January 15, 2008

Meanwhile in Marfa

Over by the courthouse, they're starting to unwind ...

Actually what I see near the Marfa courthouse is a huge bus with a small car tethered behind. The back of the bus has the US, UK and EU flags painted on, with "Chris and Karen's Mystery Tour" also there. Two people I presume are Chris and Karen are in earnest conversation with two smart Texas police officers, the police cruisers parked nearby. It doesn't look like a serious conversation, no arrests or anything, just a relaxed chat. Which is why the line pops into my head.

I roll down my window and ask one of the officers the way to my B&B, which I was told was near the courthouse. He doesn't know, but directs me to the other side of the wedding cake-like building. "Must be over there," he says.

And indeed it is, just a block from the opposite corner of the courthouse. I pile all my stuff into the room and leave quickly, to manage a walk around Marfa while the light is still good. Only ten minutes after I first saw it, the bus is now parked behind the courthouse, neither of its occupants nor the police officers anywhere in evidence. Nor do I see Chris and Karen in my wandering through Marfa over the next couple of hours. I wanted to find out what the Mystery in their Tour was. Too bad.

Maybe the mystery is that they disappear so quickly.

Just about sunset, I drive out to the Marfa Mystery Lights Viewing Platform, where I'm one of four or five people already waiting to see these famous lights. Immediately, I can see a red light blinking steadily, stuck at the base of a distant low hill. It blinks just like that, steadily, for the two-and-a-half hours I spend there getting slowly frozen. Must be a warning light on a pole. Above it, along the crest of the hill and the adjoining ridge, there's an occasional white light that appears, and spends about ten minutes moving to the right and gradually lower, until it disappears. Clearly, those are car headlights along the highway there, that I myself drove earlier today, to get to Marfa.

And that's it. Apart from the fingernail moon and the emerging stars, there are no unexplained lights.

More people show up, through the 2.5 hours. It is now completely dark, so you can't see the hill outlined against a lighter sky. A troop of completely drunk men stagger onto the platform, and ask me through fumes of beer, "Where's the lights? Huh?" When I say I haven't seen them yet, that's clearly not good enough an answer. "What about those, dude?" they ask, pointing in turn at the blinking red light, a slowly moving car headlight, a house way to the left and a bright star. I say again, those are not the lights. They shake their heads in mock disgust and shuffle off.

They stop beside a couple to my left, and ask them the same questions. In a distinct English accent, the man says: "See that blinking red light? It's been moving up, down, left, right, every which way. And those white lights above it? I don't know what they are, but they move pretty strangely too!" The woman backs him up. "Yes, and look them now. That red one is drifting upward, look!"

I realize what's happening. Because the skyline is no longer visible, you look at these lights in relation to each other, and it's easy to be fooled by the motion of the white ones into believing that the stationary red one is moving. I try feebly to explain this, but quickly give up. All these people are sure they're looking at the Marfa lights, and who am I to try to sway that belief?

More lines pop into my head: "Over on the corner, there's a happy noise/People come from all around to watch the magic boy."

But that English accent. I ask the woman, are you the guys in that big bus? She looks oddly at me. You know, I say, there's this big bus parked near the courthouse, I was just wondering whose it was. She says, "We came in a bus, yes." In a firm stop to our conversation, she turns back to pointing out the moving red light to the others around.

The accent registers with one of the drunk men, eventually. He asks the man, "So which part of Texas are you guys from? Australia?"

The man from England shoots back: "Devon, England."

Half an hour later, I leave for my B&B, disappointed that I haven't seen these mysterious lights. Still watching are several others, exultant that they have.

Maybe that's the Mystery of Marfa.

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