Texas: God, guns and … get me the hell out of here

Texas scares me a little bit. It is like this whole other country within the United States, with its own customs, culture, way of speaking and life philosophy — not necessarily ones with which I agree. The only bits of Texas that I truly enjoy are its barbecue and cowboys. One is a feast for the tastebuds, the other is a feast for the eyes.

The rest of Texas … well, it scares and disappoints me. It’s a state known for championing capital punishment and the Second Amendment, yet touting itself as one of the most religious (read: loving and forgiving) states in the country. The hypocrisy in this alone is monumentally frightening.

Disclaimer: I have yet to visit Austin, which has been described to me as an “oasis” within the state. And obviously, these generalizations I am making above are just that — generalizations that don’t apply to each and every person in Texas.

I thought it a good thing that my Route 66 journey through Texas would be relatively quick. Just one night in Amarillo, and several hours of driving through the part of Route 66 that slices through the Texas panhandle — roughly 180 miles total. I could handle that.

My brother Scott suggested that I approach my time in Texas as I would another foreign country and appreciate the differences from a cultural vantage point.

So that is what I did. Or at least, I tried.

As I drove through the state, I was consistently bombarded with billboards carrying phrases such as “Jesus Christ is not a swear word” and “Exit here for Texas Catholic Superstore.” (A superstore dedicated to religious paraphernalia? I really should have checked that out.) These religious billboards inflicted some guilt in this Catholic-raised girl, one who hasn’t been to Sunday mass in years. I can’t explain why, but they did. I was mad at Texas for that.

I was a little on edge about the state’s affinity for guns, too. Most in Texas fiercely believe in the Second Amendment, which gives Americans the right to bear arms. While much of the rest of the country would like to put stricter gun rules in place, especially in the wake of so many high-profile mass shootings in schools and public places, Texans clutch their guns even tighter.

This fear was elevated while spending a night in what I would now consider a sketchy motel. Looking back, I should have known better than to stay there, but I was feeling brave and ignoring the signs that now appear obvious.

The woman at the check-in first sent me to a room that was already occupied by scary people. I didn’t see a gun in that room, but I shut the door quickly while issuing an apology. The second room I was offered was next to that of a shirtless, slightly overweight man who kept his door wide open. I didn’t want him seeing me enter the room next to him, heaven forbid he should have a gun and try to use it to rob me or worse. So I requested a third room, ideally a safer room.

Three times a charm, right?

Wrong.

I spent the night with my lights on, and furniture and suitcases butt against the doors — mainly because there was violent screaming and banging coming from the room above mine.

It went on until at least 2:30 a.m., when I finally fell asleep. But up until I drifted off, I worried about a gun going off and the bullet passing through my ceiling. Texans like their guns. The people in the room above me sounded violent. They probably had a gun.

Fortunately, I made it through the night and got the hell out of that motel to enjoy something I love about Texas: barbecue. When I told the friendly owner of the barbecue joint about my scary night at the motel down the street, he told me I should get a t-shirt for surviving — that this particular motel was known for hosting questionable drifters and squatters and inciting a lot of police activity.

Yikes.

I didn’t leave — better put, flee — Texas with any such “I Survived” t-shirt. But I did find a lot of kitsch and color along its stretch of Route 66. Probably some of the best of the road trip thus far.

So, scary night in Amarillo aside, there are three things I now love about Texas: barbecue, cowboys and Texas Route 66 kitsch.

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