Tag Archives: Golden Triangle

Harvey getting set to deliver a second sucker punch

Here it comes … again!

Hurricane Harvey has been “downgraded” to a tropical storm. The beast delivered its havoc to Houston and is still punishing the nation’s fourth-largest city.

Then it decided to back up, move out over the Gulf of Mexico and pick up some more moisture from the overheated body of water. Now the storm is coming back ashore. Where it makes landfall again remains mostly a guess. It’ll be somewhere east of Houston. Possibly near Beaumont, where my family and I lived for nearly 11 years before moving to higher ground in the Texas Panhandle.

What are we to glean from this mayhem, this madness, the utter terror of our friends, neighbors and loved ones having to endure this wrath?

I am going to maintain faith that our fellow Texans are going to show the kind of strength and resolve they usually exhibit in times of terrible distress.

When the acclaimed PBS series on the Dust Bowl aired a couple of years ago, I learned a lot about the steel that runs up the spines of Texas Panhandle residents who survived that terrible time. The series, titled “The Dust Bowl,” recounted the horror that those survivors felt as they watched the ground beneath them blow away. They were children then. Now, quite obviously, they are much older — but their recollections were vivid and so very moving.

Through it all many of them stayed. They fought through the disaster. They rebuilt their lives.

Those earlier Texans have produced generations just like them today and those among us in real time in this moment are enduring another tragedy, brought by another form of nature’s rage.

The storm named Harvey is coming back in. It’s going to do more damage. That’s the terrible news. There can be no “blessing” to derive from this.

However, I anticipate that even after Harvey finishes its terrible task that our Gulf Coast brethren will find a way to rebuild their shattered lives.

God bless them all.

When, oh when will the water recede … and to where?

I’m having what I guess you could call a 9/11 Moment as I watch the heartache associated with the cataclysmic flooding throughout Southeast Texas.

Over the years since 9/11 it has become harder for me to watch the Twin Towers collapse. Or to watch the jetliners fly into them.

It’s taken a fraction of the time for me to shudder at the sight of the flooding in Houston and in Beaumont. You see, I have this connection with that part of the world.

My family and I moved to Beaumont in 1984. I had taken a job as an editorial writer at the Beaumont Enterprise and my boss at the time me I would be sitting “in the catbird seat” in the midst of a great “news town.” He was right.

We stayed there for nearly 11 years. My sons graduated from high school and went off to college before my wife and I pulled up stakes and left Beaumont for Amarillo in early 1995.

I learned a couple of things about the Texas Gulf Coast rather quickly.

One is that it rains a lot there. We occasionally would get about 6 or 7 inches of rain in the span of about, oh, an hour. It would produce local flooding. Storm ditches would fill up and the water would run into ponds built for the purpose of holding rain water.

I also learned that the water table along the Gulf Coast is not far at all below Earth’s surface. I don’t know the precise measurement, but I became aware that it takes virtually no time at all for water to fill the spongy, goopy soil throughout the region.

All that is worth mentioning as we watch the horror that continues to play out in Houston and in the Golden Triangle today. Those folks are receiving epic amounts of water. Fifty inches are expected to fall on the region by the middle of the week.

I look at the video on TV and wonder: Where in the world is that water going to go? How long will it take to recede? How does that much rain water recede in a region that (a) sits only about 30 feet above sea level and (b) is as flat as it can possibly get? The Gulf of Mexico only is about 20 miles south of Beaumont; I believe Houston is a little farther inland, but not much.

The misery that is unfolding down yonder is far from over … and it is shattering my heart in a way it hasn’t been broken since 9/11.

Storm brings misery — and prompts the best in humanity

Harvey is hanging around. The storm won’t dissipate. It won’t fizzle out and become a memory.

The one-time hurricane that is still ravaging the Texas Gulf Coast appears to be backing up over the Gulf of Mexico, where it is expected to recharge and bring even more misery to the battered residents of Southeast Texas.

What on God’s Earth do we do about this? Well, humanity is left to do what it can to help those who are stricken. It’s the human thing to do.

There’s no good news to be gleaned from this event. I won’t pretend to gloss over any single bit of the tragedy that has befallen that region. My heart, though, is lifted — if only just a tiny bit — by news of the aid that is pouring in from neighboring communities. It is arriving to assist storm victims with transportation, shelter, food, money — even good wishes and prayer.

