Tag Archives: Golden Triangle

Happy Trails, Part 154: Why didn’t we come here before?

SEA RIM STATE PARK, Texas — I am kicking myself in the backside.

My wife and I lived in the Golden Triangle for nearly 11 years before we relocated way up yonder to the Texas Panhandle. That 24 years ago.

Today we arrived at a Texas state park jewel about 40 miles from where we used to live. Sea Rim State Park is a marvelous place to sit, relax, listen to the sounds of the surf and to just veg out.

That’s what we’re doing this evening as we settle in for a couple of nights on the Texas Gulf Coast.

I am not much of a beach guy. But we did visit the coast a few times during the Gulf Coast segment of our long journey through life together. We would drive to Galveston, entering the island community from the ferry that left the other side of Boliver Pass. Or . . . we would head the other direction from Sabine Pass, toward Holly Beach, La., which I used to consider was one of the coast’s hidden treasures.

Sea Rim is a wonderful state park, and part of the Texas Parks & Wildlife network of parks. We have spent a number of nights at many of those parks as we’ve continued on our retirement journey.

Sea Rim is a small-ish park, as far as Texas state parks go. I understand it has sustained considerable hurricane damage in recent years. Monstrous storms named Rita, Ike and Harvey all inflicted serious damage to Sea Rim, in that order.

But the park is clean. It’s tidy. This weekend it’s busy. I heard that the state’s Beach Clean-Up Day will occur Saturday. I’ll have more on that later.

I regret not coming here before now. Better late than never.

Silicon Gulch not exactly fully connected

DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas — Yours truly’s string of consecutive blogging days came dangerously close to ending this week.

How could that happen? Here’s how: We hauled our fifth wheel recreational vehicle to Pedernales Falls State Park, set up our campsite and then discovered that our site had zero Internet accessibility and damn near no cell phone service.

Is that a bad thing? Not at all. Except that I want to keep the streak alive. It has survived. Here, though, is the quandary.

Pedernales Falls is near Austin, which I’ve always been led to believe is one of the most “connected” communities on Earth. Hey, it’s the hub of what they call the Silicon Gulch, that stretch of real estate between Austin and San Antonio. High-tech firms continue to sprout all over the region.

I didn’t anticipate being disconnected from rest of the planet, being that we are vacationing in this highly connected, 21st-century community.

There might come a day when I no longer want to keep this blogging streak alive. I have occasionally enjoyed being disconnected from the Cell Phone Universe.

The good news, though — if you want to call it that — is that we are to travel to my brother-in-law’s house in this suburban Austin community. It is from here that I am able to post these musings.

And so, the streak goes on.

Our travels will take us very soon to Sea Rim State Park in the Golden Triangle region of Southeast Texas. Let us hope — or let me hope — that we have Internet available there to keep this blogging streak on course.

Happy Trails, Part 153: Weekends galore!

Those who have been retired far longer than my wife and I have been will understand what I am about to say next.

I am having a bit of difficulty understanding that the term “weekend” no longer is relevant to either of us.

We have embarked on a two-week sojourn that will begin in Amarillo. We’ll pull our fifth wheel south to San Angelo, then to the Hill Country, down to the Golden Triangle, then to New Orleans, to Shreveport and then home.

What’s different about this particular journey is that we’ll be parking our RV in a new storage place just around the corner and down the street from our new home in Princeton, Texas.

Which brings me to the “weekend” point.

My wife has reminded me that we’ll be able to grab our fifth wheel and take it on short trips to any of the numerous state parks surrounding us in Collin County.

“Sure thing,” I have said. “We can plan a weekend trip.” She laughs out loud at me. “No-o-o-o! Don’t you get it? We don’t have to wait for the weekend,” she responds. “We can go in the middle of the week. No crowds. Others will be working.”

Well, duhhh.

I just will need to keep all of that in mind once we get a wild hair and want to haul our fifth wheel out of storage and head out for some quiet time in the woods, or next to a lake.

