George Covington — High-Desert Hijinks

Circa 2006

Nine years ago, when I decided to trade the dusty canyons of Manhattan for the even dustier canyons of West Texas, a number of friends thought that in addition to my eyesight, now my sanity was gone as well. After 20 years in Washington DC and two years in Manhattan, I had packed up and moved to a remote edge of the High Chihuahuan Desert.

Because of comments like, “Are you going to get a seeing-eye armadillo?” “They’ll probably mistake your white can for pool cue,” and “It’s a woman, isn’t it?” I sent a letter to more than 100 friends giving a glimpse into my new life. I decided to play on the fact that nonTexans will believe almost anything about Texas if you wrap exaggerations in a thin film of fact.

I told my worried East Coast friends, “I am now living in beautiful downtown Alpine, Texas. Of course, living anywhere in Alpine is living a few blocks from downtown. Alpine is located in Brewster County, which is roughly the size of Connecticut with a chunk of Rhode Island thrown in, but with a population of only 9,226.” I then peppered them with a few vital statistics:

1 The population consists of 54.8 percent Anglos, 1.12 percent African Americans, 43.6 percent Hispanics and 1.18 percent stray sheep.

2 Alpine has an elevation of 4,600 feet, is nestled between mountains and mesas, and is considered high desert country. It has 6,237 people, a small University, numerous art spaces and a calendar chock full of social and cultural events.

3 The scorpions are the size of skateboards, and the tarantulas are often mistaken for very fuzzy watermelons.

4 The rattlesnakes are taken for granted.

5 The women are all highly intelligent and beautiful; the men all look as if they’ve been kicked in the face by a bucking bronco, and they have the mentality that such a fate would mandate.

6 While beautiful, the women are so tough they use small tarantulas as powder puffs and skin the larger ones for toilet lid covers

7 We are 150 miles from the nearest airport or mall.

8 The local gourmet food is road kill. I love it here.

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Some of my friends wondered how I could give up a life of excitement and adventure for the dullness of a dusty region in the remote Southwest. Why would I trade Central Park for a land full of ghost towns and graveyards strewn with tombstones and makeshift crosses? Why would I trade visiting million dollar Fifth Avenue apartments for scouting abandoned adobe ruins?

Well, they obviously have never attended a Cowboy Poetry Gathering, a Rattlesnake Roundup, a Fire Ant festival, a Chili Cooking Contest (I have a secret recipe) or an International Black-Eyed Pea Cook-off.

I quickly learned that macho is still big in Texas and can manifest itself in a number of ways:

1 My first day as a resident in Alpine, I was told by an acquaintance that his hat brim was wider than mine. 2 I discovered that macho is also determined by how high you have to step into a pickup (the truck should be big enough so that your chin touches your knee when you try to enter the truck’s cab).

3 The importance of the size of the truck’s bed cannot be overstressed—it should be proportional to the number of dogs riding in it.

4 The gun rack is real and should contain a large-caliber rifle (.22 caliber is just for wimps). 

5 A real macho type will eat a chicken-fried steak that covers half the table, empty a caldron of chili, then pop down a few jalapeno peppers and claim to have never heard of the term heartburn.

6 Macho types are seen at the Crystal Bar, not at a salad bar. Salad bars are intended for women and rabbits.

7 Real machos are not seen during deer-hunting season because their full energy is spent trying to kill Bambi through a foggy haze created by consuming a case of beer.

How could you not love a place like this?

by George Covington

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George Covington is a writer, photographer and lecturer whose career has spanned the fields of law, journalism, the arts, education, government and disability civil rights. He has served on staffs in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and he worked as special assistant to the vice president of the United States from 1989 and 1993.

Born legally blind, with less than 10 percent of typical vision, Covington achieved national attention for his work in using photography as a seeing tool. “Most people see to photograph; I photograph to see,” he has explained. “A photograph reduces the confusing world of reality to an abstraction I can understand.” He has taught photography workshops at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, Hirshhorn Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.

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