Tag Archives: Golden Triangle

State prison unit to get A/C … more to come?

Texas’s massive prison system is no stranger to lawsuits.

An inmate, David Ruiz, once sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on grounds that the crowded prison conditions violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The federal courts took over the prison system and a massive prison unit construction boom ensued to relieve crowding.

Now it appears that another lawsuit has forced the TDCJ to install air conditioning units at its Pack Unit southeast of College Station. It’s too damn hot there and inmates deserve air conditioning in their living quarters. I support the state’s decision to cool off this unit.

As the Texas Tribune reports: “It’s a big day for the inmates who suffered through those summers at the Pack Unit,” said Jeff Edwards, attorney for the prisoners. “They’re not going to be in fear of dying from heat stroke anymore.”

Edwards said the agreement details that the department will install temporary air conditioning for the coming summer, with permanent units in place by May 2020. A spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice confirmed an agreement, adding that the department and plaintiffs would be working to finalize details in the coming weeks.

The agreement is awaiting federal court approval.

This brings to mind something I learned not long after I arrived in Amarillo in 1995. I received a tour of the William P. Clements Unit northeast of the city. The assistant warden at the time walked me through the unit and made quite a point of telling me that Clements did not have air conditioning. To cool the place off during the summer, it had large fans to blow the air around and provide some semblance of relief from the heat.

Amarillo, though, is a different kind of place from the region near College Station. It not only gets damn hot in Aggieland, but the humidity can stifle even the stoutest of individuals.

I moved to the Panhandle from the Golden Triangle, where the humidity is overpowering. I don’t know if the Mark Stiles Unit in Jefferson County has air conditioning; if it doesn’t, I believe it should.

I do not buy the notion that our prison units are “country clubs,” which some critics have contended for too many years. They’re tough places to exist.

Air conditioned prison units do not turn them into posh resorts. They merely create a semblance of livable conditions for individuals who would rather not be there in the first place.

Happy Trails, Part 82

I have to credit a fellow recreational vehicle camper for this term, but I have come down with a case of the “hitch itch.”

It strikes me whenever we’ve been parked for a length of time, yet the open road beckons us. It is beckoning my wife and me. Thus, I get the “hitch itch,” or the “itch” to hook our fifth wheel RV to the bed of our pickup and hit the road.

The cure for the itch will come quite soon as we head out on another road trip. It will be an intrastate journey, keeping us inside Texas for its length.

It will be a lengthy trip.

Our plans are to make ample use of three state parks, which is our RV campsite of choice. We have a Texas Parks & Wildlife park pass, which waives our entrance fees into any state-run park in Texas. There happens to be a lot of ’em. They’re everywhere! They’re all well-run, well-maintained and well-groomed.

They’re also inexpensive!

We’ll be heading to San Angelo State Park to start off. A couple of days later we’ll shove off for Lockhart State Park south of Austin for several days. Then we drive to Village Creek State Park just north of Beaumont for a brief visit before winding our way back to Amarillo — with a stop in the Metroplex to visit our precious granddaughter and her parents.

This “hitch itch” strikes periodically. Frankly, we suffer from it more than we don’t. We have enjoyed this lifestyle so much that we want keep enjoying it for as long as humanly possible — health permitting.

To date, we both enjoy good health. We both have our wits. We enjoy the open road. Toby the Puppy is a serious road warrior as well.

The only nagging “health problem” we cannot eradicate — nor do we want to get rid of it — is that hitch itch.

It will disappear the moment we hook it all up and hit the road.

Trump needed reminder to show compassion?

Check out the picture. It shows you Donald Trump’s hands clutching some notes he held while he listened to the pleas of those who survived the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre.

I was truly ready to give the president unvarnished props for his listening to those who survived the shooting along with the loved ones of those who perished in the carnage.

Then this picture showed up.

I am struck by the last notation: “I hear you.” Yep. It seems the president needed crib notes to remind him to offer a word of compassion to the grieving survivors and family members.

I almost don’t know how to respond to this.

OK, I won’t beat up the president too savagely over this. I have a reason. He is far from the only politician to rely on notes.

Do you remember how President Reagan would carry 3-by-5 note cards into Cabinet meetings? How he would glance at them to remind him of the talking points he wanted to address?

Get this, too: A man who represented me in Congress used the same technique when he came to visit our editorial board at the Beaumont Enterprise in Southeast Texas.

