Tag Archives: Texas Panhandle

There’s something to this ‘Texas friendly’ thing

I concluded not long after moving to Texas in 1984 that Texans, by nature, are a most hospitable bunch.

It’s not a trait unique to Texans. However, it is a quality I didn’t grow up with in my native Oregon.

My wife and I just returned from a walk through our Fairview neighborhood and, so help me, I lost count of the number of times I waved at and/or said “good morning” to total strangers.

Almost everyone we usually encounter either greets us initially or returns a greeting from either of us, usually with a smile.

Why is this so remarkable? I want to mention it in the context of what we keep hearing about our government leaders and how angry they are at each other and how that anger is being projected toward their “bosses,” the voters — such as you and me.

I don’t find that to be the case as I go about my day.

I am generally a social animal. I like people. I like being around them. I enjoy the give-and-take with strangers. I like talking to people and getting to know them just a bit beyond the surface level — although I know enough not to get too personal with my inquiries.

Maybe it’s the nosiness in me. I was a reporter/editorial writer/editor for a lot of years and that particular personality trait served me well as I cultivated sources during my career.

When we moved to Texas back in the spring of 1984 I was taken aback almost immediately by the friendliness of the folks who live along the Gulf Coast, in the Golden Triangle, where my family and I called home for nearly 11 years.

Then my wife and I uprooted ourselves in early 1995 and ventured a good bit up yonder to the Panhandle. We encountered the same sort of openness and friendliness as we greeted strangers.

What’s interesting, too, about West Texas is the way motorists wave at each other while traveling along lengthy stretches of highway. One can drive several (dozen) miles at times without seeing another motorist; when one approaches from the opposite direction, the driver is likely to toss you a wave … or he or she might lift an index finger off the steering wheel as you whiz by.

I guess that’s what those signs at the border mean when they welcome visitors to “Drive Friendly, the Texas Way.”

One doesn’t get that kind of greeting in the Metroplex, where such right-of-way desolation doesn’t exist, if you get my drift.

And so … about the time you get dismayed at the negative tone you hear on the news each day emanating from the halls of power, I have a solution for my fellow Texans.

Get out of the house and take a walk through the neighborhood.

Happy Trails, Part 128: Getting tired of rain … again!

I once posted a blog item that told of how I had grown to appreciate the rain, given that we lived in the Texas Panhandle, where annual rainfall amounted to fewer than 20 inches.

We moved to Amarillo from Beaumont, where it rains a lot more than that; we moved to Beaumont from Portland, Ore., where it rains constantly. Growing up I hated the rain.

Now we have relocated to Fairview, just north of Dallas.

It has been raining here. A lot! It’s making me grow tired of the rain yet again.

My wife and I spent a few days out of town. We pulled our RV from our garage location in Amarillo to Copper Breaks State Park, about a dozen miles south of Quanah. It rained a good bit while we were there, but it was mild compared to what fell on the Metroplex and the Hill Country while we were staying at Copper Breaks.

Then we returned home Wednesday, driving into the deluge that had flooded much of the Metroplex.

Now we hear that “a lot more rain is on the way,” according to a TV meteorologist.

OK, I am not going to gripe about the rain. I know it brings life to any region that is fortunate enough to receive it. I also know that it brings destruction if it comes too rapidly; just as those who live along the Llano River in the Hill Country have learned.

I guess it’s just in my nature to bitch about the rain, just as I griped for more than two decades while living in Amarillo about the lack of it and the incessant sunshine.

Now that I am older and possibly wiser (although that’s open to plenty of debate, as my blog critics might suggest), I’ll just have to learn with what I cannot control.

First-class wordsmith gets back in the game

I recently lamented the retirement of a man who has lent his wonderful written “voice” to the Texas Panhandle.

Jon Mark Beilue worked for the Amarillo Globe-News for 37 years before retiring in July from his post as a columnist. I have good news for readers of this blog: Beilue is getting back in the game, this time as a columnist for West Texas A&M University.

I want to share this bit of good news because I have used this blog to bemoan the gutting of the Globe-News — first by Morris Communications and then by the company that purchased the G-N a year ago from Morris, GateHouse Media.

