Tag Archives: Golden Triangle

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.

Happy Trails, Part 162: Back to ‘hot and humid’

My wife and I are still in the midst of a wonderful journey through life. Nearly 48 years of marriage have taken us from Portland, Ore., to Beaumont, Texas, to Amarillo, Texas, and now to Princeton, Texas.

We’ve traveled a good bit, seen all but three of our United States and a good bit of the rest of the world.

Our final stop in Princeton, though, is reacquainting us with an aspect of our journey that we didn’t experience in our previous stop.

Humid heat is back in our lives.

We ventured from Portland to Beaumont in 1984, where we learned all about humidity; although I did live for a time in some sticky weather in Vietnam back in the day … but I digress. Take my word for it: You haven’t lived until you’ve gone through a Texas Gulf Coast summer with its requisite stifling heat and equally stifling humidity. I can speak only for myself, so I will: I did not ever totally embrace the humidity down yonder; I merely learned to expect it.

Then we ventured to the Texas Panhandle in early 1995. We spent 23 years there. The heat was the same as it was in the Golden Triangle. The humidity, though, was vastly different. Which is to say it’s the hackneyed “dry heat.” We broke an all-time record in Amarillo one summer when the temperature hit 111 degrees. But when the sun set at the end of that day, the temperature — as it does normally — fell to comfortable levels.

We grew quite used to that sort of high-altitude heat, given that Amarillo is perched atop the Caprock at nearly 3,700 feet above sea level.

Oh, but now it’s different.

We’ve migrated back to the “more humid zone” in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. It’s been blazing hot the past few days. Many more of those days are coming along this summer. And you can bet your sweaty armpits, the humidity has been brutal.

Has it been as rough as it is on the Gulf Coast? Hah! Nope. It is humid enough for me to gripe about it from time to time.

I’ve already boasted about my adaptability. I won’t belabor that point. I do plan to adapt to this new/old climate in Princeton. Hey, we lived in the Golden Triangle, for criminy sakes! This final stint — for the duration — ought to be a piece of cake.

Recalling an encounter with a courtroom legend

A recent blog post noted one of those individuals, the late Ross Perot, who saw value in communicating with the media.

My writing about Perot brings to mind another sharp-minded Texan I had the pleasure of meeting. It was a spontaneous encounter in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse in Beaumont, Texas.

Perhaps you remember the late Richard “Racehorse” Haynes. He was a flamboyant trial lawyer who defended celebrities, big hitters and individuals of enormous wealth. He was, as I understood it, a tremendous courtroom thespian, known for a dramatic flair.

Here’s what happened during one sweltering day in downtown Beaumont …

I was walking toward the courthouse when I ran into a fellow I knew well, a lawyer named Gilbert Adams, who at the time also served as chairman of the Jefferson County Democratic Party. We chatted for a moment. Then Adams asked if I wanted to meet Racehorse Haynes. Do I? Of course I would, I said.

Adams yelled at the gentleman standing about 30 feet away, “Hey Race! I want to introduce you to someone.”

We approached Haynes and Adams said, in effect, “John, this is Racehorse Haynes. Race, this is John Kanelis. John is the editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise.”

Here is where it got real interesting in a hurry. When Adams told Haynes I worked for the newspaper, which in the late 1980s and early 1990s was still a significant media presence in the Golden Triangle, Haynes’ eyes expanded to the size of saucers. He opened them wide and seemed, as I recall, to nearly drop the pipe he was smoking out of his mouth.

He then regaled me about his relations with the media, how he generally trusted the media — if you can believe such a thing in today’s climate — to report matters accurately and fairly.

Haynes talked, talked and talked some more. He talked so much that I — not this famous lawyer — was forced to cut the conversation off. I had somewhere I needed to be; I guess Racehorse Haynes had a lot of time on his hands.

I remember meetings like that one with fondness, if only because it reminds of a time when journalism — and those of us who practiced the craft of journalism — played critical roles in telling their communities’ stories.

Time of My Life, Part 35: This was one memorable encounter

News of the Beaumont Enterprise building heading to the “For Sale” block brings back a flood of memories of great times there and many memorable encounters I experienced while toiling in the Golden Triangle of Texas.

I want to share one of them here. It takes a bit to explain, so bear with me.

I was walking across the newsroom one day, heading for the third-floor elevator. I noticed a gentleman standing next to desk occupied by our newsroom secretary, the legendary Marie Richard, who was on the phone at that moment. I walked past the gentleman, then did a bit of a double-take.

I stood by the elevator, pushed the call button and waited. I then leaned around the corner, got Marie’s attention and whispered — apparently in a “stage whisper” sort of voice — “Is that Jim Lehrer?”, the longtime co-host of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS.

