The sheer quantity of watermelon-themed merchandise is bewildering.
Luling is an important whistlestop on the Central Texas barbecue trail. Sitting on the main drag just across from the railroad tracks that bisect the town, City Market is one of those venerable pits that grew out of an early 20th-century grocery store and butcher shop, where barbecue is dispensed from a blackened pit room in the back and eaten at trestle tables amid a stock of groceries that has dwindled in the past few decades.
The store makes quite a splash on Luling’s dusty main street.
Luling is famous for other things, too. It lies in the black-dirt farm country east of Austin and San Antonio, where cotton was once king. Concurrently, oil drilling became important, but you’ll see few wells in operation on the outskirts of the town these days. Rather, the countryside has become famous for growing watermelons.
Watermelons have become something of a town theme, and the water tower on the southeastern outskirts–as you’re heading toward Gonzales–is painted to look like one. You can see it for miles. Every June is a Thump Festival, commemorating Luling’s watermelon-farming industry, culminating in the crowning of a Thump Queen from among girls of high school age.
How about a watermelon jacket, an apron, a blouse, or pajamas?
Or a tutu?
Or hideous piece of photo-art featuring Photoshopped infants?
Amanda Bell is one of this year’s candidates for Thump Queen.
This year as my friends and I rolled into town for some of the state’s best barbecue, we were entertained by homemade placards with pictures of the smiling girls who hoped to be anointed Thump Queen. We also toured the area where a watermelon-seed-spitting competition is held.
Smack in the middle of all this watermelon worship is the Watermelon Shop, a business devoted almost exclusively to merchandise with a watermelon theme, and there’s more than you ever imagined: apparel, jewelry, towels, kitchenware, bath accoutrements, candles, watermelon photos, watermelon figurines, etc., etc.
It seems absurd, of course, but not a bad diversion on an afternoon in Luling, as we sharpened our appetites for more barbecue.
A cutout on the street allows visitors to pose as watermelon farmers.
A mural merges Luling’s watermelon and oil-drilling themes.
The entire barbecue output of City Market: pork ribs, beef brisket, and beef sausage
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 1, 2012