WT announced Beilue’s new writing gig in a press release, which stated in part: “We are excited to welcome Jon Mark to the WTAMU family and to share his many talents with the people of the Panhandle,” Dr. Walter Wendler, University president, said. “West Texas A&M University has many interesting stories to tell, and there is no doubt that Jon Mark will tell them well.”

Read the entire WT statement here.

WT plans to distribute Beilue’s columns weekly to area newspapers. If the folks who run the Globe-News have a brain in their heads, they will make sure this fine journalist’s words are published on the pages of a newspaper in dire need of institutional knowledge of the community.

Beilue provides it. He lived his entire life in the Texas Panhandle, absent his four years as a student at Texas Tech University down the road a bit in Lubbock.

And as WT noted in its release: His talent with words is well known across the region and has been recognized at both the state and national levels as far back as the 1980s until his retirement in 2018.

I have said it before, but it bears repeating: Jon Mark Beilue is a community treasure. I am delighted to know that WT has decided to put him back on display.

Well done.

Communities still need newspapers of record

A friend and former colleague posted this picture on social media, noting that the building appears to be “crying.”

It sits at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Harrison Street in downtown Amarillo, Texas. It currently houses what is left of the Amarillo Globe-News, where my friend worked for more than 20 years and where I worked for nearly 18 years.

It symbolizes a once-proud community institution. The Globe-News once stood tall as a pillar of the community it served with distinction and pride. Indeed, back in the good old days, the evening edition of the Globe-News — the Globe-Times — earned print journalism’s highest honor: the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service.

The editor of the Globe-Times, Tommy Thompson, uncovered corruption in county government. He and his staff hammered at the issue. Their hard work brought about reforms and needed change. The Pulitzer board recognized that effort by bestowing the paper with its highest honor.

That was in 1960. It seems as though it happened even longer ago than that.

Print journalism is undergoing enormous change at this moment in history. Amarillo is enduring some serious pain and suffering. It now functions with a staff that is a fraction of its historic size. The corporate ownership changed in 2017. Morris Communications, which owned the paper since 1972, sold to GateHouse Media. Morris is no longer publishing daily newspapers. GateHouse’s goals for the G-N and for the Lubbock Avalance-Journal, which it purchased, are not entirely clear.

Amarillo no longer has a newspaper that stands tall as the publication of record. Neither does Lubbock. The G-N closed its printing presses a couple of years ago; it now prints its editions in Lubbock.

The papers now are being led by “regional” executives: a publisher who resides in Lubbock but spends part of his week in Amarillo; and an executive editor who lives in Amarillo but spends part of her week in Lubbock.

Two men with a combined 60-plus years of experience in Amarillo have left the business. The newspaper is going to feel their absence in ways they cannot yet measure or define. Take my word for it, the paper’s mission will suffer.

I regret to note, further, that none of this is unique to the Texas Panhandle or the South Plains. My most recent experience in print journalism, though, involves Amarillo, a community my wife and I grew to love when we moved there in 1995. My newspaper career delivered many more good times and enjoyment during the years I spent at the Globe-News.

Then a lot of things changed.

Now I am watching from some distance as the newspaper that drew many craftsmen and women together and delivered many shared experiences struggles to find a new identity.

I am having serious doubt that the Globe-News will find it.

Time to study up on local election races

I regret that I haven’t yet gotten up to speed on the political tides of Collin County, where my wife and I have lived since May.

An election is coming up. I have to get busy. Like … right away.

Our congressman, former Vietnam War prisoner Sam Johnson, is retiring. Rep. Johnson, a Republican, was held captive for seven years by the North Vietnamese, which is about a year and a half longer than the late Sen. John McCain was imprisoned.

I still hope one day to shake Rep. Johnson’s hand and thank him for his years of public service and sacrifice to the country.

I also need to catch up with the Republican and Democrat who are running to succeed him.

There’s also a whole lot of county races I need to understand.

And then … we have the Legislature. We’re going to have a new state senator and a new state representative elected from our part of the county.

I’m pretty well versed on the statewide ballot and the individuals who seek to represent us in Austin. I’ve made my share of commitments, made up my mind on many of the races. I’m still working on a few others.

