Marfa Deserves its Stripes
Regarding the Facebook Group: Stripes Report Marfa: The most accurate and up to date reports on anything Stripes in Marfa.
So it began as an inside joke, for sure–a Facebook group started by a band of small-town folks to keep tabs on their local convenience store. It’s really just a place for a a handful of residents in Marfa, Texas–a far west Texas town of population 2,121–to banter back and forth, all within the tongue-in-cheek context of what the store’s burritos are like that day, or how much the price of tall boy beers is about to rise.
But for those of us that are familiar with this particular brand of 24-hour gas stations/mini marts–Stripes–the group offers a hilarious dissection of what makes this particular chain both bizarre and beloved.
I first encountered Stripes in Port Aransas, a beach community on an island skirting the Texas coast in the Gulf of Mexico. The chain’s headquarters is in nearby Corpus Christi, so the stores have a strong presence in the area, with at least three on the island. Port Aransas is a bit, oh, raw. Many of the permanent residents are wiry, dark and weathered, like you would expect from a southern coastal community, and quite a few chain smoke through missing teeth. A visible few others rumble through town with Confederate flag decals or even the actual flags flapping in the wind over their pickup beds.
There one night at the Stripes on the island’s main drag, I spotted a man with paint-speckled jeans and a canyon butt crack stumble into the potato chip rack trying to pick up loose change he’d dropped. “Fuckin fuck,” he muttered through an unlit cigarette bobbing under his mustache. Not to leave women’s butts out, two twenty-somethings with black roots infiltrating their blonde wings were having a lively discussion on whether Hamms beer has more calories than Red Dog, with both scratching at the cutoff threads tickling the bottoms of their jiggly rumps. One of the girls ended the debate by sighing, “It doesn’t matter anyway. We’re just going to puke it up.”
The cashier then got everyone’s attention by yelling at a man in a camouflage jump suit standing in the doorway claiming the gas pump wasn’t working. She exhorted him to try again, and he barked back to her, “I done tried, and I ain’t going to try again until it works.” As a fleet of taquitos spun in their own grease on a heated roller case near the counter, I pondered the logic of Mr. Camouflage, then turned to see my two awestruck spawn–my pre-teen son and daughter–obviously enjoying the show.
On another night the kids brought their ice cream sandwiches to the Stripes counter on Avenue G, where the cashier–a haggard woman with browning teeth and glazed eyes–was in a conversation with two Goth teens. A somber, pimply-faced boy handed over the money for Cheetos and Cokes, while a girl with jet-black hair streaked bright green engaged the woman behind the counter.
“But why do you pierce yourself?” the cashier asked her. She talked as though she had to hold a lump of mud in her mouth, and it was obvious she was several sheets to the island wind. “Don’t it hurt?”
“Nah,” the girl said. “It actually feels gooooood.” She drew out her “oooood,” to an absurd length and fiddled with some of her ear decor. “And you should see the ones….you can’t see. They feel really goooooood.”
“Ah, well, you won’t find me doing that,” replied the cashier, who exerted herself to remain steady and deposit change into the Goth girl’s hands. “Ah well, and to each his own.”
The Goths left and my kids plopped down their ice creams. “Ain’t you the cutest things on the planet,” said the cashier. The kids just smiled, but what happened next was a blur of confusion that left us all thinking we were oozing between two dimensions or planes, kind of like oil trying to separate from water, in a lava lamp. The cashier launched into a friendly, but undecipherable diatribe about corrupt management and mistaken deliveries and the register being over on the count, then under on occasion.
Then she opened the register drawer to insert our money, but mistakenly smacked it shut and she lost her balance and fell back into the Swisher Sweet selections. Regaining her composure, she continued to mumble at length and then punctuate her lost sentences with the only thing intelligible, “But I bet you cuties just want to eat your ice cream.” When I thought it was all over, she stuck a cigarette in her mouth and exclaimed, “Damn if you can’t smoke anywhere anymore.”
The beep of the front door opening awoke us all, I grabbed the change and we rushed home to beat the ice cream from melting. From then on, the kids constantly badgered me to go to Stripes, both for junk food and what they in frank terms described as “the freak shows.”
Back to Marfa–which is a unique blend of ranching, border culture, an oasis of artists and now new money from young people escaping the big city. The staffing and clientele at the Stripes there aren’t so much of the freakish nature, mostly just natives of the area. And the customers are mainly ranch hands gassing their truck and occasionally filling up with fixin’s from the Laredo Taco Company–the in-store food service found in many Stripes. So the Facebook posts are more of a kinder, gentler way of making fun of Stripes.
Regardless, Stripes Report began to diary the daily happenings. Here are a few of my favorite excerpts. For starters, an intro to the food…
Much of the banter revolves around the “hot boxes,” the food cases with a variety of hot food, usually fried stuff. Also prominent is the status of the iced tea and whether it’s sweet or not.
So the chief instigator and dry humorist in this group is Rowdy Dugan, who is a fix-it/operations/just-about-anything-needed-to-be done guy at the world famous airstream trailer hotel in Marfa–El Cosmico. Quickly becoming his sidekick in the endeavor was Travis Bubenik, the reporter for Marfa’s public radio station, which had an advantageous position in town–right across the street from Stripes. (Update: Dugan now is at Marfa’s Hotel St. George and Bubenik went to Houston Public Radio.) Also prominent is David Garcia, an actual Marfa local from birth. And finally, another chief protagonist is Captain Bingham, who also works at El Cosmico. Both Dugan and Bingham are fond of the term “game changer” when it comes to deciding on whether Stripes is the ultimate culinary experience or not.
It should also be noted that Marfa has two Stripes. The main one, down on the main highway, and Li’l Stripes, on the upper west side of town. Li’l Stripes doesn’t have a hot box, but it does have an in-store Subway.
Before long, the crew had a Stripes correspondent in Alpine, a larger city 23 miles to the East.
So the first post above was particularly personal for me, since we had a scary moment at the Alpine Stripes one time. We stopped to get gas and pee, and our 11-year-old daughter went into the store and never came out–or so we thought. We were panicked parents, frantically looking in the bathrooms and aisles for our little girl. Our little girl was also a bit frantic, since she had gone out the wrong side of the two-side Stripes and not seeing our car, wondered why we had abandoned her in the middle of rural West Texas.
Pretty soon, John Daniel Garcia–a reporter for the local newspaper–started added David Hasselhoff photos as a surrogate for thoughtful responses.
Before long bewildered Marfa residents started seeing Stripes Report posts show up on their timelines as they were added to the group.
And I’ll just let the rest speak for themselves, although the final one is my all-time favorite.