Category Archives: local news

Happy Trails, Part 95

The three of us — my wife, Toby the Puppy and yours truly — are enjoying one of the peculiarly fascinating aspects of retirement as my wife and I have defined it.

We have moved to the the third RV park in Amarillo since we vacated our former home in October 2017.

Our two-week sojourn downstate was yet another glorious trek through Texas, where we saw family and friends — and, oh yes, resolved a mechanical difficulty at the front end of that trip.

Then we returned to Amarillo. We moved from one end of the sprawling to the extreme other end. From east to west.

We intend to stay at our current location for a month, maybe two. After that? Well, I’m not entirely sure.

We also located a place in North Texas where we would like to resettle. I’ll have more on that at the appropriate time.

For now, I am delighted to share with you that this mobility mode — hauling our current home to a new site — is all that it’s cracked up to be. One of the joys of this retirement journey so far has been to tell those who ask that our “home” is attached to the hitch in the bed of our pickup.

That keeps us mobile, nimble, ready for whatever else awaits.

Why remove red-light cams and invite traffic woe?

While running an errand in Amarillo, I happened to zip past an intersection where the city has deployed its red-light cameras, the devices used to nab those who disobey the stop lights that command motorists to stop.

It then occurred to me: The city is considering removing the camera from this intersection, at Coulter and Elmhurst streets. And it begs the question: Why would the city take down an enforcement tool that it has declared has worked well, that has fulfilled its mission?

I don’t know what if anything the city has decided. The City Council announced it intends to install more of the devices at other troublesome intersections around the city. The council also might remove some of the cameras, citing areas where there no longer are problems with motorists running through red lights.

Hmm. Why do you suppose that has happened? Oh, might it be the presence of the cameras that have deterred vehicular misbehavior?

It makes me wonder, thus, why the city would want to take down devices that have done their jobs.

I will not accept the canard that keeps popping up from the soreheads around Amarillo who oppose the cameras. They contend the devices are intended to “make money” for the city.

What utter crap! The Texas Legislature imposed strict provisions when it allowed cities to deploy the cameras. One of them requires cities to earmark revenue earned specifically for traffic improvement. So, to suggest — or imply — that the revenue is collected to fatten the budgets of municipal departments or give the city some funds to throw around smacks of demagoguery.

As for the city’s intent to remove the cameras, I hereby encourage Amarillo’s powers that be to rethink that notion. If the device its doing its job at Coulter and Elmhurst, the city would be foolish to invite motorists to return to their red-light-running ways — and put other motorists and pedestrians in potentially dire peril.

It’s time to name that baseball team

Amarillo’s upcoming minor-league baseball season, which commences in April 2019, will welcome a new team nickname to the region.

The Elmore Group, owners of the team that will play hardball at the multipurpose event venue under construction in downtown Amarillo, has opened up the team-naming process to the fans.

I welcome this challenge. I likely won’t submit a suggested name, but I’ll watch from the peanut gallery as the team ownership ponders what to call this new team that will move to Amarillo from San Antonio.

The team now plays under the name of “Missions.” It’s a AA ballclub affiliated with the National League San Diego Padres. San Antonio will get a AAA franchise that will relocate there from Colorado Springs.

Hmm. Think of that for a moment. Maybe the new Amarillo team will have a sort of religious name, given that “Padres” can be construed as having a religious meaning, just as “Missions” is so interpreted.

Well, whatever. The last time I lived in a community that went through a pro franchise team-naming exercise, the name that came forward was initially greeted with derision. That was in 1970. The NBA awarded my hometown of Portland a pro basketball franchise. They had to name the new team. I preferred “Lumberjacks,” given the huge impact the timber industry has on the Pacific Northwest.

Instead, they came up with “Trail Blazers,” which as I remember it was meant to honor Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who led that “trail blazing” expedition from the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean in the early 19th century.

Still, I didn’t like the name initially — but it grew on me and the rest of the community.