Marie shrugged silently, but then the man standing at her desk said, “Yes. It is.”

Oh, brother. I was, um, a bit embarrassed. I walked to Marie’s desk, extended my hand and introduced myself to one of the great broadcast journalists of his era.

Lehrer then began to tell me why he was standing in the Beaumont Enterprise newsroom. He needed to go the newspaper library, he said, to do research on a book he was writing about when he lived for a time in Beaumont as a youngster.

We walked back to the library and spent the better part of the next hour or so talking about this and/or that. I learned that Lehrer attended middle school and then French High School in Beaumont, that his father drove a bus (either Greyhound or Trailways, I cannot remember) and that Beaumont was one of many stops the Lehrer family made when young Jim was coming of age.

We hit it off well … I believe.

He wrote the book. I believe it was a memoir titled “A Bus of My Own,” published in 1992.

Lehrer returned the next year to be the keynote speaker at the Press Club of Southeast Texas annual luncheon. We shook hands at that event, too.

And, yes. Jim Lehrer remembered this chump editorialist who embarrassed himself at the elevator.

Another community icon about to vanish

I am heartbroken, but not entirely surprised to hear this bit of news: The Beaumont Enterprise’s parent company is planning to sell the structure and move the newspaper into a more, um, suitable location hits me straight in the gut.

I got word of this decision Thursday through — that is correct — social media, which I suppose tells the story of the Beaumont Enterprise’s decline as the newspaper of record for the Golden Triangle region of Texas.

It is where my Texas journalism career got its start in 1984. It’s where I made tons of friends, learned about Texas’s unique political culture, and learned also that gumbo was far more than what you bought in a can of Campbell’s Soup.

My heart hurts over this news.

Social media have played a part in the Enterprise’s diminishing presence in the community. The paper I joined in 1984 was selling about 75,000 copies daily; its Sunday distribution totaled more than 80,000 copies. We sent papers way up into Deep East Texas and into Southwest Louisiana.

Then came the Internet. I left the Golden Triangle in January 1995 for greater opportunities in the Texas Panhandle. As the Internet began exerting its chokehold on print journalism in Amarillo, it began taking its toll in Beaumont as well.

The Enterprise, which once employed more than 300 individuals has seen its payroll dwindle to fewer than 70 people. Hurricane wind and rain destroyed the newspaper’s presses, forcing the paper to print its editions at the Houston Chronicle, another property owned by the Hearst Corp. The Enterprise’s production department disappeared; its circulation department has been reduced to virtually nothing.

Most tragically (in my view) the news staff has been decimated. I don’t know the exact count of reporters and editors on staff at the Enterprise, but I do know it’s far fewer than it was during the heyday of print journalism.

Hearst Corp. execs say they need to move into a location that is more suited for the Enterprise to compete in the digital age. I totally understand the business aspect of the decision, just as I understand why the Amarillo Globe-News — where I worked for nearly 18 years — has vacated its historic location.

There’s a glimmer of good news, which is that Hearst plans to keep the newspaper in downtown Beaumont, given the Enterprise’s longtime presence there. Publisher Mark Adkins said, “We believe in the community here, and want to continue our long history as a part of downtown,. It is important for us to stay here for those reasons. But it is also important to be able to pass on this building to someone that could use it for further development of downtown.”

However, none of this assuages the grief I feel at this moment reading about the pending departure of the Beaumont Enterprise from a building where I practiced my craft for nearly 11 years.

There’s no nice way to say it. This news really sucks, man.

‘The Executioner’ wrote the book on impeachment

There are times when you think you know someone and you find out things about that individual that you might have suspected, but didn’t ever confirm.

The late U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks of Beaumont was my congressman for nearly 11 years. I commented on his public service while working as editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise. I spent many hours visiting with him when he would return to the Golden Triangle to do whatever members of Congress do when they meet with their constituents.

I knew a few aspects of the man who dubbed himself Sweet Old Brooks: He was a ferocious Democratic partisan who detested Republicans; his mentor was the famed House Speaker Sam Rayburn; Brooks was in the motorcade the day Lee Harvey Oswald murdered President Kennedy in Dallas and stood behind Lyndon Johnson as LBJ took the oath of office as the 36th president of the United States.

Here’s what I did not know about Sweet Old Brooks: He authored the articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon in 1974. Brooks served on the House Judiciary Committee and took it upon himself to ensure that the panel dotted every “i” and crossed every “t” perfectly.

Politico Magazine has published a fascinating article about my former congressman that lays out the reason why President Nixon labeled Jack Brooks “The Executioner.”

Read the article here.

