Tag Archives: Golden Triangle

Happy Trails, Part 176: Rediscovering anonymity

Ahh, anonymity is grand.

It is one of the joys I have discovered on this retirement journey on which my wife and I have embarked.

We relocated more than a year ago to Collin County, Texas, after spending 23 years in Amarillo and nearly 11 years before that in Beaumont. I don’t want to oversell or overstate anything, so I will take care when I write these next few words.

The craft I pursued in the Golden Triangle and then in the Texas Panhandle — as opinion page editor for two once-fairly significant newspapers — gave me a bit of an elevated profile. I was able to write editorials for both newspapers as well as publish signed columns with my name and mug shot along with the written essays. Readers would see my face on the pages and then would greet me with, “Oh, you’re the guy in the newspaper!” 

I went through that little ritual for more than three decades in vastly different regions of Texas.

We now live far from either place. I do write for a couple of weekly newspapers these days — the Princeton Herald and the Farmersville Times. It’s a freelance gig that I sought out. The publisher of the papers has been kind enough to put me to work — but on my terms!

I now blend into the scenery. No one recognizes me on sight. I’m unsure whether my name will remain anonymous, given the exposure it will get by appearing on top of news features I hope to write for the Herald and the Times.

One more point I want to make. In Beaumont and in Amarillo, I occasionally found myself discussing politics and public policy in the most unusual locations. I would encounter friends and acquaintances who seemed to presume that since I wrote about politics at work, that I live and breathe it when I am off the clock. They are mistaken.

I once vowed that I would not discuss work in some places, such as at church. More than once I have told folks in the pew next to me that “I came here to talk to God, not to talk about politics with you or anyone else.”

So far, so good here in Princeton. Anonymity is a joy I intend to cherish for as long as humanly possible.

Happy Trails, Part 175: Adaptability accentuated

The longer we live as retired folks, the more I realize just how adaptable I am.

I’ve told you already about how I discovered my adaptability gene when we moved in early 1984 from the community where I was born, was reared, where I came of age, where I got married and where my sons came into this world. We moved from Portland, Ore., to the Golden Triangle of Texas. Talk about culture shock, not to mention humidity shock!

We settled in just fine there.

Then we relocated to Amarillo a mere 11 years later. Once again, we settled in. We sank our roots deeply into the Caprock soil.

Then retirement arrived, albeit a bit unexpectedly. I learned quickly to welcome it. I discovered almost immediately that separation anxiety from work is greatly overrated.

We love telling people that “we’re retired.” We have learned that weekends no longer exist, that every day is a proverbial Saturday.

My wife and I both worked hard at our jobs for many years. We effectively retired the same year.

After living in the Panhandle for more than two decades, we relocated to the Metroplex. Adaptability anyone? We’ve got it in spades, man! We sold our house, we moved into our fifth wheel RV, lived in the “house on wheels” for a few months, then headed down the road, where we found our forever home in Collin County.

I mention all of this because the longer we live here, the longer we go about our days as retired folks, the more comfortable we both feel with this life we have embraced tightly.

At this point in our journey through life, I suspect strongly that our adaptability will start to exhibit some limitation. Neither of us, for example, is going back to work full time.

However, as we look back on our lengthy and fun-filled journey — and speaking only for myself — I am amazed at the adaptable nature I have been able to show … much to my pleasant surprise!

Still wondering: Do we really need constables?

I want to soften my criticism of Texas constables, but only just a little.

You see, I have made the acquaintance of one of Collin County’s four constables. His name is Shane Thomas, who serves as Precinct 1 constable. He is based in McKinney, the Collin County seat.

I have railed, ranted and vented my anger at constables since, oh, just about the time I arrived in Texas more than 35 years ago. I’ve seen the office at its worst, first in Jefferson County way down yonder in Beaumont, and then in the Texas Panhandle.

Then we moved to Collin County, which has functioning constables who actually do work for the county.

Thomas has five deputy constables who report to him. He was asked recently at a Rotary Club meeting, “Who is your boss?” His answer: “You are. I answer to you. The voter.”

