LOST AND FUND

February 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

THE OFFICE – It’s not here, nor there, either. My long-lost Magna Carta has to be here somewhere. Maybe this drawer, no. This one? Odd, the bottom left drawer of my desk is stuck. I’ll just tug. Tug-tug. It won’t move. Why am I bothering you with this? Because I might make you money, big money. Let me refresh your memory, and this time take notes. Michael Sparks was a music equipment technician in Nashville, Tenn. In 2007, Sparks bought a yellowed, shellacked, rolled-up document in a thrift store for $2.48. It turned out to be a rare 1823 copy of the Declaration of Independence, which Sparks later sold at auction for $477,650. In 1989, Donald Scheer of Atlanta bought a painting at a Philadelphia flea market because he liked the frame. When taking it apart, out fell an original copy (about 500 were printed) of the Declaration of Independence. Scheer sold it for $2.42 million, but he got taken. In 2000, that same piece of paper was sold for $8.14 million.

People are always discovering items which were unrecognized or were hidden. Some discoveries we can’t call long lost because no one knew they were there in the first place. Folks make a hobby, or profession, out of checking flea markets, auction houses and their grandmother’s attic for possible treasures. Goodwill even keeps tabs of such finds. Sean and Rikki McEvoy of Knoxville, Tenn., bought a sweater for 58 cents at a Goodwill store in June 2014 in Asheville, North Carolina. It had “West Point” on the front and the word “Lombardi” written in black ink on a cotton swatch sewn inside. It turned out to be owned and worn by Vince Lombardi when he coached there from 1949 to 1953. The jersey was sold in an auction in New York City for $43,020. An Englishman roaming the British version of a flea market paid the equivalent of $38 in U.S. currency to purchase a Breitling wrist watch worn by James Bond in the movie “Thunderball.” At a Christie’s auction in 2013, the watch sold for $160,175. As an interesting side note, and possibly the reason for the high selling price, the watch was the first one modified by the famous Q Branch to include a Geiger counter to help Bond detect nuclear radiation.

Here’s one of the biggest finds of all. A scrap metal dealer paid $14,000 for a Faberge Egg at a flea market. He knew it was gold, and he was going to melt it down for scrap. Turns out the find was estimated at a value of over $30 million at an auction. According to Faberge, of the 50 Fabergé Imperial Eggs known to have existed, only 43 are currently accounted for. The finder was never identified, and it could be just an urban legend, like Texas Democrats.

There may be undiscovered treasurers closer to home. Let me remind you of my story. This is a white plate with lots of blue designs – drums, flags, in the center are two mid-19th century artillerymen — given to me by my mother. Later a friend showed me an auction house catalogue with an article reading: “Texas Campaigne China” A dish just like mine, pictured in the catalogue, was stored in a glass-faced box in a vault in New York City. The going price: $12,000! Why so much? The price and value of Texanna is skyrocketing. British rock star Phil Collins will pay any price for any item even remotely connected to the Alamo. His own collection has been sent to the state and will be housed in a new facility on the Alamo grounds.

Texas is loaded with old stuff that’s better than can be found on PBS-TV’s “Antiques Roadshow.” I have a cannonball from the San Jacinto battleground that was dug up miles away and years later. It’s a long story. You may be familiar with the de la Pena diary. It was allegedly written by Lt. José Enrique de la Peña, an officer in Santa Anna’s army when it invaded Texas in 1836. The diary was supposedly discovered by an art dealer, Jesus Sanchez Garza, in a Mexico City market in 1955. Garza paid a few pesos. It was auctioned in 1998 for $387,500 and now resides at UT-Austin. But you don’t have to be a Crockett scientist to see a lot of old stuff ain’t really old. For example, the de la Pena diary itself is suspect.

The Alamo flag – the defenders’ only banner — wasn’t found until 1934 in a drawer in Chapultepec Palace. One of Santa Anna’s artificial legs was discovered on display in the office of the Illinois adjutant general. The Twin Sisters, the two cannon the Texas Army had at San Jacinto, have been missing for 154 years. In 2007, Gov. Rick Perry proudly announced that Texas was paying $550,000 for a letter penned by Crockett from East Texas on Jan. 9, 1836, to his son and daughter back in Tennessee. Experts questioned the letter’s authenticity, and the deal was quietly cancelled. And don’t buy any Republic of Texas stamps. Texas never issued stamps.

I am still trying to pry open this drawer. It is part of my huge oaken roll-top desk used by my father, a pediatrician. As a tad I would go to his office and sit at this desk, filling out prescriptions on a pad. Wonder if Dad ever got raided by the DEA? He gave me this desk when I was about 12 or so, and I’ve had it ever since. Ah, the drawer is opening. Bottles of pills? Old prescription pads? Gold bars which I should really tell my siblings about? No, finders’ keepers. Tom Brady’s jersey? Gad, only old scripts for books and movies that I never got around to finishing. Well, it could have been a Fabergé Imperial Egg. The yolk’s on me, but to paraphrase Capitol One, what’s in your attic?

