Category Archives: local news

Happy Trails, Part 62

I anticipated that the pace of transition would quicken as we prepare to relocate from Amarillo to somewhere near our granddaughter, her parents and her brothers.

I didn’t quite expect the feeling of anxiety that would come with the speeding up of that transition.

Most of our belongings are stored away in Amarillo; the rest of them are stuffed into our recreational vehicle.

And today, the painters went to work refreshing the interior of the house we used to call “home.” We don’t yet have a timeline on when to expect them to finish. The lead painter vowed to work extra hard to get it done before Christmas. I am in no position to question whether he can get it done.

Anxiety? It’s not serious. It’s just a bit overwhelming — at least it is for me — to watch these men I’ve never seen before scurrying around our house taping windows, masking kitchen cabinets and laying butcher paper over every square inch of our floor.

It seems like just yesterday that the house was where my wife and I hung our hats, where we relaxed with the joy of knowing the property was all ours.

It’s still ours, but we now are calling another place “home” while we prepare for this next big challenge in our life together.

Get a load of this, though: The painters tell us the house is going to look “so good, you won’t want to leave.”

Uh, let me ponder that one.

OK. I just did.

Not a chance. Get to work, fellas.

Amarillo is hardly a Texas ‘outpost’

I hereby declare that never, ever again should Amarillo consider itself to be some sort of remote outpost in the great state of Texas.

My example? Take a look at all the money, manpower and machinery at work repairing, renovating and rebuilding the highways that course through this city.

Interstate 40, between roughly Quarter Horse Drive and Soncy? Serious rebuilding is underway. Interstate 27 from the I-40 interchange south to 34th Avenue? More reconstruction. I-27 northbound from 26th Avenue? More of the same. Loop 335 on the southern edge of the city? Ditto, man!

I am unaware of the total dollar cost the Texas Department of Transportation is spending on all this work. I’m pretty sure it’s in the high tens of millions.

Let’s flash back for a moment.

I was working in Beaumont in 1991 when I heard about a freshman legislator from the Texas Panhandle who suggested openly that the state needed to partition itself into several parts. This fellow didn’t like the way state government allegedly “ignored” the Panhandle. My initial reaction was, shall we say, not terribly flattering toward this gentleman.

Four years later, I moved to Amarillo and became acquainted with state Rep. David Swinford, a Dumas Republican. I asked him about his desire to carve up the state. He smiled and didn’t deny that was his intent, although it seemed to me at the time that he was only half-serious — or maybe he was half-joking … whatever.

We developed a good professional relationship over the years. I became convinced that Swinford’s desire in 1991 might have taken off had it earned any support from legislators downstate.

Suffice to say today, though, that Amarillo hardly sits at the edge of some desolate frontier. The state ended up building two prison units here about the time Swinford took office; Texas Tech University installed a pharmacy school near the city’s complex of hospitals and medical clinics.

I surely have heard how Amarillo is closer to the capitals of neighboring states than it is to Austin. And, yes, I’ve heard multiple tales of how President Johnson allegedly closed the Air Force base  here because he was mad that so many Panhandle counties for voted for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election.

But … that was then.

On this very day — and for the foreseeable future — Texas highway construction is telling us that the state is acutely aware of Amarillo’s importance to the rest of Texas.

Welcome to grandparenthood

I have introduced you to Emma Nicole, our granddaughter. She’s now 4 years of age and she’s growing way too rapidly.

Soon — hopefully even sooner than that — we plan to relocate nearer to her and her parents and brothers.

But last night at a Christmas party my wife and I attended, we got to experience something that I found oh, so very refreshing. We ran into a couple I have known for many years. He is a lawyer, she is a former elected official in Amarillo who does some business consulting around the area.

They are brand new grandparents. Their grandbaby is now three weeks of age. They are giddy beyond the stars, the sun and the moon. Their granddaughter lives in Austin with her parents — our friends’ son and his wife.

And guess what they’re planning to do? They’re making preliminary plans already to pull up their deeply rooted Amarillo stakes and move to the People’s Republic of Austin for the expressed purpose of living near their little baby granddaughter.

“I’ve made many trips already,” Grandpa told me last night as we laughed and shouted above the party din. “My wife is likely to drag me down there” to live, he said. Yeah, right, bub. There will be little “dragging” going on here. I heard it in his voice.

We have one thing in common with these good folks, apart from our shared world view of political and public policy matters. Their granddaughter is their first, just as Emma is our first “biological” grandbaby.

I’ve regaled many of our friends and family members over recent years about our joy at becoming grandparents. I’ll continue to do so at every opportunity. Heck, I might even look for opportunities.

Last night’s shared joy with a lovely couple, though, was a relatively new experience for us. We were given the chance to receive their exuberance at welcoming a treasured young one into their lives.

As the bumper sticker says so eloquently: If I had known grandkids would be so much fun, I would have had them first.

 

‘Wall That Heals’ comes to Amarillo

They call it “The Wall That Heals.”

It has been brought to Amarillo, Texas. It has been placed at John Stiff Memorial Park in the southwest corner of the city. It is a replica of one of the most powerful memorials ever built: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

I intend to visit this wall. Maybe it’ll be Friday. Maybe on Saturday. Maybe both days.

