WEST TEXAS TRAVELS

Earlier this summer I got to travel with my boss to west Texas for oral argument in an appeal that I worked on.  I was especially excited for this trip because I’d never been to that part of the state.  The court we were appearing before usually sits in El Paso, but on this occasion, the justices apparently decided that they might enjoy a trip out west too, and argument was held in one of the counties they serve.

The journey began with a flight to Midland, which is located in the oil-rich Permian Basin, and is home to Texas’s top oil and gas producers.  As we approached Midland, the view out the airplane window was different than anything I’d seen before:

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As my boss explained to me, the tan squares are well pads, and the blue rectangles are fracking fluid and retention ponds.

From Midland we had to drive 170 miles to our hotel in Marathon, Texas.  Leaving Midland we passed a sobering sign of the times — oil rigs sitting idly, waiting to be put into service:

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It wasn’t too long before the scenery started to change, and Interstate 20 got infinitely more interesting the closer we got to Big Bend:

Yucca were in bloom everywhere, and rose up like candle flames across the landscape:

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Although I thought the drive might be tedious, it wasn’t.  We drove along, chatting, slightly hypnotized by the landscape.  At one point we realized that we had probably passed our exit.  Sure enough, we had overshot it — by 80 miles!   This meant, of course, that we had to turn around and drive another 80 miles back to where we were supposed to turn off. And so our 170-mile road trip turned into 300-something miles.  If I had been traveling with one of the partners from my last job (which I hated), I would have considered jumping out the window at this point.  But my boss and I thought it was kind of hilarious.  Driving 100 mph, it didn’t take us too long to get back to where we were supposed to be.

There were two things I learned about survival on this stretch of highway.  First — fill up your tank, use the restroom, and buy a drink before you get on it,  because there are no rest stops, no signs screaming to hold it because there’s a Buc-ee’s ahead, no gas stations, no nothing. Just miles and miles of desert highway with very few cars traveling it. Second, slow down for buzzards.  In and around Houston, I’ve seen plenty of buzzards — turkey vultures, to be precise — circling overhead and in fields, but never sitting on the roadways due to the amount of traffic.  On the wide open and not heavily traveled road, however, buzzards feasting on roadkill was a common sight.  But buzzards are either stupid, fearless, or sneaky, and these big birds will wait until you are almost upon them before they take off — often right smack into your car — and have been known to shatter windshields and dent vehicles.  They will also scare the crap out of you when they do this.

We stayed at the historic Gage Hotel in Marathon.

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The main building, designed by famed El Paso architect Henry Trost, was built in 1927.

The newer Los Portales area, where we stayed, is made up of 20 pueblo-style rooms surrounding a courtyard.

The hotel was charming, with lots of areas to sit for a spell:

And a few reminders that you’re in west Texas:

The White Buffalo Bar at the hotel serves some great cocktails:

People come from all over to eat at the hotel’s upscale 12 Gage restaurant:

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As I’ve mentioned before, the biggest perk of business travel, for me, is having a room to myself:

Can you spot what’s missing in the picture of my room?  Here’s a clue:

Jasper and Maisy

The next morning we headed out bright and early to Alpine for oral argument.  Alpine is located in Brewster County, population approximately 9,200, which is the largest county by area in Texas, and is more than three times the size of Delaware.

The Brewster County Courthouse, built in 1887, is a beautiful historic courthouse in the American Second Empire style.

There was a WWII Howitzer on the front lawn.  It was obtained by the Brewster County Commissioners Court, all the members of which at the time were WWII veterans, to serve as a monument to American heroes:

The courtroom was not paneled in the dark mahogany-stained wood I’m so used to, but was done in a lighter, brighter, more friendly shade:

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The proceedings were very different from those I’ve been to in other courts.  Usually, the justices don’t come out until it’s time for argument and then it’s all business, after which they quickly retreat to chambers.  Here, however, in this quaint small town in west Texas, the justices were milling about before arguments began, without their robes, visiting with the lawyers and courtroom personnel.  It was really nice.  The courtroom only had seating for a single judge, but this did not faze the justices — they just pulled up three chairs and happily squished together behind the bench.  Someone ran downstairs and hauled up a podium for the lawyers to use as they addressed the court.  I guess it was a treat for the Brewster County court personnel to have the court of appeals visiting, as many of them came to watch the three arguments taking place that morning.

Oral argument went well, and as usual, my boss did great, expertly fielding the justices’ questions, and arguing in his typically animated style.  The panel listened attentively, and we left hopeful — as we always do — that  we would prevail.  We won’t know the outcome, however, for quite some time.  (UPDATE 7/24/15:  We won!)

The trip was a fun and interesting break from my usual routine, and I very much appreciated that I got to go along, although I doubt my boss will ever trust my navigation skills again. I’ll definitely be looking forward to more Texas business travels. 😊

RETRO DINING: NIELSEN’S DELICATESSEN

Nielsen’s Delicatessen, located at 4500 Richmond, has been in operation since 1952.    The restaurant was founded by Danish immigrants Ellen Nielsen Andersen and her husband Dick Andersen.  The shotgun-like structure sports a red roof, which makes it easy to spot:

Inside the narrow space is a row of vinyl-covered stools for counter dining on one side, and a deli counter on the other.

The restaurant’s minimalist “decor” (if you can call it that) is Danish, with sun-faded posters of Denmark and Danish royalty, as well as a few Danish characters:

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Get in line, and peruse the menu:

If there’s one thing that characterizes Nielsen’s Delicatessen, it is its legendary mayonnaise, copious amounts of which are used in most of the restaurant’s offerings.  In fact, hanging on the wall is a 1990 letter from Gourmet magazine, advising that they received an “enthusiastic letter” from a patron who “particularly admired the potato salad,” and asking for the recipe for Nielsen’s potato salad, the key to which is the mayonnaise:

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The mayonnaise is house-made daily, and the recipe is a closely-guarded secret.  It’s snowy and silky, unrelated to the stuff in the jar.  Some have suggested it has a hint of onion or celery.  Don’t ask questions, don’t think about the calories, just experience it.  Consider taking a pint home with you.

One of the popular items featuring the famous mayonnaise is deviled eggs.  Although they make about 120 eggs daily, If you want one, you’ll need to get there fairly early, as they usually run out around 1 p.m.

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Sandwiches, especially turkey sandwiches, are another popular item.  The restaurant takes pride in the fact that it roasts its turkey breasts daily.  The sandwiches, on your choice of wheat or white, sport a generous schmear of a spread made with–you guessed it–mayonnaise and mustard on both the top and bottom slices of bread.  People go crazy over this spread.  One time, a young lady in front of me ordered her sandwich and asked for “lots of spread.”  The employee nodded his understanding of her request, but the lady went on:  “No, I mean like a LOT of spread.  Like, a TON of spread.  Like, an EMBARASSING amount of spread.”  I don’t know why she didn’t just buy a jar and get a room.

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Get a small cup of potato salad or cole slaw to go with your sandwich, and really have yourself a party:

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Feeling especially hungry?  Order yourself a box lunch, which I refer to as the 50 Shades of White Box Lunch:

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Inside the plain white box, are a number of items neatly wrapped in white paper:

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The lunch consists of a turkey sandwich on white, a half a cheese sandwich on white, a cup of potato salad, two pickle spears, and two brownies, and makes a perfect picnic lunch for sharing:

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So what’s the secret to Nielsen’s Delicatessen’s longevity?  The answer is obvious — freshly-made sandwiches and salads, and mayonnaise.  Lots of mayonnaise.  A ton of mayonnaise.  An embarrassing amount of mayonnaise.  😉

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