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“It’s a drinking town”: Odessa’s Billiard Palace. THE BIG 0 No country for fragile people. by Ruth Pennebaker Second in a series on recession-era Texas. 0 DESSAOh, sure. You can laugh about this flat, dry part of the world, where the streets are broad and peppered with pickup trucks and SUVs. But it grows on you. Who needs trees and hills and water when the sky is this big and you can see forever? Stay here long enough, see enough incandescent sunsets, talk to enough people, and you begin to understand some eternal West Texas truths that flourish in a land where nothing ever came easy except wind and dust and heat: Triple-digit heat is bearable as long as it’s a dry heat. No other form of entertainment or passion can compete with watching a winning high-school football team on a crisp, cool autumn night. The price of oil rises and falls. Good times never lastbut neither do bad times. West Texas and the Permian Basin, which produces about 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MAY 29, 2009 photo by Lee Wiesenfeld one-seventh of this country’s oil, don’t attract people who break easily. Talk to anyone here over 45, and you’ll hear the same sentiments again and again. “When it’s good times, most of our customers say they know it isn’t going to last,” says Gail Adkins, who cuts and colors hair at Salon 52 in Odessa. “They’ve been through it before. Bad times always show up eventually.” “I’ve been here since ’56 and I’ve seen it happen over and over again,” says Lenora Mancha. She owns Ben’s Little Mexico, the kind of place that serves solid, spicy Tex-Mex food that has nourished generations of West Texans through wars, spiraling oil prices, droughts, and dust storms. “It will all go back up eventually. My husband and I used to spend everything we made. We traveled everywhere. I don’t regret it. But I’m older and wiser now I save my money.” Odessa’s reliance on oil makes its economynot to mention its peoplestrikingly different from the rest of the state and country, says economist and part-time Odessa resident Ray Perryman. “Odessa was late entering this recession because of the strength in its energy sector,” he says. “Even now, it is less affected than many areas. Nonetheless, we are seeing a slowdown in the energy sector. It’s not an ‘oil bust’ by any means, but prices are a little below the levels needed. The housing market has remained relatively healthy, though, and the local community banks are among the healthiest in the country.”