Tag Archives: Austin

Reporting a ‘pleasant’ consequence of the pandemic

INTERSTATE 35, Texas — There’s little positive or pleasant elements to report on a global pandemic that has killed and sickened millions of human beings around the world.

However, my wife and I can report one borderline positive aspect of this pandemic — which has shut down the Texas economy and kept a lot of Texans at home.

We drove from Princeton to Dripping Springs in Texas. It took us about four hours, which is what our fancy I-phone said it would take.

But here’s the thing. We cruised through downtown Dallas on Interstate 35 during what normally would be considered the morning “rush hour.” Except that there was no “rush hour traffic” in Dallas.

We zoomed through the heart of Big D and headed south along I-35, the highway known during normal traffic times as a demolition derby. Traffic usually is bumper-to-bumper between Dallas/Fort Worth and San Antonio. Not today.

Oh, but it gets better. We breezed into the north end of Austin around noon. When we usually drive into the People’s Republic of Austin we will be forced to stop when traffic gets stalled. Again, not today. We swooshed through the city, hung a quick right turn westbound on U.S. 290 and cruised into Dripping Springs.

I want to mention this as a way to perhaps brighten what might another gloomy day of worry over the coronavirus pandemic. I am not dismissing the misery that still occurs 24/7 around the world.

I merely want you to know that despite the bitching, griping and protesting that’s occurring in some places — including right here in Texas — about the orders being handed out that many millions of others are obeying the stay at home mandates handed out by our government.

It makes for a quite pleasant travel experience. Now we will hope for the same circumstance when we go home.

Amarillo no longer ‘ignored’ by state

It’s hard for me to believe that at one time many residents of Amarillo and the rest of the Texas Panhandle felt “ignored” by the powers that be way down yonder in the state capital in Austin.

Every now and then I still hear the occasional gripe that Austin doesn’t give a damn about Amarillo, or the Panhandle, or those who live there. Those who say such things — or think them privately — need to get out more.

I’ve moved away from there but I return on occasion with my wife. I am amazed at what I see transpiring along the city’s major highways.

I see dozens, maybe hundreds, of work crews toiling to renovate Interstates 40 and 27. I see dozens of trucks, front-end loaders, backhoes, road-grading equipment and assorted vehicles of all shapes and sizes  with “Texas Department of Transportation” decals plastered on the doors.

No longer can anyone with a straight face complain about Amarillo being “ignored” by the state.

I don’t know what the dollar figure is on all this work, but it’s got to be in the mid- to high eight figures.

A former state legislator, Republican David Swinford, was known to grumble out loud about the lack of attention Austin was paying to the Panhandle. I arrived in Amarillo in January 1995 to become editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. I met the Dumas lawmaker shortly after arrival and asked him whether it was true — as I had heard — that he wanted to split the Panhandle off from the rest of the state. Swinford didn’t deny it categorically and said that he was miffed that the state didn’t pay the Panhandle enough attention.

Well, I guess my old buddy David Swinford has seen his wishes come true.

These work crews are tearing up the highways, not to mention along Loop 335 along the southwest corner of the city. Eventually, TxDOT will begin work extending the loop along Helium Road about a mile west of Soncy Road.

I look forward to watching this all take shape from some distance — except when my wife and I return to do battle along the I-40 as we enter from the east.

You’ve heard it said to “be careful what you wish for”? These days, the grumbling I hear in Amarillo speaks mostly to there being too much attention being paid by the state.

Amarillo to get new link to Austin

Amarillo is being hooked up more tightly to Austin, via a new air carrier that will provide direct non-stop daily service between the cities in September.

Fascinating, yes? I couldn’t help but think of a former state legislator who once half-joked about splitting the Texas Panhandle from the rest of the state when he first took office in 1991.

State Rep. David Swinford once pitched a notion out loud that the Panhandle was so far removed from the state capital that it should become a separate state. I asked the Dumas Republican lawmaker about that idea when I first arrived in Amarillo in 1995 and he acknowledged that he was semi-serious about it.

The idea never got sufficient traction.

So, here we are, more than two decades later and we get news that Via Airlines is going to begin direct air service between Amarillo and Austin this fall. The in-state air carrier plans one flight out of AMA and one flight back each day, with the hope of expanding service if traffic merits it. Via currently operates a fleet of 50-passenger regional jets.

