The Miracle At A West Texas Gas Station

We were in the middle of west Texas, about 150 miles east of El Paso, when I began to get concerned about the gas situation. We had gassed up hours earlier, but in the vast, empty stretches of arid west Texas, where the speed limit on I-10 is 80 mph, the exits are few and far between–and most of the exits don’t have a gas station. I had been looking carefully for one for miles, but to no avail. In the meantime, the gas tank bars kept shrinking, we got the chime and the notice that we were almost out of gas, and there was no station in sight.

But then, in the shimmering haze of the bright sunshine reflecting on the dry and dusty landscape, we saw what appeared to be a sign in the distance. At first we thought it might be a mirage, but as we drew closer we realized it was, in fact, a sign. This, by itself, provided no real comfort, because we had seen signs at earlier exits, but the gas stations they were advertising were abandoned. Finally, we saw the Exxon logo above, and the functioning neon, and realized that we were saved from the ignominy of running out of gas on one of the loneliest stretches of the American Road. It was a West Texas Miracle.

When we pulled up to the pump, we saw that the price for gas was higher than it had been at our earlier stops in Texas. But beggars can’t be choosers, and at that point we would have paid far more for gas. The law of supply and demand, and the invisible hand that guides pricing decisions, demanded that the scarcity of available gas in that remote corner of the world factor into the pricing. In reality, I was so grateful that I would have left a tip if the machine had permitted me to do so, because we were in the middle of nowhere and would have been completely out of luck if that little gas station had not been there.

And speaking of the middle of nowhere, the photo below gives you an idea of just how desolate this area was. There was absolutely nothing around this little gas station. This part of west Texas defined “vast” and “empty.”

Presumably because it was the only commercial business to be seen for miles and miles, the gas station offered an interesting assortment of items for sale–including a collection of paintings, shown below, that were leaning against the wall next to the entrance to the restrooms. So, in addition to filling your tank and emptying your bladder, you could buy a painting of a woman in creepy makeup holding a skull. What’s more, there was a discount price if you bought two of the larger paintings, with one painting selling for $59.99 and two for $80. It was admittedly tempting, but I managed to resist.

After we had gassed up, we hopped in the car and pulled away from the station with a sigh of full-tank relief. We were thankful for the station’s existence, but also for learning an important lesson: in west Texas, you can never have too much gas in the tank.

Family Art

I’m in Savannah, Georgia for a brief family visit. It‘s been a nice opportunity to catch up with my uncle and aunt after a long absence, but also a chance to appreciate some of our family art that is displayed around their house.

My grandfather on my Dad’s side was a bookkeeper by trade, but with the soul of an artist. Some of my earliest memories are of his workspace, where he kept his palette and brushes and an easel that held his latest creation. He was an accomplished painter with a meticulous eye for detail.

Grandpa painted still lifes, landscapes, city scenes. dreamy symbolic pieces, and portraits. I like them all, but particularly like these two portraits of my grandmother and grandfather. If you look carefully at the bottom right of the portrait below, you’ll see that it is signed with Grandpa’s neat “AWWebner” signature—but the portrait of Grandma is not. That’s because Grandpa liked his self-portrait, but was never really happy with his painting of Grandma and kept reworking it (even though I think is a good likeness). He only signed pieces when he was satisfied with his work.

Art Is Where You Find It

It’s amazing how a little artwork can make a difference in your perception of a place and bring a smile to your face, besides. Whether it’s a pelican statue carefully perched atop a dead tree, or some colorful nativist paintings in a hotel room, art is enriching. It makes you appreciate the fact that someone cared enough and paid attention to what might seem like little details — but those little details can add such color and flair and turn a nice setting into a really memorable one.

Trying To Understand Acts Of Senseless Artistic Destruction

On Sunday, at London’s Tate Modern Art Museum, a visitor walked up to the Mark Rothko painting Black on Maroon and boldly wrote some words on the painting in black paint, then left the museum.

Today a Russian named Vladimir Umamets claimed responsibility for the act, but said it was not an act of vandalism.  According to the BBC, he was later was arrested and held on suspicion of causing criminal damage.  The BBC also reports that Umamets claims to be the founder of a “movement” called “Yellowism,” which apparently posits that “Art allows us to take what someone’s done and put a new message on it.”

I don’t know if there really is a “movement” called Yellowism, as opposed to one nutty jerk seeking to justify an otherwise senseless act of artistic destruction, but his philosophy is asinine.  Part of the joy of art is its aspirational aspect.  People appreciate art that reflects great talent that they don’t possess.  Anyone who thinks a great painting is just a canvas for their personal aggrandizement is just piggybacking on greatness they could never achieve on their own talent.

What would happen if every museum patron felt free to scrawl whatever they pleased on a Rothko — or the Mona Lisa?  It wouldn’t be long before a Rothko ceased to be a Rothko and instead became a patch of random graffiti.  If I wanted to see that, I would book a flight for inner city Detroit.  Come to think of it, that might be a suitable punishment for whomever actually defaced the painting:  sentence them to a few years scrubbing away the graffiti in British toilets.