Q: It’s become an annual tradition of mine to briefly escape the terrible August heat and humidity here in Houston by way of a week-long road trip out to West Texas. This year I am also looking forward to the added bonus of getting to relieve some pandemic-induced cabin fever. Many of my favorite haunts appear to be open, but I’m wondering if such a trip is advisable right now.
Stacie Tipton, Houston
A: The times, as you may have heard, are unprecedented. So many things are just not as they were pre-pandemic. For instance, the Texanist, who once prided himself on his kemptness, currently has bushy chin whiskers, bathes less frequently than his family wishes he would, and pretty much only wears short pants—if he’s wearing any pants at all. With the current state of affairs being what they are, former no-brainers like “Is taking a week-long breather from the unrelenting Houston heat and humidity by heading out to the refreshingly arid summertime climes of West Texas a good idea?” have suddenly become complex brainteasers with potential life-and-death consequences.
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The desire to put some space between yourself and Space City this time of year is certainly understandable, and the wide-open expanse of West Texas always makes for a fine getaway destination. But your concern is also understandable. The Texanist applauds you for for feeling that concern and for expressing it publicly. Too many of our fellow Texans appear to have left such consideration in the rearview mirror—if, that is, they ever possessed a capability for such consideration in the first place, which, the Texanist is sad to say, he isn’t so sure of.
When Texas somewhat expeditiously emerged from its shutdown back in late April, many people did not comport themselves as they should have. And, as the Texanist writes these very words, the consequences of those comportmental failures are coming home to roost. Here at the end of June, the once flattening COVID-19 curves are trending steeply in the wrong direction and the governor has been forced to put the brakes on his reopening plan, even going so far as to reverse course on bar openings and back up a bit on restaurant capacities
The Texanist is sorry to be a downer, but the loused-up response to this pandemic gets to him every now and then. The facts seem to be as simple as this: 1) There’s a highly contagious disease going around that’s killing many old folks. 2) Willie Nelson is quite old, as are Tootsie Tomanetz, the Queen of Q at Snow’s BBQ in Lexington; Myrtis Dightman, the “Jackie Robinson of Rodeo”; Tex-Mex accordionist nonpareil Flaco Jiménez; and well over a million other beloved Texans. 3) Protecting the likes of these fellow Texans requires little more than temporarily engaging in a few simple activities and temporarily not engaging in a few others. So excuse the Texanist for a moment, while he offers an apparently much-needed public service announcement.
[ambient humming sound of a large bullhorn being turned on, amplified throat-clearing, loud feedback]
COME ON, Y’ALL! PUT ON YOUR DAMN MASKS WHEN YOU’RE OUT IN PUBLIC!
AND KEEP YOUR DAMN DISTANCE FROM PEOPLE OUTSIDE YOUR CIRCLE!
AND WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS!
AND, AS THE TEXANIST’S DAD USED TO IMPLORE EVERY TIME A YOUNG TEXANIST WALKED OUT THE FRONT DOOR, USE YOUR HEAD!
The Texanist apologizes again for having to take a break from his usual courteous and upbeat manner, but that needed to be said.
And now that it has been said, he will turn to your question. As it happens, many of West Texas’s famous attractions and accommodations, after having shut down in the springtime, were beginning to cautiously open back up when the Texanist first sat down at his desk to respond to your missive. But on July 2, Big Bend National Park closed back down because of a reported case of COVID among its ranks. Big Bend Ranch State Park, while technically still open, began advising would-be visitors to wait until the pandemic eases up before darkening the region’s door. Alpine’s Railroad Blues watering hole, which had reopened in late May, shut down again in late June, as did the Gage Hotel’s White Buffalo Bar, in Marathon.
Taking these developments, as well as the dizzying state of flux that accompanies these unprecedented times, into account, the Texanist, who just a moment ago was of the mind that your West Texas escape plan, if executed with due care, was not a completely crazy idea, has changed his mind.
Of paramount importance is the fact that even though the Trans-Pecos is famously rough-and-tumble, it is also a particularly vulnerable locale. The entire tri-county (Brewster, Jeff Davis, and Presidio) area, with a population of about 20,000, has only one real hospital with but twenty-seven beds, two of which are ICU level. The last thing you want to do is unwittingly pack in a deadly coronavirus that you won’t be able pack out.
So even though West Texas is home to an outdoor vastness well suited to social distancing, and even though the region’s many scenic roadside vistas have remained open, and even though mental well-being can be just as consequential as physical well-being, and even though Houston’s heat and humidity can suck in the summertime, the Texanist cannot currently, with a clear conscience, green-light your trip.
Instead, the Texanist recommends hunkering down at home, adhering to any local rules and regulations, and biding your time, perhaps with a tasty batch of prickly pear margs, until the coast—or, rather, the desert—is clear, coronavirus-wise. If we all do our part, maybe that’ll happen while the Houston clime is still unbearable, and you’ll be able to keep your annual tradition alive. It’s a good one. Until then, stay safe. And remember to always use your head
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.