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  • robertfarago1

Paris Texas is for Lovers

I left Austin at the crack of dawn, expecting the sun to dare me to travel past 10am. The open road and overcast weather bid me giddy-up. No horses were spared as I put my home of 13 years in my rear view mirrors and commanded Siri to steer me to Arkansas, avoiding highways and tolls.

I couldn't avoid the memories of the awkward farewells from the handful of friends bidding me adieu. Blasting down the arrow-straight roads slicing through rural Texas, thoughts of the immediate and distancing past prevented me from being present.

As Fritz found its stride, I slowly surrendered to the rhythm of the road, serenaded by a selection of songs chosen at random by Apple's unseen hand. Allegedly. My focus gradually turned to the lay of the land.

I was struck by the tiny towns punctuating the long, lonely stretches of highway, brought to my attention by the sudden, dramatic change in the speed limit. No doubt providing tax revenue. For whom?

Anybody Home?

There was no one there. Zero signs of life, commercial or otherwise. But plenty of ghosts. Empty, abandoned main streets. Once proud promenades from the past without even a toehold on the future, unable to withstand the dissolution of time, weather and neglect.

Equally spooky: the dilapidated ruins of deserted gas stations. Small sad structures with one or two repair bays, shuttered for all eternity or open to the elements. Never far their nemesis. Their antithesis? That too.

Every "major" junction was populated by a clean, well-lit gas station. Texaco, Shell, Valero – the usual suspects. Anodyne outposts manned by minimum wage employees who are friendly enough, and no more.

You could navigate the stations' interiors with your eyes closed. They all offer the same selection of national brand beverages and heart attack snacks, arranged the same way on the same shelves and refrigerators that you'll find... anywhere. Everywhere.

Ground Zero

It occurred to me that modern gas stations are ground zero for the destruction of rural America. Not only did they replace owner/operator gas stations, they killed the shops and diners that fed, refreshed and tempted travelers, sustaining local entrepreneurs.

Local stores couldn't compete with the convenience of gas station convenience stores. Not on price. Not on selection. Not just selling to passersby. To the local themselves.

As for "service stations," modern automotive reliability removed the need for a skilled mechanic en route or in situ. Especially when you consider the cost and complexity of the computerized equipment required to fix a current-day car.

What of the towns just big enough to support a local community? They're home to a Dairy Queen and a Dollar General, the Amazon of rural America (nineteen thousand stores and counting). A killer app that killed the local grocery store; I didn't see a single one in 276 miles.

I Love Paris

I made it as far as Longview, Texas before my head grew heavy and my sight grew dim. I pulled into La Quinta just as the rain began to fall. Old man that I am, I was asleep by 9pm.

The next day, I dried off Fritz and headed for Paris, Texas, unable to resist the allure of a Texas town named after one of the world's most famous – and famously charming – cities.

At the dawn of the 20th century, Paris, Texas was a boomtown, railroading thousands of 500 pound bales of compressed Texas cotton to the hinterlands and abroad. In 1916, a fire ravaged the city, destroying some 1400 buildings.

The city rebuilt – and how. The new old structures ooze prosperity and pride, constructed at a time when architecture was social media.

Major churches, imposing civic structures, solid banks and a host of restaurants, hotels, shops and offices surround the central square's public fountain.

In 1973, boll weevil infestation put paid to the Texas cotton trade. By then Paris was a thriving metropolis with a solid industrial base outside of town.

Unfortunately, the malling, super-storing and ring roading of America was in full swing, pulling the rug from under downtowns across America, leaving them derelict. Paris included.

Downtown Paris is a city of empty streets, boarded-up storefronts and forlorn buildings, physical echoes of its prosperous past, either unoccupied or clinging to life via lawyers, bakeries and boutiques.

The immediate outskirts are no better, littered with the empty husks of bankrupt businesses and shuttered shops.

Paris isn’t quite a ghost town. More the atrophied heart of a successful county. A relic of a lost time, when supporting your local business wasn't just the right thing to do. It was the only thing.

Signs of Life

Plans are underfoot to restore both minor and major structures (e.g., two of the picture palaces and a hotel) in downtown Paris.

Rigby's is a sign of what residents hope is things to come.

A restored bank (and then other things), it's one of America's best cigar bars: clean, spacious, elegant and, above all, friendly. Complete with the original bank vault (all that survived the fire) and a 140-year-old mahogany bar.

Rigby's ex-fireman and tax accountant owners have proven that there's life in the old dog yet – and I don't just mean the eponymous eight-year-old terrier welcoming guests. People are gravitating to places where there's a there there, rather than the soulless big box stores, chain restaurants and strip malls.

That said, it's in addition to shopping/dining and carousing at the chains.

Small cities from another era like Paris, Texas will never compete with Amazon and the rest of corporate America. With only 11 apartments rented out and prohibitive renovation costs, Paris will never house a sustainable residential population.

Tourism – broadly defined – is its raison d'etre. You might even say Paris, Texas is a new, more authentic kind of Disneyland Main Street - forgiving the faux, cowboy-hat-topped miniature Eiffel Tower just outside the city center.

Ultimately, Paris' future success depends on the new breed of owners like the Flynns. People who give a damn about a sense of history and, equally, treating its customers like friends, rather than numbers on a spreadsheet.

Does this hold true throughout America? The Wandering Jew wants to know.

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Chrisopher Bove
Chrisopher Bove
Jun 04

A world tour within the confines of Texas. Safe travels, keep the shiny sid up!


Jun 03

Yes, it holds true everywhere I've travelled. Big cities and small towns rise and fall with the economic tides. Out here in the PNW small town change was driven largely by the fortunes of the timber industry. Farming towns declined when fewer people were needed to run the farms.

It's too early to say this for sure, but it looks like the work-from-home movement may be breathing some life back into small towns that happen to have high speed internet service. Elon's Starlink may speed that up.

Conversely, work-from-home has done major damage to downtown Portland, which was also battered by radical politicians (voted in by a radicalized population of former Californians.) Lots of Portlandians have simply moved to th…


Jun 03

Are those ash trays on the bar? If so God bless Texas…

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