I’m getting the hang of this retirement thing. Every now and then, though, I need a knock on the noggin to be reminded that weekends are for working folks.

Time of My Life, Part 29: Welcome to the politics of race

Thirty-five years ago this week I began an amazing lesson in life and in the pursuit of my chosen craft. It marked my introduction to the politics of race and how some folks frame their public policy views on that basis.

I moved from a white-bread suburban community to a community that was — and still is — divided sharply along racial lines. Gladstone, Ore., is a nice town of about 15,000 residents. Beaumont, Texas, also is a wonderful community of about 120,000 residents. Gladstone is the white-bread town; Beaumont is divided roughly into equal parts white and black residents.

The week I arrived in Beaumont in early April 1984 to become an editorial writer for the Beaumont Enterprise was the week of a pivotal school board election. The federal courts had ordered the public school system to desegregate. Two school districts merged into one; one of the districts was mostly white, the other was mostly black. Voters had to elect a new school board that would govern the combined district.

That election also featured a referendum on whether to rename a major thoroughfare after the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While many communities had honored Dr. King in such a manner, Beaumont had not yet taken that leap.

How did the election turn out? Voters elected a new school board that comprised an African-American majority among trustees; voters also narrowly rejected the street-naming referendum.

Talk about sending mixed message! Talk about the widest range of political emotion possible!

White residents were — by and large — filled with anxiety over the school board election results, while generally applauding the result of the street-naming measure. Black residents were thrilled to have elected a school board of mostly black trustees, while generally cursing the result of the MLK Jr. referendum.

I felt it daily. I heard it daily. I had little professional experience dealing with the politics of race. Yes, I had served in the Army with African-American soldiers, so I had grown to understand this basic act: We’re all human beings whose blood is precisely the same color. My introduction to the politics of race, though, told me how differently people of differing racial makeup view the world.

I grew quickly to understand those differences, although quite obviously I could not change my own racial makeup or tell my African-American neighbors that “I know how you feel.” Quite clearly, I did not know.

It all enlightened and educated me greatly. I believe I grew up significantly as I became more comfortable while learning about racial politics in my new community.

Here’s a punchline. Years later, the Beaumont City Council — virtually without warning — decided to rename a spur that runs north-south through the city after Dr. King. It acted while the city’s local black leadership was out of town attending an NAACP conference. The local NAACP president hit the ceiling. He was enraged. The mostly white City Council stuck to its decision.

The newly named Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, I want to add, has been transformed into a beautiful thoroughfare. Beaumont’s black residents wanted to rename an established thoroughfare after Dr. King. They didn’t get their wish. They got something better.

We had departed Beaumont for the Texas Panhandle, so we didn’t get to witness the completion of the MLK Jr. Parkway. We have returned on occasion over the years. It’s a wonderful tribute to a great American.

Toughen up, Mr. President

Donald J. “Faux Tough Guy in Chief” Trump needs to toughen up, suck it up and go with the flow.

He won’t, of course. I just thought I’d admonish him anyway.

The president seems to want to take action against comedy shows (for crying out loud!) that make fun of him. “Saturday Night Live,” a show he says he doesn’t watch, is a favorite target of his threats of political revenge.

Trump talks tough. He bellows about how we oughtta take protesters out back and “beat the sh** out of ’em.” He sidles up to worldwide strongmen, while denigrating our own intelligence experts. Oh, and while he continues to pile on to the memory of a legitimate American military hero, the late John McCain.

He bullies his foes via Twitter, hurling insults and innuendo at them willy-nilly.

But the dude just cannot stomach the idea that others poke fun at him. Donald Trump is a wuss in wolf’s clothing.

I am reminded at this moment of a politician I used to cover when I worked in Beaumont as editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise. The late U.S. Rep. Charles “Good Time Charlie” Wilson was an East Texas Democrat known for (a) his love of the military and (b) his desire to surround himself with attractive women.

