After driving most of the day from Albuquerque to Odessa and Midland, Texas oil country, with a wonderful stop for a Mexican lunch in El Paso, I knew I had a problem when I stopped at an Odessa Motel 6 and saw a sign near the front desk that the rates were $93 a night (compared to the usual Motel 6 rate around $50). The problem was clarified when the clerk replied “no” to my question of whether they had any rooms available. I stopped at another motel in Odessa and three in Midland 20 miles up Interstate 20. None had a vacancy. It was about 8 p.m., and my situation was pretty well summed up by the last desk clerk when I asked if she knew of any motels that had a vacancy. “No, we’re all pretty much in the same boat," she said.
I normally made reservations on the Internet for a motel room the night before or morning of my anticipated arrival. I neglected that practice that day because I was not sure whether I wanted to stay in Odessa or Midland, and I thought that there could be no problem getting a room in that part of the country on a Wednesday night. It is not exactly a tourist mecca.
I was right about the lack of tourism. What I didn’t realize was that the oil country is going through a boom in the boom-bust cycle that it has been going through since the discovery of oil there in the early twentieth century. With the increase in the price of oil, once again oil is being drilled for, pumped, refined and delivered from these old oil fields, and the place is booming. I saw “hiring” on the walls of numerous industrial buildings. As I looked around there were oil pumps and drilling rigs everywhere. A lot of traffic zoomed down Interstate 20, as well as the surface streets, but there were hardly any ordinary cars, like mine. Everyone drove pickup trucks and SUVs, and, of course, there were a lot of commercial trucks on the roads, even at night. I drove around both cities briefly, and there seemed to be nothing around that was not related to oil and its supporting industries. The cities looked like one big industrial and heavy equipment yard, mile after mile of big, dirty machinery, factory buildings and metal stuff I couldn’t even identify. The industrial accoutrements were interrupted in the center of each city by strings of fast food restaurants and cheap motels. The land was flat and dusty. As a whole, the scene was so ugly that it was almost beautiful.
One of the reasons I wanted to experience Odessa, besides seeing what an oil town looked like, was its fame from the 2004 book, movie and later TV series, “Friday Night Lights,” about the community’s dramatic but troubling obsession with high school football. I had read the book a few years ago and was shocked and saddened by the story about the subculture of this part of the country and its implications. I found Odessa High School, the subject of the story, and it looked like, well, a high school.
I decided I had better turn my attention to the problem of the unavailability of motel rooms if I wanted to avoid spending the night in my car. I remembered another town 40 or 50 miles back that I thought, but wasn’t sure, had motels (also places to eat). If my memory was correct, maybe it was far enough away from oil country to have vacant motel rooms. So, I backtracked for about 50 miles until I was almost out of gas. I heaved a small sigh when I saw the Interstate highway signs for motels. Would there be a vacancy?
I stopped at a gas station, got gas and asked the clerk in the convenience store where the motels in town were. She said they were all down the main street on the left-hand side, except for one that was on the right. “But I wouldn’t recommend that one,” she said with a frown.
I drove to each of the three motels on the left. Each desk clerk informed me that there were no vacancies. Not having a choice, I drove to the one on the right, the Texas Inn. The outside looked okay; the lobby looked fine. A nice lady in a sari behind the counter informed me that they had vacancies. I took it, of course, and with some trepidation, carried my luggage up to the room. It was clean, large and quite adequate. There was nothing wrong with this motel or the room. The reason for the negativity and the vacancies here became clear. The motel was owned, or at least managed, by Indians, foreigners, not welcome in this part of the Loan Star State. I was saddened by that bit of bigotry, but glad that I didn’t have to sleep in my car.
The next morning, with the name of the town that provided a bed for me firmly implanted in my brain, Monahans, Texas, I headed for what I thought would be a more pleasant part of Texas –– Austin. As I drove through small town after small town toward Austin, the scenery changed from flat and dusty to hilly and green. How pleasant! I stopped at a roadside picnic area, made myself a sandwich from my cooler and looked forward to Austin, the music city.