 

Ashby is hunting at ashby2@comcast.net

 

TEXAS ON THE FAST TRACK

February 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                                    20 Feb. 2017

THE OFFICE – A fast train running between Houston and Dallas is such a good idea that rumors say President Donald Trump is considering adding high-speed rail in Texas to his priority list of national infrastructure projects. What an original idea. My grandfather would endorse the program. Actually he did, about 120 years ago. This is his conductor’s hat, black, round, with a bill and gold trim. “T&NO CONDUCTOR,” it reads. (That was the Texas & New Orleans.) My grandfather, for whom I am named and knew quite well – he and my grandmother lived next door – started out at 19 as a conductor on the Houston to Dallas route. Back then there were several trains running each way each day, as fast as speed allowed at the time (1900 to the 1950s).

Today’s high-speed trains are faster, and have run for years in France and Japan. Indeed, it is a Japanese company which plans to build a bullet train for us. But there are massive problems, so don’t pack your bags just yet. Remember then-Gov. Rick Perry’s Texas Triangle? It would connect the Metroplex to Houston, San Antonio and several towns in between. The roadway would carry cars, trains, utility wires and probably ox carts. Never got off the ground. The cost was astronomical (one strike), to be built by a Spanish company (strike two) and would take over strips of land across Texas as wide as 2,500 feet (yer out!).

This new plan, pushed by Texas Central Partners, Texas Central Railway or TCR, is meeting the same problems. Foreign company, farmers and ranchers don’t want a huge chunk of their land taken over, while county commissioners and lawmakers fear hundreds if not thousands of acres would be stripped from the tax rolls. TCR says no tax dollars would be used to build it, which still leaves the tax-roll situation. Backers are having other problems, too, like getting land routes into the downtowns, money and how to get their hands on rural land. TCR’s claimed “eminent domain” power as a railroad is very much in question, and is now being contested in state court, with trial set for July. However, “The Texas Bullet Train Project” as it is sometimes called, is receiving some high praise from supporters in Dallas — by both residents and elected officials. In a report by a Dallas TV station, supporters said they are getting excited about its economic impact to Dallas.

A few years ago, there were plans for a far more modest project than the bullet train: to run a train from Houston to Galveston. As I wrote at the time, the line was first estimated in 2005 to cost $350 million; then the projected cost nearly doubled to $650 million. In 2007 Galveston spent $350,000 for a study to see if the idea was feasible. The study said yes. In 2008, the city spent $850,000 in mostly federal money for an analysis to determine whether Congress would fund the project. Huh? This is no way to run a railroad. A project that was supposed to be completed by 2013 never even began.

And to think that railroads help make Texas what it is, from the beginning. Back on Dec. 16, 1836, the First Congress of the Republic of Texas chartered the Texas Rail Road, Navigation, and Banking Company to construct railroads “from and to any such points…as selected.” That’s my kind of governmental oversight. Nothing came of the iron horse until the 1850s when rail companies rose and fell with each economic boom and bust. The first lines went out from Houston, which made Swamp City very proud. If you look at an early map of Houston you will see rail lines branching out from downtown like spokes on a wheel. Even today, the official seal of the City of Houston sports an ancient locomotive and, with a nod to the future, ugly, black smoke billowing from its smokestack. The city’s motto was, “Where 22 railroads meet the sea.” That must have been one big splash.

With the line heading west, to cross the Brazos the railroad first used a ferry and inclined planes on each side of the river. This system was replaced in October 1858 by a low-water crossing. The Little Engine That Could had to chug mightily to gain the momentum necessary to climb up the steep grade on the opposite side. Soon rail lines crossed the state. The Houston and Texas Central was able to reach Corsicana in 1871, Dallas in 1872. So we had trains running back and forth between Houston and Dallas 145 years ago. But not now.

To handle this growing industry, the Railroad Commission, created in 1891, became one of the most powerful regulatory bodies in the state, but corruption was a constant problem as influential railway companies worked behind the scenes to control lawmakers and the government. Corruption, in the Texas Legislature? Get serious. Today substitute “railroads” for “oil, insurance and out-of-state casinos.” The Railroad Commission no longer has anything to do with railroads, and Texas has only two passenger lines running through it: The Texas Eagle from Chicago to San Antonio and the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Los Angeles. Now Houston’s one station is a small but adequate facility, while the other one has been turned into a baseball stadium. Still, Texas continues to have more railroad mileage than any other state and the largest number of railroad employees. I didn’t know that, did you?

When was the last time you took a train (as opposed to being railroaded)? I have always loved trains, took Amtrak a few weeks, no bag search, metal detectors or seat belts. And if you have flown from Hobby to Love, or the other way, how long was it from your home to your hotel, or office to office? Maybe taking a train from Houston to Dallas would be a good idea. What do you think, Grandpa?

 

Ashby conducts at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soaking in Sarasota

February 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

By Stephanie DiCiro

Courtesy photos

 

Once known to be the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus, today Sarasota is rich in culture, art, attractions, and breathtaking beaches. Both Lido Beach Resort and The Resort at Longboat Key Club are a part of the Ocean Properties Hotels Resorts & Affiliates, they provide a perfect paradise to stay in while nestling your toes in the sand.

