Gather at the Green

March 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Features

City living got you down? There’s a new trend developing in Fredericksburg, Texas, that just might inspire your next move.

For all of the modern conveniences that living in a bustling city center provides, there’s an equally long list of discomforts. (We’re looking at you, traffic.) Fortunately for those looking to buck the urban trend in favor of something more serene, there’s a new real estate craze in action. People are heading to the proverbial hills to take advantage of a style of spacemaking that centers residential developments not around golf courses, pools or clubhouses, but orchards, community gardens and other natural features.

But what exactly is the allure? At Hidden Springs, Texas’ latest iteration of “farm-to-table” living taking shape on 753 acres just outside of Fredericksburg, there’s a bevy of attractive features that just might inspire you to kiss your city-slicking days goodbye. Here are a few of the most alluring.  

The Green: 30 Acres of Nature

The shining centerpiece of Hidden Springs is its organized natural space, The Green. Accessible to all Hidden Springs residents, it will include an expansive walking and hiking trail surrounded by natural vegetation and wildflowers (some specifically planted to attract certain species of birds, bees and butterflies), plus spring-fed community gardening spaces, orchards and vineyards. There will also be an open-air pavilion, playgrounds and a dog run for residents’ use, plus meditation stations and a fishing pond for relaxation seekers. Hidden Springs is also home to a family of majestic Dall Sheep, who are also welcome guests to The Green.

Credit: Shutterstock

Spacious Lots For Your Homestead, Your Horses and More

Hidden Springs lots come in five- and 10-acre varieties, carry ag-exempt status that owners can choose to keep for tax benefits, and provide chemical-free well water. (In fact, families that secure a homesite before April 1 can have a well drilled for free.) Homes at Hidden Springs pay homage to the natural Texas Hill Country landscape through complementary building materials and architecture.

Location, Location, Location

When you do have to venture out of your private gated community into town, it’ll be easy enough to have you forgetting that you’ve traded your urban ways for a life of simplicity. Hidden Springs is just a 15-minute drive from Fredericksburg, and only 10 minutes away from the nearest HEB. If you do ever need to scratch your city itch, drive to either San Antonio in less than an hour or Austin in less than two hours.  

Impressively High-Tech Amenities

Just because you’re heading into the wild doesn’t mean that you have to forfeit any of your technology; in fact, Hidden Springs will help you embrace it. The development will be outfitted with 1 Gigabit fiber optic internet and underground utilities, so you can stay as connected or unplugged as you see fit.

College Humor — Sort Of

March 19, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Harvey Schmidt has died at the age of 88 in Tomball. No, that should not mean anything to you, although I’m sure it meant a lot to Harvey Schmidt. He was co-author of “The Fantasticks,” the Off-Broadway romance that became the world’s longest-running musical. It opened in 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village and ran for 17,162 performances. A revival that began in 2006 ran 4,390 more times. It was “very lucrative.” You may recall a song from that show, “Try to Remember.” In a 50-year partnership with Tom Jones, they wrote the Broadway musicals “110 in the Shade” and “I Do! I Do!” each earning them Tony Award nominations. And to think it all began at The University of Texas with bad jokes.

Coroner: “What were your husband’s last words?”

New widow: “I don’t see how they can make a profit on this at a dollar and a half a fifth.”

That was from the Texas Ranger, not to be confused with the law enforcement agency or a baseball team. It was the school’s humor magazine, which began publication back in the 1890s and was one of many universities’ similar publications. There was the Harvard Lampoon, the Yale Record and the Stanford Chaparral to name a few. The Ranger was published by UT nine times a year (no summer issues) and contained funny articles, cartoons, dumb jokes and the GOM. That was the Girl of the Month, the rather mild – by today’s standards – photos of a good looking co-ed.

College Humor (Popular Library): issues renewed from January 1936 (v. 1 no. 4); courtesy of Wikipedia

“Will your wife hit the ceiling when you come in this late?”

“Probably. She’s a lousy shot.”

I first became attracted to this genre when my older sister would return at Christmas and the summer from Stanford University with a collection of the Stanford Chaparrals. It turns out she was dating, and later married, the editor. The magazines were hilarious, although a lot of it was inside humor that only Stanford students would get. Later, when I attended UT, I learned of the Ranger, and dutifully joined the staff. Well, actually, as a lowly freshman I just sold copies. Each month we would get a bundle or two of the magazines and spread throughout the 40 Acres. Over the years the popularity of the mag grew to the point where we were selling one copy for every two students.

We made money this way: We would, in effect, buy a copy from the Texas Student Publications, which was the UT branch that ran the Daily Texan, the Ranger and the yearbook, the Cactus. We bought each copy for 20 cents and sold it for a quarter. We were selling thousands monthly. That way we got funds. The university had a rule that no booze was allowed at school parties, so we, as independent entrepreneurs, took our collective earnings and bought booze and had a party – really wild parties. All perfectly legal. For some unknown reason, in a campus College Bowl contest, the Rangeroos finished first. Their best category: religion.