Wilson also was an effective congressman who understood the role of the media that covered him. We covered his comings and goings at the Enterprise and on occasion we would chide him for things he would say or do.

We had a cartoonist on our staff, Jerry Byrd, who would illustrate our newspaper’s criticism with his editorial-page artwork.

What was Charlie’s response? How did he react? He would call us and ask us for the original cartoon so he could display it on his office walls in Washington, D.C., or in his district office in Lufkin, Texas!

Yep, Wilson was a grownup who knew that criticism from the media came with the job for which he took a solemn oath.

Donald Trump has yet to understand that truth about public service. I doubt seriously he’ll ever get it.

Time of My Life, Part 26: They kept me humble

I operated under a number of principles during more than 30 years in daily print journalism. I always sought to be fair; accuracy was critical.

I also never took myself more seriously than I took my craft.

The readers of the newspapers where I worked all served as great equalizers. I started my newspaper reporting career full time in 1977 at the Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier; I gravitated in 1984 to the Beaumont Enterprise in Texas; and then in 1995 I moved on to the Amarillo Globe-News.

All along the way I contended with readers who shared a common quality. They generally lived in the communities we covered. Thus, they had skin in the game; they had vested interests in their cities and towns.

So if I wrote something with which they disagreed and they took the time to call me to discuss their disagreements I tended to take them seriously.

I tried to learn something about the communities where I worked. Readers often were great teachers. They would scold me. They would chide me. They mostly were respectful when they disagreed with whatever I wrote, how I reported a story or offered an opinion on an issue the newspaper had covered on its news pages.

I always sought to return the respect when they called.

To be sure, not everyone fit that description. More than few of them over all those years were visibly, viscerally angry when they called to complain. I tried to maintain a civil tongue when responding to them. I’ll be candid, though, in admitting that at times my temper flared.

I usually didn’t mind someone challenging the facts I would present in a news story, or in an editorial, or in a column. I did mind individuals who would challenge my motives, or ascribe nefarious intent where none existed.

And every once in a great while I would a reader challenge my patriotism and even my religious faith. That’s where I drew the line.

However, over the span of time I pursued the craft I loved from the moment I began studying it in college I sought to maintain a level of perspective. I took my job seriously. I always sought to remember that all human beings are flawed.

It kept me humble.

Time of My Life, Part 24: Some fights are worth having

My career in print journalism, while providing me with unforgettable experiences and much joy, also provided some angst, heartburn and at times a touch of dread.

Now and again I would encounter situations that compelled me to look more deeply into the affairs of public officials I respected. Such was the case about 30 years ago while I worked as editorial page editor for the Beaumont Enterprise in the Golden Triangle region of Texas.

I went to work one morning and while reading that day’s edition I came across a story about a Jefferson County Commissioners Court meeting. Near the end of the story, we reported that “In other business,” commissioners approved a contract involving the opening of a café in the courthouse that would be run by a state district judge, Larry Gist.

It caught my eye. I took it up with my boss, the executive editor, and inquired about looking further into that matter. It didn’t seem appropriate for a state official to be operating a private business inside a county courthouse.

I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version of what I learned.

Judge Gist had prepared a bid to operate the courthouse café with a friend and business partner of his. He communicated with the county auditor, a young man named Jerry Ware, about his interest in running the café. He used what he told me later was “facsimile” county stationery, meaning he paid for the letterhead that would go atop the documents he was submitting for the auditor to consider.

But he signed the documents, “Larry Gist, judge.”

Here is where it got real sticky. Ware was appointed to his office as auditor by the district judges. So he considered a bid by one of his employers, one of the individuals to whom he answered. State law, interestingly, does not require a county to accept the lowest bid on projects such as this; it gives the county discretion to determine the “best bid” offered.