The late Rep. Jack Brooks was a ferocious Democrat who pretty much detested almost any Republican he encountered. Brooks was not the least bit bashful about denigrating Ronald Reagan’s intelligence. He actually would chide the president over the way he depended on those note cards.

Brooks, though, did precisely the same thing when he sat down with us to talk about the issues of the day. Actually, Brooks often would launch lengthy soliloquies using the notes he held in front of him.

That all said, I get that Donald Trump is employing a tactic that others have done.

I’ll just add a final thought. The only reason I mention this at all is because the president has insisted many times since running for office that he is “like, a really smart person” who knows “the best words” and who attended “the best schools.”

Does an intelligent, well-spoken, well-educated man really need note cards to remind himself to say “I hear you”?

I guess this one does.

Happy Trails, Part 76

Retirement has delivered many changes for my wife and me. We expected some of them. Others have kind of caught me by surprise.

One of the surprises has been the realization that no longer are we bound to others’ deadlines, others’ demands.

We are free to make our decisions on our own time.

It’s quite cool, yes? Of course it is!

We moved from Oregon to Beaumont, Texas in the spring of 1984 so that I could continue to pursue my career in print journalism. I was hired and I had to move by such-and-such date and report for work on a certain day and time.

Then we moved from Beaumont to Amarillo to continue that pursuit in early 1995. The same requirements forced me to report for duty at a prescribed date and time.

I met those deadlines. My wife came along later after working feverishly to clear up matters enough to enable us to make the move.

We were operating on others’ timetable.

No more. We’re now on our own deadline. We can set it. Or we can choose not to set it.

We’re awaiting word on the sale of our house. We have accepted an offer. We are going to jump through the usual hoops: inspection reports and then signing of plenty of papers to transfer ownership of our property to another party.

Then we prepare to move.

People ask me almost daily: What are your plans? My answer is the same: We don’t have any plans. We’re retired now and we aren’t obligated to make plans by a certain date. We have nowhere to be at a particular date and time.

We are, as I’ve said only half-jokingly, making it up as we go along.

That is the truth!

Yes, we have a general idea where we intend to move. The precise destination isn’t determined.

We will take our time looking for it. Given that our “home” these days sits on four wheels and rides behind our pickup truck, we are free to go wherever we please, whenever we please.

Our first order of business will be to determine where we want to park our RV while we scour North Texas looking for a place to call home yet again.

This foray into the world of retirement has given us the luxury of time and the freedom to use as much — or as little — of it as we desire. Ain’t it cool?

Happy Trails, Part 75

The time has arrived for me to start thinking about what I am going to miss about the Texas Panhandle.

Our retirement journey this week took a big step forward to the next place.

This place, though, has been good to my wife and me. We’ve called it home for 23 years … plus a couple of months. As we prepare to move on down the road, I am filled with many memories.

One of them slapped me in the face the first time I ever laid eyes on this region. It occurred in late 1994. I flew from Beaumont to Amarillo to interview for a job at the Amarillo Globe-News, which had a post to fill: editorial page editor of both papers, the Daily News and the Globe-Times.

I landed at Amarillo International Airport, walked into the terminal and met the man I hoped to succeed. Tom Thompson was about to become press secretary for the newly elected congressman from the Panhandle, Republican Mac Thornberry.

We walked out to the parking lot and I noticed right away: Man, this place looks so … big!

I could not get over how far one can see here. We walked to Thompson’s car and even riding from the airport toward downtown I couldn’t take my eyes off the panorama.

I don’t recall my precise words to Thompson as we drove into the city, but I think it was something like, “I cannot believe how big and spread out everything looks.”

If you’ve been the Golden Triangle, or seen the Piney Woods of Deep East Texas, you get what I meant. The pine trees and the dogwoods are lush. The highways that course through the woods, however, do tend leave one with a bit of claustrophobia.

Not here, man! You see the High Plains of Texas for the first time and you feel, well, sort of liberated.

Yes, I will miss that feeling here. I will miss the big, beautiful sky that I’ve said before is God’s payback to the region for neglecting to grant this part of the world with purple mountain majesty.

I’m like to have more to say in the days and weeks ahead about the many friends my wife and I have made here. I’ll offer a word or two about the professional fulfillment I received while working for nearly 18 years at the local newspaper. I might even say something about how I managed to navigate my way through a community with a significantly different world view than the one I carry with me.