Living more than 23 years in the Texas Panhandle gave me a pretty solid grounding on the individuals who seek to represent residents in public office. That’s behind me now.

It’s time to get better acquainted with the lay of the land in Metroplex, where the politics — based on what I’ve seen to date — is a good bit more complicated than what we experienced way up yonder on the Caprock.

Pray for me.

Blowing smoke, or is Beto the real deal?

Mick Mulvaney, budget director for the Donald Trump administration, has sounded a serious alarm bell.

He has told Republican faithful that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas could lose his attempt at being re-elected. He said Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke poses a serious threat to the Cruz Missile (my description, not his … obviously).

How does one take this? Is it an attempt to gin up support among Republicans who until now had been sitting on their hands? Or is it a legitimate concern from a key Trump aide who think one of the GOP’s once-safest seats might be in serious jeopardy?

I cannot assess the motive behind Mulvaney’s assessment.

Mulvaney sounds the alarm

I’m not close to any political movements these days. I rely on what I see and hear in the media, or what I see on the street as I make my way through life.

I keep hearing about O’Rourke’s astonishing welcome in the Texas Panhandle, where I used to live. I hear about all the O’Rourke lawn signs showing up in tony old-money neighborhoods — such the Wolflin neighborhood in Amarillo — where residents have traditionally voted Republican.

Here, in Collin County, I’m not yet seeing evidence of this O’Rourke phenomenon. I drive through neighborhoods and I see a smattering of O’Rourke lawn signs, but nothing like the volume I hear about cropping up in Amarillo. I will add, though, that Cruz signs are quite rare, so perhaps there’s some anecdotal evidence of an O’Rourke “surge” in the final two months of the Senate campaign.

Yes, I have seen the polls. The race appears to be a dead heat. There remain, though, a large body of undecided voters, or at least those voters who aren’t yet ready to tell pollsters how they intend to vote. They remain the big prize awaiting to be lured either by Cruz or O’Rourke political machines.

Back in Washington, the budget director says Cruz could lose this contest.

I hope he’s right.

Memo to Tech: Keep the vet school moving ahead

If I had a chance to ask the candidates who seek to become the next chancellor of the Texas Tech University System a single question …

It would go like this: Will you ensure that Texas Tech continues to proceed full force with establishing a college of veterinary medicine in Amarillo?

Whoever seeks the office that Bob Duncan is vacating with his retirement at the end of this month had better answer it the right way. That would be an emphatic “heck, yeah!”

Duncan, who built a stellar career in law, then in the Texas Legislature and then as Texas Tech’s chancellor, has decided to go on down the road. He turns 65. He wants to scale it back.

The chancellor has done very well for the school where he earned his undergraduate and law degrees. The school’s endowment has grown to more than $1 billion under Duncan’s tenure as chancellor, which speaks to the success he enjoyed as a fundraiser for the university.

Back to my original point.

Duncan has become an articulate champion for Tech’s next great system addition, the vet school in Amarillo. This project, which has the full backing of the Amarillo City Council and the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, will be a boon to veterinary medicine in Texas, not to mention to the Texas Panhandle, which will benefit greatly by delivering a top-quality education to students who want to serve their communities.

The vet school holds tremendous promise for large-animal veterinary care. Given the Panhandle’s reliance on livestock and horses, that is — as one might think — a very … big … deal.

The vet school is gaining valuable momentum, much of it pushed forward by Chancellor Bob Duncan.

The next chancellor, whoever he or she is, must carry that momentum forward.

As for Chancellor Duncan, I want to join the chorus of those who thank him for his service to the state, to his beloved university and to the Texas Panhandle.

Godspeed, sir.

What do I miss? The weather!

AMARILLO, Texas — Yep. we’re back where we lived for about a third of our lives on Earth.

Tonight I think I have discovered what I miss the most (sort of) about the Texas Panhandle.

I’ll stipulate up front that we made many friends here before departing for the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex earlier this year. I miss them terribly already.

The next thing? Man, it’s gotta be the weather.

We’ve been getting re-accustomed to downstate humidity while we have settled into our new digs in Fairview. It hasn’t been narly the struggle it was when we first moved to Texas in the spring of 1984; we left Oregon for — gulp! — Beaumont, in the Golden Triangle, or, as I like to call it, The Swamp.

