Monday, January 14, 2019

Monday Meandering - 1.14.2019

Camp FCI La Tuna

I don't know what jogged it loose, but an odd memory came to my mind the other evening and proved that after more than 57 years, I still have stories that my wife has never heard.

In my early years, my family camped all over the Western United States. We started out with a home-made tent - an enormous sleep-six thing that ultimately did in my mother's sewing machine in the making thereof. She wanted, and got, a new one anyway. Pieced together from heavy canvas and coated with some kind of vile-smelling solution that almost waterproofed it, the thing took up much of the trunk and weighed as much as I did at the time.

I don't remember what our ultimate destination was on that trip. I just remember that we were headed west - my parents, my grandmother Anderson and me. And the tent. And if you head west from North Central Texas, it takes a long time to get out of the State of Texas.

I don't know if it was because of a late start, or if it was intended, but nightfall found us just beyond El Paso, looking for a place to unroll and erect our ginormous tent for the night. There was not, back then - nor is there now, a nice State Park or National Forest adjacent to El Paso, so Pops found an isolated area a short distance off the highway, and we dry camped our first night out.

I now call your attention to the satellite photo at the beginning of this post. The highway on the right side of the image is Highway 180 (and now, IH-10). It's pointed north and south in the photo, but it eventually heads west. And X marks the approximate position of the campsite. We're a few hundred yards off the highway (but close enough to hear traffic through the night) backed up against a fence.

You can see the fence, sectioning off the upper-left quarter of the photo. And you can see a cluster of buildings in that quadrant. Those buildings, dear reader, compose part of Federal Correction Institute La Tuna. A federal penitentiary. Over the years, the La Tuna population has varied between really bad guys in a maximum-security environment and not-that-bad guys (like Billie Sol Estes, for example) in a minimum security environment. 

To be sure, I don't know what the degree of security was at the time we visited the area, but I do know that the morning sun revealed a honkin' tall fence beside our campground - and a couple of prison guards sitting on the other, or operative, side of the fence.

They were polite, and assured us that they had checked on us often throughout the night as they patrolled the outer perimeter of the compound, but they pointedly suggested that we might want to break camp and head out on the highway as soon as possible.

And that is the long-forgotten story of Camp FCI La Tuna.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Monday Meanderings - 1.7.2019

Wait! What? In my home town?

I came across a startling fact the other day.

I have known the story of bigger-than-life characters Wyatt Earp and his buddy Doc Holliday since I was a boy. It is probable that Pansy Pace, the Breckenridge librarian, who went to great lengths to nurture my life-long love of reading, probably introduced me to these men and the Gunfight at OK Corral. Well, maybe. Neither one of them was exactly a role-model, but that aspect of their lives is often covered over with the blanket of revisionist legend.

While Wyatt Earp more or less overcame his outlaw persona (did you know he and his wife went to Alaska and built and managed the preeminent saloon in Nome, Alaska around 1900, "mining the gold miners"?), his running mate, Doc Holliday was bad to his consumptive core.

And he lived in Breckenridge Texas for a brief period.

Doc was evidently a pretty good dentist in his younger days (he died at age 36) and was in a successful practice with another dentist in Dallas, Texas around 1875. However, his tubercular cough sort put a serious crimp in his dental practice, and he turned to gambling as his sole means of support. The Dallas authorities ran him out of town for cheating at cards (and his habit of shooting at his fellow players), so he headed West, where the law was not so strictly enfo0rced.

As expected, he moved around a lot - Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming - and then, one step ahead of the authorities,  retraced his steps and came back to Texas. And ended up in Breckenridge, Texas. My home town.

He set up shop in an unknown saloon and it wasn't too long before he shot another player. But he only wounded him, and the injured party hunted Doc down later and seriously wounded him. Feeling unwelcome, Doc somehow made his way a few miles west to Fort Griffin (near Albany) and was nursed back to health by Mary Katherine Horony, a woman of un-questioned ill-repute who went by the sobriquet "Big Nose Nell," who became his "partner" for his remaining years.

