Lajitas, TX

The Prada store is just north of Valentine, Texas. It sits by the roadside, surrounded by overgrazed pasture lands and a few rusted windmills. On display, you will find a series of delightfully uncomfortable shoes and gaudy handbags from the 2005 model year. You will not be buying these shoes and handbags, however, because the store's door is welded shut. Unsurprisingly, there is an art colony nearby—Marfa. Surprisingly, it is an art colony with a sense of humor.

Presidio, TX was founded in the 17th century by the Spanish. Its history is as long as it is unimpressive: remote, underpopulated, and occasionally abandoned out of fear or boredom. Today, little has changed. If the town ever possessed Spanish charm, it has been bulldozed or burned off the face of the Earth by a punishing sun. Yet Presidio endures and the yard full of broken lawn chairs looks weirdly appealing over at the two-tone double-wide known as the "Big Bend Motel." Emerald and banana, a color scheme you have to smile at.

TX170 is one of the nicest roads you'll find in America. It traces the Rio Grande from Presidio to Big Bend, bobbing up and down hills, making hairpin turns, and steadily winding deeper into tall, brown-red canyons. The Rio Grande oozes nearby, but it could scour the asphalt blemish off the landscape with the strength of a few good rains. Mexico lies across the river—dark, bulky hills and little else. A Border Patrol SUV perches on a knoll overlooking a marsh choked with salt cedar and desert willow. His air conditioning is blasting and he seems placid and relaxed. The Rio Grand has been so thoroughly bled by agriculture that it is easily waded across, but nobody has bothered with border fences down here.

The desert appears empty of people, but clusters of bee hives hide down canyons and amongst creosote bushes.

The Ordinance Man's life has a strange resonance with The Year of Living Dangerously, except his stories are set in Fiji and lack Sukarno's murderous antics. He had the turbulent expat romance, the mastery of a skill, and the awareness of having lived through a Moment. And not merely of living through a Moment, but of shaping a Moment. If an author had been writing about the Ordinance Man's life, he would have ended after the Moment, with barely enough time for reflection and a tidy conclusion. But life seldom leaves us with clean literary endings and the Ordinance Man has lived three uneventful decades in the shadow of the Moment. He still looks back nostalgically. Good things have happened since, he admits, but nothing has approached the Moment's emotional power.

The vitality. The love. A world that was still changeable.

He feels irrelevant now.