So I am not going to bash Constable Thomas the way I have bashed the office while working as a journalist in the Golden Triangle and the Panhandle.

I still wonder, though: Why do we need to have another layer of law enforcement when we have sheriff’s departments that are capable of doing the work that constables do? We elect sheriffs, who then hire deputies. They have budgets that are set by commissioners courts, which also must budget money for constables. I cannot stop thinking that the serving of civil papers, warrants and providing justice of the peace court security could be done by sheriff’s deputies, who also serve as patrol officers in the unincorporated regions of Texas’ 254 counties.

The existence of constables offices seems to my mind to be superfluous and, well, wasteful. It’s like an add-on police force.

I get that the JPs and the constables have powerful lobbies in Austin that are able to persuade legislators to keep their hands off the office.

If all the constables in Texas are as productive as Collin County’s Precinct 1 constable, then I won’t raise too much of a ruckus to get rid of them.

So very thankful for news out of Golden Triangle

I have been watching the news out of Mid-Jefferson County, Texas, with great interest and keen anticipation.

A refinery in Port Neches exploded and caught fire this week. My wife and I have many friends in that part of Texas, owing to the time we lived in nearby Beaumont for nearly 11 years.

I am grateful beyond measure that no one died in that horrific blast and inferno. My jaw has dropped when I watched video of the explosion that propelled large pieces of debris into the air. I am stunned not only that no one died, but that only a handful of folks suffered what officials have called “minor” injuries caused by flying glass.

The best news is that firefighters have controlled the blaze, giving me a chance to offer high praise yet again for the first responders who have this uncanny ability — not to mention willingness — to thrust themselves into harm’s way.

I hear reports now about the plant that exploded being in violation of Environmental Protection Agency safety standards. That issue needs maximum attention, to be sure, if there will be any chance of that plant being brought back into full operation.

Until then I am merely going to offer a word of thanks and expression of relief that our friends are safe.

Port Neches refinery fire is especially scary … for me

I heard the news this morning of that big explosion and fire way down yonder in Port Neches, Texas.

ABC News kept saying it was just east of Houston. The local Dallas-Fort Worth ABC affiliate, WFAA, referred to it more precisely: that Port Neches is just 15 miles south of Beaumont.

That kind of reference gets my attention because, as you might know, I lived and worked in Beaumont for nearly 11 years before my wife and I migrated from the Golden Triangle to Amarillo in 1995.

There have been no fatalities associated with the disaster. Some folks were injured. I worry about their health.

On a broader scale, I worry about our many Golden Triangle friends who live near the huge petrochemical and oil refinery complex throughout the Beaumont/Port Arthur region.

Petrochemicals and the refining of crude oil is the economic lifeblood of the region. When we moved to Beaumont in 1984, there was a school of thought that all one had to do to make a comfortable living was just get a high school diploma and then apply for work at one of the many petrochemical plants. They paid well. They were lifetime jobs if that’s what you wanted to do.

My former boss at the Beaumont Enterprise once told me that all those bass boats, expensive pickups and SUVs were paid for my the handsome wages earned at those plants.

There also is the danger associated with working at those facilities. I don’t recall seeing any major refinery fires explode during my time in Beaumont. The Port Neches fire, though, should remind us of the danger inherent in that line of work.

I haven’t even mentioned — until this very moment — the air quality issues associated with living in the proximity of those plants. That’s a story for another time.

I am worrying tonight, on Thanksgiving Eve, about the health of those who work in that environment and those — especially our many friends — who live nearby.

Please be safe.

That was quite the storm!

I took a job 35 years ago in what I suppose you could call Tornado Country.

We moved our young sons from Oregon to the Golden Triangle of Texas, a region prone to hurricanes and the twisters that spin off the storms as they crash ashore from the Gulf of Mexico.

Then my wife and I moved to Amarillo, which also has experienced its share of tornado-induced misery since the beginning of recorded history. My wife and I once watched a funnel cloud form about a mile west of our house while baseball-sized hail pummeled our dwelling and destroyed our roof.