So, Ware — who works for Larry Gist (among other judges) — selected Gist’s bid to operate the café on the ground floor of the Jefferson County Courthouse.

That seemed strange. I thought it smacked of conflict of interest. I talked with Judge Gist, asked him about the stationery and quizzed him about whether he put any undue pressure on the county auditor to look favorably on his bid. I talked to Jerry Ware, and asked him whether he might have been influenced by the facsimile letterhead and the signature that contained the word “judge” alongside the name of the individual who was bidding on the courthouse business.

We published an editorial that questioned whether the county was adhering to all the proper ethical standards by allowing the judge to bid on a project to be housed inside a courthouse where he worked and whether the auditor was applying objective standards to all the bidders who had sought the contract.

Quite obviously, Judge Gist and Jerry Ware were unhappy with the newspaper and with me. Ware hated my guts for the rest of his life. He died of cancer not too many years later.

As for Gist, I learned through other channels that he sought to sue me and the paper for libel. The only sticking point for Gist in his pursuit of a legal challenge was that nothing we published was untrue. As you might know, truth is the first and last line of defense in any libel lawsuit.

Judge Gist and I endured a frosty relationship for the rest of my time on the Gulf Coast. I am happy to say, though, that it thawed over time. I had occasion to talk to Judge Gist on another matter once I made the move from Beaumont to the Texas Panhandle.

I don’t know the status of the courthouse café. That was then. The here and now allows me to look back on that episode with just a touch of relief that it never got past the threat of a lawsuit.

Time of My Life, Part 23: Welcome to the ‘catbird seat’

I grew up in Oregon. A career opportunity beat on my door in late 1983. The knock on the other side of that door came from a former boss of mine, Ben Hansen, who had gone on to become executive editor of the Beaumont Enterprise in the Golden Triangle region of Texas.

I had been a full-time journalist for about seven years when Hansen called with an offer for me to come to Texas to interview for a job as an editorial writer for the Enterprise.

He told me over the phone that Beaumont was a fabulous “news town,” that there was much happening there and that as editorial writer, I would be perched in the “catbird seat” from which I could comment on the issues of the day.

Hansen hired me and I started working there in April 1984.

Ben Hansen was so very correct about Beaumont, about the liveliness of the news there.

My culture shock was fairly profound as I packed up from the community I knew well, Portland, and headed for a whole new environment. Beaumont was a world away from what I knew. Adding to the stress of that change was the absence of my wife and my still-young sons; they stayed behind while my wife sought to sell our house. They joined me later that summer, just in time for the start of the school year.

However, a couple of things happened to relieve me of the stress of being without my family.

One was the amazing pace of news that unfolded that spring. Beaumont is a racially diverse community, roughly 50 percent white and 50 percent black. The first month of my employment at the Enterprise featured an election that resulted in the election of an African-American majority on a newly reconstituted Beaumont Independent School District board of trustees. Also on the ballot was a referendum to rename a major Beaumont thoroughfare after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The street renaming effort failed narrowly. The new BISD school board took office amid a palpable sense of tension in the community. Beaumont was late in the school integration game. A federal judge ordered the merger of the Beaumont and South Park school districts; the “old” BISD was mostly black, while the South Park district was mostly white.

Tension anyone? They had it!

Ben Hansen’s description of Beaumont was spot on. I was thrilled to be part of it, to watch it up close and to be able to offer some commentary that sought to lead the community through its travails.

The second aspect that lessened the impact of missing my wife and sons was the amazing embrace I received from my colleagues at the Enterprise. They knew of my circumstance. They went out of their way to include me in their after-hours fellowship.

The friendships I developed among many of those individuals are among the most solid I have forged with anyone I’ve ever met over my many years on this Earth.

My love for them is deep and is indelible.

We all shared a love of our craft and we would laugh and occasionally argue over what that day had brought.

Man, it was more fun sitting in the catbird seat than I ever deserved.