Allow me this bit of candor. It won’t “heal” me. It won’t bind any emotional wounds. It won’t bring me peace that was lost long ago.

But I want to see it. I want to visit with some brethren who’ll be there to pay their respects, perhaps to one or more of the men and women whose names are etched on that wall. It contains the names of more than 58,000 mostly young Americans who died during the Vietnam War.

I’ve had the extreme pleasure of seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. I’ve seen it three times. The first time was in 1990; the second in 1996; the third time just this past June.

But here’s the thing: My healing, my emotional reckoning occurred the year prior to visiting The Wall in 1990. It arrived in November 1989, while visiting Vietnam two decades after being deployed there as a young soldier.

The moment of healing occurred while I and two friends were walking along the sandy soil at Marble Mountain, just south of Da Nang, where I served as an Army aircraft mechanic during the Vietnam War. I served in a secure area. It bristled with Army, Marine Corps and Navy equipment and personnel. We shared an airfield with the Marines. The Navy had a big logistics base across the highway from our battalion.

Our guide was walking with us that day in November 1989. She told us how the Vietnamese swallowed up all that we left behind when our military involvement in Vietnam ended in 1973.

That’s when it overcame me. I started sobbing. I cried hard, man! It lasted about two, maybe three minutes. Then it was over. I wiped the tears off my face. I took a deep breath.

Then I realized it: The war is over!

That was my healing moment.

I hope this weekend to share that experience with fellow vets who haven’t had the honor I received when I returned to that beautiful land. I also hope the wall will heal them them, too.

Amarillo goes smoke-free … without a city ordinance

I feel like revisiting an issue that some years ago got a lot of Amarillo, Texas, residents all fired up.

I am referring to smoking indoors.

Over the years I have discovered something curious — and quite welcome — about the city where my wife and I live. It’s damn near impossible to find an eating establishment that still allows indoor smoking.

I haven’t been to every single such establishment in the city, so this isn’t a declaration of fact. It is a perception that has dawned on me.

City residents twice in recent years rejected municipal referendums calling for a citywide ban on indoor smoking. The calls for a city ordinance came from the medical community that sought to mandate that business owners order customers to keep their smokes unlit while they ate and drank indoors.

I worked during at least one of those elections for the Amarillo Globe-News. Our newspaper’s editorial policy opposed the mandate. We stated our preference for business owners to do the right thing without being forced to do so by the government.

I gritted my teeth while writing editorials taking that position. My personal preference — and it remains so to this day — was that the city should put residents’ health first. Second-hand smoke is dangerous to those who inhale it. What’s more, a former city councilman — a physician — once admitted to me that his personal preference was to enact a smoke-free ordinance, but that he didn’t want to be the sole vote on the five-member governing panel.

But now, years later, my wife and I are still eating out on occasion. We have discovered that none of the establishments we frequent allow indoor smoking. Indeed, some of these businesses — which formerly allowed it — have gone smoke-free on their own. Imagine that! It turns out that the newspaper’s opposition to was on the mark.

A couple of well-known places along Historic Route 66 have gone smoke-free. I interviewed one business owner while working part-time for KFDA NewsChannel 10 and learned that although she opposed the ordinance she was adamantly opposed to smoking inside her restaurant.

This is all my way of paying tribute to those business owners who have stayed true to their conscience while improving the health climate for their customers.

I am pretty certain some readers of this blog are going to remind me that there remain some joints around the city that still allow smoke to billow from stogies and cigarettes.

Fine. I just can’t find them. I prefer it that way.

Happy Trails, Part 60

I have known this all along, but we’re about to realize it in the moment. In real time.

When we vacated our house and moved full time into our fifth wheel recreational vehicle, we knew we could take our “home” with us whenever we felt like it.

For the first time in both of our lives, my wife and I are totally mobile.

Most of our worldly possessions are stored away safely. The mover took care of it. We have more of them with us in our RV. We’re packed pretty tightly into our vehicle, although we’re mindful about avoiding carrying too much weight behind our big ol’ pickup that we have named Big Jake.

We got some news recently about the RV park where we’ve lived for about a month: our rates are going up soon.

Our reaction? We’re going to move. We believe we’ve found a second site to park our vehicle. We’ll make the move in due course.

But first, we’re planning to spend some more time in our current location. Then we’ll clear the deck around our RV, unhook it from the utilities, back the truck up under the RV hitch, hook ‘er up and then we’ll hit the road.

This mobility mode takes some getting used to, I’ll have to admit. My wife and I both have been tethered to houses attached to terra firma.

For the time being, we’re on the move.

Happy Trails, Part 59

I want to declare myself officially to be a 21st-century American male.

Why now? Why the declaration?

It’s been more than one month since my wife and I pulled the plug on our land line. We did so prior to setting out in our RV for points west. We ended up in Portland, Ore., where I attended my 50-year high school reunion; then we hauled our RV back home.

