Tag Archives: Texas Panhandle

Happy Trails, Part 183: Sweat triggers early Texas memories

ATLANTA STATE PARK, Texas – A jaunt to this lush Piney Woods forest with our fifth wheel in tow triggered some memories for me.

Our family’s Texas journey began not terribly far from this corner of the massive state. I took a job in Beaumont, which is a bit — about 335 miles — due south along the Texas-Louisiana border, in March 1984. My family joined me in the Golden Triangle later that summer.

We learned quickly to become climatized to the intense heat and humidity in Southeast Texas. Our boys graduated from high school in the early 1990s. In January 1995, I took another job way up yonder in Amarillo. My wife and I moved there and spent the next 23 years enjoying gorgeous sunrises and sunsets and getting acclimated to the distinctly different weather patterns presented along the High Plains. We can attest to the truth of the saying that one can see all four seasons of the year in a single day in Amarillo.

The journey made its final stop in 2018 when we moved to Collin County.

I tend to reminisce when we return to regions with which we have some familiarity. I did so when we pulled into Atlanta State Park.

It’s the tall pines jutting out of the thicket of broad-leaf trees and assorted greenery. Then we had the downpour, followed by rising steam and, oh yeah … the humidity!

We have lived in Texas for most of our lives; that would be 36 years for me, as I am 70 … while my wife is a bit younger than I am. We’ve enjoyed the warm Gulf of Mexico water, the Big Thicket and jaunts to cities such as Houston and New Orleans; we took our belongings to the Panhandle, where we marveled at Palo Duro Canyon and watched a tornado develop less than a mile from our house in the southwest corner of Amarillo. We now are getting used to our new digs in Princeton and enjoying additional time with our precious granddaughter.

This retirement sojourn, though, does take us back to sweaty regions that remind me of what we endured way back when we were much younger and decided to pursue a new life in a part of the world we barely knew.

I remember it as if it just happened.

Cops under even more scrutiny

I never thought it possible that law enforcement officers would be put under the glare of national scrutiny in the manner that is now occurring all across the nation.

It has happened. It is happening right now.

During nearly four decades in journalism, I have covered law enforcement officers in two states. Those I have known professionally have been stand-up men and women. They have been devoted to the oaths they took to protect and serve the communities where they work and live.

Some of those officers became personal friends and I have sought to keep those relationships separate from the work I did as a reporter and later as an editor. I’ve always have told them: Don’t mess up.

We have entered a whole new era. Police have been seen via social media conducting themselves badly with regard to certain citizens who they swore to protect. These incidents have revealed an ugly and terrible racial divide.

Accordingly, the men and women who risk their lives each day simply by reporting for work are now being scrutinized in a way none of them possibly ever expected.

I live near a law enforcement officer. He works unusual hours and I often go several days without ever seeing him. I now intend, once I get the chance, to visit with him and to elicit — I hope — a candid response to what he is feeling as he interacts with the public he serves.

I long have believed the cops I have known back in Oregon, in the Golden Triangle region of Texas, in the Texas Panhandle and even now in North Texas (where my wife and I plan to spend the rest of our lives) to be men and women of high integrity. None of what we have witnessed in these terrible and troubling times will shake my belief in the honor of those I have known.

The intense scrutiny that has come upon these individuals — and the agencies that employ them — is likely deserved, based on what we have witnessed. I do not intend to impugn anyone’s integrity. I do intend to endorse the call for even greater accountability and transparency of those who work in arguably the most dangerous profession imaginable.

They have my gratitude for honoring the oath they take. I just want to ensure that they continue to earn it.

Journalism takes another step toward irrelevance

It pains me to acknowledge this, but based on what I have just learned, daily print journalism — I am talking about newspapers — has taken another big step toward a dark hole of irrelevance.

The Providence Journal, Rhode Island’s largest newspaper, has announced it no longer will publish editorials. You know, those are the opinion pieces that represent the newspaper’s view on issues of the day.

Here is part of a letter that Journal executive editor Alan Rosenberg wrote to readers:

It’s a decision that we don’t make lightly. But it’s been coming for a long time…

[After the partisan newspapers of the 19th century,] most newspapers abandoned partisanship in their news pages, but kept the idea that they should speak out, in their editorials, on what they perceived as the best interests of their community and country.

But in doing so, they inadvertently undermined readers’ perception of a newspaper’s core mission: to report the news fairly. Our goal in news stories is always to learn, and reflect, the facts of a situation, then report them without bias. Reporters’ opinions, if they have them, have no place in our stories.

But when the newspaper itself expresses opinions on those same subjects, it causes understandable confusion. Readers wonder: Can reporters really do their work without trying to reflect the views expressed in their employers’ name? Can they cast a skeptical eye on a politician their paper has endorsed, or a generous eye on one it has opposed?