Today, my mind takes me back to that first glimpse of the wide open spaces this region provides. One’s first impression of a place often is the most compelling. So it was when I first cast my gaze on the place we would call “home.”

Happy Trails, Part 74

The Grand Retirement Trail has opened up a bit for my wife and me.

We’ve had plenty of splendid journeys throughout the United States.

We ventured out west, through California and then to Oregon to attend my 50-year high school reunion. We have ventured the other direction, to Nashville, then to Washington, D.C. We took a trip straight north to the Twin Cities, Minn., to visit my cousin. We toured much of Texas in a circular path that took us from the Panhandle to North Texas, through East Texas, to the Golden Triangle, to Houston, to the Coastal Bend, then to the Hill Country.

We’ve seen friends and family along the way through all those journeys.

Our retirement years, though, aren’t restricted to exclusively North American destinations. One of our bucket list journeys involves a trip through the breadth of Canada, from Vancouver to the Maritime Provinces.

But, yes, we have at least one bucket list journey that we plan to take. It will be to Australia.

Friends who have been Down Under tell me the same thing: You will need to take plenty of time, because it takes a long time just getting there. OK. We get it.

I’ve had a fascination for nearly 55 years. My father entertained a career opportunity that would have taken him to a coastal community north of Sydney. I wanted to go. I thought Dad wanted to go, too. I learned a bit about Australia and tried to persuade Dad to take the job he was considering.

Dad didn’t take the bait. We stayed in Oregon. My desire to visit the Outback hasn’t dissipated on little bit.

We’ll get there. I hope it’s sooner rather than later.

My wife and I have been blessed with being able to see a lot of the world together. We’ve been to Taiwan twice together; we have visited Denmark and Sweden. We’ve been to Greece twice; my wife says of all the places she’s been, Greece is one country she could visit repeatedly. We have seen Israel, too.

I am unsure whether we’ll get back to all those places we’ve seen already. I do know that Australia beckons. Maybe New Zealand, too.

I happen to one of those Americans who isn’t as fond of international travel as I used to be. This post-9/11 world makes it a bit of a cumbersome experience.

It’s not too cumbersome, though, to keep me away from fulfilling this bucket-list journey to the other side of the planet.

Happy Trails, Part 73

The question comes to me almost weekly.

I’ll run into longtime friends or acquaintances and they inevitably ask: How do you like retirement?

My answer is usually the same: If I were doing any better I’d be twins.

One former colleague who now lives in Houston asked me that very question about a year ago. I gave him the answer. His response? “I’ve never met a retired person who doesn’t love being retired.”

There you have it. My friend has said I fit the mold of your standard, run-of-the-mill retired guy.

What my friend also understands is that my journey toward retired contentment — and, yes, the joy it brings — didn’t start out that way. My retirement journey began unhappily. I wasn’t yet ready to call it quits when I did. I resigned my last newspaper job — at the Amarillo Globe-News — in a fit of emotional pain.

The truth is that it didn’t take me long to realize that my former employer actually did me a favor. I sent myself out to pasture. The pain that I felt on my last day of employment dissipated quickly.

I’ve known many people over the years who have gone through circumstances quite similar to what I encountered. They had been reorganized out of jobs, too.

Here is what I rediscovered about myself. I am a highly adaptable creature. I discovered by adaptability when my family and I moved from Oregon to Texas in the spring of 1984 and exposed ourselves to a serious culture shock. We adapted. My wife and I went through another form of culture shock when we moved from Beaumont to Amarillo in January 1995. We adapted to that change yet again.

My wife and I are going to embark on one more big challenge as we prepare to relocate once more, from the High Plains to North Texas.

My adaptability skills will come into play once again.

The only part of my new life that won’t change — ever! — is a return to the working world. I’ve done my time there.

Retirement really is so very good.

NFL does well with its Man of Year selection

I don’t normally get excited about pro football awards.

This year is different. The National Football League today announced its Walter Payton Man of the Year award. It goes to someone I just knew would get it: J.J. Watt, the standout defensive end for the Houston Texans.

What did Watt do to earn this honor, named after the late Walter Payton, the Hall of Fame running back and one of the great all-round great gentlemen of all pro sports?