Then a year ago, my wife and moved to Collin County in the Metroplex.

Tonight we had our first tornado “experience” since moving to Collin County. All is well and good. The storm passed south of us as well as south of our son, daughter-in-law, our granddaughter and her older brother. Our son’s extended family is safe, too.

However, this is the kind of thing — even after living in Tornado Country for 35 years — that still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

The local weather forecaster broke into a program we were watching to alert us of thunder storms. Then came the “tornado warning,” which means they had spotted a funnel cloud on the ground.

The storm chasers provided some gripping video to go along with the near-frantic commentary coming from the meteorologist. One of them caught a picture of a heavily damaged pickup stalled on Interstate 635; the driver of the truck then gave a thumbs-up to the TV crew that was taking pictures of the damage done by the storm that had roared through the area.

Our son informed us they had storm sirens blaring in Allen. Ours in Princeton stayed silent. We did, however, receive a lot of rain.

The storm has passed on. My hope is that our neighbors to the east stay safe.

How will I sleep tonight? Probably not well. Tomorrow, though, is another day. We’ll see what it brings.

Rain threatens region still recovering from earlier deluge

REGINA, Saskatchewan — My worry index is off the charts today as I listen to reports of extreme rain and flooding in a part of the world I know pretty well.

My wife and I are away at the moment, vacationing in Canada, but CTV News is all over the story: Rain is inundating the Golden Triangle region of Texas, that southeastern corner of the state that barely two years ago was blasted by the unspeakable wrath of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey.

I am not going to make this a political blog, other than take note that climatologists have said all along that we can expect this kind of extreme weather as we cope with and combat the effects of climate change. It ain’t a hoax, folks. It’s real and it is affecting lives daily.

The Gulf Coast storm is another example of it.

However, my concern turns now to my friends who live there, folks we got to know during nearly 11 years living in Beaumont. We return when we can. When we do we see the destructive marks that Harvey left behind when the storm blasted ashore in 2017.

My heart breaks for them all. We send them our love and our hope that they find the strength to persevere.

Time of My Life, Part 38: Taking on a music legend

It’s not every day you get to cross swords with a music legend when you think you’re trying to say the right thing.

Back when I was working for a living, writing editorials and editing an opinion page, I had the rare honor of running into some serious headwinds over an editorial I wrote regarding a legendary music icon. The idea for the editorial came from a colleague. It developed quickly.

In the late 1980s, I was working as editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise on the Gulf Coast of Texas. We got word of a plan to name the Interstate 10 bridge over the Neches River, which separates Jefferson County from Orange County after the late George Jones, the country music icon with deep roots in Southeast Texas; he who was born in Deep East Texas just north of the Golden Triangle.

My colleague and friend insisted that was a bad idea. Why? Because Jones had a terrible history of alcohol abuse. Jones was a serious bad boy, given how he overindulged in adult beverages.

My colleague insisted it would be hypocritical to name a motor vehicle bridge after someone who lived a wild life and abused alcohol all along the way.

So, we published the editorial. We insisted that naming the bridge after Jones would send a terribly ironic message, that it would be a tacit endorsement of this admittedly brilliant country musician’s behavior.

I got push back from many of Ol’ Possum’s fans. After all, he had played many dates over many decades in Southeast Texas. He was one of us, they told me. How can we say such a thing about a fellow who gave so much joy to so many music fans?

The word got out over our objection to naming the bridge after George Jones. One day the phone rang. The caller turned out to be Nancy Jones, Ol’ Possum’s fourth wife, to whom he remained married until his death in 2013.

Nancy Jones and I had a cordial conversation, even though she objected to the Enterprise’s position that naming the bridge after Jones would be a bad public relations move. She wanted me to know that her husband had been sober for many years, that he was not the same man who engaged in that frightful behavior of his younger years.

We held our ground. I thanked Mrs. Jones for the phone call and for her courtesy.

As for whether they named the bridge after George Jones, the state and the adjoining counties thought better of it. Hey, it was worth the fight.