Via officials along with Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport officials say there’s sufficient interest in getting from the Panhandle to Austin to merit this new service. I guess travelers don’t like flying first to Dallas Love Field via Southwest Airlines, or to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport via American Airlines before connecting to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

We’ll see how this goes. It does bode well for the future of the Panhandle and the growing reliance the region has on its air service, which happens to be quite good. AMA already provides direct service to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. Now we can add Austin to the list of business and leisure travel destinations.

I also am quite sure that former Rep. Swinford no longer wants to split the Panhandle from the rest of the state.

The road provides stern test, but we passed!

You may now call me the Maximum Road Warrior.

Mad Max has nothing on me. Or on my wife, for that matter.

We have just completed some sort of unofficial personal record for time spent behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. I’m proud to declare that we survived a supreme test of endurance. It was a a tag-team effort, to be sure. We both took turns behind the wheel of our Prius.

We made it home! Hooray for us!

Our day began at 7 a.m. Thursday in Amarillo. We set out for points south and east downstate. Through Lubbock we went. Then through Post and Snyder. On to Sweetwater and then to Abilene.

We stopped for a meal in Santa Anna, then proceeded to Brady, Mason, Fredericksburg and on to Dripping Springs. We delivered my wife’s brother to his house, then decided we weren’t done driving yet.

That leg took us about 10 hours total on the road. There was more to come.

We decided we wanted to get home to Fairview. We said so long to her brother and then set forth.

We drove east toward Austin, then north through Austin along that race track aka Interstate 35. Past Austin we trudged on.

More than four hours later, long after the sun had set, we plowed through Dallas, diverting from I-35 over to Interstate 45. North we proceeded through the urban center, then to Central Expressway.

We pulled in at our digs at 10:45 p.m.

The way I figure it, subtracting some time we took to have two meals (breakfast in Amarillo and lunch in Santa Anna), we spent 14 hours on the road.

I believe we covered roughly 850 miles today.

Are you proud of us? If not, you should be. We spent 23 years in Amarillo, where we never really had the kind of traffic headaches known to become inflicted on motorists in the Metroplex and Austin.

Today, dear reader, we endured both of those stress deliverers … on the same day!

I am relaxing late this evening with a beer while taking a few moments to brag on our road worthiness.

Tomorrow is a new day. I plan to do a lot less driving.

Planning for an education on Texas history

We’re heading downstate soon for a two-week tour and we’ve made a tentative decision on one of the sights we intend to take in: the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.

I regret I have not yet toured this place.

It’s not far from the State Capitol and it carries the name of one of the state’s more legendary political figures: former lieutenant governor and Texas comptroller Bob Bullock.

Bullock died some years ago of cancer. He was an irascible, often grouchy politician. He was a crusty, traditional Texas Democrat; by that I mean he wasn’t what you’d call a squishy liberal. I met him once while I was working in print journalism; it was near the end of his life and, to be candid, he looked like death warmed over. Lt. Gov. Bullock did not take good care of himself.

But, oh man, this man — who died in June 1999 — loved Texas. He was fond of finishing his public speeches with that gravely “God bless Texas” salutation. His political descendants from both parties have adopted that blessing as their own.

The museum in his memory opened in 2001 and it tells the story of Texas history like no other such display.

Now, I offer that view with no disrespect at all to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum on the campus at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, just down the highway a bit from Amarillo. I’ve been to the PPHM many times and have seen the flyers proclaiming it to be the “finest historical museum” in Texas. It’s a wonderful exhibit and I see something new every time I visit it.

Our RV travels are going to take us downstate for a tour of the Hill Country and later to the Golden Triangle, where we lived for nearly 11 years before moving in early 1995 to the Texas Panhandle. We’ll finish our jaunt in the Metroplex before heading back to Amarillo.

I am so looking forward to touring what I have heard for many years is a beautiful exhibit in Texas’s capital city.

Hoping to hear more from Jack


Have you ever met someone who loves to tell stories about the old days?

And have you ever heard that someone tell those stories in an way that enthralls the listener?

I’ve met such a man. His name is Jack. I don’t know his last name. He’s 82 years of age. He lives in the town where he was born, raised and where he came of age.

It’s in Dripping Springs, Texas.

