I don't live in West, and I don't have any family there. Still, it's strange. Our waitress at IHOP told us about the explosion late last night, and my first thought was, "wait, that can't be right - West is a real place." (It's funny how you can intellectually understand that everything on the news is actually happening somewhere in the world, and yet all those faraway places still look a little bit like set pieces from a Jerry Bruckheimer film.)
Anyway, everyone knows the drill by now: there's going to be pictures of fireballs and flattened houses and crying people for days to come. So since you're going to be saturated with the disaster-movie version regardless, I thought it might be nice to put up some pictures of the way the real West looks to most of us here in Texas.
See, West is basically the road-trip capital of east Texas. Our cities are a neighborly minimum of three hours apart, and the view between most of them doesn't change much.
For the most part, the road could be any road,
but there are a few things that you could only see in Texas.
When you get to West, your essential destination is the Czech Stop. (West is a tiny town, but they are huge on their Czech heritage - I keep meaning to go to Westfest and see the dancers one of these days.)
It's essentially a giant combination convenience store, gas station, and bakery, and the parking lot is always hoaching.
Anyway, the inside is piled up high with gas station snacks and souvenirs. (It's actually two buildings in one - the one on the right is the Little Czech Bakery.) Everybody loads up on kolaches here.
The Czech Stop is right off the highway, so most people get right back on the road without seeing much else of the town. I tell you what, though: there is a whole beautiful little world tucked away back there.
That's the place that really matters, and one that pass-through drivers like me can't tell you much about.
I'll tell you one thing, though. When I look back through these pictures, they could mostly come from anywhere in the US. But there's a detail in almost every one that anchors them to this single place and time: the "Bar B" plaza, the Texas plates, the Dairy Queen sign, the UT and A&M flags, the little mailbox on the side of the street.
For all the mythology we've built up around it, I don't believe there's any such thing as Anytown, USA. No matter where you go, there's something that can't be found anywhere else.
I think that's the part that makes movie-towns and news-towns feel flat sometimes: the people behind the camera control what we see, and fix our attention on the characters, the action, the wreckage, the special effects, the Big Ideas. It's only when you take your own self out to a place like this that you have the freedom to take your time and turn your head, and to see the things that make it more than just a place for something to happen.
Anyway, thanks for looking through these with me. (And for the rest of you Texians out there: think about giving blood in a week or two. Carter BloodCare is tweeting that they are good to go for the time being, but you can do a lot of good by helping to replenish their supply after the immediate crisis is over.)