Filing from Wolf's Sports Bar in West, Texas               


WEST — Just off Main Street, the local bar keeps its door propped open.

Late in the afternoon, about a dozen folks are inside. The room is smoky and dimly lit with colored Christmas lights and fluorescent Bud Light wall fixtures.

This is Wolf’s Sports Bar, where your drink options are beer, beer or beer. Where you never pay for your own drink — unless you’re buying the next round.

In the days since West Fertilizer Co. exploded, leveling several square blocks, the bar has become a sanctuary of sorts, a place for locals to gather for comfort, companionship and a sense of normalcy.

Lilly DuPuy, a middle-aged woman with short black hair and a chortling laugh, is behind the bar. She’s not the regular bartender. She’s just filling in, she says, while the owner tends to family members’ damaged homes.

She and her husband, Steve DuPuy — “Scuba” to people here — volunteered to help out so the bar could stay open.

“Everybody needs to decompress a little bit, have a drink, listen to the jukebox,” Steve DuPuy says.

A man wearing a camouflage shirt holds up his iPhone and points to a photo of a bottle of whiskey. “That’s therapy right there,” he says.

So, they spend hours at the bar. They make dirty jokes. They sing loudly and out of tune. They drink to numb their anguished hearts.

What they can’t do, however, is forget.

“It’ll never be normal again. It’s changed,” Steve DuPuy, 41, says, dropping his voice so his wife can’t hear. Several volunteer firefighters who died in the explosion were her high school classmates. She doesn’t like to talk about it. “That’s what I’m saying. It will never be normal.”

Since the explosion, Lilly DuPuy, 48, has worn a rubber bracelet that says, “God is big enough.”

Occasionally, the conversation turns to what happened last week. After all, West is overrun with reporters from Dallas and Houston, CNN, The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal. The explosion is the biggest thing that’s ever happened in this tiny farming town, where a serious car crash would normally be news.

But any talk of the explosion is cursory — whether Marty’s gotten back into his house, Thomas’ eloquent Facebook post describing what West means to him. People here don’t want to talk about the friends they lost, or the way the blast has devastated everyone here.

“Everybody knows the tragedy,” Steve DuPuy says. “That’s over with.”

His friend Vic Montaner — a big guy with tattooed arms and bleached hair — agrees. “Celebrate life,” he says.

Between sips of Bud Light and a boisterous sing-a-long to Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny,” the men talk about what they hope for West in the weeks to come. They want their town to be known for its response in the wake of disaster, not solely for the explosion. They don’t want handouts, and they don’t want pity; they want to be part of the recovery.

“We don’t want excuses for people to feel sorry for us,” Steve DuPuy says. “We’re Texans and Americans. We can do this.”

Later, a wiry, graying man in a navy polo shirt comes through the back door. The boys throw up their hands and cause a fuss, shaking his hand warmly.

Steve DuPuy shoots a warning look at a reporter. That man, he says, lost a family member in the explosion.

“No,” he says. “You can’t talk to him.”

In West, they protect their own.