Wide Open West Texas

January 26, 2008 -- Leaving Marathon, TX

With the exception of El Paso, there are 8 large counties that make up the part of Texas that's often referred to as West Texas. If you look at a map it's that big point that sticks out to the west from the rest of the State. As we trek westward through this part of the country the thing that really gets my attention is the complete lack of people, or just about anything else for that matter.

Coming from the suburbs of a large metropolitan city, I'm used to living with thousands of people following me around and trying to get a parking place closer to the store. I learned to tolerate standing in lines and getting pushed and shoved while trying to buy a Christmas gift for my sweetie. At the intersection near my home I always had to wait for traffic before I could squeeze out onto the main road. And then there are all the rules and regulations that you must follow... building codes, zoning regulations, no left turn here, no parking there, do not enter over there, library book due in two weeks.

Well folks, this is West Texas, and in West Texas we pretty much do whatever we want to do. There's little need for rules as there's no one around who cares anyway. The little community of Marathon (pop. 455) is a case in point. Want to raise goats in your backyard in town? No problem! Don't feel like throwing anything in the trash for the past 20 years? Just fine! Grown attached to the 50's era house-trailer that you're Grandma used to live in until she died in 1968? Just park it in your side yard -- out by the chickens-- and let it sag, rust, and deteriorate at it's own pace. Grandma would have wanted it that way.

U-turn on the main street through town? OK. Park on the wrong side of the road? Great. Want to drive fast? The speed limits are set so high there's no need for enforcement. 75mph on a two lane road is not uncommon. And I haven't seen a traffic cop since we've been in West Texas anyway.

You see, this is West Texas. There's so much space and so few people that there's no need for all that rules, regulation, and enforcement stuff.

These 8 counties have an area of about 35,000 square miles -- an area about half the size of Wisconsin. The population of these 8 counties is 55,000 people. Doing the math, that gives us a population density of less than 2 people per square mile. How does that compare with other places?

The average state in the USA is about 80 people per square mile. Wyoming comes in at 5.1/sq. mile. Montana at 6.2; both of the Dakotas at about 9.3; Wisconsin at 100/sq. mile; Chicago metro is a mind-boggling 27,000 per square mile. Only Alaska, at about 1.1/sq. mile, has a lower density than this part of Texas.

However, despite the lack of people, I'm sorry to report that it won't be this way for long. The monied-artsy-fartsy set has found West Texas. Yes, it's true. Real estate prices are surprisingly high and on the rise. Every little town has at least one art gallery. There are people who think they're writers, sculptors, and painters, mostly from California, moving in and bringing their inflated home equities and sense of self-worth with them. There are quaint B&B's, little coffee shops and bakeries popping up here and there. These may well be the seeds of this area's destruction. It looks like the beginning of the end.

My advice? Get out here and see this before it's gone.

Well, that's today's report from West Texas. I've suddenly got a hankerin' for a Starbucks. Now if I can just find one.



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