The Permian Basin in West Texas is named for rocks laid down during the Permian geologic period, which include rich gas and oil deposits. The region has experienced many oil booms. The current one is the biggest. For Texas Monthly, West Texas native Christian Wallace spends time among the pumpjacks, documenting the boom times and examining damaging side effects. Like so many locals, Wallace’s life has been intimately linked with the area’s fluctuating oil market, and you get the sense that he cares deeply about the people and place when he asks the hard questions.
Most West Texans are grateful for the recent uptick—making a good living in the dusty Permian has never been easy—but even so, locals are faced with a host of new concerns. For one, the cost of living has inflated so quickly that, for many residents, it has outpaced the gains. Those without jobs in the oil patch are especially hard-hit, and industries outside the oil field face severe staffing shortages: Dumpsters overflow without garbage truck drivers to empty them. Students are late to class because there aren’t enough bus drivers to pick them up. Law enforcement is stretched thin while crime rates—drug use, sex trafficking, theft—rise along with the influx of temporary laborers. Hospitals are short on physicians. Schools can’t keep enough teachers in their classrooms.
And there are other very real concerns: driving on the highways alongside gigantic tankers and equipment haulers can feel like a suicide mission. Even some of those who are fiercely pro-oil have grown worried about the strain on the region’s limited natural resources—especially water—and the environmental toll of the proliferation of sand mining, the flares burning methane and benzene, and all the trash that litters the region.
Though Texas and the U.S. will reap serious profits from the sweat poured into the Permian, what lasting benefit will the region have to show for all of this when the boom ends?
The food came in two categories: savory and sweet. He would try them all. He would eat them on sticks, with plastic utensils that would litter the grounds of the park long after he and his descendants had passed, he would pick them up and eat them with his hands.
From the Texas State Fair website, “Each year, State Fair concessionaires fry up tasty and unique foods for a chance to become a finalist in the Big Tex Choice Awards. Everything from Fried Beer to Fried Peaches and Cream have made the cut to become a part of an exclusive club.”
He started with the Surfin’ Turfin’ Tator Boat. It was a potato. He looked at it, sniffed the air, and stared at the lobster claw sticking straight up from the split in the spud.
“That there sure is a potato,” said the man.
“It sure is. The finest potato you ever did see,” said the woman collecting money for the meal.
“I never seen a potato like that,” said the man.
“You never will again, neither,” she told him.
It’s been 40 years since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre hit theaters and shocked moviegoers with its violent scenes. Texas Monthly has resurfaced their story from 2004 by John Bloom about the making of the film, which was made on a budget of $60,000 (about $290K, adjusted for inflation). Here, Bloom describes the injuries the cast members suffered through while making the film, especially by Marilyn Burns, who had the lead role:
Almost every cast member suffered some sort of injury. Neal had his face burned by hot asphalt. Partain had a bruised and cut arm after rolling down a hill in one of the early scenes. For Partain’s dying scene, Hooper and makeup artist Dottie Pearl stood on either side of the camera lens, spitting red Karo syrup into the air, attracting flesh-devouring mosquitoes. Hansen had no peripheral vision while wearing his mask and had a heart-stopping near miss when his boots slipped while he was running and the chain saw flew up in the air and crashed to the ground, inches from his body. But no one was beaten, cut, and bruised more than Burns. By the end of production, her screams were real, as she’d been poked, prodded, bound, dragged through rooms, jerked around, chased through cocklebur underbrush, jabbed with a stick, forced to skid on her knees in take after take, pounded on the head with a rubber hammer, coated with sticky stage blood, and endlessly pursued by Hansen with his chain saw and Neal with his constantly flicking switchblade. “I was afraid to hit her at first,” Siedow told me. “I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t hurt her. But they kept telling me it looked fake and I needed to really hit her. It took me several tries, but by the end of it, I was really hitting her. It actually got to be kinda fun.”
In retrospect, there’s reason to believe that Hooper was manipulating many of the details, to an almost obsessive degree. The heat, the miserable conditions, and the sheer pain of it all undoubtedly added to the atmosphere Hooper was trying to create. He wanted the actors to feel irritable and off-balance. He probably knew $60,000 wasn’t enough money to finish the film but didn’t want Parsley and the other investors to know that. He was doing whatever he could, day by day, moment by moment, to get as many images on film as possible, because he knew that Chainsaw, like any successful horror film, would be perfected in the editing room. “Tobe really did have a vision,” says Bozman now. “He knew exactly where we were at all times. But the rest of us were flying blind.”
