Photograph by Kelsey Rocha: St. Martin’s Church in Houston, Texas on July 10th.
Driving across Texas is a very spiritual experience. Our trajectory across the expansive bible belt state lead us from Lubbock, to Austin, to Houston and meant a minimum of 12 hours of driving.
I found that my conceptions of Texas were very inaccurate. In my head Texas was an agonizingly empty wasteland of desert. The horizon, blurred by heat, broken only by the occasional cactus or oil pump. The roads would be so hot my tires would potentially melt like oozing tar and Berta would die a painfully slow death in a Walmart parking lot.
As I drove late into the evening, the wide blue skies and cotton-white clouds of New Mexico cracked open and revealed the dark, rain-spitting heavens of Texas. I had to make it to Lubbock, where my friend and a warm, dry bed were waiting. Lubbock meant safety.
Heavy raindrops catapulted from the black sky exploding like micro-sized water bombs as they met Berta’s windshield. I put the wipers on the max speed setting and they beat back and forth, furiously trying to fight against the torrential downpour. A stalemate.
Berta’s tracks lost grip, skid, and gripped again as we hit repeated flooded areas on the interstate. We kept hydroplaning and I was transported through my memory to the first time I hydroplaned:
I was fifteen. My driver’s permit was in my bag and my dad was in the front seat our the blue Ford Expedition. He made me drive through a sleet/snowstorm on Interstate-25 in Colorado toward the Denver airport. My teeth gritted in a tight grimace and my knuckles burned as pale as the snow outside while I clutched onto the steering wheel like a life preserver. My dad’s Journey CD was playing in the background. I remember Wheel in the Sky as an anthem.
“Pick up your speed,” He said.
“I can’t. I’m scared. I think you should really be driving this part,” I said.
“No. You can do this. You’ll have to know how to do this later so it’s good to learn while I’m here in the car.” He pointed, “You see that wet patch there? You’re going to hit it. Don’t use gas. Don’t use breaks. Just glide over.”
My eyes were wide in terror as the that mighty monster of a car skidded over the iced water on the interstate. My body and my car suddenly gripped in a chaotic world of what if where I had absolutely no control.
Now, in Texas, as I careened over each flooded spot, I would hold my breath and the best thing I could do was pray. Each time inside my head. I’m truly not religious, but I appreciate the ritual of praying. The idea of being heard, of speaking your fears, of feeling like you aren’t alone. Plus, I think Jesus is “The Homie of Homies.”
Carly blasted loud music banging her head like a true rock star. The clouds cut for bright yellow and green bolts of lighting illuminating the grayness. And in my head, in the space between my silent prayers, I thought of Wheel in the Sky.
“Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin’
I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow
Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin’
I’ve been trying to make it home
Got to make it before too long
I can’t take this very much longer
I’m stranded in the sleet and rain
Don’t think I’m ever gonna make it home again
The mornin’ sun is risin’
It’s kissing the day”
It was true. I was trying to make it home, and this just the beginning of my trip. There was no way of telling where I would be the next day, but I knew if I could make it through this storm I would be one step closer. So I kept praying: each prayer was answered with thunder and more rain. At 11pm, we finally made it to Lubbock, our first stop in the long trip across Texas.