Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Barter System: Pies for Laundry

I have two apple crumble pies in my (propane-powered) oven. I am finally making good on my promise to Mimi that I would come back to Terlingua and bake pies for her espresso bar. She is expecting a full house at La Posada Milagro for the 4th of July holiday weekend. Yesterday, she drove to the nearest grocery store – Fairway Market in Presidio on the Mexican border – and bought me whatever she could find in season for pie fillings. But this being the desert where it’s hard to grow anything, let alone fruit, in the 100-plus degree temperatures, she came back with only imported apples and bananas.
She asked me how much I would charge her for baking. How could I charge her anything? I wondered. It’s because of her that I’m here; it’s because of her I’m so happy in my new home. I never would have known about this tiny town if not for her. Besides, I love baking pies. I love it so much I’m willing to do it for free. But I did pause for a moment and think about what I could charge. “Tell you what,” I said. “Let’s work on the barter system. I bake for you and you let me do laundry at your place. And use your Internet access. And, well, I’m always borrowing stuff from you. So let’s just call it a fair deal, okay?”
She smiled and said, “That’s not exactly fair for you. You would have about one load of laundry a month.”
“True,” I said. “But that’s not the point.”
I was glad she didn’t argue. Instead, she launched into the details. “There’s a new washing machine,” she said. “I paid a thousand dollars for it. It works really well.” I’d seen it; it’s a Bosch front-loader sitting outdoors on a rock patio in front of her caretaker’s cabin. “What’s really nice is you can hang your clothes on the line to dry. They’ll smell so good, like the clean desert air.”
I look forward to fresh desert-scented clothes. But right now my clothes – and my whole house – are permeated with the scent of apples and cinnamon. I’d say I’m getting the better end of the deal. Except that suddenly I can smell something burning in the kitchen. Guess you get what you pay for!

Monday, June 29, 2009

My Life on Easy Street

I just returned to Terlingua after ten days in Los Angeles. Ten very loud, traffic-filled, stress-inducing days. How did I ever love that city so much? How did I ever tolerate the extreme density of population, housing and cars? How did I ever manage to stay calm and kind in the midst of such aggressive and rude people? And how did just one month in Terlingua change me so much?

I have always considered LA home. For the past 20 years I have surfed in the Pacific Ocean – often in the company of dolphins and pelicans, hiked in the Santa Monica Mountains where the scent of sagebrush permeated the air, taken yoga classes from the world’s top teachers, had weekly dinners with my best friend alternating between our favorites of Houston’s (amazing burgers and high-end wine list) and Sushi King, and regularly socialized with inspiring creative types at hip coffee houses. I learned how to beat the traffic by working from home. When I had business meetings I would schedule them nearby so I could ride my beach cruiser. My freelancer’s schedule allowed me to shop off-peak hours to avoid the crowds. In short, LA suited me just fine. Until I discovered Terlingua last month. Quiet, remote Terlingua – population 200.

When I got back to LA my senses were immediately assaulted with noises I hadn’t heard in a month –sirens, car alarms, jets, helicopters, buses, screeching brakes, blaring horns, and, most offensive, leaf blowers. Besides the noise I started questioning other aspects of urban life: Why the increasing popularity in pit bulls? Why am I seeing police arresting people in my neighborhood every single day? Why are there traffic lights every half block? Why do people talk so loud on their cell phones while waiting in line? Why would a Prius driver with Save the Whales license plates cut me off in the Whole Foods Parking lot?

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about being back in LA. I worried I might regret the decision I had made a week earlier, to give up my apartment there and return to Texas. But it didn’t take long (about one hour) to realize I made the right decision, reinforced many times during my stay. First my landlord, when I went to say goodbye, unexpectedly burst into tears and said, “I wish I could just take off like you.” She has three young kids. Then I went to the AT&T store to buy a phone charger and the manager, upon me mentioning my move to Terlingua, said, “Two more years and I am out of here too, as soon as my kids graduate from high school. I’m going home, to Woodstock, New York.” Later I ran into a friend who is a VP of advertising for a top music magazine. She is glamorous, not someone I would peg for rural life, but when I told her my plans she replied, “That’s what I’ve always wanted.”

I didn’t know my change of lifestyle would resonate with so many others. I just assumed people lived in LA (or any other big city) because they wanted to. This past week told me otherwise. I hope those who are tied to city life because of whatever obligation will find a way to fulfill their dreams, to honor their own sense of freedom, adventure and quiet space -- even if it’s just to come and visit me for a week or a month, knowing that one month is all it took for me to decide I could live outside of a big city. Waaaaaaay outside.

PHOTO: The view from my backyard. We're not in LA anymore.
Now, back in Terlingua, my ears are filled with only the sound of the breeze, singing birds, and, at the moment, some distant thunder from a brewing afternoon storm. There is no traffic, thus no traffic lights – for that matter, Terlingua doesn’t even have a stop sign. There are no cars, therefore no car alarms or honking horns – better yet, no one to run you over in a pedestrian crossing. There are many dogs, but no pit bulls. Of course there are no sushi bars, no ocean waves to surf, and no business meetings or coffee houses to ride my bike to. And though the Whole Foods chain started in Texas, the nearest organic milk is 90 miles away (along with the nearest Prius). I love this life. I love the simplicity. I love the lack of conveniences as it forces you to improvise, or, more importantly, realize how little you really need. But what I love most is the quiet.

I don’t know how long I’ll stay in Terlingua, but for right now life on Easy Street is, well, easy.