A light rain patters outside and the grey, low sky lends a woolen comfort to the morning. My mother sarcastically remarks, “Nice day,” but to me, it is. When I finally tuned into the sound of the rain, I went outside to rescue the patio chair pads from the shower, but I was too late. Soggy cushions in hand, I stood in the rain, marveling at something we never experience in the mountains — warm rain. It’s 66 degrees, the humidity is 79 percent, and the mop of hair pulled into a messy knot at the nape of my neck is soft and happy. If it were freed, it would be floofy. Ah, Texas.
Leaving the mountains always tumbles me into a free fall of time and place. Even though I’ve been here many times, reinserting myself in this foreign land is a stop-start process. I always miss a couple turns when first piloting around this bizarro-land of endless box stores, cookie-cutter dining options and nail parlors galore, but eventually the odd becomes more familiar with each passing day. Tyler is not the land of my dreams, but it’s where my immediate family has rooted, and so I’ve learned my way around a little more each visit.
This time around, I’m here for a month, making myself useful by tending to my brother whose on-the-job accident could have left him maimed for life, and to my mother, overwhelmed and worried about her second-born and odd-couple housemate, who I’ve help keep steady, wined and dined since my arrival. Given the length of my stay, I’m working remotely, a concept I can barely wrap my head around, even though, since March 13, 2020, that’s exactly what I’ve done. Somehow, sitting at Mom’s dining table, the prop wash from the ceiling fan stirring the pages of my notebook, I’m feeling out-of-sorts and herky-jerky, despite the fact I am doing nothing different than what I would from my aerie desk at home — harvesting AP stories, covering meetings via Zoom, pecking away at my assignments and chatting with El Jefe (my editor) in our daily series of emails.
Everywhere I go here, I am slapped in the face with countless reminders that this place is nothing like the mountain enclave I call home. Mask use in the grocery store is laughable, sandals are still wearable, the air is thick and sweet and — here’s where Telluride loses out — the occasional splurge of a pedicure doesn’t rob me of most of a C-note. Not even close.
I left this place nearly 40 years ago, a stranger in a strange land. I’d stumbled across Telluride on a visit with a cousin living there and knew I’d found my tribe. When I departed Tyler I left behind a dry county, a church on every corner, the hair, makeup, pantyhose and pointy shoe retail uniform, and people who heard my Maryland drawl and treated me warily. My younger, insecure self felt as out-of-place as a salad at Cracker Barrel.
I’m thrilled to report that Tyler, like much of Texas, is changing (I know, I know. Give me a sec here.) Smith County now allows the sale of wine and beer, but for some inexplicable convolution of reason, the trip “across the line” is still required for my rye whiskey and Mom’s cooking Marsala. What a waste of time and gas.
Last election season, Mom and I got a kick out of cruising neighborhoods and counting the Beto and Cruz signs. Those signs were, surprisingly, like that year’s election results, neck and neck, an indication perhaps of the influx of folks associated with the university, the attraction of an endless summer climate (the months of satanic heat notwithstanding), no income tax and, let’s be honest, the best barbeque joint in all the land, Stanley’s Famous. Texas is one of the fastest-growing states in the country, a trend that has quiet and hopeful libs down here dreaming of a purple state.
My affection for Tyler, besides the fact it’s where Stanley’s and my blood-beloveds live, has also been abetted by the presence of not one, but two craft breweries, not one but two decent record stores and — hold on to your Stetsons — I saw a house festooned with prayer flags on the front porch. The front porch! I made my brother brake his Ram pickup truck so I could be sure my eyes were not deceiving me. They were not. I’m hopeful that hippies really are everywhere.
Tyler is a singularly beautiful little city with a classic downtown square, gracious and enormous live oaks, quaintly bricked streets in the older part of town and a certain gentility that I think stems from the fact that when it’s hot — most of the time — one moves a bit slower so as not to break a sweat. It’s a place of tacos and margaritas, Jesus and Hay-Soos, a place where time stops when the Texas Longhorns play. I embrace it when I’m here, but chafe under the state’s repressive politics, and decry its draconian marijuana laws. I adore its music, food and people, and admit that while it snows in Telluride, I am gloating just a bit here in my T-shirt, sandals and shorts. I’m still a square peg in a round hole, but each time I return, I find something more to love in this East Texas gem.
Today I started the list with warm rain.