 

Lido Beach Resort is perfectly located in the middle of all the excitement of downtown with the shops and local restaurants at St. Armand’s Circle. This resort is perfect for family getaways and romantic weekends with 223 deluxe guest rooms and suites, two heated pools, three Jacuzzis, and a beachside Tiki bar. Lido Beach Resort recently revamped 112 suites in the south tower. With square footage ranging from 595 to 1,000 in size, these rooms are decorated with sleek modern, sophisticated nautical décor made to satisfy every customer’s needs.

 

Lido Beach Grille holds up to their reputation with an astounding view of the beach and coastline. After taking a dip in the pool, Café Lido and the Tiki Bar are the perfect places to grab a bite to eat. They have Happy Hour specials every day from 5:00pm to 7:00pm with a menu that is so enticing from the tropical cocktails to their delectable appetizers, you won’t be disappointed when you find a seat here!

 

Just a 10-minute drive north is The Resort at Longboat Key Club spread across five resort buildings while encompassing 410 acres of incredible beachfront views and has earned the Four-Diamond AAA Award for 32 consecutive years. This resort has 223 extravagantly decorated rooms and suites with eight onsite restaurants, fitness center and Mind and Motion studio, 20 tennis courts, 45 holes of golf, 9,000 square foot Island House Spa, and the largest marina on Florida’s west coast. The rooms have private, secluded balconies overlooking the incredible resort or beach with completely renovated suites to make all the guests feel at home.

 

From healthy smoothies by the tennis courts to incredible Northern Italian home cooking by the marina, the eight different restaurants on location will sure satisfy anyone’s appetite. The fairways are ranked by Golf Digest as one of the “Best Places to Play” with two PGA-approved golf courses that have incredible views along the Sarasota Bay. The Tennis Gardens have hosted the annual USTA Sarasota Open Men’s Invitational since 2009 and provide numerous courts to play day or night! Need a massage to unwind, the Spa provides more than 50 distinctive personalized treatments from reflexology to a hydro-lifting facial. Mind & Motion Studio provides a wonderful array of classes for yoga, spinning, and even interval training; with a remarkable view of the golf course, guests won’t even feel like they are working out!

 

Both resorts offer the most breathtaking sunset views, but saying “I do” to your soul mate while your toes are nestled in the sand is just the icing on top of a perfect getaway. From bridal showers to honeymoon packages, their attentive staff will be there to cater to the needs of the couple to be.

 

The Resort at Longboat Key Club and Lido Beach Resort are surrounded by a number of attractions with temperatures year round about 75 degrees, these two resorts offer such a unique experience while soaking up the sun in Sarasota!

 

www.lidobeachresort.com

www.longboatkeyclub.com

 

 FRIDAY NIGHT FLIGHTS

February 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

 

TULLY STADIUM – This is where my son and his son played football and where my daughter led cheers for the Fightin’ Wildcats. The whole complex would make many a college envious, for it is a vast and expensive facility with double-decked press boxes, big scoreboard, and artificial turf. My tax dollars at work. Ah, but this stadium pales in comparison to what the Katy ISD, right down the road, is building: a $62.5 million facility (but the cost keeps rising) which makes it the most expensive high school football stadium in Texas, beating out the Allen ISD, up near Dallas, which spent $60 million to build its stadium. However, another $10 million is needed to repair “significant structural defects.”

That’s a lot of money, but it’s all a matter of priorities. As CBS newsman Bob Schieffer (TCU) said, “In Texas, the week begins on Friday nights.” This creates a problem, and as usual, I have the solution. The problem: Many of our best football talent – the blue chippers — are going to out-of-state schools, there to raise millions for LSU, Florida, USC on an on. A recent survey by the Houston Chronicle determined that four of the 32 five-star recruits in the nation are from Texas, and none are staying here. A composite survey found that nine of the state’s top 15 recruits are leaving Texas. What we have here is a brain concussion drain. There are several reasons for the days when all our best players were staying in state. One reason: At the end of the last season, no Texas university ranked in any Top 25 poll. If you’re a winner in high school, why would you want to play for a loser? Then there is the constantly changing coaching situation. A head football coach at UH went to Baylor, then his replacement at UH went to Texas A&M. The last UH coach fled to UT, which had fired its coach, Charlie Strong, after only three years. We all know the chaos at Baylor, which now has had three coaches in two years. Texas A&M may be looking for a new coach. Same for Texas Tech since Kliff Kingsbury is only coaching .500. Every time a head coach leaves, some of the young men he recruited leave with him or just leave.

SMU is a special case. The Mustangs were once a football power with a Heisman Trophy winner. In 1987 SMU received the Death Penalty for a host of continued violations, the only time the NCAA has ever done that. SMU never recovered, and to this day is landing mostly the B and C list. Technology has played a role. It used to be that Texas recruiters could tell a young halfback, “Stay in the state and your folks can go see you play.” Cable TV lets the parents watch junior play for almost any school with a major program. And social media allows college coaches anywhere, if the tape is available, to view Number 34 running for yet another TD.

