I was at Ogi’s Restaurant and Bar one Friday night, drinking with several coworkers and enjoying the night air on the patio as we waited for closing time. We talked literature, Dan Brown to Mark Danielewski, Ann Rice to Voltaire. The bartender sat down to join now and again, and a stranger overheard us and occasionally chimed in (he favored Mark Twain).
When we headed out after last call, a crowd leaving the Black Gold Sports Bar next door had gathered in the parking lot. Two men, or maybe two groups of friends, were having some sort of disagreement and violent posturing was obligatory on the part of some. People shouted, shirts came off, two guys struggled to the ground, punching. It was a dispassionate British man’s narration away from being a National Geographic program.
Anyway, the cops showed up and the show was over, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes and left.
We used to have the motto, “City of Contrasts,” with the logo of a violin/wrench hybrid to go with it. I always liked the words but not the image. We have a symphony and theaters, but they don’t contribute to the city’s character, not like the rest.
We boom and bust, build and crumble. The east side and the south side and West Odessa. Money flows in and for a while we live well, but if we get wealthy, we never get classy. Poor oil rich Odessa. We buy new cars we’ll live out of when the price per barrel drops again.
Odessa, Odessa, city of contrasts! Some days the name is an exultation, other days just a wail, but always an exclamation. Oh! Odessa.
We’re a city that plays at and often wants to be seen as a small town. (“Slowdeatha.”) People actually from small towns know this is silly, but it’s true, too. We have Midland, which we rightfully don’t want to associate with, and at least two hours of nothing in every direction.
You think it’s isolation, forced and chosen, makes us how we are? I wonder.
How the devil we get out here?
My grandma came to Odessa in the ’40s. Her dad worked for an oil company and her family lived in one of the company towns outside the city back when there were so many rigs pumping oil out the ground that the flares chased away the night and kept it bright as Alaskan summer.
My grandpa and his brothers came to start an oil company after the war. He met my grandma; they started a family.
My dad was born here, I was born here, and minus some months in Pleasant Farms and semesters in Alpine, I’ve lived my whole life here. I know it and nothing else. I am of it and it is in me, and even if I went away from it, I couldn’t get away from it because its mark is on me. It’s my home, where my heart is, always.
Don’t it just gush out the mouth, though?
Oh-dess-sah. Oh-dess-sah! Oh-Oh! Oh God, Odessa! My bookish boozed up brawling howling pious pretty gritty boring place! Where even the strangers are friendly ’cause you’ve met them somewhere before!
O beautiful, ugly, pleasant, tragic, mundane little town, city! My everything in the middle of nowhere! Odessa!
One day the oil will dry up and maybe the water, too, and what’s to become of you? (Of us?) I wonder.
Oh, but I do love this city, you know.
David Johnson’s column will no longer appear in the Odessa American. The rabbits got him.