It’s what we do for those who are caught by the storm’s wrath.

Here we are, roughly 700 miles north-northwest of the battered region. My own feeling of helplessness remains, although we do have a certain sense of empathy for the friends we left behind when we departed Beaumont for the High Plains in January 1995.

I dare not pretend to understand, though, the extent of the misery from which they are suffering. I am left to sit in my safe haven and salute those who are able to assist in any way they are able.

It’s what their sense of humanity and compassion compels them to do. They are answering the call.

God bless you all.

Does the sound of rain now frighten our friends?

I cannot stop thinking about something a former colleague of mine once told me about how an extreme weather event changed his view of what used to comfort him.

We were working in Beaumont, Texas, together at the time. He was an editor at the Beaumont Enterprise, where I worked as editor of the opinion pages.

I think of him now as we watch the horror continuing to unfold in the Golden Triangle and in nearby Houston.

My friend lived at the time in a suburban Beaumont community near Pine Island Bayou. The Golden Triangle is known to get a lot of rain in a major hurry. One such event occurred. My friend, his wife and their two small sons got caught in the rain.

The bayou spilled over. Roughly two feet of water poured into my friend’s home. They had to evacuate. I cannot recall nearly three decades later where they ended up, or even how long they were displaced from their home.

The water eventually receded. They repaired the damage. They moved back in.

“You know there once was a time,” my friend said — and yes, I am paraphrasing — “when the sound of rain would lull me to sleep. These days, after what just happened to us, the sound of rain now scares me half to death.”

It’s impossible for me to believe that millions of Texans who are battling the devastation brought by Hurricane Harvey aren’t now frightened for life at that very sound.

My heart breaks for them.

I lost touch with my friend many years ago as we went our separate ways. I just hope by now he’s gotten over his fear of rainfall.

Hating the feeling of utter helplessness

You know the feeling, I’m sure.

Mother Nature levels her immense power onto a region of this great country and you are left only to wish the very best for those who are being affected.

I won’t suggest that “All I can do is pray.” A clergy friend of mine has reminded us many times over the years that “Prayer isn’t the least we can do; it’s the most we can do.”

So we are left to pray and hope for the very best for those being devastated by Hurricane Harvey’s unthinkable rage.

Social media have offered a pretty good device for those in harm’s way to tell the rest of us that they’re safe and sound. My Facebook news feed is full of such assurances and for that I am grateful on behalf of our many friends throughout the Houston and Golden Triangle areas of Southeast Texas.

Here we sit, though, a good distance away from the havoc. We’re perched way up yonder on the Caprock, high and dry and enjoying the sunshine at nearly 3,700 feet above sea level. The Texas Department of Transportation is advising motorists to avoid travel to the Gulf Coast. If only we could transport ourselves into the storm to lend a hand to the friends we have retained many years after leaving Beaumont for a new life in Amarillo.

And, no, I don’t intend to ignore the misery that has befallen all the good folks who are coping with the storm’s wrath.

So … what is there to do? Except pray.

I can do that. However, it does nothing to assuage my feeling of helplessness.

This storm hits close to the heart

Watching the ongoing drama down yonder on the Texas Gulf Coast leaves me with a dizzying mix of emotions.

* My family and I moved to Texas in 1984 and settled in Beaumont, the heart of the Golden Triangle. Hurricanes blow through the region.

Indeed, we endured a couple of major storms during our nearly 11 years on the Gulf Coast. One of them was Hurricane Bonnie, which wasn’t nearly as strong as Hurricane Harvey, but it did hit Beaumont directly; the other was Tropical Storm Allison, which has gotten some discussion from the weather experts reporting on the devastation being brought by Hurricane Harvey.

Allison didn’t reach hurricane status. It did, however, bring  a lot of rain in June 1989. It slogged over Beaumont on its way north; then it decided to back up and do it some more.

Hurricane Harvey, according to some of the TV weather talkers, is looking a bit like Allison as it meanders ever so slowly across the Gulf Coast region.

Harvey brings forth another bit of familiarity for yours truly.

* A couple of years ago, my wife and I pulled our fifth wheel south to Beaumont for a few days; then we traveled southwest toward Corpus Christi. We spent a few more nights at Goose Island State Park, in Rockport — which is where Hurricane Harvey made landfall late Friday.

I shudder to think what Goose Island SP looks like at this moment as Harvey continues to march its way to who knows where.

