Pretty Little Heaven

We enter the park at Persimmon Gap just before noon, and the desert landscape, still damp from a lashing rainstorm the night before, is lit with a preternatural glow, the creosote bush and prickly pear vivid green. Roadrunners flash across the road so quickly and well-camouflaged they are like shooting stars—I can’t point them out to six-year-old Ford or three-year-old Emerson because the birds are gone by the time they look. It’s spring break, the most crowded time of year in Big Bend, but my wife, Stacy, and I have decided to come anyway, braving the eight-hour drive from Dallas in the family Volvo (plus an overnight stay in Marfa) to experience this untamed corner of Texas for the first time in our lives.

We stop at a sign marked “Fossil Bone Exhibit,” and our son and daughter sprint up a path and mount a platform of red rock, spreading their arms and spinning in circles, taking in the immensity of the space around us, the vast martian landscape lit afire, the Chisos Mountains a bronze Stonehenge assembled by titans. I already regret all the time I’ve spent not being here. I want to break into song. I don’t. Back in the car, our cellphone reception slips away as we head deeper into the park. Stacy and I hold hands as civilization dies on the screen. “Is this where the animals are?” asks Emerson. Yes. “But why can’t we see them?” Because we have to be patient. We have to wait. 

We’ve been lucky enough to get a room at the Chisos Mountains Lodge, on the southeastern slope of Casa Grande, a 7,325-foot garnet butte that’s visible for miles. The Chisos Basin occupies the center of the park literally and figuratively, a kind of metaphysical anchor, a deep bowl ringed by mountains and mesas, lined with crumbling striata of sandstone. After checking in, we go to the visitors center across the parking lot, where Ford and Emerson get their national park “passport” books stamped and receive journals to record their experiences. A life-size statue of a mountain lion dominates the exhibits on flora and fauna, and the kids marvel at the paw prints and pictures. We take a stroll down the Window Trail just outside the lodge as raptor birds circle above the peaks, coasting on invisible thermals. The air is so clear that the smallest hint of movement draws your eye: a distant jackrabbit stealing across a path, a lizard scaling a rock face, a boy standing on a boulder across the valley, waving his ball cap.

When I consider the childhood memories that inform my present being, I think of moments outdoors: in the woods, in the park, in the creek. Nature offers a rare oasis of privacy for children, a respite from close adult supervision. At home, the kids play in the postage stamp of grass in our backyard, but the rest of their time outside consists mostly of soccer practice or trips to the playground. Ford cracks open geodes from a boxed kit in the garage, Emerson creates magical forest hideouts in the stunted shrubbery, and Stacy makes “fossils” out of chicken bones and plaster for the kids to find in the sandbox. Nature, as we know it, is predictable. I think about this when dusk falls and we settle into the soft mattresses in our cinder-block room. Lying next to me, my son whispers in my ear: “I want to see something that’s not in the zoo. An animal just out there in the wild.”

I Beg Your Garden?

The joy of riding through Hermann Park on a miniature train never grows old, even if you have. You pay your $3.25,climb aboard, and—whether it’s your first time or your fifty-first—feel a kick of childlike enthusiasm as the wheels start. The 445-acre park is the queen of Houston’s green spaces.

The Texanist

Q: I have always been “wear and let wear” when it comes to britches, but I’ve held the line with my Wrangler 13MWZs. Always been a heavy-starch guy and wear only the ones that still have the patch to formal occasions. During a recent visit to the fat stock show in Fort Worth, it was brought to my attention by the wife and daughters that I need to update my jeans to a more modern look.

Ramos Gin Fizz

You could be forgiven for thinking the Ramos gin fizz came into existence on the border: the famously frothy cocktail is indelibly linked to the Cadillac Bar, a legendary Nuevo Laredo watering hole that hosted day-tripping Texans for almost eight decades. But the notoriously labor-intensive drink (it requires a whole lot of shakin’) was dreamed up in 1888 by famed barman Henry C. Ramos, who was a proud New Orleanian.