We’ve seen the problem, and why it is a problem, but what is it about our high school players that anyone else would care? Simply put, Texas has the oldest, largest and best high school football operator in the nation: the University Interscholastic League, or UIL. The old line goes: “There are better football programs, but they play on Sunday afternoons.” (As an aside, note the name contains “Scholastic” but not “Athletics,” because the UIL was established as an academic operation and still runs programs and contests for accounting, stage design, poetry interpretation and much more. But we’re talking football here, which most Texans prefer.) This past season, more than 150,000 students from 1,000 schools played UIL football. On any Friday night in the fall, some 600 games were played before 1-million people. Texas is the only state in the country that plays high school football using NCAA football rules, as opposed to the National Federation of State High School Associations. This provides for an easier move to the college level. Each December the top teams compete for the coveted state championship. This past year, 245,913 spectators watched the finals at AT&T Stadium (formerly Dallas Cowboys Stadium) and we must suspect 90 percent of them were college scouts. Over the years, the results have been impressive. Only 76 individuals can say they are Heis­man trophy winners, and nine of them are products of Texas high school foot­ball. Meantime, 24 former UIL players have been inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

As for my solution to our blue-chippers heading out of state, we pay for these kids to begin playing at the age of 8 or 9, then support them when they move on to junior and finally high school. Texas taxpayers provide them with coaches, equipment, fields and bleachers not to mention cheerleaders, flag girls, bands with expensive uniforms and lots of adulation you can’t buy. Then, when they reach the top of their early game, they go to play for the Crimson Tide. (The starting quarterback for Alabama, the perennial Number 1 team in the nation, is Jalen Hurts from Channelview, Texas. How much money did Hurts generate for ‘Bama?) We have a coveted commodity here, and we are giving it away. Texas does not give away its oil, cattle or sleazy politicians. So we charge or trade. “Florida, you want Bubba Musclebound? That’ll be 100k and an orange grove to be named later.” “Okies, since most of your team is made up of turncoat Texans, spot UT three touchdowns in the Red River Shootout.”

This story has been told before, but is worth re-telling about an alleged confrontation some years ago at a coaches’ convention when Michigan State head football coach Duffy Daugherty ran into UCLA head coach Tommy Prothro. Daugherty thoroughly upbraided his colleague for “recruiting in my backyard.” Prothro replied that he hadn’t even been in Michigan lately, much less recruited there. “Not Michigan,” Daugherty fairly yelled. “Texas!”

 

Ashby is recruited at ashby2@comcast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Destination Cabo: The Resort at Pedregal

February 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

by Kyley Kornegay

Courtesy photos

Pedregal Suite Patio Detail

At the very tip of the Baja peninsula in Cabo San Lucas sits The Resort at Pedregal. This luxury resort is hidden away, and built into the side of the mountains. With fine dining restaurants, a world-class spa, and endless amenities, this resort has it all. Each guest is provided with a personal concierge, a room tour, and complimentary chips and guacamole every afternoon. Each room includes an indoor fireplace and an infinity pool.

 

The most amazing dinner can be found at El Farallon – an ocean-side fine dining restaurant. Chef Gustavo Pinet creates the most amazing food, which is all made with only the freshest of ingredients and the catch of the day. Live music softly plays in the background while you enjoy drinks and the great food next to the Pacific Ocean.

 

Luna y Mar Spa is the world-renowned spa at The Resort at Pedregal. With 10 private treatment rooms and an endless variety of relaxation options, this spa is a must. The spa is centered on the four phases of the moon, and each spa treatment starts with a Mexican folk healing foot cleansing. You will absolutely look and feel your best after your spa escape. The day of your treatment, you are free to enjoy the amenities of the spa – which includes a mineral pool, a relaxation room, a sauna, steam & ice rooms, and more – at your leisure.

 

When in Los Cabos, it is a must to go snorkeling. The water is crystal clear and water is just the right temperature. Hearing the water crash on the shore and on to the mountains is such a relaxing sound when paired with the ocean breeze. RMC Events took us out on a yacht to see the shore alongside the beautiful Sea of Cortez, get a breathtaking view of the famous El Arco de Cabo San Lucas, and to snorkel in the clear waters. The arch is home to many sea lions, and we even got to see a manatee! Manta rays fly out of the water, and dolphins swim with the wake of the boats. You get to swim with so many types of colorful fish when snorkeling – it is a blast!

 

This resort is the perfect vacation relaxation getaway for a honeymoon, bridal party, or even a destination wedding. The views are beautiful and the weather is great, so if you are looking for that clear blue water and luxury getaway, look no further than The Resort at Pedregal.