Local  emergency management officials report at least one fatality in Rockport. Quite clearly, all of our hearts break for lives lost.

* And at yet another level, I caught up early this afternoon with a good friend who lives in Houston with his wife and their two young sons. As we spoke over the phone, our friends were getting pummeled by the deluge brought by Harvey.

He joked about the forecast of as much as 20 to 30 inches of rain. “If it rains like that we’re going to flood,” he said. “Hey, we’ve got a two-story house,” he said with the calmness I would expect from him.

* And that brings to mind a final thought: Is it my imagination, or do those affected most calmly by nature’s wrath seem the calmest of anyone? The media have been reporting with an urgency that at times seems to border on hysteria about Hurricane Harvey’s arrival on land and the destruction it’s bringing. I don’t doubt that the storm will do a lot of damage.

My friend said simply this: “I have less fear of the rain than I do of the wind.” He — and I presume his family as well — are ready for whatever comes.

Still, we are going to continue to worry about all of our friends — and everyone else as well — along the coast.

It’s kind of like returning to previous haunts

LAKE BOB SANDLIN STATE PARK, Texas — The author Thomas Wolfe once wrote that “you can’t go home again.”

That may be true, but you can return to places that remind you of where you used to live.

This East Texas state park has a curious way of reminding me of a place where my family and I spent more than a decade of our life together just straight south of here.

It’s hot here. And damn humid, too! This state park is near Mount Pleasant, about a two-hour drive east of Dallas. If you drive about four hours straight south, you end up in Beaumont, where my wife, sons and I moved in the spring of 1984.

We weren’t used to the sticky air that shrouds this part of the world when we got to the Golden Triangle. We grew to accept it every late spring and through the summer.

My sons went off to college in the early 1990s and my wife and I moved to Amarillo in early 1995. We moved away from the stifling humidity and into the wind of the Texas Panhandle.

I mentioned to my wife as we walked through the woods at Bob Sandlin State Park, “You know, I am looking at billions of leaves on all these trees and I don’t see a single one of them moving. Nothing is fluttering in anything approaching a breeze.”

We remained holed up in our RV. The air conditioner was running full blast. Our windows got wet with moisture collecting on the outside of them.

We’re likely going to need to get used to this kind of weather all over again. Our plan is to move from the Panhandle to a location in the vicinity of the Metroplex, where our granddaughter, Emma, awaits.

Until then, a lot more travel is on tap for us. A good bit of it will take us back toward this part of Texas, where we’ll be reminded of our prior life when constant perspiration became the norm.

I get that you can’t really “go home again.” We do plan to relearn how to live with what we used to know.

It’s the onset of spring, baby!

I’ve heard it a bazillion times: Oh, I love the fall season.

Not me, dear reader. My favorite season is about to arrive. The vernal equinox will occur in a little more than week and it will signal my favorite time of the year.

I noticed something quite welcoming Thursday while mowing my lawn: the Oklahoma redbud in our front yard is beginning to show its buds. Bring it, Okie tree!

I totally understand why many folks love the autumn in this part of the world. Our summers can get blistering on the Texas High Plains … although,  hey, it’s a dry heat. I also welcome the cooler temps that arrive about the time of the autumnal equinox.

The spring, though, presents an entirely different dynamic.

We turn quite barren around here in the winter months. Grass goes dormant, turning the fescue more brown than green. When you drive along the rural highways, you see even more of it; vast expanses of it, to be honest.

Rain? Sure, we get some. Snow? That, too. The cold, though, gets pretty damn bitter even without the precipitation.

My wife and I do appreciate the seasonal changes we get here. They are much more pronounced on the High Plains than where we used to live on the Texas Gulf Coast, in the Golden Triangle region of Southeast Texas.

We saw snow one day during our nearly 11 years in Beaumont; it was gone by noon that day, if memory serves. It wasn’t until after we left Beaumont for Amarillo more than two decades ago that our former city of residence got pounded by a serious winter storm of snow, ice and assorted weather-related miseries.

Here? That kind of winter pummeling is a much more regular occurrence. Which brings me to my point.

It is that our lengthy winters make me long for spring, the time for renewal. It signals an emergence from the cold, the dark.

I totally understand that Mama Nature doesn’t always respect the calendar, which tells me that spring arrives officially on March 20. We well could get another winter-type blast; that’s happened too over the years. Indeed, today the temperature is about 30 degrees cooler than it was Thursday.