But the absence of the land line has been a blessing, it seems to me. I don’t miss it. I don’t miss giving it out when folks ask me for a contact number. I just give ’em my cell number, as if it’s second nature. Even that signals a victory of sorts, given that I once declared my intention to be the last man on Earth to own a cell phone. I finally declared victory and purchased one.

How about that? Are you impressed? If not, you should be. I am.

Our house is now vacant. We’re ensconced full time in our RV. We’re preparing to put the house on the market. Then we’ll hope for the best.

Thus, a land line no longer is an option for us — even if we wanted one.

Friends and family members who long ago ditched their land lines have told us how easy it is to make that transition. I didn’t disbelieve them. However, one month into the transition ourselves, I am finding the ease of it so very believable.

Slow ’em down along Russell Long Blvd.

West Texas A&M University officials believe traffic moves too rapidly along Russell Long Boulevard, which borders the northern edge of the WT campus in Canyon.

It’s now working with the Texas Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the thoroughfare. Canyon City Hall has joined the effort, too.

WT is building a football stadium on its campus. Russell Long Boulevard — named after the former WT president — is getting a lot greater volume of student pedestrian traffic.

According to KFDA NewsChannel 10: “We’re having more and more students cross Russell Long. Russell Long is a state highway. It is controlled by the state of Texas, so the speeds on it are not really friendly to pedestrians and so there’s some concern there,” said Vice President of Business and Finance Randy Kirkel. “So we’ve just been in initial discussion with the City of Canyon. What can we do to make this a possibility and a long-term plan to make Russell Long more of a campus/city street.”

I have a thought that WT and the city ought to consider if it wants TxDOT to surrender authority of the street traffic to local officials: Place a phone call to state Rep. John Smithee, the Amarillo Republican who is one of the Texas House’s senior members. Smithee, who’s served in the House since 1985, surely has some stroke with TxDOT.

WT happens to be Smithee’s major institutional constituent. My strong hunch, based on what I know of Smithee, is that he’d be willing to carry the torch on WT’s behalf to the halls of the Texas highway department.

I happen to agree with the assessment that Russell Long Boulevard speed limits need to be reduced to accommodate the greater pedestrian traffic at WT.

Smithee’s office is in downtown Amarillo. Call him.

Bad behavior claims another one

Now it’s Joe Barton who’s bailing out of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Barton is a Republican from Ennis who reportedly sent some nasty pictures of himself over Twitter while he was engaged in a relationship with a “mature, adult woman.” The scorn poured over him. Barton, the senior member of the Texas congressional delegation, hung tough for a little while.

Then he announced his retirement, effective at the end of his current term in 2018.

Barton had to go. His departure should be a surprise to anyone. The mood across the country has revealed a diminishing tolerance for public officeholders’ lewd behavior. Barton, of course, was careful to explain that the recipient of the hideous pictures was engaged in a consensual relationship with him.

Fine, congressman. Hit the road, will ya?

Barton is just the latest in a long list of Texas lawmakers who are calling it quits. His announcement, to no one’s surprise, contains no mention of the trouble he brought onto himself.

Read more about Barton’s announcement here.

***

With the departure of the Texas congressional delegation’s dean, the longest-serving member from Texas is Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, who took office in January 1993.

And, hey, that means the Panhandle’s GOP House member, Mac Thornberry of Clarendon, who was sworn in just two years later, in January 1995, becomes the No. 2-ranked tenured member of the delegation.

I mention that only because Thornberry was elected in that 1994 Republican wave that ran on the Contract With America, a lengthy platform of government reforms that included term limits for members of the U.S. House and Senate. Thornberry has voted for term-limit amendments to the U.S. Constitution whenever they were presented to House members; they just haven’t gotten the votes needed to be referred to state legislatures for ratification.

And, no … he never made a personal pledge to bow out after three terms in the House.

I just thought I would bring it up because it seems oddly relevant.

Puppy Tales, Part 42

I have boasted about my own adaptability in the face of upcoming big changes in our life. However, I am a piker compared to Toby the Puppy when it comes to adaptability. For that matter, so is my wife.

Toby has adjusted quite nicely to RV living. That, full-time RV living.

We have taken the plunge. We have vacated our house and moved full-time, all the time into our 28-foot fifth wheel.

How has Toby the coped with the change? Just fine. Thanks for asking.

He’s a puppy with relatively few needs. All he seems to insist on is for Mommy and Daddy to be nearby. We are happy to oblige.

Yes, he has been forced to make his share of adjustments, just as my wife and I have made them. Perhaps the major adjustment in Toby’s life has been for him to tell us he needs to go outside. It’s a non-verbal request, to be sure. He goes to the door of our RV, stands there looking anxious. My wife and I have become quite fluent puppy body language.

It used to be easier for Toby. Going outside meant he would open the back door of our house and turn him loose into our fenced-in backyard. These days, the process requires us to attach a leash to his collar or his jacket. Then we have to go out with him.

That is not an issue for either my wife or me.

We still toss his toys and he still fetches them and brings them back to us.

Toby sleeps through the night and in fact gets so comfortable he’s often the last one to roll out of the sack in the morning.

Adaptable? Yep, Toby the Puppy is the canine definition of the term.