We met with Jack this morning at a popular diner on Dripping Springs’ main drag: U.S. Highway 290; there’s a sign on the wall next to the kitchen that says, “Dripping Springs: Just west of weird,” meaning, I presume, Austin.

We had breakfast, but Jack just strolled in on one of his several regular coffee stops before going to church. He’d already been to the Whataburger and was headed to Subway after downing his coffee at the diner.

We had met Jack once before. He’s a friend of my wife’s brother. My wife and I were camped at an RV park in Johnson City, just a bit west of Dripping Springs. Jack and my brother-in-law came over that day.

What’s so appealing about Jack?

Frankly, I can’t quite describe it.

Dripping Springs ain’t exactly Austin or San Antonio. The sign entering the town lists its population at 1,788 individuals. My guess is that it’s larger than that now. Construction crews are leveling property all over town, laying utility lines down in preparation for more home and business construction.

One of these days — probably quite soon — Dripping Springs is going to be much larger than it is today.

Jack’s head must be spinning.

He told us this morning about a bison that got loose and was roaming through the town in the old days; he talked about how cattle walked and grazed through the town. “No one cared,” Jack said.

He talked about how his parents were able to provide for young Jack with so very little in the way of what we could call “modern conveniences.”

There is just something remarkably unassuming and so durn “down home” about ol’ Jack. He speaks with that classic Texas twang.

He’s a delightful gentleman who just seems to love regaling “young folks” like my wife, brother-in-law and me with tales of how it used to be in a place that to my eyes doesn’t look too terribly removed from how it was.

I am certain Jack sees it through an entirely different prism.

I’m hoping to get back to the Hill Country soon and perhaps listen to more tales of days gone by from Jack. He has me spellbound.


Austin needs a new interstate highway


SAN MARCOS, Texas — The drive from north of Dallas to just south of the state’s capital city went virtually without a hitch.

Until we got to Austin.

We spent four glorious days in Allen with our granddaughter Emma, her parents and her brothers. Then we headed south for some more Christmas vacation time. In the next day or so we’ll gather with our nieces, one of our niece’s husband, our two great-nieces and my wife’s brother.

Then we’ll head home.

I intend fully to avoid Austin on the way home. Coming through the city this afternoon was no picnic.

Don’t misunderstand: We had no mishaps. We didn’t come to a complete stop at any point on our journey through what’s known in Texas as “The People’s Republic of Austin”; hey, this last Lone Star bastion of liberal politics needs a term of endearment.

But it was around 2 p.m. as we entered the city. It’s the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The traffic isn’t supposed to be this clogged; aren’t many millions of Americans supposed to be taking some time off — at home?

I’ve concluded that Austin needs another interstate highway, an east-west thoroughfare to take some of the stress off that demolition derby track aka Interstate 35.

I read somewhere not long ago that Austin (population that exceeds 800,000 residents) is the largest city in America with just a single interstate highway coarsing through it. I-35 runs north-and-south through the city. There ain’t one that runs perpendicular through Austin, which as most of us know is going through some serious growing pains. Everyone seems to want to live there.

Even though Austin is enduring this growth spurt and with traffic bound to get only worse as more people migrate there, the city is faced with this political reality: It is a Democratic bastion in a heavily Republican state; what’s more, Congress is controlled by Republicans, which would seem to make it problematic if the city hopes to acquire federal highway money to route an interstate highway spur through Austin.

Infrastructure improvements — you know, highways and other things like that — used to be above and beyond politics.

That was then, which of course bears little resemblance to the here and now.


What have you done for us lately, legislators?

Texas Panhandle Days is coming up.

An entourage of Texas Panhandle residents is going to travel to the state’s capital city, Austin, sit down with legislators and tell them what’s on their minds. They’re going to tell them what kind of legislation they want passed and they’ll inform our elected representatives of the results they expect to get from their efforts.


The Amarillo Chamber of Commerce puts it on. The link kinda/sorta talks about Panhandle Days’ mission.

I’ve never attended one of these events. The only way I’d ever be invited would be as a journalist covering it for my employer. I’m out of the full-time journalism game now.

So I’ll pose a two-sided question: What really and truly gets accomplished at these events and how the folks who organize measure their success?

I’ve known many individuals — from business and industry, from government, civic leaders, professional do-gooders — who’ve attended these Panhandle Days functions in Austin. They all come back and say what a “great time” they had. By “great time,” I suppose that means fellowship, consuming adult beverages and nice meals — all of that kind of thing.

