Category Archives: local news

‘Six Flags’ now all look alike

How about this?

Six Flags Over Texas, the noted theme park in Arlington, has made a fascinating decision about the flags it flies.

The Charlottesville riot and the blowback over symbols of the Confederate States of America has moved Six Flags to replace the various flags with just one: Old Glory.

Six Flags over Texas has removed the various colors it flew. The flags represented France, Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Stars and Stripes and, yes, the Confederate States of America.

Now all six banners will be the United States national flag, the Old Red, White and Blue.

The outrage over Donald Trump’s comments about the riot, the notion that “both sides” were responsible for the violence that erupted, has prompted this change at the Six Flags theme park. The protest turned into a riot when counter protesters challenged Ku Klux Klansmen, white supremacists and neo-Nazis who had gathered to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a public park. A young woman was killed during the riot when she was run over by a motor vehicle allegedly driven by a young man with neo-Nazi sympathies.

Six Flags spokespeople say the park has sought to display flags that illustrate “unity.” Given the harsh response to what transpired in Charlottesville, the park has decided that unity should be displayed in the form of Old Glory.

Which begs another fascinating question: How about the flags that fly during the musical “Texas”? The Texas Panhandle plays host every summer to the acclaimed musical “Texas” at Palo Duro Canyon. The show concludes with horsemen and women riding across the set carrying the “Six Flags” that represented the governments of Texas. One of them is, you guessed it, of the Confederacy.

Will the “Texas” producers follow the lead provided by Six Flags Over Texas? I salute Six Flags for demonstrating remarkable sensitivity to the national mood.

And do I sense a name change at the theme park is in the making?

Motorists require extreme patience

One of my few virtuous traits is getting tested to the hilt.

That would be patience, the kind I usually exhibit while I’m driving a motor vehicle through my city, Amarillo, Texas.

I came home today from across town. It took me far longer than it used to take. Why is that? The first cause would be obvious: growth in population and motor vehicles on our city streets. The second cause is construction, lots and lots of road construction.

There once was a time when I joked that Amarillo didn’t have a morning and early-evening “rush hour.” I called it a “rush minute.” You could get anywhere in Amarillo in less than 20 minutes. That’s how it used to be in the mid-1990s when my wife and I arrived here.

We had a house built in southwest Amarillo. Our property was literally one block from the western border of the city. There was nothing west of Coulter Street … except for pasture and the cattle that grazed on it. The summer sunsets were spectacular, as we could watch the sun dip just below the horizon very late in the day.

Then the Greenways housing development sprang up. Boom! Like that we witnessed urban sprawl develop in real time right before our eyes.

Now the highways are being rebuilt. Interstate 40 east of the Canyon E-Way interchange is a serious mess. The interchange itself is being modernized and brought up to date with a direct-access ramp for eastbound I-40 traffic onto the southbound E-Way.

Patience, anyone?

Well, I’m going to cling desperately to what remains of my very own level of patience. Pray for me, if you please. I’ll do the same for you.

We’re soaked around here, but is drought really over?

I’m going to have to do the virtually unheard of thing later today: At not quite the halfway point in August, I’m going to empty our rain gauge, which is full of water.

We’ve gotten slightly more than 5 inches of rain at our humble abode in southwest Amarillo so far this month. My wife and I empty it at the end of each month before waiting for more rainfall. This month has been a soaker, man!

The National Weather Service station near Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport reports that Amarillo has received 19 inches of rain year to date; that’s 5 inches more than normal and 6 inches more than we had at this time in 2016.

So, put another way, we’ve achieved just about our average annual amount of precipitation — and we still have more than four months to go in this calendar year.

All of this begs the question: Is the drought over?

I’ve heard it said about the crippling drought the High Plains endured in 2011 that it would take an epic amount of rain to bring us officially out of drought status. I cannot remember the specifics, but given that the Ogallala Aquifer takes so very long to recharge given its depth that the rain has to fall in virtually biblical amounts to break the drought.

I’m going to continue believing that and monitor my water use accordingly.

We don’t have one of those automated irrigation systems in our yard. So that’s not a particular issue for my wife and me. We serviced our outdoor faucets during the depths of the drought, so we’re good there. We do things in the kitchen such as turn on the sink faucet sparingly when washing dishes. We remodeled one of our bathrooms a couple of years ago and had one of those “gravity flush” toilets installed, which saves water.

