurant both serving well into the evening. I had some of the most delicious venison sliders, amplified not only by my hunger pangs from subduing from most other nourishment in the day, but because of what they felt like; accomplishment, despite the odds.
When I awoke the next morning, I found that in the snowstorm overnight, the access to Big Bend was closed as well as most power down in the region south of Marathon. The Park was closed as were most of the routes in or out of Big Bend.
I stopped for breakfast and coffee at the now defunct Marathon Coffee Shop. It was a quaint place filled with locals and sturdy wooden tables and chairs. I don’t always drink coffee, but on colder mornings, coffee warms my body from a chill like nothing else can. I made small talk with other guests as I looked up areas in Big Bend to explore once the park would reopen after the snow cleared. The staff was warm and inviting as I plotted the next steps and as the sunshine poured down.
The track this week is Blues Traveler’s “Hook”. The 45 that is spinning has a B side of ultimately the band’s most recognizable tune “Run-Around” from their 1994 album “four”. Where as “Run-Around” contains the lyric “Oh, I like coffee and I like tea”, “Hook” has an equally compelling comparison to the caffeinated cup. John Popper, frontman for the rock outfit bellows out;
“It doesn’t matter what I say
So long as I sing with inflection
That makes you feel I’ll convey
Some inner truth or vast reflection
But I’ve said nothing so far
And I can keep it up for as long as it takes
And it don’t matter who you are
If I’m doing my job then it’s your resolve that breaks
Because the hook brings you back
I ain’t tellin’ you no lie
The hook brings you back
On that you can rely”
I have had amazing coffee and I’ve had my share of poor cups too. But, as long as I am able to doctor it up with a little cream and sweetener, I am willing to return to the next time I crave it. Caffeine is an addictive substance, but the hook is not in what it can do to you, it’s in what it does for you.
When I returned to Marathon on a subsequent vacation trip, I stopped by for an amazing cup of coffee only to find the shop had since closed. The building stood out to me as a beacon from a prior trip, a place where I was able to process the accomplishments of a journey that refused to be sidetracked. I may not have known what I was looking for when I first set out on that frigid trip, but what I found was resiliency, friendship in a time of need, personal growth and a mean cup of joe.
Thank you Marathon for the inspiration, the reminder of who I am and the great people that make your town a place on which I can rely.