Happy Trails, Part 143: ‘Forever’ comes into view

PRINCETON, Texas — This picture reveals to you where my wife, Toby the Puppy and I plan to live . . . hopefully for the duration, if you get my drift.

The “Sold” sign means we are in the process of purchasing it. Our retirement journey is taking a gigantic step forward this week. We will “close” on our house purchase in Princeton, about 6 miles or so east of McKinney in Collin County. We’ll lay down some cash, sign a large stack of papers, accept our “smart house” keys and we’ll be on our way.

My wife plans to start immediately laying down shelf liners in the kitchen. We’ll start moving the next day. We’ll take our time, but we won’t dawdle.

Yes, dear reader, this is our final stop.

What fascinates me as I think about it is that Princeton was one of the towns we considered when we first started pondering our move from the Texas Panhandle to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. The thought process came right about the time our son and daughter-in-law informed us that “You are going to be grandparents.”

That was more than six years ago. It took some time for us to make this move, but we did.

I already have told you about how we came upon his dwelling.

I only want to affirm once more the idea that even old folks — such as me — are able to adapt to new surroundings. I long thought of myself as a staid fellow, resistant to change. Then career opportunity knocked in 1984 and we moved our young family from a suburban community near Portland, Ore., to Beaumont, Texas. We stayed in Beaumont for nearly 11 years; our sons graduated from high school and were finishing up their college educations when my wife and I packed up again and moved from the Golden Triangle to the Texas Panhandle. We stayed in Amarillo for 23 years. The arrival of our granddaughter in March 2013 precipitated the move that is about to conclude in very short order in the house you see pictured with this blog post.

This is going to be a huge week for us.

I await it with great joy and excitement. Retirement is no time for complacency.

Time of My Life, Part 18: Serving as a judicial watchdog

Every so often reporters and editors encounter public officials who actually appreciate the work of holding those officials accountable for their actions.

I met a few of those folks along the way during my 37 years as a journalist. One of those individuals stands out. I want to discuss him briefly to demonstrate that some individuals do not view the media as “the enemy of the people.”

I arrived at the Amarillo Globe-News in January 1995 after spending nearly 11 years as editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise way down yonder in the Golden Triangle region of the Gulf Coast.

We got into our share of scrapes in Beaumont. One fight we had was with a couple of state district judges in Jefferson County. They presided over courts with criminal jurisdiction, meaning that they only tried criminal cases; the civil caseloads were sent to other judges in Jefferson County.

Well, these two judges had to face the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, which had received a complaint about the judges’ sentencing practices. These two jurists were in the habit of backdating sentences for individuals convicted of crimes. Example: If someone committed a crime on Jan. 1, but was convicted on Dec. 30, the judge would sentence the individual to a prison term that began prior to the commission of the crime. Such a sentencing practice dramatically reduced the amount of time the individual would serve behind bars.

Such sentencing policies don’t sit well with prosecutors. The judicial ethics commission got a complaint and it dropped the hammer on the two judges. It issued a public reprimand, which in the world of judicial punishment is a real big deal.

We at the Beaumont Enterprise editorialized in support of the Commission on Judicial Conduct’s ruling. We were highly critical of the backdated sentences that were handed down. Our criticism of the local judges obviously angered the two men, but that didn’t dissuade us from calling it the way we saw it.

My time in Beaumont ended and I gravitated to the Panhandle in early 1995. I quickly made the acquaintance of one of the judges who punished the two judges in Beaumont. He was John Boyd, chief justice of the 7th Texas Court of Appeals headquartered in Amarillo.

Justice Boyd knew of my background and for years after our first meeting he would invariably bring up the editorial support we gave to the judicial conduct panel on which he served. He would tell others with whom we would meet of the position we took to endorse the punishment handed out to those backdating judges.

I always appreciated — and still do! — the recognition that we sought only to hold judges accountable for their actions. If any of “our” judges got stepped on, well, so be it.