We’re not paragons environmental purity. I don’t intend to portray us as such. Water preservation, though, remains on the top of my mind’s awareness, even when it’s pouring out of the sky.

I keep thinking, too, about that fabulous PBS documentary “The Dust Bowl” that aired not long ago. It told the terrible, horrifying story of how prolonged drought and reckless farming techniques formed a sort of “perfect storm” that created what has been called the nation’s “worst manmade environmental catastrophe.” The Texas and Oklahoma panhandles were in the bullseye of that hideous event.

Our farming techniques have improved since the 1930s. Yes, we can control how we take care of our land. The return of the kind of Dust Bowl-era drought, though, is far beyond our meager effort to dictate to Mother Nature.

Let’s keep that in mind — even as we welcome the rain that keeps drenching us.

VA passes first semi-serious test

I am happy to report that the Thomas E. Creek Veterans Medical Center has passed its first semi-serious test regarding yours truly’s health care.

Today was a significant step for me that resulted in some continuing physical therapy on a nagging pain that’s developed along my left leg.

Its source is in the lower back, between a couple of vertebrae. That’s what my nurse practitioner diagnosed immediately about a week ago. The physical therapist I saw today verified that diagnosis.

The PT’s name is Debbie. She ran me through some stretching exercises this morning. She looked at my spine, stretched my legs to make sure they’re the same length (they are), asked me quite a few questions about the pain, when it hurts, when it subsides, when and where am I most comfortable, least comfortable.

Then she set up a twice-weekly schedule for additional physical therapy. I’ll be returning to the Creek center to meet with another therapist until the middle of September.

Debbie has high hopes that the regimen will lessen the pain. I informed her it isn’t debilitating. I am able to function more or less normally, even with the hitch in my git-along.

Oh, and I was in and out of the physical therapy office this morning in 45 minutes.

My sense on the care I am getting — and expect to get — at the VA medical center is that I continue to have faith that it’ll measure up to what the politicians promise for us.

***

A final note …

As I was leaving today, Debbie asked me, “What branch of the service were you in?” I told her the Army.

“Oh, that’s too bad. Your other physical therapist was in the Navy,” Debbie said with a huge smile. “After 9/11, she just got mad and signed up.”

“Hey, no sweat,” I said, “my dad served in the Navy during World War II.” I’ll also be sure to tell the sailor-turned-therapist that we all served on the same team.

No messing with library hours

Amarillo’s new City Council is in the midst of budget discussions. It’s an annual ritual the city’s governing board must endure.

I got word the other day that the city was considering a reduction in a valuable service it provides to its residents. I’m talking about the public library.

Now I hear that the cuts are off the table. At least for now. I hope they stay off the table and that the city doesn’t mess with a service that, according to the library’s 2016 annual report, provides a tremendous return on the investment taxpayers make.

The plan, as I understood, was to close the North, East and Northwest branches on Saturday. The city was considering a return to its 2009 weekly schedule.

The savings? It is reported to be around $92,000 annually.

The council is now turning elsewhere to save some money. Good deal.

Let’s put the library expenditure $3.8 million into some perspective. According to the Amarillo Municipal Library annual report, the city received $30.5 million in ancillary benefit in return. The return on that investment? $26.7 million. Not a bad return, right?

As I understand it, the library provides a valuable place for Internet research for residents who might not have Internet services in their homes. They visit the branches around Amarillo and use the public computers to do research or to assist them in finding answers to myriad questions they might have. Indeed, the library reports that 72,215 persons used the Internet in FY 2016.

Thousands of children participate in the summer reading program; 6,985 residents logged on to the library’s Wi-Fi network; the library loaned out 57,643 audio books, CDs and other media; it loaned out 307,904 DVDs. All this occurred during FY 2016.

My point is that the public library provides a valuable public service. The City Council also serves the same public.

Surely, council members want to ensure that the public they serve — and which uses the library network — remains educated and informed on the world around us.

My hope is that council members continue to keep faith with the public, the people for whom they work and who they serve.

I also hope reason will continue to prevail at City Hall.

There are Klan rallies, then we have what happened at UVa

I feel as though I’ve dodged a bullet or two, having watched the tragic events unfold in Charlottesville, Va.

Now for the explanation.

My former life as a full-time journalist enabled me to two attend two Ku Klux Klan rallies. The first one was in Orange, Texas, way down yonder on the Gulf Coast, just west of the Louisiana state line; the second was right here in Amarillo, Texas.

