NO ONE HAS EVER ACCUSED the city of Port Arthur of being cute or mistaken it for a vacation paradise. It is home to one of the largest oil refinery and petrochemical complexes on earth, a place where rusting inventories of offshore oil rigs are stacked alongside hulking tankers and where tank farms disappear into gumbo swamps. At night the plants look unearthly: a science-fiction writer’s nightmare of a prison colony on the outer moons of Jupiter. This is not a place that beckons to the casual tourist. This is a place that says: Put your head down, flip the air conditioner to “recirc,” and drive on toward something that looks more inviting.
But if you did that, you would be