For good reason, Doc never returned to Breckenridge, and  Fort Griffin deserves a blog entry all its own. Suffice it to say, to say the Fort Griffin Fandangle paints a more PG-rated picture than does actual history.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Monday Meanderings - 12.31.2018

New Year's Eve.

Traditionally, folks who write blogs and post items on social media and publish news articles and the such, reflect on the year coming to a close. The good, the bad and the ugly.

I'm not real big on reflection; never been much on omphaloskepsis.  I'll save you the effort of looking it up. "Contemplation of one's navel as an aid to meditation." Didn't believe me, did you? You just had to check.

But it has been an interesting year. 

We started it standing on the beach near Monterrey Bay, watching the sun set in the Pacific. In early May, we proudly watched Jericho graduate from Lipscomb, prepared to go out and change the world. We're confident he will.

In April, the local Learning Ally studio transitioned to a "Virtual Community," and I no longer made the twice-weekly trek to the studio (much to Barb's dismay). However, I was spending a lot of time shut up in my "recording studio."

In late May, we went to Lubbock, by way of Abilene. Abilene holds no interest to us these days; we normally skirt around it coming and going to Lubbock. This trip, we spent the night there going, and passed by the ACU campus on the way back - on our way to Breckenridge and the Lake Cabin. Last time we were in Breck was in the Fall of 2009 for my 50th High School Reunion. Like us, the town is aging.

In June, my first "serious" audioboook - about the Battle of Vicksburg - went to retail on

In July, Barb lost her brother. And the day after the funeral, we set sail on a long-ago-booked cruise to Alaska that included a train trip to the interior and Denali National Park. Lows and Highs. Literally.

In September, we went to the Lake for Labor day, resuming a long-standing tradition that was rudely interrupted the previous year by hurricane Harvey.

In November, my "most ambitious" audioboook - about the Alaskan Inner Passage - went to retail on

Watched Grace play in a tennis tournament at the Newcombe Tennis Ranch in Mew Braunfels, and the following week gathered the clan for Thanksgiving. Our house runneth over.

Strewn liberally throughout the calendar, bracketing these major events, were days filled - and I do mean filled - with doctor appointments, ESL and Citizenship lessons, sound system events and the mundane notations of things to do and places to be. 


Planning a quiet (neighbors permitting) New Year's Eve.  Alexa! Wake me up when it's 2019!

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Monday Meanderings - 12.24.2018

And a very merry Christmas Eve to all of you. Mamma may not be in her 'kerchief, nor I in my cap, but settling down for a long winter's nap sounds like a great idea.

Speaking of Mamma, this past week Barb had the notion to Google all of the addresses of houses we have lived in. Google Street View, and sites like Zillow provide a virtual time machine. You (sometimes) can go home again.

The summer Barb and I got married, I was temporarily working in Dallas. We rented an apartment in a complex on Mt. Rainer Street near (but not in) the posh River Oaks section, in southwest Dallas. The complex (and River Oaks) has aged a bit, but so have we. That's our first-ever home right there in the front. Apartment 101.

Before school started, my company moved us back to Abilene ahead of schedule and housed us in a motel for a couple of weeks while we waited for an apartment behind J. W. and Delno Roberts house to become available. The motel hardly counts, and the apartment, just off the campus, is now a parking lot - so no pictures -  but it was our first official residence in Abilene. Our neighbors were former roommate and future brother-in-law Thayne Cuevas and almost Cuevas family member Ronny Feike.

After my graduation, we moved away from the campus to a furnished duplex on High Street. Our landlords were a couple from Highland who had several rental properties. Our neighbors were Barb's cousin Nell and new husband Dalton Ford.

My boss told us about a house across the street from him in the north-western section of town that was available and priced to sell quickly. The owner was the former football coach for Hardin-Simmons University. He was former, because H-SU had folded the football program, thus the need for a quick sale. We bought the house for $9,000, which included major appliances and an extra-long couch with re-enforced springs. The coach was a BIG man.

