For the month of June, we asked all of our writers to include a video in their piece.
The most exciting thing that ever happened at The Famous Burro in Marathon, Texas was when nine spring breakers from Michigan stumbled into the bar, fresh off a 24-hour roadtrip and looking for a town to paint.
“This is all on one check, right?” asked the waitress, a flustered woman with skin like leather and a voice like brakes on gravel. Being veterans of Beer City’s nightlife scene, we shook our heads unapologetically and ordered a myriad of domestic beers, local drafts, whiskeys, and cocktails. But when she returned a half hour later with nine bottles of Lonestar—“the national beer of Texas”—no one objected.
Besides a handful of doggy regulars and a sleepy musician mumbling half the lyrics to “Friends in Low Places,” the place was quiet, until one inspired patron resolved, after his fifth round, to engage the newcomers. He stood abruptly from his chair, ambled over to our table, and introduced himself as Ed.
“Where y’alls from?”
Our first answer was “Michillinontarinewyorwestvirginia.” Jon helpfully explained that we all went to college in Michigan.
“Michigan! Well, it must be colder’n a well digger’s ass up there!”
We nodded soberly. The weather observations led to our Rio Grande paddling plans, to talk of good times, to an invitation to join Ed on the karaoke machine. Ed and I broke the ice with a lyrically carefree rendition of “I Won’t Back Down,” followed by a boisterous chorus of “Dixieland Delight.”
Once the tide of the night had shifted, there was no going back. The musician woke up and began playing with perceptible gusto as troupe after troupe came up for their moment to shine. The Lonestars kept coming (regardless of what we ordered), and Ed kept calling us back to the stage for one more song, one more verse, one more command to “Raise your glasses!”
By the end of the night, the musician had burned himself out, Ed was snoozing on a table in the back, and a thirteen-year-old girl who’d somehow snuck in was able to snag a selfie with “the Michigan Boys.” It was a grand night.
“How are you doing this in bare feet?” I asked incredulously, wincing in pain. The rock face, like the gravelly ridgeback of a horned lizard, was dotted with limestone spikes and prickly pear, but we ascended nonetheless.
Cole just shrugged with a blank stare, like he didn’t notice a thing.
Clad in soaked swimsuits and using grass roots for top-rope, this was hardly the ideal way to rock-climb. But a jutting ledge leering 50 feet above the churning Rio Grande was too tempting to pass up. We took turns swimming down as far as we could, but no one could reach the bottom, assuming there was one. It was probably safe.
Finally, we scrambled out onto the narrow lip of rock and tightrope-walked the twenty steps out to the ledge, careful not to touch the spine-tipped cliff on our left.
“It looks higher from here,” Cole laughed nervously.
“Everything’s bigger in Texas,” I responded, before remembering we were actually on the Mexican side.
Voices called from the bottom. “Let’s go already!” “It’s safe!” “Just do it!!!” With all eyes and a GoPro aimed at us, we took our final deep breaths, hearts in our throats, and leapt off the ledge.
Grant bolted awake and peered through the tent window with wide, fearful eyes. Without breaking his stare, he slowly shook Brad and I awake. “Guys, I heard something. I’m serious! Wake up!”
Brad rubbed his eyes and listened. We heard silence.
“What did it sound like?” I asked groggily.
“Like some kind of shofar or bugle horn. And then something crossed the river. I swear it walked right past our tent!”
We listened to silence for another minute. Finally, from another tent, “A bugle horn? You’re full of shit Grant. Go to bed.”
Grant shook his head vehemently. “Yes! Maybe it was like a signal or something, you know? Like, ‘It’s ok to cross the border now! Follow the sound of the shofar!’ I swear it was right here!”
More silence. “Why would Mexicans use a bugle horn to announce their border crossings? That doesn’t sound very subtle.”
“Just wait. He’ll do it again.” This time, we all looked suspiciously out of our tents across the river, where the towering canyon walls of Mexico cast gaunt shadows over the glassy Rio.
After a few minutes, we heard it: a long, braying moan off in the distance.
It was a donkey.
“Good evening, officer.” Nick leaned casually on the wheel as the Texas Highway Patrolman approached the car. The lights of downtown Alpine were barely behind us, and apparently the 70mph speed limit wasn’t in effect for another hundred feet yet.
“Know why I pulled you over, hombre?”
Nick shook his head in feigned perplexity. “Was I going a little over?” he asked innocently.
“65 in a 45, for starters,” he huffed, pointing at a bullet-riddled sign behind him. “That, and there seems to be a kid sleeping in your trunk…” He poked his head in the car, counting heads. “This vehicle doesn’t have seven seatbelts by any chance, does it?”
“I don’t know,” Nick said blithely. “It’s not my car.”
“Well, I’d better check out your license and registration just in case.” Nick handed him his license, but the closest we found to a vehicle registration was an Illinois hunting license from 2003. “Is this it?” asked Nick with bold charm.
He laughed dryly. “Try again. So what’s a bunch of Michigan boys doing in Alpine, Texas at 3 a.m. with an Illinois license plate and no registration?”
Nick swallowed. “Well, this is my friend’s car, but he’s sleeping back at our campsite. As for us, we’re heading back from Marfa to see the Lights.”
The officer laughed. “The Marfa Lights? That’s a bunch of hippie conspiracy shit if you ask me. Optical illusions or magic shrooms is what I think.”
“Yeah, well we saw them,” Grant piped up defensively. “They were real.”
And we did see them, but that’s a story for another time. For now, we just needed to get on our way.
“Yeah, well… this seems like it’s going to be a lot of paperwork for me and a lot of hassle for you guys, so… drive a little slower, ok amigo? Have a good night.”
Nick nodded somberly, idled past the 70 mph sign, and then we roared off into the black Texas night, onto the next adventure.
Nick Meekhof (’15) graduated with a major in writing and a minor in geography. A farmer for the first twenty-three years of his life, Nick currently works for the Michigan Department of Agriculture. When he’s not traversing the state conducting orchard inspections, he can be found exploring the rivers, forests, and small towns all throughout the Great Lakes State. His current goals include kayaking one hundred Michigan rivers, swimming in Lake Michigan during every month of the year, and visiting as many Michigan breweries as possible.