The answer is a definite “yes” — but my email since I became executive editor shows that many just don’t buy it.

The Providence Journal is owned by Gannett Corp. What we have here is a display in gutlessness. It is a shameful capitulation to the forces that are slowly but inexorably making daily newspapers irrelevant in the lives of thinking Americans.

I spent the vast bulk of my 36 years in journalism writing editorials and editing opinion pages. We once were committed to providing leadership to communities that used to look for some semblance of guidance from their newspapers. Sure, we had that argument with readers that Rosenberg mentioned about whether news coverage was influenced by newspapers’ editorial policy.

This news out of Providence, R.I., saddens me terribly. It well might get even worse for readers of the last newspaper where I worked on my professional journey, the Amarillo Globe-News. Gannett owns the Globe-News and Gannett has become a cost-cutting master in this era of declining subscribership and advertising.

I hate saying it … but I fear the end of daily journalism in Amarillo, Texas, might be at hand.

It’s official: I will ignore the return to ‘business as usual’

I am in dire need of a haircut. I miss cutting into a medium-rare steak at a nice restaurant. I want to return to the gym and to my daily workout regimen.

All of that is going to wait for the foreseeable future, no matter what Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declares as he seeks to reopen the state for business.

He said hair salons are back in business. Gyms will reopen in a few days. Restaurants have been open for a few days now, although the governor ordered ’em to operate at 25 percent of capacity.

Fine. Go for it, y’all. I am staying away. I do not like seeing the news about infection and death rates continuing to climb in Texas, and in North Texas, where I live along with some members of my family. The picture isn’t any prettier in the Panhandle, where the rest of my family and many of our friends reside.

I haven’t checked in on the Golden Triangle, where my wife and I still have many dear friends.

From what I have read, polling suggests most Texans and other Americans believe as I do, that governors are acting too hastily to reopen their states. They are putting too much emphasis on the economy and not enough of it on the health of the people they represent.

Gov. Abbott has moved too quickly to suit my sensibilities. I am glad he had the good sense to close Texas public school classrooms for the rest of the academic year.

And what in the world is going on with our Texas public universities? They want to return to in-person classwork this fall. I’m OK with that … but Texas A&M, the University of Texas and Texas Tech University systems plan to play football. Are they going to play those games in empty stadiums? Yeah … good luck with that.

You may count me as one Texas resident who wants to see a substantial and recurring decline in the infection and death rates before I make my return to what we used to think of as “normal.”

Hey, maybe I can make a fashionably late entrance.

For now? I am out.

What’s with this order to keep meat packers operating?

I admit readily that I don’t understand a lot of things in life.

One of them deals with an executive order that Donald Trump plans to issue that keeps meat packing plants running while the nation is still fighting the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

Meat packers report their employees are falling ill to the killer virus; some of them have died. Trump wants to issue an order that protects meat packers from legal liability in case workers sue them for exposing employees to the COVID-19 virus.

If I read that correctly, Trump is more interested in protecting the companies than in protecting the employees who work for them … and who put themselves at risk of possible exposure to a virus that could kill them.

Trump will invoke the Defense Production Act, declaring the food supply chain as essential to our national security. Oh, but wait! He only recently said the food supply chain was in no jeopardy. Others are saying something quite different. The head of Tyson Foods says the “supply chain is breaking.”

I get back to my essential point, which is that I don’t understand how a president of the United States can order a privately run industry to operate and put employees in potentially mortal danger.

We moved to the Metroplex a couple of years ago after living in the heart of the cattle-feeding industry. We called the Texas Panhandle home for nearly 23 years. That region feeds roughly 20 percent of all the beef consumed in this country. A shutdown of the Tyson packing plant in Amarillo would do serious harm to the region’s economy, not to mention the nation’s meat supply. I totally get it.

But what about the men and women who work in that plant, many of whom are immigrants who came here to seek a better life? What kind of “better life” can they enjoy if they become sickened by COVID-19? Or if, heaven forbid, the disease kills them?

I am trying to understand it. I cannot get there.

Take it from this fellow: Texas judicial election system stinks

There can be no diplomatic, or judicious way to say this.

The system we use in Texas to elect our judges stinks to high heaven … and beyond. It is filled with the stench of rotten money.

There. Now that we’ve laid that all out, I now shall offer some evidence. It comes from a marvelous Texas Tribune article about a fellow I don’t know well, but someone about whom I have known for many years.

Salem Abraham lives in Canadian, which I call “the pretty part of the Texas Panhandle.” He earned a fortune trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He knows how to play numerical probabilities.