Then we moved to Amarillo in 1995. It was in January. My blood had thinned out (if that’s possible) during our years way down yonder, so getting used to the Panhandle winter was a project. But we did.

We have returned for a few days while we prepare to depart for Yellowstone National Park and Grand Coulee, Wash.

We’ve had a hot, humid, sticky summer in Fairview. We parked our fifth wheel tonight at an RV park and have enjoyed the cool breeze wafting through our vehicle.

Ahh, yes! The weather. We likely are going to miss the Texas Panhandle’s version of the four seasons.

Why endorse in primaries?

A newspaper editorial endorsement for a political primary election brings to mind a decision I made several years before the end of my own journalism career.

It was that we shouldn’t make such an endorsement unless a primary race was tantamount to election, meaning that there would be no contested two-party primaries for that particular office.

The endorsement that got me thinking about the issue came from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which recommended former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in that state’s Republican primary.

Read the endorsement here.

It wasn’t always that way. I used to work for newspapers in Beaumont, Texas and in Oregon City, Ore. We made primary endorsements at those newspapers.

Then I moved to Amarillo to become editorial page editor of the Globe-News. After a period of time, I persuaded the publisher that primary endorsements were not nearly as relevant as general-election endorsements. So, why do them, especially when the candidates had another election in the fall?

Amarillo is in the middle of heavily Republican territory. In many instances, particularly in Randall County — which comprises the southern half (roughly) of Amarillo, Democrats damn near never run candidates for local offices. That means the GOP primary means the winner is all but assured of election, barring a surprise and successful write-in campaign.

We elected then to endorse only in those primary races featuring contests in just one party. That meant the Republican Party.

I came to realize that primaries are essentially a political party function. They are run by the political parties. The local party chairs are in charge of managing the ballots and ensuring that all the fees are paid.

If by chance there would be contested primaries in both major parties, we would take a pass on offering a recommendation in the primary; we preferred to wait for the general election campaign to make our recommendation known.

That was then. I now wonder whether newspaper endorsements mean anything any longer. Texas Gov. Rick Perry decided in 2010 to forgo any editorial board interviews with Texas newspapers; he was angry at the way newspapers treated him. The Globe-News that year endorsed former Houston Mayor Bill White, as did the vast majority of Texas newspapers. Gov. Perry won big anyway.

Donald Trump got few newspaper endorsements in 2016. You know how that election turned out.

If I had to do it all over again, I think I’d do it the way I decided to do it. No primary endorsements unless a party’s primary meant virtual election to office.

I also might give serious thought to giving up on the idea of offering endorsements for any race … ever!

I mean … what’s the point?

It’s official: Amarillo is the tightest community in America

A dinner date last night in Plano, Texas, cemented what I’ve long felt from the moment my wife and I moved to Amarillo, Texas, in early 1995.

It is that Amarillo, a city of about 200,000 residents, is the most tightly knit community I’ve ever seen. It might be the tightest community in America.

Here’s what I mean …

We had dinner with four young people, two couples. One of the young men is a former colleague of mine at the Amarillo Globe-News. I had met his wife once many years ago. The other couple also hail from Amarillo; they are close to the first couple I just described. The two young women are cousins.

We chatted and laughed through the evening over dinner and beverages. Then one of the young women said, “Since you were with the newspaper, you might know my stepdad.” I asked who that would be. She mentioned his name. My jaw dropped. I slapped my forehead. Her stepdad happens to be a prominent commercial real estate developer.

Of course I know him. I’ve known him fairly well for many years.

This encounter was just one of a countless string them of them my wife and I have had over the years living in Amarillo. We would meet total strangers. Then we would find out that they either are (a) close personal friends with those we know or (b) are related to them.

Then to have this encounter 350 miles away from Amarillo and find out that there really are very few degrees of separation — or so it seems — from anyone in the Texas Panhandle community just affirms what I’ve believed all along.

Everyone in Amarillo seems to know everyone else.

I wonder now if (six degrees of separation from) Kevin Bacon has ever been to Amarillo. Surely he has.