A Deadly Dance

People in Amarillo liked to say that Mike Dixon, a prominent plastic surgeon, and David Shepard, a failed pharmaceutical salesman, had a bromance going on. They had drinks at Butler’s Martini Bar, they watched football at Hummer’s Sports Cafe, and they popped over to Buffalo Wild Wings, where Dixon competed in trivia contests while Shepard flirted with the waitresses.

They were Amarillo’s version of the Odd Couple. Dixon, who was five feet eleven inches tall and 185 pounds, was a hardworking doctor—“very caring, very compassionate,” one nurse said—who performed as many as three surgeries a day. Shepard, who was six feet five inches tall and 380 pounds, was known around town as Big Dave. He enjoyed playing poker, and he especially loved telling tall tales. He bragged that he had once worked as a bodyguard for billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens and that he had served in the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, trained to go on secret missions.

The two men had met just after Dixon opened his medical practice, in 2003. They began running into each other at a local tobacco shop, where they sat in the smoking room and puffed on cigars. They didn’t become close friends, however, until the spring of 2010, when Shepard, who was 50 years old at the time, called Dixon, who was then 46, and mentioned that his wife had informed him that she had been unhappy for the past three or four years and wanted a divorce.

“You’re kidding,” said Dixon. He told Shepard that his wife had just served him with divorce papers. She had caught him having an affair with a 47-year-old woman named Richelle Shetina, a former cheerleader for the Kansas City Chiefs who had been coming to Sensei Med Spa, a small day spa that Dixon owned. 

Dixon didn’t seem very upset that he was getting a divorce. He said that he had never before been with a woman as beautiful as Shetina. She appreciated him in ways that his wife didn’t. He told his friend that he was convinced they had a promising future together, and they were even talking about marriage. 

But it wasn’t long before Dixon was telling Shepard a much different story. In September 2011 Shetina unexpectedly left him for another doctor: Joseph Sonnier, the chief of pathology at a hospital in Lubbock, a two-hour drive away. Dixon seemed to know all about Sonnier. He was tall and lean, with a thousand-watt smile. He wore tailored clothes, took ballroom dancing lessons, and went on European vacations. With a sigh, Dixon told Shepard that Shetina was now telling everyone she knew that she had finally found the man of her dreams.

One night, while the two men were talking, Dixon said he wished there was something he could do to make Shetina regret her decision—to make her realize she should have stayed with him. 

Shepard gave Dixon a knowing nod and said he knew exactly what to do. He offered to follow Sonnier around Lubbock and see what he was up to. He said that he could play a few pranks on Sonnier to embarrass him in front of Shetina. Hell, said Shepard, it wouldn’t take any time at all to get her running back into Dixon’s arms. All he would need was a little money for gas, some food, and a few cigars.

Dixon asked Shepard if he was serious.

Of course, Shepard replied. He’d do anything for a friend.


Shetina and Dixon during their relationship.

Meanwhile, in Texas

  • A rented Lamborghini, worth about $200,000, was found wrecked and abandoned on a Dallas highway.
  • The University of Texas at Austin raised the price of football tickets, citing, among other things, the increased cost of feeding athletes.
  • Lucy Coffey, the oldest living female veteran in the United States, died in San Antonio at the age of 108.

Attica Locke’s Empire

Attica Locke’s critically acclaimed 2009 debut novel, Black Water Rising, was set in her hometown of Houston and featured a down-on-his-luck lawyer protagonist named Jay Porter, who in many ways was inspired by her father, Gene Locke, the former city attorney of Houston. The sequel, Pleasantville, has just come out, though the final book in what she expects will be a trilogy will likely have to wait a while.

The Checklist

 Art

The Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass (Kimbell Art Museum, through May 24)
Heavy on the likes of Van Gogh, Matisse, Miró, and Rothko, this exhibit doesn’t tell us anything in particular about Texas art. But it does tellus something about the way oil money—the source of the Bass family fortune—once pushed Texans to look beyond their state’s borders and redefine their sense of what qualifies as culture. 

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