When it was founded in 1881, Odessa, was surrounded by grazing cattle. Railroad workers laying track said the new town’s setting reminded them of the Odessa in Russia, hence, its name. Now it’s surrounded by pumping oil wells because it sits atop the Permian Basin, and Halliburton is its 4th largest employer. If you notice a lot of Family Dollars stores about town, it’s because Odessa is a major distribution center for this corporation.
Ruth and I learned a lot more about this Texas town from Jessica, a young woman working alone on an extremely cold Christmas night at the hotel where we stayed. A lifelong resident, Jessica told us that Odessa is the party town while Midland, its rival 20 miles to the east, is the family town. Odessa has a population of about 100,000, but with Midland the area’s population creeps up to approximately 270,000. Jessica told us it’s now costly to live here because of the current oil boom which makes housing and water more expensive. She was proud of the fact that Odessa has become famous thanks to TV. The cult series Friday Night Lights was based on its Permian High School’s football team, and the reality show Black Gold is partially shot in and around town.
She said a competitive spirit has developed between Odessa and up-the-road Midland due in large part to West Texas football rivalry. When it’s Odessa’s Permian Black, otherwise known as The Panthers, vs Midland Lee Maroon, the Rebels, high school football history is made.
The downtown Jack Ben Rabbit sculpture pictured above is both the proud symbol of Odessa and the largest jack rabbit in the world. Odessans held a rabbit roping rodeo until the Humane Society succeeded in ending it more than 30 years ago.
Odessa is a boom and bust kind of place. It’s downtown is a mix of closed businesses and robust banks. Tourist attractions range from the Parker House Ranching Museum to the Globe of the Great Southwest, one of the world’s most accurate replicas of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater on the campus of Odessa College. You’re just as likely to meet, and we did, oil field workers on their way to rigs and women heading to the Ellen Noël Art Museum to see the Greene postcard collection. Symphony musicians in the brand new Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center share Odessa with rigs, roughnecks, and rodeo ropers.
While Ruth & I enjoyed our time in Odessa, we both found more to do in Midland, so, I guess, we’ve joined the rivalry.