Brooks represented Southeast Texas for 42 years in the House before losing a re-election battle in 1994 during the Republican sweep of Congress. He returned to Beaumont and continued to serve on various bank boards until his death in December 2012.

I lost track of Jack Brooks after he lost his House race. I moved from Beaumont to the Texas Panhandle the next month and became involved in my new duties at the Amarillo Globe-News.

Politico’s article about Brooks discusses how the cantankerous old Marine essentially wrote the book on how the “opposition party” should respond to political crises involving a president of the other party.

As Politico reports:

A list of 37 potential charges against Nixon, introduced in various resolutions and including crimes ranging from domestic surveillance to illegal campaign practices, were now the subject of intense debate in Congress. The House Judiciary Committee chairman, Peter Rodino, and special counsel, John Doar, equivocated on how to decide the official charges against Nixon. Neither one felt confident, and the committee’s proceedings seemed to languish month after month, capturing headlines but moving nowhere. Observers wondered whether the chairman was unwilling or just inept.

Brooks, on the other hand, felt assured. In early July 1974, he seized the initiative by drafting the articles himself, along with the help of staff. As far as Brooks, the tough-talking former Marine who relished legislative fights, was concerned, Chairman Rodino “wasn’t worth a shit” in the impeachment process, as Brooks later told an interviewer. He was certainly fair and experienced as a legislator, but Brooks thought Rodino “didn’t have the guts a chairman needs to have.”

While other lawmakers were concerned about looking too overzealous or partisan, Brooks’ concerns were larger. Nixon was clearly guilty of impeachable offenses, had violated his oath and needed to be removed, regardless of any future political fallout the Dems might suffer for it. Brooks made it no secret that he was enthusiastically pursuing impeachment and conviction. At a Democratic caucus amid the Judiciary Committee hearings for his impeachment articles, for instance, someone asked about the theme of the second article concerning Nixon’s alleged misuse of the FBI, CIA and IRS. Brooks, as one staffer remembered it, was leaning way back in his chair and smoking a cigar. He came down on the chair hard, took the cigar out of his mouth, and said, “The theme of this article is we’re gonna get that son of a bitch out of there!”

To Brooks, the Judiciary had been chosen to be the tip of the spear. Brooks was determined that it be a sharp one.

Well, there you have it. Is there a lesson to be learned as today’s congressional Democrats ponder how to respond to another Republican president?

Man, oh man. You think you know someone . . .

As many of his supporters used to say about Rep. Brooks, “He might be an SOB, but he’s our SOB.”

Time of My Life, Part 32: In the company of media greatness

The name of a one-time Texas media giant came up today during a discussion I had with a dear friend of mine and it prompts me to look back on an extraordinary meeting I had with this individual back when I wrote editorials and edited the opinion page of the Beaumont Enterprise in Southeast Texas.

You remember the great Molly Ivins, I’m sure. She died of cancer in 2007. She was just 62 years of age.

Ivins was an unreconstructed liberal. And she was damn proud of it! She is the originator of at least two quintessential quips regarding politicians she railed against regularly: She was fond of referring to Texas Gov. George W. Bush as “Shrub”; then she hung the label of “Gov. Goodhair” on Bush’s successor as governor, Rick Perry.

Those legendary nicknames came after I had left Beaumont for the Texas Panhandle. But one afternoon in the Beaumont Enterprise newsroom brought me up close and personal with Molly Ivins.

She had come to Beaumont from Austin to cover the state of politics in the Gulf Coast community. She wanted to watch the Beaumont City Council in action. Ivins was not impressed, as I recall, with the quality of Beaumont’s municipal leadership, let alone its governing body.

I recall one column she wrote at the time in which she ridiculed the late Councilman Andrew P. Cokinos, the youngest of four brothers, all of whom had been players on the Beaumont political stage. She wondered about the middle initial “P.” that all the brothers used. She knew the “P” stood for “Pete,” and poked fun at them in general, and at Andrew in particular.

She wandered into our newsroom one afternoon. My memory is shaky at times, so I cannot recall the precise date of that meeting. I believe it was in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

She held court in the newsroom for well more than an hour. She regaled the journalists gathered around her with story after story of the characters she encountered during her years as a Texas journalist.

She got away somehow with crafting copy that no one else could. She wrote with biting humor, but lurking just below her trademark sarcasm one could find a serious theme to her commentary, as she was a serious journalist, although political conservatives (chiefly Republicans) usually found a way to belittle her.

However, in those days when newspapers actually mattered greatly, when they were relevant to telling communities’ stories, Molly Ivins was a giant among Texas journalists.

To be candid, I always envied her writing skill and more than once I lamented under my breath, “Damn, I wish I could write like that.” I was glad I was able to tell Molly Ivins that very thing to her face that day in Beaumont, Texas.