In 1998 a district attorney sent a teenager to life in prison for his role in a murder of a 16-year-old girl. In Texas Monthly, Pamela Colloff revisits the case and looks at why the DA is questioning the life sentence years later:
The DA did not pull any punches once The State of Texas v. Randy Lee Wood began. “You know what the defense really boils down to in this case?” he asked jurors. “They want you to say, ‘He testified against Josh Bagwell, he said he was sorry, he’s not such a bad guy—let him go.’ ” But his acts of contrition, Cole told them, were irrelevant. “This is not television,” he reminded them. “This is not something where we wake up the next morning and we can say, ‘I wish I hadn’t done that,’ and it goes away. It’s real. Heather Rich was a real sixteen-year-old girl, and he helped take her life. And no matter how bad he feels about that, he is still responsible for it.”
According to the law, Cole continued, it did not matter that Randy had not fired the gun or had not wished Heather dead. In Texas, the “law of parties” erases the distinction between killers and accomplices, finding that a person can be held criminally responsible for the conduct of another if he participated in the crime. By virtue of the fact that Randy had assisted Curtis, he was guilty of capital murder. “He could stand here all day long and tell you that his intent was not to assist in the commission of this crime, and his actions cry out differently,” Cole insisted. “He’s guilty. He must pay the consequences of his choice.”
The jury agreed, and on August 25, 1998, Randy was convicted of capital murder and handed an automatic life sentence. Cole watched as Randy, then nineteen, was led from the courtroom in handcuffs and leg irons. As the DA gathered the papers at his table, he was relieved that the trial was over. Yet he hardly felt triumphant. “It was not a moment of celebration,” Cole told me. “There was no joy or happiness. I had a deep, deep sense that another young life had been senselessly wasted.”
Photo: Julian Frost
On our August 23, 2019 roundtable episode of the Longreads Podcast, Audience Editor Catherine Cusick, Longreads Head of Fact-Checking Matt Giles, and Senior Editor Kelly Stout share what they’ve been reading and nominate stories for the Weekly Top 5 Longreads.
This week, the editors discuss stories in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, and a collaboration between Texas Monthly and The Texas Tribune.
3:20 “Neil Young’s Lonely Quest to Save Music.” (David Samuels, August 20, 2019, The New York Times Magazine)
16:58 “The Quickening. ” (Leslie Jamison, September 2019, The Atlantic)
28:45 “How the Unchecked Power of Judges Is Hurting Poor Texans.” (Neena Satija, August 19, 2019, Texas Monthly and The Texas Tribune)
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Produced by Longreads and Charts & Leisure.
When the ACA was passed in 2010, Ana Maria Garza Cortez could hardly believe it. She’d spent decades trying to help poor people in San Antonio get health care. She knew the barriers they faced because she’d faced them too. She’d grown up in West Side housing projects, and her family never had health insurance. She and her seven siblings didn’t go to the doctor when they were sick. “That was a luxury,” Cortez says. “My mom loved us, but we were poor. She would wait to see if whatever we had would go away.” If it didn’t, she would take them to the neighborhood clinic or, more often, the emergency room. Since Cortez graduated from Our Lady of the Lake University, in 1990, she has worked with nonprofits, usually in health care. She serves as the vice president of development and marketing at CentroMed, one of the city’s sliding-scale, safety net clinics, with 23 locations in the area, many in the city’s poorer neighborhoods. She became one of the leaders of EnrollSA, along with Guajardo and Joe Ibarra, the deputy state director and operations manager at Enroll America. Among the city’s health care advocates, Cortez is admired for her energy and passion. “We call her ‘Santa Maria,’ ” Guajardo says. “She lives for the community. It’s in her bones.”
Now that President Obama had pushed through a law making health insurance available, at least in theory, to everyone, Cortez was elated. She knew Texas needed help—the state had five million uninsured residents, more than any other—and her hometown especially so. Officials figured there were 300,000 or so uninsured in the city and surrounding Bexar County. Latinos make up 60 percent of the San Antonio population, but 75 percent of the city’s uninsured. On the South Side, which has a significant Latino population, rates of diabetes, hypertension, and obesity were higher than average. For generations, says Santos Hernandez, who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and now works as an application counselor at CentroMed, many in the poor Latino population, rural and urban, have had a three-step system for dealing with illness. “First you go to church, light a candle, and pray. Second, you see a curandero. Finally, you borrow money and take your kid to the doctor.”
In Texas Monthly, Michael Hall surveys the Texans whose health has dramatically improved after receiving medical coverage through President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and discusses the group who labored to get them enrolled. The question that lingers now is: what will happen if the ACA gets repealed?