Recalling one tough ‘S.O.B.’ and how he would react to Trump

I have been thinking a good bit in recent days of my former congressman, arguably the meanest, most irascible, most ferocious partisan ever to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The late Jack Brooks was that man. He called himself Sweet Old Brooks. You get how the initials spell out and how they likely refer to their more, um, colloquial meaning.

Brooks — who represented the Golden Triangle of Texas from 1953 until 1995 — was one mean dude. It is no stretch to say that he hated Republicans. He served on the House Judiciary Committee that approved articles of impeachment against President Nixon in 1974. I read a fascinating Politico piece recently that told how Brooks actually authored the articles to ensure they were written with unassailable precision.

How would Sweet Old Brooks react to what we’re debating today?

I truly believe in my gut that he would be calling for Trump’s head on the proverbial platter, or perhaps even some pertinent body parts as well, if you know what I mean.

Jack Brooks was one of many Texas proteges of the great House Speaker Sam Rayburn, who took other political fledglings under his wing. Men such as Lyndon Johnson and Jim Wright (another U.S. House speaker) owed their political success to the mentorship provided by Mr. Sam.

However, Brooks was wired differently than LBJ or Speaker Wright. President Johnson learned to work with Republicans, who helped him enact the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts. He needed those Republicans to counter the opposition he was getting from southern Democrats who remained faithful to their segregationist past.

To be clear, Jack Brooks was not among those southern Democrats who resisted LBJ. He supported the president’s efforts in the House. A large part of his Southeast Texas constituency comprised African-Americans in Beaumont and Port Arthur.

Brooks, though, was among the toughest, meanest politicians I ever met. I do not recall in all the discussions I had with him that Brooks would offer unsolicited praise for Republican politicians. He considered President Reagan to be a dunce and a dolt.

How would he react to the conduct of the current Republican president? He would find a way to send Donald Trump packing. Of that I am absolutely certain.

He surely was an SOB, but he was our SOB.

Having trouble letting go

I must admit to a peculiar circumstance that I will not define as a “problem.”

It is an unwillingness to let go of affairs occurring in the city where my wife and I used to live. I refer to Amarillo, Texas, way up yonder in the Texas Panhandle, on the Caprock … in a place I used to “affectionately” refer to as the Texas Tundra.

We moved away a little more than a year ago, yet I am continuing to devote a bit of High Plains Blogger’s posts to events that occur in the Texas Panhandle’s unofficial “capital” city.

You know what? I am going to keep both eyes and both ears attuned to what’s happening there. Why? The city is undergoing a significant change of personality, if not character. I want to watchdog it. I want to keep my channels of communication open to the community my wife and I called home for 23 years.

The truth is my wife and I lived in Amarillo longer than have lived in any community during our nearly 48 years of married life together. We were married in Portland, Ore., but moved to Beaumont 13 years later; we stayed on the Gulf Coast for not quite 11 years before heading northwest to the other end of this vast state.

I enjoyed some modest success during all those years as a working man. Retirement arrived in 2012. We stayed in our home until late 2017. We moved into our recreational vehicle, then sold our house in March 2018. Our granddaughter’s birth in 2013 and our desire to be near her as she grows up lured us to the Metroplex … but you know about that already.

But Amarillo retains a peculiar hold on my interests.

I am delighted with the progress of the city’s downtown redevelopment. The city’s baseball fans are turning out in droves to watch the Sod Poodles play AA minor-league hardball. Texas Tech University is marching full speed toward opening a school of veterinary medicine at Tech’s Health Sciences Center campus at the western edge of Amarillo. The Texas highway department is going to begin work soon on an extension of Loop 335 along Helium Road. Interstates 40 and 27 are under extensive construction.

I want to keep up with the progress that’s occurring in Amarillo.

I also intend to stay alert to problems that might arise along the way.

So, I intend to declare my intention to devote a good bit of this blog for the foreseeable future on matters affecting a fascinating — albeit at times infuriating — community.

Although we no longer call Amarillo our “home,” the community is not far from my heart.