As the Tribune reports, Abraham knows as well as anyone in Texas that the more you donate to Texas judicial candidates the better your chances of winning a judicial verdict/settlement in their court.

Texas is one of six states that elect judges on partisan ballots. The Tribune notes, too, that many judges owe their campaign donations to “the white-shoe lawyers and law firms who appear before them.”

The Tribune also reports that every living former Texas Supreme Court chief justice has called for reforming the system. To no avail. Their pleas have fallen into the abyss of indifference to — at a bare minimum — the appearance of impropriety.

Abraham notes in the article that the more money that pours in the more likely one will get a favorable ruling from the court.

Pass the collection plate?

This is no way to adjudicate fairly, impartially and without bias.

That ‘organic’ smell might be harmful to your health

When my wife and I moved to the Texas Panhandle in early 1995, we thought we were relocating to a place where the “smell of money” had a more, um, organic origin … that it wouldn’t be harmful to the health of those closest to it.

We had lived for nearly 11 years in the Golden Triangle, the heart of the Texas petrochemical and oil refining industry, where the smell of money was full of cancer-causing agents.

It now turns out, according to the Texas Observer, that the Panhandle’s money smell is, shall we say, not so healthy after all.

It’s called “fecal dust,” with the incessant wind blowing clouds of dirt filled with cattle dung particles. The result has been increases in respiratory illness, extreme discomfort and a smell that forces feedlot employees to shed their clothing the minute they go home after working among thousands of head of cattle.

The Panhandle produces roughly one-fifth of the beef consumed in the United States. The beef, as we know, comes from cattle that are sent to feedlots to fatten up prior to the beasts being “processed” into the meat we enjoy at our dinner tables.

It’s what they do in those feedlots that is the center of the Observer’s investigation. There’s no nice way to say it: They crap on the ground inside the pens; the wind blows the dirt across the sprawling, open landscape. Those who are near the source suffer from assorted respiratory ailments.

As the Observer reported: “You go outside and it’ll just burn your nose and your eyes,” (Lawrence) Brorman says. The dust brings foul odors so pervasive that they can penetrate the Brormans’ farmhouse even when the doors and windows are closed. Lawrence and his wife, Jaime, use a more explicit term for the fecal dust: “shust,” a portmanteau of “shit” and “dust.” (Other folks who live here are partial to “shog,” a mashup of the same first word and “fog.”)

Read the Observer story here.

This story alarms me. It concerns me because I have friends who live near those feedlots. My wife and I have dear friends who live in Hereford, which is the undisputed, if unofficial, “capital” of the cattle-feeding industry in the Texas Panhandle.

There needs to be a careful monitoring of that fecal dust matter, for sure. Let us hope Texas environmental regulators are keeping an eye — and a nose — open to what’s transpiring up yonder on the Caprock.

Indeed, “organic” doesn’t always mean “healthy.”

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!

Partisan labels are so, so, so distracting

I detest — no, I actually hate — electing judges on partisan tickets, forcing them to run either as Democrat or Republican.

That is no surprise to those who have been reading my musings over many years. I have tried to make the case that Texas needs to shed its partisan election of judges in favor of a system that allows voters to look more critically at someone’s judicial philosophy than at his or her party affiliation.

We’re heading into another election year. It’s going to be a doozy. We get to choose a president; in Texas, we get to select a U.S. senator. There will be a whole host of local offices as well, at the legislative and county levels.

Thus, I want to offer something that I once posited in a newspaper column back in the Texas Panhandle when I was a working stiff writing for the Amarillo Globe-News.

Why must we elect district attorneys, sheriffs, treasurers, tax assessor-collectors, district clerks, county clerks and — gulp! — constables on partisan ballots? I won’t mention justices of the peace, because I include them as judges.

I wrote a column once for the Globe-News in which I pitched the idea that partisan labels don’t apply to many of the officials who must run under either party’s banner. I got a surprising endorsement of that view from the Randall County tax assessor-collector at the time, who said she agreed with the basic tenet of my column. It was that there is no difference between what a Republican tax collector does and what a Democratic tax collector does. They both swear to follow Texas statute, which makes no delineation between the parties.

The same can be said of sheriffs, DAs, district and county clerks, treasurers. How does a Republican sheriff do his or her job compared to a Democratic sheriff? Are GOP sheriffs tougher on bad guys than Democrats? Please.

Same with DAs, which I suppose you could lump into the same sort of mold as judges. Why not judge these DA candidates on their legal philosophy rather than on whether they have a D or an R next to their name?

I know this will go absolutely nowhere. Texas legislators are so very resistant to change, let alone resistant to doing anything that would require amending the Texas Constitution.

I just want to express a continuing frustration with Texas’s love affair with partisan labels.

There. I’ve done it. I feel better already.