If you’re ever in Marfa, the much-publicized but still incredibly isolated Far West Texas town made famous by minimalist artist Donald Judd, and you’re thinking about taking a day trip across the Mexican border to the 18,000-population town of Ojinaga, Chihuahua, remember this: Leave early in the morning. You’ll want to catch any businesses — the adobe brick-maker, say, or the optometrist for cheap eyeglasses — before they close for a lengthy afternoon siesta. And even though you’ll only drive 60 miles south of town, you’ll be heading from high desert to low, which means afternoons in OJ can be blisteringly hot. Lastly, you’ll want to be able to tell your friends you stopped at a roadside stand for micheladas at 9 A.M. Not a bad way to start the day.
That’s where I found myself one recent March morning, sipping micheladas and their beer-free counterpart — the preparado — with Michelle Teague, owner of Marfa’s effortlessly cool ranchwear and housewares shop JM Dry Goods, and her business partner, glass- and soap-maker Ginger Griffice. Every six weeks or so, Teague and Griffice travel to OJ on buying trips. Teague scouts the small array of stores, filled with both the everyday and the bizarre, for items to boost JM Dry Goods’s border-town flavor. Griffice buys empty bottles of Topo Chico, a popular Mexican sparkling mineral water, at OJ’s Coca-Cola bottling plant, and they become the bases for the drinking glasses she sells at the store. By now, their trips follow an established pattern. Morning micheladas are an important part of the ritual.
Two years ago, Teague (like Griffice, a native Texan), moved here from New York, where she’d worked as a costumer in the film industry. After spending the summer of 2006 working on the Marfa set of the Oscar-winning film There Will Be Blood, she concocted the idea of returning to the desert, family in tow — her toddler son Jack Maverick is the store’s namesake — to open a shop filled with work boots, textiles, and pottery. As JM Dry Goods became a reality, Teague’s close friend Griffice, a Marfa-based photo producer, came on board. She started making her glasses with a friend’s castoff 1970’s-era bottle cutter, a relic from that decade’s boom in crafting.
Directly across the Rio Grande, Ojinaga is the most accessible and obvious destination to “prop out the store,” as Teague puts it. But it’s not a tourist trap; it’s a working-class city surrounded by ranches, relatively free — comparatively speaking, at least — from the drug violence that haunts other Mexican border towns. (“Ginger and I risk our lives to bring back brooms and matches,” Teague jokes.) You won’t find typical souvenirs in OJ. “It’s all oddities, things you don’t have in the States,” she says. “We’ll decide we want to search out certain things, like incense, so we’ll go to the botanica shops, which are totally insane.” You’ll also see alligator boots, cowboy hats, piñatas, statues of the Virgin of Guadelupe, and iguana balm, a mysterious substance Teague only found once. “There are certain things you can get in OJ that are so tough and cool — like how the guys dress here, wearing leather belts depicting cock-fighting scenes.”
After the micheladas and the Coca-Cola plant, where Griffice buys cases of empties, the three of us head to an outdoor pottery market. Then it’s a candy store, a paper store, and finally, another roadside stand — this time for incredible shrimp tostadas and ceviche. It’s only 3 P.M., but it feels like we’ve had a full day already. Must be siesta time.