Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ozona, Texas

by Ben Small

Man, Texas is long, oh so very long. Eight hundred eighty miles via I-10, and it seems as if most of it is West Texas, the largest patch of nothingness my wife and I have ever seen. And we live in the Arizona desert.
But seriously, there’s nothing out in West Texas. Well, okay, let me qualify this statement: There are oil and natural gas wells... and deer. Judging from sights and my conversations with locals, a whole lotta deer.
We made the mistake of stopping for the night in Ozona, a flat, squat postage stamp of a town known mostly for its deer. We didn't have much choice: Deer carcasses littered the interstate through Ozona like bodies laid to waste in a Quentin Tarantino movie. I felt like our car was dodging and weaving through a high speed video game. And what a place to stop: Even the name “Ozona” conjures up images most people want to avoid: bad air, coughing, wheezing, dizziness, a headache.
Hmm… maybe that’s why nobody’s there. Not much chance of a second honeymoon, for sure.
But Ozona does have a Holiday Inn Express. And so we stopped, puzzled perhaps why anybody would put a Holiday Inn Express in Ozona, Texas.
Good luck finding food in Ozona. But if you’re a deer and you somehow avoided being squashed on the interstate, you’re in luck. Across the street from the Holiday Inn Express is a deer food manufacturing operation. A big 'un. Bags of deer corn, blocks of deer food, salt licks, sort of a deer smorgasbord. You can buy deer food everywhere: at Godfather’s Pizza, at the local drugstore – heck, they probably sell the stuff on the street, a sawhorse and a sign. But people-food is a trickier proposition, especially when one arrives at 9:30 P.M.
Starved from six hundred miles of interstate, we watched in horror as Sonic Burger turned off its sign. We asked, and the Holiday Inn Express recommended a café next door to the deer food factory. The café turned off its lights as we entered the parking lot.
My wife hates pizza, only eats my favorite food when nothing else is available. In Ozona, Texas that evening, Godfather’s Pizza was the only option around. But they turned off their stoves just before we arrived. Nothing in the plastic slice stacks, grill doors open. We had a choice: hamburgers cooked on a grease-streaked grill, a burrito that looked like it had been rolled in 1875 when Crockett County -- yes, named after that Crockett -- was founded, or microwave meals for carry-out.
I opted for the burrito and my wife chose the hamburger, sans the moldy cheese. We should have chosen our room’s microwave.
My burrito was cold and stiff. The grease had hardened to sludge. Every bite was a testament to my courage. The hamburger was served on a bun, or what resembled a bun. A bun so hard I could have used it as a paddle-ball racquet. A bun so hard not even the running grease on the green slab of beef softened it.
Needless to say, Rick Steves will not be writing a tour book of Ozona any time soon.
But we did learn something: Ozona, Texas is the deer hunting capital of the world. Landowners here rent their land for that purpose. There’s a deer stand store that covers an entire town block. Cool stuff, hard polyurethane igloos on thirty foot stands and about every kind of camouflaged tent, stand, blind and sleeping bag imaginable. Our troops would be well served with some of this stuff. The drugstore manager was proud: She said blood-thirsty deer hunters come for stuff or to kill from all over the world.
Well, good for them. But I hope they eat what they kill or bring their own food.  There’s not enough Ex-Lax in the drugstore to risk a meal in Ozona.
Well, I guess I won’t be selling many books in Ozona, Texas, huh...?


Jean Henry Mead said...

Good heavens, Ben, what a nightmare! We've driven all over Texas but fortunately never stopped in Ozone. I remember stopping at a laundomat in a small town in Mid-Texas where someone had placed quarters in all the slots in the washing machines although they weren't using them. When I tried to use a machine, I was told, "Didn't you see them quarters?" This place was billed as "The friendliest town in Texas." I felt like spray painting "UN" in front of "friendliest" when we left.

Chester Campbell said...

I remember traveling that stretch of Texas a few years ago returning from the Left Coast Crime Conference in El Paso. You're right, it was desolate. I got a call from my editor wanting me to fax him something and we had a devil of a time finding a town big enough to have a fax machine.

Mike Dennis said...

I've traveled that stretch on several occasions, and the trick is to start in El Paso in the early morning and plow through all the West Texas openness till you hit San Antonio. The interstate is usually in top condition and you will not likely encounter any speed traps, so you can do 80-85 all the way.

Morgan Mandel said...

That's strange. I always picture deer being in places like Wisconsin or Minnesota or Canada.

We took Amtrack to Arizona a few times and Texas did look very boring from the train - mostly flat and dry looking.

The starkness of the desert would make a great setting for a novel, though.

Morgan Mandel

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Been there and I don't recommend going through there in January, February becuase of the winter weather.

Spring can be worse with the twisters and hail.

(Texan--born and raised)

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