But they’re not the only regional group that goes to Austin to receive the royal treatment. The Metroplex sends a delegation, as does San Antonio; Houston sends its posse to Austin; same for the Piney Woods and the Golden Triangle (where I formerly lived and worked); Coastal Bend sends a team, along with El Paso and the Permian Basin.

They all get their “days” in Austin, their time to slap a few backs, tell each other proud they are of what they’re doing and schmooze a bit with key state government movers and shakers.

They all have specific needs and interests. They’re all competing for the same pool of money to hand out. They’re all trying to get their legislators to pull strings for their interests.

Who are the big winners — and the big losers?


Houston leads way … in recycling

Recycling hasn’t yet reached way-of-life status in Texas.

Too bad. It should, given all the material we waste every hour each day. It costs lots of money to make containers from scratch; it costs a lot of trees to make all that paper that ends up in the trash bin.

Enter, Texas’s largest city, Houston, which is considering a plan to increase dramatically its recycling program.

Houston, we may have a solution.


Houston might start doing away with the program that requires residents and business owners to separate their recyclable material. The idea is to just toss all the recyclable stuff into a single bin and let the city pick it up and sort it out. The plan is going to cost millions of dollars to implement, according to the Texas Tribune. It also carries some risk to the employees hired to sort the material, some of which might contain hazardous material, such as chemical-based liquids.

Houston was awarded a $1 million grant from a foundation created by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That was the prize for the city’s bold new recycling plan. Some environmentalists are concerned, according to the Tribune, that a non-sorting program might discourage residents from considering what they’re tossing aside.

Houston’s population of more than 2.2 million residents hasn’t yet gotten the recycling bug. Only a small percentage of residents recycle there. The idea under consideration is intended to boost that number significantly. Austin — one of the few hotbeds of environmental awareness in Texas — only registers a 24 percent recycling rate among its 800,000 residents, the Tribune reports.

What about Amarillo? Pardon me for laughing, but we aren’t in the game. The city used to have Dumpsters stationed around town for folks to toss paper. The city gave up on that program because officials had grown tired of people tossing non-recyclable trash into the containers. It wasn’t worth their time or trouble to maintain the program. So, the Dumpsters were removed.

Beaumont, where I used to live, had a pretty good curbside recycling program years ago. Residents would put plastic and aluminum containers into a bin, along with newsprint. The recycling truck would pick it up outside of your home and send it off to be recycled. The program didn’t last, but it was worth the proverbial college try.

I’m hopeful Houston can pull this new no-sort program off.

It might be quite an irony that a city with no zoning laws and some of the worst air quality in the Western Hemisphere could develop a solid waste recycling program that saves energy, trees and creates a little bit of efficiency in an otherwise wasteful world.

Paper or plastic … bags, that is?

Texas might find itself in the middle of yet another legal snit.

This time it could be over whether cities have the authority to ban plastic grocery bags. My hope, given my environmentally friendly attitude about such things, is that cities can do this on their own if they see fit.


State Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, has asked the Texas attorney general’s office to rule on it. He believes cities’ efforts to ban plastic grocery bags don’t comply with state health and safety laws.

I’ll ask the question here that I’ve asked regarding cities’ authority to install red-light cameras at intersections: Doesn’t local control mean that cities and other local jurisdictions have the right to do what’s best for their communities?

Today in the Texas Panhandle offers a prime example of why such a ban makes sense. The wind is howling at this moment, gusting at 60 mph and greater. I shudder to think what I’m going to see in the morning. I’m betting I’m going to see plastic grocery bags strewn across large stretches of open country, piled up against fences, snagged in trees, wrapped around utility poles or piled up in my front yard.

Would paper bags be immune from that kind of wind-driven mess? Of course not. The paper, though, is quite biodegradable and a better fit for the landfills.

Cities all across the country are enacting bans on plastic bags. That’s their call and individual states empower the cities to act independently. In Texas, though, the Legislature retains control over municipal affairs, despite contentions from politicians — starting with Gov. Rick Perry — who espouse the value of “local control.”

Grocer associations hate the idea of the ban. Their lobby is strong in Austin. In my view, it is too strong.

I’d prefer to see a more environmentally friendly policy enacted in cities, such as Amarillo, that does away with the plastic bags. If only the state would allow it.