The thing about Texas is it doesn’t all fit onto one page of a road atlas.
Yesterday I started on page 100, drifted back onto page 99, and shot over the binding to 98 before arriving at my destination for the day, some 375 miles later. I spotted my first Pray for Rain sign in the town of Brady. It would not be the last.
There I pulled over to plug my destination into my phone to double-check the directions I scratched out on paper before leaving Austin. The route plotted me to Laredo. This was wrong. A minute later two gentlemen in a pickup drove up to see if I needed directions. I said I needed confirmation. But neither of them had heard of where I was headed.
After studying the atlas in my lap one more time I waved them off saying I could figure it out. Truthfully, I liked that my destination was unknown to my phone and folks who have resided in Texas a lot longer than me. I was going to Post, Texas and planned the visit after reading a footnote in a book on a plane two weeks ago. My plan was to interview a historian there about water issues.
But first I had to clock hundreds of miles through a series of thirsty towns with tired buildings and residences I am sure aren’t residences anymore. One of those was Eden, Texas. The town’s welcome sign touts it being the center of the state. I check and learn the center is technically located about 20 miles down the road. But I appreciate Eden’s boast. Its official website describes the town culture as West Texan, which is defined as “anything west of a line that runs north and south between Dallas and Houston.” I look at my map and see the coverage area pretty much accounts for the entire state.
The majority of the drive was windy. Orange plastic construction signs along the roads flapped like loose sails. The wind ripped through abandoned buildings in Wingate where the paint has long blown off the doors. Near Winters, I pulled over to listen to the wind turbines churning in nearby fields. They sounded like giants yawning.
As I descended into Sweetwater, clouds of dust kicked up across the highway. Visibility was about a half of a mile. The day before the trip deadly tornadoes touched down in Arkansas. Talk of more storms throughout the week prevailed on the radio and in gas stations. About an hour outside of Post I realized I was driving directly into a portion of Tornado Alley.
I pondered, briefly, about turning around. I wondered what the protocol is if you actually see a funnel cloud. And then I wondered why I didn’t check before I left. I looked at the sky and didn’t see a cloud in it. I considered this a good thing even though I don’t know what the hell I am talking about.
On the final stretch I passed a sign for a town named Wastella. I see a worn out building but no town. Later I look up Wastella and learn that as of 2000 it had a population of just four. It was founded at the turn of the twentieth century and at its peak could lay claim to a hotel and handful of residences. It doesn’t have a cemetery. It is listed as a ghost town on some historical websites. When does a site gain status as a ghost town? What if it never really had a soul?
As I crossed into Garza County I could barely make out the bluffs in the distance. I turned on the radio to see if there were any new storm warnings. I only found Rush Limbaugh. I scanned for another station but nothing else came in. So I flipped off the radio and just listened to the wind.