 

 

 

Pedregal Suite Patio Detail

YANKEE, COME HOME

February 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

HOVERING OVER HOUSTON — Fasten your seatbelts, trays up, wheels down. I am flying into Hobby from a trip to Las Vegas. (Hint: hotel rooms there don’t have coffee pots. They want you to use room service for coffee and muffins each morning: $37, $74 and $59. Nevada has no state income tax, but I was hit with a daily room tax, room fee and resort fee tax totaling $85.46.) Looking out the widow I see rows and rows of homes down below, in lines or semi-circles, facing cul-de-sacs, backed up to bayous. Those houses weren’t there 10 years ago, and, after Hurricane Bubba comes in August, may not be there next year. All of which leads us to – one guess — President Donald John Trump. It goes like this: one reason Trump won the election is that Russian President Vladimir Putin rigged it. Another reason is that Hillary Clinton was the worst presidential candidate since Aaron Burr. A third reason is that blue-collar workers in the Rust Belt believed Trump when he said he would stop the exodus of plants to Mexico and China. He would get American workers jobs again, he would bring back prosperity, heal the lame, walk on water, etc. etc. In a term, he would scratch their itch.

OK, these poor souls have been waiting for years for someone else to come to their aid, and we can’t help but feel sorry for them. But, not to sound too hard-hearted, there is a certain amount of self-pity there. How long are they going to sit in Cleveland waiting for the cavalry to arrive? Detroit, a lot of cities have financial problems, but you managed to go flat bankrupt, and others (us) had to bail you out. What measures did you take on your own? It’s like the Texas governor said in “The Best Little …:” “Somebody do something.” Your “do something’ was to vote into office a slightly crazed snake oil salesman who will make everything right, like tomorrow. But that tomorrow may be a long way off, so I have a solution. It’s called GTT, Gone To Texas. Those were the initials chalked, carved or burned into front doors of log cabins, houses and hovels across eastern America in the 1800s, and everyone who was left behind knew exactly what it meant. Davy Crocket put it more bluntly to his former constituents, after being defeated for reelection to Congress: “You all may go to hell. And I will go Texas!” (Some might say it was a short trip.)

In recent years, many have taken that advice. Texas’ population is growing twice as fast as the rest of the nation. Three reasons: foreign immigration — check the kitchen after your next restaurant meal. Natural birth rates — Texans are sex addicts. And national immigration – other Americans coming here. Do you ever get the idea that the Border Patrol is watching the wrong river? Texas’ population surged by 1.8 million people from 2010 to 2014 – Houston is catching up with Chicago — and the U.S. Census Bureau projects the state’s population will double by 2050.

Before you spray paint GTT on your ice-covered condo door, let’s make sure we’re a match. We like guns. Do you like guns? If you’re from Chicago, next question. We pronounce the word ROW-dee-oh, not row-DAY-oh. This isn’t Beverly Hills, as you will soon realize. Don’t shout: “Hook ‘Em Horns” in College Station. It’s a long story. Avoid saying things like, “That’s not the way we did it in Philadelphia,” or, “Shouldn’t Texas have an income tax like we did in Michigan?” We don’t need any more missionaries to the savages. At sporting events, wave banners of the home team, and that’s here. No more cheering when the Packers, Dodgers or Celtics score. Also, there is a vast difference in how Texans feel about George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Speaking of politics, the good old boys who controlled Texas for more than a century through the Democratic Party were white, male, conservative and often racist. They feared that the huge influx of northerners would bring with them East Coast liberalism, big government, high taxes and integration. These newcomers must have been converted because Texas now has the most right-wing state government in the nation.

We like sports such as gerrymandering, freeway demolition derbies and, above all, high school football. It was former Houston Post sports columnist Mickey Herskowitz who wrote: “There must really be something to religion. People keep comparing it to Texas high school football.” The slogan, “Don’t mess with Texas” originally dealt with litter. Now it’s a battle cry. “Remember the Alamo” was once a battle cry. Now it’s an order. Global warming is a hoax, but professional wrestling is real. Never squat while wearing spurs.

Some old timers (those who got here before 2007) say: “I’m aboard, so pull up the gangplank.” That’s a bit much, but we need to cherry-pick those who join us. Can your kid dribble, punt or bat .333? Do you plan to invest a couple of million in a new company here which will hire 300 workers? Are you an honest politician who doesn’t dwell in meaningless demagoguery like school restrooms? We have a few positions in Austin which desperately need replacing. There was an expression years ago about the GTT crowd and others who moved west: “The cowards never started, and the weak died along the way.” Actually, if you’re just gonna sit there collecting food stamps and welfare checks while waiting for someone else – like President Trump — to solve your problems, you wouldn’t cut it in Texas, anyway.

Right now, looking down at those new homes spread out across the salt grass prairie, I suspect few of those inhabitants are from Houston, or even from Texas. As the West Berliners who fled communism, used to say, “We voted with our feet.” You’ve already voted for Trump, now vote with your feet.

