Letter From Waco: A Visit to Mount Carmel

We are headed north on Interstate 35 from Austin to Dallas, on the tail end of an unexpected trip to Texas. The dog days of August have not been quite as unbearable as we anticipated but are still startlingly hot by our Alaskan standards. Beside the interstate, we glimpse many small Protestant churches, mostly of the Southern Baptist variety, interspersed with the upstart Pentecostal competition. The Grace Gospel Campground proclaims by way of the ubiquitous large plastic sign that "Jesus Heals!" We arc passing through Waco, in the middle of the buckle on the Bible Belt.

It is Sunday morning and we are hungry, so we have breakfast at the Cracker Barrel, that quintessential interstate highway mecca for "country cookin'" at which one may conveniently eat and purchase from an abundance of useless, potpourri-scented items. I am vaguely surprised at the number of casually dressed folks in the dining room. Surely they cannot all be tourists, and yet I would have expected the denizens of Waco to be on their way to the "church of their choice." Never mind. Neither are we on our way to the church of our choice. We have decided to take a look at Mount Carmel, once and future home of the Waco Branch Davidians.

We ask directions from a woman pumping gas at a convenience store and from a man fishing on a sluggish creek. Both arc friendly, smiling at our inquiry in the way that amused locals do when...

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