Paradise, Texas (Another Magazine)



How to reach Paradise? This question has plagued mankind for
millennia. In fact, the ancients largely despaired of entering heaven,
which they knew was reserved for the gods and the semi-divine, or in
the case of the Egyptians, those whose souls were so bereft of sin that
they weighed the same as the feather of the goddess Ma’at. Most
mortals anticipated a miserable afterlife as a shade in Sheol, Apsu, or
Hades. Then, around 3000 years ago, Zoroaster revealed that the
righteous would be resurrected in a perfect world at the End of Time.
Hebrew prophets, Jesus Christ and Mohammed would all confirm this in
the centuries to come.

In fact, the prophets got it wrong. To get to Paradise you take the I-35
north from Austin, Texas for 121 miles, then turn west for 60 miles. A few
short turns and a 15 mile stint westwards on the TX 114 and you’re


I set out for Paradise in the autumn. Even before I had left it had started
slipping away, disappearing into the empty space on the map beneath
Fort Worth. I could find Glen Rose, visited by UFOs last year, and my
eye kept returning to Hico, where the bones of a false Billy the Kid lie
beneath the dirt. But Paradise scuttled across the paper like a
microscopic spider, concealing itself among the cartographic lines and
dots. But that was OK: I liked this elusiveness, this sense of not knowing
precisely where I was going. Indeed, no sooner had I set out than I took
a wrong turning, but I kept moving regardless. I knew I would reach
Paradise, so long as I did not lose faith. Besides, the wrong road had
the same name as the right road, so I had to be on the right track.

And out there, in a field, hazy like a mirage: a rusting metal Loch Ness
monster, loops of the sea lizard rising out of the dirt, planted by a farmer
driven to visions by the vast sky, the ocean of land- or, perhaps, simple
nostalgia for a nice holiday in Scotland.


On any pilgrimage there are way stations, and en route to Paradise, I
stopped in Glen Rose. Before the UFOs came the town was known
primarily for the fossilised dinosaur footprints running along the bed of
the nearby Paluxy River. I’d seen them; they weren’t very good, just a
few indentations in the rock under water. Big city folks had spirited the
best ones away to a museum in Austin decades ago.  Since my last visit
however, change had come to Glen Rose, in the form of a brand new
park populated by artificial dinosaurs.

The car park was abandoned. The cavernous, air conditioned gift shop
was also abandoned. And the park of artificial dinosaurs was itself
abandoned. For an hour I wandered alone amid life-size, plaster
replicas of tyrannosaurus rex, triceratops and various other giant
lizards, all painted in psychedelic colours. Nothing moved, nothing
roared: it was fantastic. Best of all was a herd of ultrasaurus which the
information plaque frankly admitted had probably never existed, but
here they were, roaming the Texas dirt in search of food. They were
moving north, towards Paradise…


On any pilgrimage there must also be temptation. I found mine next
door, in the Museum of Creation Evidence. Creationist-bashing is very
fashionable nowadays; it makes people feel as if they are righteous
warriors of the enlightenment and not just bored meat waiting to die. I
however was drawn to this museum by the very lure of bad knowledge,
the promised seduction of the heretical. This is what I learned:

1) Before the Flood the world was sheathed in a magenta membrane.
2) There was a 10th planet which shattered when God unstopped the
fountains of the deep. This is the source of meteorites.
3) The composition and pressure of the atmosphere were different,
causing living things to grow bigger and live longer
4) Humans lived alongside dinosaurs. The museum had a fossil of a
human footprint inside a dinosaur footprint which proved this decisively.

And yet, doubts remained. This museum was too heretical for me. Its
director, a man with wild hair and a very woolly cardigan was plainly a
renegade: these exhibits and explanations represented his personal,
private interpretation of the story in Genesis, cooked up in the
apocalyptic heat, amid the dust and rocks… After all, how can you really
know if that’s God whispering in your ear and not one of those other
voices that sometimes come to those who spend their lives beneath the
infinite azure sky?


