Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
— the prophet frederick mercury
It seemed so simple. Take a photo of Rudolph holding a cowboy hat outside Prada Marfa.
We were going to be passing by anyhow, so we strapped Rudolph in and headed down Interstate 10 for half a day or so.
Things were going remarkably well, a mixture of Son Volt, Wilco and caffeine propelling the miles along. We were flying down a little road toward Marfa and I was pleasantly dozing while driving, when Mo pointed out:
“I think we passed it back there.”
But that was impossible, because Marfa was still 30 miles away. Things they don’t tell you in the Rudolph Brochure: Prada Marfa isn’t in Marfa at all. It’s just outside Valentine, a little town about a marathon earlier on US 90.
One U-turn on two wheels later, we arrived at the object of our affection, the “pop architectural land art” project by artists Elmgreen and Dragset unveiled in 2005. The light was good, Rudolph was ready. The picture was ours.
A bohemian guy (yes, there are still bohemian guys, and they appear to hang out mostly between Marfa and Valentine) was standing in front of it. No car, no possessions, no reason to be there.
We theorized that he was trying to hitch a ride, and the constant flow of tourists looking for Instagram fame would be the perfect source for a ride. Sadly, our Barbie Mobile was packed full of camping stuff and reindeer. Also, that would require talking to a stranger, something I refuse to do on vacation.
We could take the photo on the way back, since we’d be traveling the same route, unless Google Maps was feeling mischievous.
Off to Alpine blah blah Marfa blah blah Study Butte blah blah Big Bend blah blah back to Study Butte blah blah back to Big Bend blah blah back to Study Butte blah blah mo risks death shooting photo of Haunted Trailer blah blah back to Alpine blah blah back to Marfa blah blah.
And then. We were back at Prada Marfa. The backdrop was like a post card, back when post cards were a thing; blue skies with a smattering of cotton candy clouds. The midmorning sun was glorious. An early morning rain left a few puddles for atmosphere. It was time for the Perfect Photo.
Two cars of tourists — four college-age women in a small car and two mid-20s guys in a red pickup — were dawdling in front of the little building. They were doing the usual photo op and walking around looking at stuff. What sort of weird people look at stuff during vacation? We waited. And waited. And waited.
Six-thousand selfies later, the women finally lost interest and headed down the road, leaving only the two guys. Who proceeded to homestead.
They posed in front, on the side, in their car in front, in their car on the side, together, separately, over and over and over and over. And then they were finally done.
Except they weren’t. One of them leaned on the fence, talking loudly on his phone for several hours while the other guy walked around aimlessly. Mo, who on the far side of the road had already donned the reindeer suit except for the head, sat sweltering and muttering words that reindeer don’t normally utter until far into their annual flight around the world.
And then, finally, blissfully, they climbed into the red pickup.
And drove 10 feet and parked again.
We didn’t dare shoot while they were still there, knowing they would just out and descend upon us like paparazzi at a Justin Beebee coffee outing. So we waited. And waited.
Seven or eight years later, they left. It was time.
We had parked on the other side of the road, so we whipped the car around next to Prada Marfa. Mo sprinted out, put on Rudolph’s head and posed in the doorway. I began to shoot photos. Up close, medium, in the street, up close again. We nailed it. Done and done.
As Mo walked away, she realized the photo was no good because she had made the critical error of not putting on Rudolph’s gloves. And then we couldn’t find them.
We searched the car, which was piled full of stuff. How hard could it be to spot reindeer hands? We frantically dug through the stuff, the clock ticking until a pack of crazed Boy Scouts would inevitably pull up and take over the place for hours. Impossibly, the furry mittens were gone.
And then it hit me.
They were lying in the gravel across the highway where we had originally parked. I ran over and grabbed them, Mo got dressed and into position again, and I started shooting. Up close, medium, in the street, up close again. We nailed it. Done and done.
While looking at the photo of Rudolph standing on the steps, it became obvious he was overwhelmed by the building. Mo, an uppity artist, pointed out that it would work better if Rudolph stood way out in front, next to the highway. Genius.
A red pickup slowly drove by. We were worried it was the two guys who had been here earlier, coming back to homestead. How many red pickups could there possibly be in The Great State of Texas? What to do? Do we shoot? Do we hide?
We shot. Quickly.
Up close, medium, in the street, up close again. Done and done.
This time, it worked.
We admired our handiwork, checked to make sure Rudolph’s hands weren’t lying in the doorway before we left, and made a hasty exit.
They say it took Michelangelo four years to paint the 343 figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. That pales in comparison to the time it took us to get one angelic photo.
Oh, well. On to the next project. Maybe Rudolph posing with a bohemian guy. I wonder where we could find one …
LOL! Next time I’m feeling my life is inexplicable, I hope I’ll remember that Cowboy Rudolph shops at Prada, and that I’m thankfully not there yet.