 

Ashby moved to ashby2@comcast.net

 

To the Houston Beat

February 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Features

Now 60, Robert Earl Keen still turns to his Texas roots to make memorable music—and maybe some fried venison along the way.

by Rima Jean

The name “Robert Earl Keen” is indelibly written in the minds of every Texan who came of age in the ’90s. To me, a San Antonio native, Keen’s music is synonymous with homecoming dances and riding to school in the bed of a pickup truck. It’s as homegrown as breakfast tacos and Lucchese cowboy boots. No. 2 Live Dinner came out my senior year in high school, and it was recorded live at the Floores Country Store in Helotes, just outside of San Antonio. That album, particularly “Dreadful Selfish Crime,” got lots of airtime on my rides to school…

Sometimes I can’t believe those days are gone

Most of my friends back then have moved along

One’s in Hollywood one’s a millionaire

Some are gone for good some still livin’ here

Me I’m just the same lost in a crowd

Lookin’ for the rain in a thunder cloud

I have moved around but it don’t matter though

One thing I have found there are just two ways to go

It all comes down to livin’ fast or dyin’ slow

For most teens like myself on the cusp of adulthood, Keen’s music was its lyrics—the way each song told a story that was both personal and timeless. They spoke of very basic human experiences, about leaving home, losing a girl, coming back home, finding the girl again. Today, Keen’s music has evolved, but still holds its fans rapt with each relatable message, each familiar tale.

A Houston native, some of Keen’s most enduring childhood memories are of his experiences in the city. He remembers the streets of Bellaire flooding during Hurricane Carla when he was a young boy, he remembers the excitement of going downtown to visit his parents’ offices; his mother was an attorney and the third female graduate of the University of Houston Law School. “My parents would hand me five bucks, and I’d go wandering the underground tunnels, which I knew quite well. I knew where everything was, like the original James Coney Island and all the places to find good barbecue,” Keen recalls.

As much of a city kid as Keen was, he also got a taste of the country life when he would visit his family’s home away from home between Columbus and Fayetteville, which at the time, was very rural and quaint. “I loved it. It had a totally different culture before it became what it is now,” Keen says. “These people spoke with heavy Czech and German accents. I went squirrel hunting with friends, polka dancing and all that. I was a city brat and a country kid at the same time.”

Keen spent his teen years in Sharpstown before leaving for Texas A&M University in College Station, where he began writing songs and creating his unique sound—which he describes as a “mash-up of country and folk and bluegrass”—and the rest is pretty much history. It was at Texas A&M where he met Lyle Lovett and future bandmate, Bryan Duckworth. “My music was never part of the pop culture. My world was very small. I liked playing the guitar and listening to folk music, so I was a fan of all the local [talent] like Shake Russell, Eric Taylor and Nancy Griffith. That stuff had a huge influence on me. It was music you could see and touch.”

Being able to “see and touch” the music is a must for Keen. “Setting is so important to me when I sit down and write a song, and the setting I know is Texas. If I write music about settings that I know, I don’t really have to think hard about the narrative. The message kinda floats in afterward.”

Even after being inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012 and topping Billboard’s bluegrass charts multiple times, Keen hasn’t rested on his laurels. He recently released his album Live Dinner Reunion in late November in honor of the 20th anniversary milestone celebration of the first “live” REK album (No. 2 Live Dinner). Keen just concluded his Merry Christmas From The Fam-O-Lee 2016 Christmas Tour through Texas and parts of Oklahoma and Tennessee. Rumor even has it that Keen might be playing in Houston around the time of Super Bowl 2017…

As if that wasn’t enough, Keen supports Hill Country Youth Orchestras, the only free youth orchestra in the United States. Every year, he puts on a concert from which all the proceeds go to the organization’s Scholarship and Endowment fund. With Keen’s help, they’ve raised more than half a million dollars since the group’s inception. “It’s totally nonexclusive and completely free,” Keen proudly offers. “Any child can learn to play an instrument.”

And what does the ever-busy Keen do in his downtime? “I like to cook,” he admits. “The newest dish I’ve made up is Madras shrimp. I got into cooking Indian food this summer.” I can hear the smile in his voice. “Curry with lots of shrimp in it.” And what else does he cook? “Southern dishes,” he replies. “Fried venison and mashed potatoes. I can do that in my sleep.”

What could be better than enjoying some “Keen cuisine” (with a bottle or two of Robert Earl Keen’s Front Porch Amber Ale) while listening to Live Dinner Reunion and enjoying the company of friends and family?

Keen laughs heartily. “Not much else, I guess.” H

Anchor Away

February 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Features, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

The story of how Dave Ward made the record books (and probably toppled a tyrant)

by Lynn Ashby

Through winding streets in Tanglewood, behind a gate, are a number of townhouses, one of which belongs to Dave and Laura Ward. It’s a lovely home with a small swimming pool—Dave says it’s been years since he’s used it. On the walls of the rooms are several plaques, including the Silver Circle, an Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences – the Lone Star Chapter. And this: It was presented by the Guinness World Records, which usually bestows such honors to the tallest man, the largest cucumber and Harnaam Kaur, of Slough, Berkshire, England, whose beard is six inches long in places, making her the youngest woman with a full beard. Then there is Houston’s own Dave Ward. Why is he included? Because, as the plaque reads, he holds the world’s record of having the longest career in television news broadcasting—49 years, 218 days, from November 9, 1966 to June 2, 2016, and the meter kept running until he finally left the anchor desk at KTRK on December 9. (His contract went to the end of the year, but he had vacation time.)