Why the feeling of relief? They both were peaceful. Unlike the pandemonium that erupted in Charlottesville, the rallies in Orange and Amarillo were tame — although one was far tamer than the other one.

The Orange rally occurred without incident of any kind. Some Klansmen showed up to protest the racial integration of a federal housing project in nearby Vidor, Texas, a community full of fine folks but also a town known to be a sort of KKK haven. There were no counter protests; just a lot of fiery and ignorant hate speech coming from the podium.

The Amarillo rally was a bit different. A Klan chapter sought permission to gather at City Hall; the city granted it. The head Klansman started to speak, only to be drowned out by a large procession of cymbal-bashing, drum-beating, horn-blaring and shouting counter protesters who marched onto the City Hall parking lot. They drowned out the KKK speakers.

There was no physical confrontation. There were no fights. No violence. Indeed, the Amarillo Police Department, the Potter County Sheriff’s Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety were out in force to ensure a peaceful outcome … although they couldn’t guarantee a quiet one.

I’ll stand by my previous posts in asserting that the “white nationalists” who gathered in Charlottesville were the provocateurs. They instigated the violence merely showing up. Then to have someone mow down counter protesters with his motor vehicle? I believe I would call that a terrorist act.

We well might have witnessed a horrifying symptom of a deteriorating national mood.

I never want to see anything like that again, let alone up close.

Amarillo has a ‘walking problem’

A retired college administrator manages routinely to put pressing public matters into their proper perspective.

Take it away, former Amarillo College President Paul Matney.

Matney is an avid supporter of the downtown Amarillo ballpark/multipurpose event venue. He spoke eloquently and passionately about it leading up to the November 2015 non-binding referendum in which voters approved its construction.

He took note Wednesday morning of the $45 million ballpark’s construction, which is scheduled to commence early in 2018, while discussing some issues at a focus group session involving potential activities for older Amarillo residents.

Matney knows a thing or two about parking, given his many years affiliated with AC, where parking — particularly at its main campus on Washington Street — has been a chronic issue for students over many years.

He spoke of public concerns stated about downtown parking once the MPEV is built. He took particular note of the 750-space parking garage that’s being completed on Buchanan Street across from where the MPEV will be erected. He also noted that downtown Amarillo has more than 2,000 parking spaces within three blocks of the MPEV. He didn’t mention the on-site parking that will be available once the MPEV is built … so I’ll do it here.

Matney then quoted one of his AC presidential predecessors, who once said, according to Matney, that “Amarillo doesn’t have a parking problem; it has a walking problem.”

Bingo! Ba-da-boom!

You got it, Mr. President!

The MPEV will continue to have its critics. I understand their concern, even though I fear they aren’t looking at the bigger picture. They look at potholes in the street wonder why the city won’t fix them when it is devoting so much attention to the MPEV and other downtown projects. It’s kind of an apples-oranges deal.

I do believe, though, that the pro-MPEV contingent of business, civic and political leaders need to keep Paul Matney’s phone number on their speed-dial. When questions arise about the MPEV, just call him and ask him for his take on them.

He’ll set anyone straight.

Puppy Tales, Part 38

My wife and I laughed out loud this morning when we heard the news.

Today is National Spoil Your Dog Day.

I’m pretty sure Toby the Puppy heard the news, too. Not only that, he likely understood what he heard and very well might test his mother and me to follow through on the promise this day is supposed to bring.

News flash to Toby the Puppy: He gets “spoiled” plenty already. In fact, my wife and I do not know precisely what we could do during this special “day” that we don’t do already to make the puppy’s life more comfortable.

If he wants to go for a walk, he lets us know and we respond appropriately; that is, we take him for a walk. If he wants a treat, he lets us know that, too; yes, we jump at his every command. He likes to sleep in his kennel at night, but if he jumps into bed with us at some ungodly hour of the night, well … snuggle up, Toby.

Yes, we have our limits with Toby. Then again, we had limits with our two human sons when they lived with us.

The bottom line for the puppy is that he’s got it made in the shade.

My mother used to wonder why the term “a dog’s life” was intended to convey a negative message. I’m wondering the same thing.

Oh, one more thing: We wouldn’t change a thing as it regards our puppy. He deserves all the spoiling he gets.

