The author of this month’s cover story, associate editor Emily McCullar, is an avid wanderer. To experience our state’s abundance of quirky roadside attractions, Emily drove 2,600 miles in just eight days, meandering from Amarillo to New Braunfels, fueled by frequent stops for iced beverages at HTeaO shops. “I love driving around Texas,” she says. “And I love things that make people happy in silly ways”—including giant likenesses of armadillos and cowboys and roadrunners.

For three months last fall, Emily embarked on a longer and more personal journey, in the footsteps of her mother, who had died of breast cancer 25 years earlier, when Emily was ten years old. Emily’s mom had traveled across Europe with a group of friends—her first trip outside the U.S.—between her sophomore and junior years at the University of Texas. She kept a detailed journal, which Emily used as a sort of road map for her own trip last year. It led Emily through cafes and hostels and famous sightseeing locations in ten countries, from Great Britain to Greece. “I got to see a lot of beautiful places,” she says, “and I got to know my mom better.” Emily is working on a book about that trek.

Even when she’s abroad, Emily says, she finds sights and sounds that “remind me of things I love from growing up in Texas.” In Paris (the one in France, which she visited again this summer) she dropped into a coworking space and spotted a stick of Buc-ee’s-branded lip balm on a desk. She learned that it belonged to a French woman whose best friend hails from Texas. “So here I am, in the most fashionable city in the world, with a local woman who thinks Buc-ee’s is fashionable!”

Emily is an eleventh-generation Texan whose forebears include, on her mother’s side, Canary Islanders who were among the early settlers of San Antonio. They arrived in 1731 and moved back and forth between Mexico and what is today Texas. Her father’s people were Scots-Irish immigrants who lived for a time in North Carolina before moving to the Lone Star State. Emily’s dad, Mike McCullar, is now retired but worked in Austin as a newspaper journalist, author, and public relations executive. Emily grew up in the capital city but has long treasured monthly visits to the family ranch in Brady, a two-hour drive to the northwest. One of my favorite articles Emily has written is set on that ranch, entitled “Notes on Life, Death, and Family from a Hill Country Deer Blind.” That essay earned Emily a nod in a Best American Sports Writing anthology, which she finds hilarious, given that “I know nothing about sports and am extremely not athletic.”

Like many of the best writers and editors who have worked for Texas Monthly, Emily got her start in an entry-level job, manning the front desk of our office, starting in 2014. She graduated from there to our fact-checking staff, then earned a promotion to staff writer in 2019. Emily has a keen eye for offbeat stories that attract a wide audience. One example, on page 146 of this issue, is her profile of Irvin Randle, a sixty-year-old Houston elementary teacher known as “Mr. Steal Your Grandma,” who won internet fame as a fitness and fashion influencer. Another recent hit, “Inside the Fight Between Texas’s Most Infamous Prison and Almost One Million Bats,” was published on our website in August. I hope you enjoy that story and the other articles Emily regularly writes for our website, along with both of her entertaining pieces in this issue of Texas Monthly.

This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Writer on the Roam.” Subscribe today.