Getting into Guinness isn’t easy. “It all began when Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who used to be a sportscaster on Channel 11, was in our station for one reason or another, and stopped by my desk and asked how long I had been at KTRK. I told him about 50 years, and Dan said, ‘Dave, nobody in this business has done that. You ought to be in the Guinness book.’ So the station contacted the company, and they wanted all kinds of verification—letters from two people who had been here when I was hired, my work records, everything. Then last June, they contacted us, and said I was in.” Now that Ward, 77, no longer needs to grind the daily grind, he and his wife plan to take a trip to California some day—he likes long-distance train trips. “My father told me when I was a little boy, ‘Dave, passenger trains are the only civilized way to travel.’” But he is not going to sit back on his sofa and play with the remote. “He’s not retiring. He’s looking forward to the next chapter in his life,” says Laura. (To follow Dave Ward after he left KTRK, “like” his Facebook page, Dave Ward’s Houston.)

More News from Dave Ward

“I was 27 years old when I made it to KTRK. Shortly after I got there, we received seven brand-new state-of-the-art black-and-white TV cameras, and I thought, Well, I guess it will be a while before we get color.” In recent years, his role at the station was diminished. He stopped doing the 10 o’clock news programs two years ago, just hosting the six o’clock news. “I just got tired of coming to work.” Since he worked evenings putting together the 10 o’clock news, “I now get to watch some evening TV. I am so fortunate Houston has been so good to me. I’ve interviewed five presidents, starting with Dwight Eisenhower. I’ve covered space shots, got to ride in a jet fighter, so much.”

He lives about 15 minutes from the station with Laura, his third wife. Ward has four children from his previous marriages. Laura has three. He used to smoke cigarettes and cigars, from the age of 14. “Then I quit until one day Marvin [Zindler] came in smoking the most wonderful-smelling cigar, and I started all over again. But I quit again.”

As for his opening lines: “I started each program with, ‘Good evening, friends,’ because Ron Stone, who I considered the best TV anchor in Houston, always began with, ‘Howdy, neighbors.’ I wanted an opening like that.”

Is TV Going to Work?

How Ward got to Houston and to Channel 13 is circuitous. David Henry Ward was born in Dallas, although his family didn’t live there. “My mother wanted to give birth in a major hospital, so she went to Dallas.” His father was a Baptist minister who moved his family around East Texas, eventually becoming minister of the First Baptist Church in Huntsville. Young Dave began his radio career with KGKB radio in Tyler while attending Tyler Junior College. Three years later, he joined the staff of WACO radio in Waco as a staff announcer. “WACO is the only radio station in America whose call letters are the city’s name,” Ward notes. A year later, he became that station’s program director.

“At that station, I was a DJ spinning Vaughn Monroe and Elvis. The station’s news director was Bob Vandiventer who taught radio news writing at Baylor University. He would bring some of his students to the station to get hands-on training, and I would see these five or six people in the news department busy, all inspired, having a great time, while I was across the glass just spinning those records, and I thought, That looks better, so I got into the news side, but I never finished college.” 

In 1962, Ward came to Houston as the first full-time news reporter on KNUZ/KQUE. “Growing up in Huntsville, it was almost like coming home.” His Houston broadcasting debut was as a night-news reporter for the radio stations. Ward’s career at KTRK began in 1966 as an on-the-street reporter/photographer.

“I was hired in a pool hall,” Ward says. “I was working at KNUZ, and a friend at Channel 13 told me there was an opening. Would I be interested? So I met with the top people at the station, General Manager Willard Walbridge, Program Manager Howard Finch and News Director Ray Conaway at Le Que, a pool hall, where they went for lunch several days a week and to shoot some pool. I was hired then and there. The station only had eight people in the newsroom back then. Today we have about 120. I took a pay cut from about $650 a week at KNUZ to $575 at KTRK. My father was not that enthusiastic about my move. He asked me, ‘This television thing, are you sure it’s going to work?’” After his stint as a street reporter, early in 1967, he began to anchor Channel 13’s weekday 7 a.m. newscast. Later that year, he became the first host of a game show, Dialing for Dollars, which later evolved into Good Morning Houston. In January 1968, Ward was promoted to co-anchor of the weekday six and 10 p.m. newscasts with Dan Ammerman.

“At the time, Ron Stone was on Channel 11, and they had 50 percent of the audience,” recalls Ward. “We were hot and we said, ‘We’re gonna kill them.’ No. We were a poor third, but we slowly climbed up in the ratings. Ammerman left, and I inherited the anchor slot solo. By ’72, we were getting there. When Jack Heard was elected sheriff in 1972, the first thing he did, on New Year’s Day, was to fire Marvin Zindler. We had the story at six. Marvin had been in the Consumer Fraud Division of the sheriff’s department, and I told our assistant news director, ‘We ought to hire that guy as a consumer fraud reporter.’ No other station in town, and maybe in the nation, had someone assigned to only that. I asked Marvin if he’d like to come here and basically do the same thing. He said, ‘Dave, there’s nothing I’d rather do.’ When Marvin came aboard, we took off.”