Older residents need to be heard, too

Once upon a time — not too many years ago — a so-called “movement” arose in Amarillo that purported to speak for young residents.

It was called the Amarillo Millennial Movement. Its mission was to promote a downtown entertainment venue that ostensibly would be a reason for young Amarillo residents to continue living here. The venue was put to a vote in November 2015 referendum — and it passed.

AMM then vanished. It’s gone. It was a flash in the pan.

Two years later, the city is now targeting the other end of the age spectrum. Older residents are getting to have their feelings known about what they want their city to provide. The old folks don’t have a catchy name, but they are being heard by City Hall, where staffers are beginning the process of developing an action to assist elderly residents in finding ways to spend their time.

The multipurpose event venue, by the way, will be built. Construction will begin soon. The AMM no longer exists, but the MPEV is likely to become a big part of elderly residents’ lives in Amarillo, too.

Don’t you love the symmetry?

There was a meeting this morning at the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission conference room downtown. It was called by Linda Pitner, senior services coordinator for the city. The meeting comprised a focus group of mostly retired men who live in Amarillo. Full disclosure: I was one of those focus group members.

The meeting was called to collect ideas, concerns and suggestions from these individuals on an array of issues, which included: what we do in our spare time; the city’s offering of activities geared toward “active adults”; what residents should expect of the city.

It was a lively discussion. It produced a lot of ideas for the facilitator, Jill Jackson Ledford, who came here from Charleston, S.C., to assist Pitner in the development of the potential action plan. The discussion covered bike trails, mass transit, the MPEV and other downtown improvements; it included discussion of the role of community churches in people’s lives and also included suggestions on how the city can develop more effective “clearing houses” to disseminate information to city residents.

One forum participant, retired Amarillo College President Paul Matney, told of how the Amarillo Senior Citizens Center offers the usual array of traditional activities for elderly residents. He cited bingo, quilting, line dancing and dominoes. Those “active adults,” Matney said, need more than that; they deserve more than those kinds of static activities.

Pitner told the group that men traditionally do not respond well to surveys. Amarillo’s female residents did respond to surveys sent to them, Pitner said. Thus, the men came together today for this focus group.

Where does the city go from here? What happens to the information gathered? The facilitator is going to compile a detailed report. She’ll present it to Pitner, who then will take it to the city manager, who will present it to the City Council.

It’s a long-term process. The current council might act on it. Or it could hand it off to the next council that will take office after the May 2019 municipal election. The decision ultimately will come from council members on how — or whether — to implement any and/or all of the elements contained within the report.

I do not expect this effort to meet the same fate as the Amarillo Millennial Movement. That is, my sincere hope is that it doesn’t disappear into oblivion.

Puppy Tales, Part 37

A friend of mine told me today she enjoys my blog postings about Toby the Puppy and suggested that I’ve been a bit remiss in writing about our pooch.

So, for my friend, this one’s for you.

Toby’s vocabulary has expanded tremendously in the nearly three years he has been a member of our family. I’ve told you already how he knows many words and responds appropriately when he hears them; we have been forced to spell many words in his presence, but he’s now learning how to spell.

Soon, my wife and I will need to start learning to speak in code. I might need to take classes on cryptology. Maybe we’ll become 21st-century code talkers, like the Navajo men who befuddled the Japanese during World War II by speaking to each other over the radio; the enemy couldn’t decipher the Navajo language.

But here’s the latest learned behavior I want to share with you: Toby now responds to the words “It’s ready!” when we’re cooking dinner.

Whether it’s my wife or me in the kitchen, we usually tell each other “It’s ready!” when dinner is about to be served. What does Toby do when he hears those words? He scampers from wherever he is at the moment to a spot in the corner of our dining room; in that corner is a fluffy little doggy bed where he lies down while my wife and I are eating our meal.

He knows that’s where he belongs when we’re eating. We don’t like him begging at the table. So we’ve instructed him to directly to “bed!” when we sit down.

Our puppy now has advanced that knowledge to the next level. He exhibits it when we tell each other that dinner is ready.

This pooch’s knowledge is amazing in the extreme. We’re still fairly new dog parents. Our many years together have included for almost all of that time — nearly 46 years — a collection of kitties. You know as well as I know that kitties generally cannot be controlled. They control you, if you get my drift.

Our puppy has brought an entirely new element to our lives as pet parents. He’s pretty damn smart, so help me!