Watt decided to launch a fundraising effort to help victims of his adopted hometown of Houston, after the wrath it suffered from Hurricane Harvey. He set a modest goal of $250,000.

Uh, Watt finished with a lot more than that. He ended up raising a cool $37 million for the waterlogged residents of Houston, whose homes were destroyed by the epic rainfall.

J.J. Watt is a tremendous athlete. I am delighted to know that the NFL has recognized him for possessing a tremendous heart.

Many of us far away from the coast saw this award coming. Our hearts were broken when Harvey came ashore not once, but twice along the Texas Gulf Coast. It pounded the Coastal Bend with killer winds and storm surge, then backed away from the coast and returned as a tropical storm.

It was on its second visit to the coast that Harvey did its damage to Houston and to the Golden Triangle, just east of the big city.

J.J. Watt stepped up in a big-time way to raise money for those victims — and has richly earned the title of the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year.

Well done, young man. I would bet that Walter Payton, the man they called “Sweetness,” would be proud of you, too.

Remember when Texas was awash in water?

Mother Nature is so darn fickle.

It was just a year ago when Texas was in the midst of a drenching. Rain soaked the landscape from the Panhandle to the Rolling Plains. The snowfall early in 2017 was welcome, too. The first half of the year brought ample moisture, pleasing our farmers and ranchers to no end.

Then came Hurricane Harvey’s one-two punch along the coast; it arrived as a hurricane and pounded the Coastal Bend with storm surge and heavy wind and returned a few days later as a tropical storm and inundated Houston and the Golden Triangle under 50 inches of rain.

The Texas drought was over! Or so the National Weather Service proclaimed.

Hold on a minute. What happened?

It stopped raining in the Panhandle. Around 40 percent of the state is undergoing moderate to severe drought. The Panhandle has been dry for 107 straight days and is approaching an all-time dryness record, which was set in — gulp! — 1902.

As the Texas Tribune reports: The Texas Panhandle has become ground zero in a drought that has crept into much of the state just five months after Hurricane Harvey — including areas that suffered massive flooding during the storm.

When he was governor of Texas, Rick Perry said it would be helpful if Texans would pray for rain. The 2011 drought was a punishing event and the governor sought to look toward the heavens for relief.

It came eventually. Did the prayer help? It’s equally tough to prove or deny categorically. We are left, then, only to believe.

With that, perhaps it’s time we sought help once again from the Almighty.

Welcome to Texoma

SHERMAN, Texas — I’ve discovered a new region.

Local media in the Sherman-Denison area of North Texas use an interesting and charming term to describe this part of the Lone Star State.

They call it Texoma.

Longtime Texans no doubt will scoff at me for posting this brief post. Too bad. Let ’em scoff all they want. I find the term vaguely enchanting.

My wife and I watch some local TV while we are holed up in our RV — when we’re not visiting with our granddaughter and her family down U.S. 75 just a bit south of us. I’ve been struck by the media’s use of Texoma to describe the region that is partly Texas and partly Oklahoma, given that Sherman is barely beyond spittin’ distance south of the Red River that serves as the common border between the states.

I don’t know when Texoma became the term of art to describe this region. It does kind of roll off the tongue.

This mini-discovery in a way reminds me of a community struggle that occurred in the mid- to late 1980s in the Golden Triangle region of Southeast Texas. It involved a regional name-change effort that was concocted by a committee of civic and business leaders who I guess grew tired of the region being known as the Golden Triangle.

They decided to launch a TV ad campaign featuring some actor dressed up as the late Army Gen. George S. Patton Jr. He would scold viewers about how the term “Triplex” was more suitable than “Golden Triangle.” The ad appeared throughout the cities of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, which are the largest communities within the Golden Triangle.

We at the Beaumont Enterprise newspaper were instructed to use the term “Triplex” whenever we referred to the region in our news and editorial coverage.

The effort failed miserably. The residents of Jefferson, Orange and Hardin counties spoke out loudly and passionately against any such name-change effort. They hated the term “Triplex.” Some folks resorted to calling the outline of the three counties as the “Tri-Pot,” given the shape of the counties kinda/sorta looked like a commode.

Well … the campaign eventually fizzled out. It died a fairly quick death.

I trust the folks of Texoma didn’t endure a similar wrenching of its collective gut when someone decided to name this region. If they did, then they got over it.

Good for them. I like the sound of Texoma.