Thus, I caution baseball fans in Amarillo to be patient with whatever name comes forward for the new team that will play ball at the MPEV. The name might grow on you, even if you don’t like it at first.

And, come to think of it … the ballpark needs a name, too.

Rain is no longer an annoyance

There once was a time when I hated the rain.

I lived in a city, Portland, Ore., where it rains constantly. I grew up there. I detested the endless drizzle.

Then I got married and moved eventually to Texas. We lived first in Beaumont, along the Gulf Coast, where it rains a lot, too. There, though, the rain comes in furious bursts. Then the sun would come out. So would the humidity. Ugghh!

After a while we moved to the Texas Panhandle, where it rains a lot less. Of late, the Panhandle has received even less than that, which is to say it’s been tinder-dry here. We’ve had one day of measurable rain since October 2017.

Today, though, we received another healthy dose of measurable precipitation. More is on the way, along with some thunder and lightning, or so we are being told by the TV weather forecasters. Hey, they got this one right. I’ll accept their projections for the next day or so.

The rain we’re getting through the night and into the next day won’t do a thing to break the drought we’ve endured for the past six months. It’s a bit strange to recall that a year ago at this time the Panhandle was being drenched. The playas were filling up. Farmers were grinning from ear to ear; so were the ranchers who watched their cattle fatten up with the rich harvest of grass and grain the rain produced.

Then it stopped. We finished 2017 with nary a drop of precipitation, even though the first half of the year enabled us to nearly double our annual average rate of rain and snowfall.

Here we are today. The rain is falling. It’s coming in fits and starts.

I no longer hate the rain. It brings a sense of comfort.

Weird, eh?

Butt out, Rep. Tinderholt

I am quite certain that damn few Amarillo residents knew the name of Tony Tinderholt until he decided to stick his nose into an Amarillo City Hall dustup over whether residents can applaud during City Council meetings.

Tinderholt is a Republican state representative from Arlington. Oh, and he’s also a golden boy associated with Empower Texans, a far-right-wing political action group that decided to become involved in a couple of Texas Panhandle GOP legislative primary races this spring.

Empower Texans had its head — and other body parts — handed to it when Panhandle Republican voters essentially re-elected state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price, both of them Amarillo Republicans.

Tinderholt has decided to pressure Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson into rethinking her decision to restrict clapping at council meetings.

I won’t get into the merits of Nelson’s decision. I’m sitting out here in the peanut gallery and am out of the loop on the details of what transpired when Nelson kicked a constituent out of a council meeting. I will say only that Nelson perhaps overreacted in the moment, but has tried to explain — in the wake of some local criticism — that she has a keen understanding and appreciation of the First Amendment and its guarantees of free speech and all that kind of thing.

I am struck by the idea that a state representative from far away would want to meddle in a matter that should be settled by the folks who live here and who are elected to govern a community’s affairs.

It’s interesting, too, that Tinderholt would be affiliated with a group, Empower Texans, that sought to dictate to Panhandle residents how they should vote. The Texas Panhandle took care of its business quite nicely despite the pressure being brought to bear on this region from Empower Texans.

So, to Rep. Tinderholt and Empower Texans, I just have this modest rejoinder: Butt out!

Jerry Neal took APD down a progressive path

I am sad at this moment, having just learned of the death of a man I considered to be one of the finest law enforcement officials I had the pleasure to know.

Former Amarillo Police Chief Jerry Neal is gone. My memory of his service goes back a good bit.

I arrived in Amarillo in January 1995 to take my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. Neal had been at his post for 14 years already, having arrived here from Norman, Okla., to rescue a police department that had fallen into serious disrepair.

Chief Neal retired in 2007 after 26 years as the city’s top cop. He modernized it immediately. He introduced a new level of professionalism and service He insisted that the PD clear up cases that had gone unsolved. On his watch, APD established its Citizens Police Academy to acquaint Amarillo residents with the myriad aspects of police work; I happened to be one of those who participated around 2003 in an academy “class.” I found it to be an invaluable education on the difficulties that police officers face every day they go to work on our behalf.