Happy Trails, Part 157: oh, the joy of anonymity

It takes me a while at times to recognize blessings when they present themselves, but I surely have found one related to our move from the Texas Panhandle to a small — but rapidly growing — community northeast of Dallas.

Forgive me if I sound a bit high-falutin’. It is not my intention, but please bear with me.

The blessing is in the anonymity I am enjoying in Princeton.

I spent many years in two Texas cities — Beaumont and then Amarillo — working in jobs that elevated my visibility. I wrote for newspapers that were essential to the communities they served. My face was in each publication fairly regularly; my name appeared on the pages’ editorial page mastheads daily. Those who read the papers — and they numbered in the tens of thousands in each region — got to know my name; many of them recognized my mug.

Even after I left daily journalism in August 2012 in Amarillo, I would hear from those who would ask, “Hey, aren’t you the guy from the newspaper?” Yes, I would say, although I might say that “the guy in the paper is my evil twin.”

Indeed, when my wife and I were preparing to sell our house in Amarillo, we moved into our fifth wheel, found an RV park on the east side of town. We checked in and the lady who worked the counter that day recognized my name and chortled, “Oh my! You’re famous!” It turned out she is related to a former neighbor of ours . . . but, I digress.

I no longer have those encounters in Princeton. I blend in. My wife and I are just two new folks strolling around our neighborhood with Toby the Puppy.

We go to the grocery store, we make our purchase, we leave. We’re just two folks doing whatever it is we want to do.

And so . . . I welcome this newfound status of being just another face in the crowd. Don’t misunderstand, I occasionally would get a rush over being recognized, especially when someone had a good word to say about the work I did at those earlier stops on our life’s journey. To be sure, not everyone I met in that fashion was complimentary, but that goes with the territory, too.

That was then. Those days are long gone. My life these days is so much better.

Time of My Life, Part 30: Remembering all those colleagues

When I read stories these days about newspapers’ shrinking newsrooms, I remember how it used to be in print journalism.

I was fortunate enough to be part of two newspapers that sold enough copies each day and raked in enough advertising money to invest deeply in personnel who were assigned to cover specific issues, work specific “beats.”

The most recent present-day tale I read came from Politico and it tells the story of the Des Moines (Iowa) Register, the one-time media titan in a state where presidential politics kicks off every four years with those vaunted Iowa caucuses. The Register, as are all newspapers these days, is retrenching. It is doing as much with fewer individuals to do it.

Read the Politico story here.

In the 1980s and into the 1990s, newspapers were flush with cash. I went from a small, five-day-a-week afternoon suburban daily in Oregon City, Ore., in 1984 to a mid-sized newspaper in Beaumont, Texas. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. The Beaumont Enterprise had a huge staff of reporters. They were assigned many specific beats.

The paper had an education reporter, police reporter, entertainment reporter, environmental reporter, courts reporter, someone to cover City Hall, someone to cover county government, reporters assigned to cover surrounding communities, we had a business editor who had a reporter working under his supervision. Then we had a sports department with about 10 reporters, including someone who covered “outdoor sports,” meaning chiefly huntin’ and fishin’. We had a photo staff of around six photographers.

Then, of course, we had copy editors, line editors who assigned stories to the reporters.

Then we had an editorial page staff, of which I was a member. I went to work in Beaumont as an editorial writer. The page had an editor and a cartoonist.

The Beaumont Enterprise, as the saying goes, was a “cash cow” for Jefferson Pilot, the owners who ran the paper when I got there and then for the Hearst Corporation, which bought the paper late in 1984.

I stayed for nearly 11 years before gravitating from the Gulf Coast to the Texas Panhandle. My professional journey then took me to a post where I served as editorial page editor for two papers in Amarillo, the morning Daily News and the evening Globe-Times.

The Globe-News, as everyone called it, was as rich as the Enterprise. The staff there was as diversified and exclusive as the paper I had departed. Its reach was enormous, covering the Panhandle, eastern New Mexico, the Oklahoma Panhandle and a small slice of southwestern Kansas.

Then the bottom started to fall out. It happened in the early 2000s. The Globe-Times was shuttered. The paper began to retrench. I heard that the Beaumont Enterprise did the same thing.

But the good old days were grand, indeed. They brought lots of fun, fellowship with colleagues and a joint pride in being able to assemble a publication each day of the week.

I don’t sense as much pride these days in the publications that employed me. Neither paper has nearly the staff they had back when they were flush with money.

I just recall all those friends and colleagues who have gone on to “pursue other interests.” I think of them often and hope they’re all as happy I am now that it’s over.

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.