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Driving down the wide open road, Route 380, west of Tahoka, Texas (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Driving In God’s Country

God is worried about the Texans, I reckon.

By the looks of it, He spends all of His advertising dollars here—mostly on massive billboards in the Panhandle, the likes of which I’ve never seen before.

When He talks to Texans, God speaks in black and white and in all caps. Some of His messaging is bold and blunt: “I AM ALIVE” he reminds—signed God. Other times, He calls out in slang: “It’s all about Jesus.”

He owns most of the real estate, too. In a two-horse town, I count five churches on one block—a subdivision of steeples. It looks as if God favors brown brick, a color that matches the beautiful brown earth that I am rolling across at 70 mph.

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The bare red-brown prairies of the Texas Panhandle (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

The landscape is biblical—a geometric plane of red-brown soil that never ends. It is the desolate land from Ezekiel and the wind blows like an Old Testament plague, wanting to push me off the straight and narrow.

I’ve gone a hundred miles without a single bend in the road, but I grip the steering wheel with both hands, fighting the forces of nature. Urgent yellow signs offer helpful warnings—“Watch for High Winds”—but I am watching the tumbleweeds instead as they bounce and twirl in the air, rolling and tumbling across the highway, missing my bumper by seconds, or, as luck would have it, hitting my car with a crunch.

In the time it takes to leave Lubbock, I devise a whole sermon on tumbleweeds—a  metaphor for aimless living—or aimless travel. I am uprooted, rolling and blown for a hundred miles without a tree or fence to stop me.

I suspect there are not trees because they have all been chopped down to make enough paper to print the road map of Texas that I am using. It’s the size of an Olympic swimming pool cover, and I must constantly fold and refold this gigantic sheet of place names and numbered red veins.

The poetry of Texas lies in the names of towns I pass by: Happy, Nazareth, Peacock, Tarzan, Whiteface, Progress, and Earth. Yes—Earth, Texas is an actual place, because Texas is bigger than Earth, and so is Happy, because Texas is a state of being.

Other towns’ names conjure up images of prairie ladies past: Carey, Gail, Ira, Patricia, Idalou and Lenorah.

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Andrews, Texas named after Texas revolutionary Richard Andrews (Photo by AE/NGT)

There’s even a town named after me: Andrews.

A water tower with my name on it is the tallest thing I’ve seen for days. I mentally add apostrophes to all the signs, turning possessive of this place, Andrew’s County—discounting the Andrews who died a hero of the Texas Revolution.

Other town names are dreadfully honest. Brownfield, Texas (“A Great Place to Grow!”) is, in fact, a big brown field against the clear prairie sky and red clouds of swirling dust. The endless grey road is straight, long, and clean. A sign informs me that this stretch of highway has been adopted by the Tahoka Honors Society, and those high school kids are doing a bang-up job keeping the road clean, although with these winds, I suspect any kind of litter gets blown away into Oklahoma.

Then God turns off the radio. The silence of nowhere surprises me, jolted into quiet from the crackling AM radio playing the blues. One second I’m listening to “I’m a Wild, Wild Woman (and you’re a lucky man!)” by Shemekia Copeland, the next the radio is dead and I’m hearing only the rubber on the road and the wind rattling my car windows.

I’m going eighty, at least, but I slow down and stop the car, then step out into the wild air. The sin of automobile travel is that you can tick off two hundred miles without ever breathing in the Texas air. There are no flowers yet, though they will arrive soon enough. For now, the air is the smell of damp earth with momentary blasts of methane expelled from the cattle that roam these plains. Then there’s the faint scent of oil from deep below the earth, pumped up to this reality by the rhythmic metal drills on the horizon. I have not stopped to smell the roses—I’ve stopped to smell the oil and the cows. This is Texas.

My birth certificate calls this my native land, but I find the featureless void of West Texas utterly overwhelming and incomprehensible—America’s answer to Siberia, the Sahara, and the outback—an endless bare land immeasurable beyond the draped segments of thin black wire threaded from one weathered telephone pole to the next.

Mile after mile, my eyes grow blurry from the great beige distance. I am no longer amused by the ridiculous size of Texas and the blank brown pages that lie between the sparse punctuation of these half-there towns. Maybe Texas is some kind of geographical error, the XXXL T-shirt that hangs unsold at the end of a clothes rack. Maybe the joke’s on me and the Earth is spinning against my wheels, keeping me in Texas forever.

I drive and drive and drive. For three days and three nights I drive until I clock a thousand miles—all of it in Texas. The end only comes in El Paso, where Texas finally relents, cornered by Mexico, old and new, giving up its dream of the Pacific and offering me the chance to turn around and begin again.

Waiting at a corner in El Paso, a man with a snowy white beard knocks on my car window. I open it just a crack and he hands me a tiny orange Bible, urging me to accept God into my life. He is not God, though he looks like Him, and I assume he works for Him. After all, I am Texan, and we are His target market.

The light turns green and I push onwards, block after block until I reach I-10. The end of the road is the beginning, the genesis of my exodus, and I begin again, driving eastward across this massive land from whence I came.

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Sunset on Route 385 South near Odessa, Texas (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)