The redbud in the front yard, though, tells me that spring is at hand.

I shall welcome its arrival with great glee.

Well done, ‘Smitty’ Smith


The headline was an attention-getter for me.

“‘Smitty,’ a Texas Lobbyist for the Small Fry, Retiring After 31 Years.” That’s how it appeared in the Texas Tribune.

Why did it grab my attention? Well, for starters, I’ve long admired Tom “Smitty” Smith’s courage in lobbying for causes that aren’t particularly popular in Texas.

He’s lobbied on behalf of environmental groups. consumers, the “little guy,” if you want to call it that.

Smith led Public Citizen of Texas for 31 years, which is nearly about as long as I’ve lived and worked in Texas. I arrived here in1984 and became acquainted almost immediately with Smith once I started standing my post on the editorial page of the Beaumont Enterprise, way down yonder in the Golden Triangle.

We hit it off right away.

To be candid, I have lost contact with Smith over the years. I don’t recall meeting with him with nearly the frequency in Amarillo that I did in Beaumont. Plus, I’ve been away from daily journalism for four years, severing that professional connection.


Ross Ramsey’s piece in the Tribune, though, encapsulates Smith to a “t.” He is an everyman. As Ramsey notes: “He’s from that part of the Austin lobby that doesn’t wear fancy suits, doesn’t drive the latest luxury cars and doesn’t spend its time fawning over and feeding elected officials. Smitty has a beard, an omnipresent straw hat and, often, a colorful sheaf of flyers making his points on whatever cause he’s pushing at the time.”

I particularly liked Smith’s commitment to environmental issues, which in Texas can be seen as a tough sell. Texas isn’t known as a haven for tree-huggers. We remain pretty much a throw-away society. We still love our big cars and trucks. Oil refineries and petrochemical plants still pour toxins into the air.

Smith, though, has been a champion for alternative forms of energy. He likes wind and solar power. Although the sun isn’t yet a major energy producer in Texas, wind certainly has assumed its place. Texas is now the leading state in the production of wind energy. “Smitty” Smith had a big hand in that development.

Smith seemed a bit out of place in a state that, according to Ramsey, is anathema to the values that Smith promotes: Ramsey writes: “Smitty has been a leading voice for government intervention and regulation of big industries and interests in the capital of a state with conservative, business-friendly politicians from both parties who pride themselves on light regulation, low taxes and a Wild West approach to money in politics.”

I regret not keeping up with “Smitty” Smith better in recent years. I wish him well in his retirement. He has fought a good fight on behalf of everyday Texans.

Well done, Smitty.

Panhandle Day: Does it produce tangible benefit?


I’ve long wondered about a Texas Legislature tradition.

It involves various regions of our state sending “delegations” to Austin during the Legislature’s regular session. They pack themselves into various modes of transportation and go to the state capital. They schmooze with their legislators. They slap themselves on the back. They enjoy meals and an adult beverage or three with each other.

They lobby their legislators about their regions’ needs.

The Texas Panhandle does it every other year. The Amarillo Chamber of Commerce is a key partner in this venture. Chamber bosses proclaim it a “success.” They have their voices heard.

I’ve been watching this spectacle from a distance for the past two-plus decades here in the Panhandle; I watched it — also from a distance — during the nearly 11 years I lived in the Golden Triangle.

Panhandle Day occurs every legislative session, along with Golden Triangle Day. Austin sends a delegation; so does San Antonio; same for the Metroplex; Houston-Galveston sends one.

My wonder involves how we measure the success of these schmooze-fests.

In my nearly 33 years living in Texas, I have yet to see an accounting of how these events actually benefit the region that sends these delegations.

Sometime next year, the Panhandle is going to gather up several dozen business, civic and local political leaders. They’ll go to Austin and talk about regional issues with state Reps. John Smithee and Four Price, both of Amarillo, and with state Sen. Kel Seliger, also of Amarillo.

Is it me or does anyone else wonder if we’re getting the bang for the buck we’re spending with the public money that’s spent sending these folks to Austin?

Is there tangible legislation being enacted? Are these groups able to persuade legislators to send money our way? Do certain regions of the state have more pull than others?

Are these “days” that the Legislature sets aside for various regions worth the effort?

Hey, man. I’m just wondering. I also am hoping to get a conversation started well in advance of the next Panhandle Day back-slap session.