On any pilgrimage there must also be those who do not make it. And
indeed, in the museum car park an ancient man and woman were both
baking to death on the backseat of an old Chevy. Their son and his
Thai bride were inside, studying an oil painting of children frolicking with
a Diplodocus. The son plainly thought his progenitors were on their way
out of this world, and sought to expedite matters.

But it was growing dark, and who enters Paradise in darkness? So I
drove to Granbury where for hours I watched TV in a cheap motel. But
the world it portrayed - berserk with forced laughter and titillating
violence- seemed distant and disconnected from me. Nor did I want any
part of it.


When the suicide bomber presses the button to transform himself into a
blizzard of hot flesh and bone chips he knows that the Paradise into
which he will awaken contains exceedingly comfortable divans, abundant
food and drink and many full-breasted, black-eyed houris in whose arms
he will experience love ‘a hundred times greater than earthly pleasure’.

For those of us raised in the Judaeo-Christian tradition however,
Paradise is more difficult to envision. Christ says very little about it in the
gospels, while Dante’s Paradiso is one of the great unreadables of the
Western canon. Hell, on the other hand, is easy to imagine. But Hell isn’t
in Texas. It’s in Michigan.

Paradise, Texas is no less difficult to describe, not least because there’s
so little of it: a few streets dumped by the side of a road; a bleakly
functional box of a post office; a gas station; a real estate agent; a café;
and that’s about it. Perhaps a clearer image will emerge if I explain what
isn’t there- a common enough tactic for evoking Paradise.

Across Texas the citizens of even the dullest towns scrabble to define
their homes as some kind of place. They sell T-shirts and erect bizarre
monuments. In Earth (pop. 1109) there’s a giant sign outside the town
with a painting of the globe alongside the words Welcome to Earth. In
Hutto (pop. 7401) there’s a sculpture of a hippopotamus downtown
where a hippo went on a rampage through the town a century or so ago,
allegedly.  Junction (pop. 2618) has a tree made out of deer skulls.
Even Andice (pop. 25) sells T-shirts with a picture of the General Store
on the front.

But in Paradise, there was nothing, not even a Welcome to Paradise
postcard. There was no desire to draw anyone’s attention, only silence,
only boredom. And in America, where every freak and mutant is keenly
aware of the commercial value of his abnormality, this was remarkable.
(Not that the citizens of Paradise are freaks or mutants, of course). It
was almost as if the inhabitants were making a strenuous effort not to
notice their town’s name, almost daring the outsider to comment, so they
could reply: Oh, so you just realised the town’s called Paradise? Think
that’s funny, do you, retard?


Then I saw it, the one act of revolt against this conspiracy of
obliviousness: the Café Paradise. Inside, a woman in her thirties and a
wizened old man in overalls and a baseball cap had been sitting in
silence forever. I sat down to join them, whispering a request for coffee.
Dust floated down, landing gently upon our heads and shoulders, as if
we were three old stone carvings in an ancient cathedral. This perfect
quietude was only disturbed when the woman asked if the old man had
ever leapt off a burning battleship. He confirmed that he had, during
World War II. Then she looked out of the window and told me that the
bonnet of my car was open. I had just driven over a hundred miles
without noticing. She didn’t laugh at me. They don’t do that in Paradise:
they’re Churchgoers, good people, simple folks. The kind Europeans

She asked what had brought me to Paradise. Having walked along their
two streets, and seen the little box houses, the absence of anything
much, I was too embarrassed to say: the name. ‘Just passing through’ I
lied. That sounded plausible. Paradise was no kind of destination, we
both knew that. I finished my coffee and left. She didn’t charge me.
I drove away, leaving the inhabitants of Paradise to endure that little
slice of eternity they had chipped away from the cosmos. The rest of us
will just have to wait until the resurrection.
Another Magazine Spring/Summer 2009