The chief was a progressive police officer and administrator who worked hard to bring his department into the modern age.

As the Amarillo Globe-News reported: “Chief Neal helped modernize and shape the Amarillo Police Department into what it is today,” Cpl. Jeb Hilton wrote in the news release. “He is remembered as a fair boss, a great leader and a good friend. His legacy at the Amarillo Police Department lives on through his son Officer Kent Neal. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Neal family.”

I want to share a story about Chief Neal that I’ve repeated many times over the years.

In 2006, the Ku Klux Klan obtained a permit to demonstrate in front of Amarillo City Hall. I thought it would be worth attending this event — with notebook and pen in hand — to witness whatever might happen. Amarillo PD, along with the Potter County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety, had set up a huge security perimeter in front of City Hall to ensure minimal contact between the Klansmen and the public.

That was a good call.

Chief Neal was there, dressed — and I use this term cautiously — in full battle gear: blue uniform, flak jacket and all the hardware that police officers wear when facing potential hostility.

I was chatting with Chief Neal when a Klansman walked up and asked Neal, “Uh, chief, may I ask you a question?”

Neal’s offered a classic response. “No,” he responded tartly. “Now … get away from me.”

Oh, how I wanted to high-five him at that moment. I didn’t. His intolerance of a reviled hate group spoke volumes — and I told him so later, in a private moment.

Jerry Neal was a great cop who took seriously his oath to “protect and serve.”

Do not resign, Mme. Mayor

I cannot believe I read this item, but I’ll comment on it anyhow.

An Amarillo resident has presented a petition with signatures on it calling for Mayor Ginger Nelson to resign. She wants the mayor to quit. Why? Because the mayor imposed some rules of behavior during City Council meetings.

No applause allowed, according to the mayor.

So, for that this individual wants Nelson to quit.

Oh, my. Give me a break … please!

I’m just a single constituent. So, little ol’ me will just say it out loud: Do not quit, Mme. Mayor.

Nelson said she won’t resign. Fine. Stay the course. Ride this tiny tempest out.

I am believing that Nelson overreacted when she booted a gentleman out of a council meeting the other evening. The fellow was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor offense.

“I’m going to do the job that I was elected to do. And there were thousands of people who had a chance between three candidates to choose and I was elected. I feel the burden of doing that and I want to do that job the best I possibly can,” said Nelson.

There. That’s good enough for me.

She’s got a lot more work to do. It’s a lot more important than keeping order in City Council meetings.

Stay the course, Mayor Nelson.

Happy Trails, Part 94: Home is where you park it

It’s not often at all that I adopt a bumper sticker slogan as a mantra for living.

But I have done that very thing. We now live according a slogan we saw on an RV: Home is where you park it.

We just returned from a two-week sojourn — all in Texas — through the South Plains, the Hill Country, the Piney Woods, the Golden Triangle and the Metroplex.

Along the way, I adopted a new manner of referring to “home.” You see, now that my wife and I are no longer tethered to property attached to the ground, we now refer to our fifth wheel as home.

So, instead of saying I’m “going home,” I find myself referring to some geographical location. Home is attached to the back of our pickup, or it’s anchored to an RV campsite temporarily — until we head for the next place.

Our return to Amarillo reminded us of one of the “charms” of living on the High Plains of Texas.

It’s the wind, man!

Holy moly, it was howling when we departed in early April. It was howling today when we pulled into our RV park/temporary residence. We had read about the wildfires that scorched lots of ranch land; this afternoon, we saw evidence of them along U.S. 287 just west of Clarendon, where we understand the fire caused closure of the highway for several hours while heroic firefighters battled the blaze.

This arrangement — an RV serving as our “home” — won’t last forever. I don’t want to give away too much, but we might have located a precise location to resettle once we depart Amarillo on a (more or less) permanent basis. I’ll have more on that later.

In the meantime, our life now is a reflection of a slogan made popular by other RVers.

It’s cool.

Quite sure ‘Dust Bowl’ won’t return

One of the things I learned about the Dust Bowl was it was manly caused by human fallibility and ignorance.

