Tag Archives: Golden Triangle

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.

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.”