Interestingly, the Google Street View currently shows an empty lot to the north of that house. My recollection was there was an adjacent house - but it was on the corner. This is the house we lived in when our children were born.

Perhaps the most frightening day of my life was the day we came to Austin to house-hunt and found out what it was going to cost to live in this town. A realtor we worked with spelled it out rather plainly and parked us in a small unfurnished rental house on Kamar Drive, off Highway 183 in what was then north Austin. The best thing I can say about that house was that there was a huge open space behind it that was a great place for flying kites. That space is now Charles Maund Toyota.

Shortly after we moved in, the owner informed us that he was putting the house up for sale. We were not interested and we soon had to deal with realtors bringing people by to see the house. We got in a bit of revenge, however. One potential buyer was examining the in-wall panel heater and asked if it kept the house warm. Sweet little Rob spoke up and said, "No. It gets really, really cold in my room." Yesss!!

When Barb looked this house up, she saw that it was on the market again. There were pictures and descriptions of recent remodeling (with central heat and A/C now) and a property value of a third of a million dollars!

We went looking for a place not for sale, and moved to a very nice duplex on Dryfield, on the eastern side of 183. It had a fireplace, tile floors, and older neighbors who were never home. The couple in "A" traveled. A lot. As I recall he was a sales rep in the jewelry business, always on the road, and she went with him.

Glen Neans was a local home-builder who attended Brentwood, and he assured us that he could get us into a home of our own - and he did, though his Superintendent stopped returning our calls at some point in the process. And in March of 1973 we moved into our 2nd, and probably final, house. It cost us 3 times the one we bought from the Hardin-Simmons coach, and it was at least 3 times scarier to sign those papers, but we're still here, so I guess it worked out well. And yes, we have grass and shrubs and trees and such now.

And here's a challenge. Can you locate all of your residences?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Monday Meanderings - 12.10.2018

Your hometown probably does not have to be a major metropolis to suffer from the scooter syndrome.  You know, when there are battery powered "dockless" scooters scattered on every downtown corner. Or, in the case of college towns, they are also scattered on every campus corner, and all roads leading to the campus. And if you live in Austin, you may find them scattered far from the city core and far from the University as well.

We live more than 8 miles from the center of the UT campus and more than 10 miles from the 6th and Congress intersection, but scooters have made it as far out as Braker Lane - and further.

The other day, I started north on the I-35 access road only to encounter a long line of cars led by a police vehicle with flashing lights. Thinking that I had joined the end of a funeral procession, I settled in for a slow journey. Then I noticed that cars were cautiously passing the police vehicle, obeying the emergency lights that were flashing to indicate to move to the left lane.

When I drew even with the police car, I saw that the officer was tailing a dude on a scooter, who was cruising, slowly, northward on the access road. Evidently the scooterist was proceeding legally; the officer was merely providing safe escort, not pulling him over. The dude turned right on Yeager, heading toward Gold's Gym, and the officer bid him a safe journey, and we all continued north.

According to people who keep up with these things, there are more than 8,000 scooters strewn on the highways and byways of Austin, and more on the way with Lyft's announcement that they are adding another 500 Lyft-branded scooters to the mix. Recent estimates indicate that the number of trips has reached 100,000 per month. Prices vary, but at a typical $1.00 per rental and 15 cents a minute, the revenue makes this a very lucrative industry.

The City of Austin is scrambling to figure out how to deal with this phenomenon; it's clear that the scooters are popular, and based on the growing numbers, well used. There are problems, however, such as when scooters end up in piles of pedestrian-threatening obstacles. And there is the small matter of falling off and breaking something.

The potential for injury has caught the attention of the CDC, and they have announced that they will be conducting its first study of the health risks of dockless scooters by looking at the incidents and injuries that occurred in Austin over a 60-day period this fall, from September 5 to November 4. It will be the first study of its kind, focusing “on 37 EMS calls and 68 scooter injuries."

I confess that every time I see someone cruising down the street on one of these things, I think, "Where were these scooters when I was young enough to ride one?"  And then I remember the injuries and EMS calls, and know that I would end up a statistic in a CDC report if I tried.