I also learned that the Dust Bowl was centered right here on the High Plains of Texas and Oklahoma.

As dry as it has been in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles since this past autumn, I will rely on the knowledge that we have learned how to prevent a recurrence of the hideous tragedy that befell the region in the 1930s.

Ken Burns’ fabulous documentary film, “The Dust Bowl,” which aired on PBS in 2015, reminded us that the event was the worst “manmade ecological disaster” in U.S. history. How did it occur?

Human beings settled on the High Plains and began plowing up natural grassland, turning it into cultivated farm land. Many farmers relied on rainfall to irrigate their crops; they were “dry land farmers.”

They plowed up hundreds of thousands of acres of grassland, which Mother Nature put there to act as protection against wind erosion. The grass held the soil together, preventing it from blowing away in the stiff wind that howls frequently across the High Plains.

Well, then something drastic happened. It stopped raining. The region became gripped by a killer drought. Then the wind blew as it always does. What happened next has become the stuff of legend throughout the High Plains.

The dirt blew in sinister, black clouds across the vast landscape. People breathed in the dirt. They contracted “dust pneumonia.” Many of them died; the most vulnerable were the very old and the very young; obviously, the very sickly also fell victim. Many others who didn’t die vacated their farms and ranches.

Other survivors, though, stayed and powered through the misery.

The nation learned a lot from that terrible time. One of the lessons dealt with tilling the land. Farmers started by letting the grass grow back where Mother Nature intended for it to grow. They improved their tilling techniques to minimize wind erosion.

The rain would return eventually. The High Plains would rebuild. The dust settled.

We’re now gripped by another drought. The U.S. and Texas departments of agriculture consider the region to be in “severe drought” mode.

Here’s a glimmer of hope: No one really believes we are going to experience a chapter-and-verse repeat of what occurred on the High Plains more than eight decades ago. The region’s ignorance about Mother Nature’s way has long gone.

However, we’ve got those damn fires with which we must contend.

Looking more like Dust Bowl

Happy Trails, Part 93

MELISSA, Texas — This likely won’t come as a huge flash to most of you, but I’ll offer it anyway.

My wife and I are spending a couple of nights at an RV park just down the highway from our granddaughter and her parents. We’ve been on the road for a couple of weeks.

I am torn by the notion that I cannot take my mind off of what is happening in Amarillo, where we are current headquartered.

The wind has kicked up on the High Plains yet again. It has ignited fires all across that sprawling landscape. I heard on the news this morning that Fritch, Texas, about 50 miles north of Amarillo, was evacuated because of the deadly threat posed by wildfire.

It occurs to me that it is going to take a great deal of time for me to put Amarillo in the distant past. We intend to move soon to North Texas. We have inched a bit closer to making a decision where we might move and on what terms we will relocate.

However, my mind is occupied as well by what is happening in the community we called home for 23 years.

It’s not a surprise.

Our life together took a dramatic turn in the spring of 1984 when we relocated from Portland, Ore., my hometown, to the Texas Gulf Coast. We picked up, packed up and moved our young sons to another culture. We didn’t leave Portland behind, either. Then we departed Beaumont for the Texas Panhandle in January 1995. Beaumont has stayed in our hearts and minds ever since … along with Portland.

Now we’re set to move on from Amarillo. We’ll settle in another community. Yet the misery that frightens our neighbors in Amarillo gnaws at us from afar.

We’ll be returning to Amarillo in the next couple of days. We’ll hang loose there for a time before shoving off yet again. I cannot project precisely where we’ll end up. I can, though, predict that Amarillo be on my mind — more than likely for as long as I draw breath.

A lot of good things are happening there these days. Downtown revival is under way. The state is rebuilding huge chunks of Interstates 40 and 27 in Amarillo as well as the southern loop. The city is repairing and renovating streets.

And, oh yes, those damn fires keep threatening people and property. These are our friends and neighbors.

I cannot possibly forget about the danger they face.