A Cellar’s Market

By 1973, Channel 13 was number one in this market. It held that spot through ’76, ’77 and ’78, and on through the years—a dynasty in the TV biz. During that time, Ward has co-anchored with Shara Fryer, Jan Carson and Gina Gaston. In 1974, Ward suffered a motorcycle accident at the Astrodome during a charity race. He had broken his pelvis in four places, had a concussion and much, much more. “I was in the hospital for seven weeks and received between 40,000 and 60,000 notes. I didn’t have anything else to do, so I answered them all. All of them were supportive except one, which read, ‘What, Ward? Drinking again?’”

In 2003, he was in a car wreck—crashed into an out-of-control SUV on the West Loop, and broke his right leg. Once Ward and his wife attended a wedding, got food poisoning, and Ward was out for two weeks. Then a long-simmering abdominal pain turned out to be diverticulitis. He underwent major surgery and was away for two weeks. Not that anyone should feel sorry for the anchorman. Ward makes a good living. He walks into a nearby room. “I wanted this to be a poker room. Laura wanted a wine cellar.” It’s a really nice wine cellar with 400-year-old doors from Europe, fine oaken wine racks, shaved slate walls. “I spent more on this room than I did on my first house. I once thought that it would be good to make six figures, $100,000 or more, a year. Today I pay more than that to Uncle Sam.”

Then there was the time Dave & Co. probably helped topple a banana republic dictator, Anastasio Somoza. In the 1970s, Nicaragua was hit by a deadly earthquake. Aid was pouring in, and Houston wanted to help, so KTRK organized a relief effort, recruited Houston firefighters to drive five 18-wheelers packed with food, water, blankets and other necessities. It took them months to get through all the borders and red tape, finally arriving in Nicaragua, where Dave and a cameraman met them to film a 30-minute documentary, An Odyssey of Mercy. After leaving Nicaragua for home, the group discovered that the Somoza regime had seized all the supplies and sold them in the markets. The natives found out and riots erupted. Somoza and his family fled the nation. “I always thought we helped start it.” Maybe we will see another entry in the Guinness World Records: “TV Anchor to Topple Most Dictators: Dave Ward.”

Things you should know about Dave Ward and Houston TV:

  • He reads email, but doesn’t write it.
  • After 45 years with KTRK, Ward finally got a reserved parking place. (He drives a four-year-old Mercedes.)
  • As of press time, he has not been approached by any other TV station and is not looking, although some local TV anchors and reporters have changed stations: Steve Smith and the late Ron Stone and Bob Allen.
  • Ward always wears Texas cowboy boots. He prefers Lucchese.
  • Ward and the on-camera crew always appeared in spiffy outfits, but the station did not give them extra pay for clothes, nor did it allow them to wear anything provided by a store in exchange for a plug on camera.
  • In 1960, Houston had three TV stations, each showing 45 minutes of local news on weekdays, none on weekends. Today, KTRK does between six and seven hours of local news a day.
  • Houston is the 10th largest media market in the nation.
  • Politically, he’s not. “I’m apolitical—not as liberal as my Democratic friends and not as conservative as my Republican friends.” H

Ashby watched Ward at ashby2@comcast.net.

Wounded Warrior Amputee Football Team (WWAFT) vs. NFL Alumni

February 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Events

Ryder System, Inc. was a title sponsor of Wounded Warrior Amputee Football Team (WWAFT) vs. NFL Alumni at Delmar Stadium in Houston, Tex. WWAFT–composed of service members who have served and are now using a prosthetic devices to engage in everyday activities–beat the NFL Alumni of Houston 42-14.
Over the past five years, Ryder has hired more than 4,800 veterans. Veterans possess special skills and proven leadership capabilities that translate well into the Company’s business–from roles as maintenance technicians, to professional drivers, and logistics engineers. To find out how you can match your veteran skills with open positions at Ryder, visit ryder.com/military.

Humana was also a title sponsor of the game. In fact, this is the tenth Wounded Warrior Amputee Football Team game that Humana has sponsored, the fifth during a Super Bowl.

The star-studded event, held just days before Super Bowl LI, featured notable attendees including NFL Alumni Michael Vick, Kailee Wong, Rocky Bleier, Steve McKinney, Bob Golic, and Nate Boyer; five-time Olympic medalist Simone Biles; and 1984 Olympic champion Mary Lou Retton.

Aramark’s Super Bowl LI Menu

February 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Dining, Events

Celebrating the taste of Houston, the culinary team from Aramark unveiled some of the food available during Super Bowl Week.

 

To celebrate the many flavors the great state of Texas has to offer and Houston’s thriving culinary scene, Aramark offers a plentiful menu.

 

Students from the culinary program at Westside High School unveiled their specialty item: The Bayou City Banh Mi 51.

 

 

 

 

 

The ATL Fried Chicken Stak — Crisp waffles fries, topped with Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Peach Marmalade BBQ Sauce, Sour Cream and Green Onions.

Beantown Griller — slow cooked Tri Pot Roast, Sweet Carmelized Onions, Cabot Cheddar Cheese on Whole Grain Bread. Served with a side of Bacon Infused Baked Beans.