One issue in the late 1920s or 30s dealt with the UT student body president, Allan Shivers, who was never heard of again. The Ranger ran this: “Allan Shivers gives honest politicians the shivers.” He didn’t like that observation, and had it cut out of all the copies before they hit the stands. I had heard that story, and once looked up the bound archives to see if that really happened, and, sure enough, there was a hole in a page in that issue. The Rangeroos, as the staffers were called, were made up of the wildest, most talented students at UT. Our leader was Hairy Ranger, a cartoon of a fat, drunken cowboy with a bottle of booze in one hand and the other arm around a floozy.

Many college humor magazines produced talents we know of today. Conan O’Brien was editor of the Harvard Lampoon, which at its peak spawned a national humor magazine, the National Lampoon, then became a multimedia humor brand with films like “Animal House” and all the Chevy Chase Lampoon movies. The Yale Record, the nation’s oldest college humor magazine (founded in 1872), had a cartoonist and editor-in-chief, Garry Trudeau, who writes and draws Doonesbury.

Theta 1: “Does your boyfriend have ambitions?”

Theta 2: “Yes, ever since he’s been knee high.”

After graduation, as a former editor-in-chief, I received a lifetime subscription to the Ranger, which proved to be a short life. As students, we used to poke fun at the UT faculty, administration, the board of regents was always a great target, but mostly at ourselves and our fellow students. However, by the 1960s I could tell there was trouble in Austin. That’s about when other college humor magazines hit their apex. The Ranger was running stories about the true meaning of life by some 19-year-old. The humor gave way to in-depth thoughts and lousy fiction. The Texas Ranger, which always made a profit for UT and, we kept saying, underwrote the Daily Texan, died, or rather committed suicide at the age of almost 100.

“(UT) President Logan Wilson sure has did a good job here.” His son was a Rangeroo.

Today there has been a resurgence of college humor publications, more in tune to the Daily Show, Stephen Colbert and The Onion, which started out as a college humor magazine. There are mags at SMU, A&M, the UTs at Arlington and Dallas, and the Travesty at UT-Austin. “The country’s largest student-produced satirical newspaper.” It began in 1997 and today its website is very funny. Like many others, the Travesty is online, and its staff includes video director and video staff. Times have changed. Oh, as for Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, they met when they both wrote for the Texas Ranger.

Fiji: “Say, that’s a bad gash on your forehead. What happened?”

Beta: “I bit myself.”

Fiji: “Oh, come on. How did you bite yourself on your forehead?”

Beta: “I stood on a chair.”


Ashby jokes at ashby2@comcast.net

The Spies of Texas

March 5, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE STREET CORNER – There are two interesting looking people standing across the street. Both are wearing cowboy outfits right out of Gene Autry or Roy Rogers, complete with huge hats, fringe vests, boots and even spurs. They approach me. “Howdy, pard,” says one. “Yippy-yi-yo and get along doggy little.”

I don’t know how to reply. The other one speaks up. “I am Billy Ralph Pecos and this is Tex Spindletop. We from Amarillo, here to learn more of your local elections. Like how to vote, who votes and how to, uh, fix ballot boxes to make it easier. We want to work with grassroots organizations.”

“You came to the right place,” I say. “Texas consistently finishes last among the states in voter participation. We don’t vote because most of our politicians are either third-rate hacks or such demagogues that they only care about their own agendas.”

One of them takes out a pad and starts writing. “You mean like Fred Cruz or Hilarious Clinton, and Little Mario Ruby? We hear the only decent politician is Donald Trump. Tell us, is Trump a great president or the greatest president? And do you think he is too hard on other countries, like Iceland, Ireland and, uh, Russia?”

“I would rank Trump right up there with James Buchanan and Millard Fillmore among our presidents. Say, if you’re from Amarillo you may know about the Cadillac Ranch.” They look at each other and suddenly say they have to leave. That night I see on TV that Russian agents worked to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. They visited Texas in 2014 to spread derogatory information against Cruz during the Republican primary, and posed as Americans while communicating with a person “affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization.” Huh? Those two strangers I met today may be the same agents who now have come back to influence the upcoming elections. The next day I see them asking questions of passersby and taking notes. I approach them. “Are you two sure you are from Amarillo? Something about you tells me you’ve never even been to the Panhandle.”

They grin. “You too smart for us. We are really exchange students from Station College. Hook ‘em, Aggies. We taking poll for Internet Research Agency, an organization in Saint Petersburg, the one in Florida, that is. Do you know the way to the local mosque? We need to visit there, preferably at night.”

Later I looked into these people a bit more and discovered that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had charged that the Internet Research Agency was “engaged in political and electoral interference operations” across the United States, especially in swing states like Florida. But a Texas organization was mentioned several times. I couldn’t find the name of that Texas group nor any person affiliated with it, but the Mueller report said the alleged conspirators created a fake American named “Matt Skiber” as their front man. So we have a Texas group that knowingly or unknowingly worked with Russian agents to help Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election, and apparently the Russians are still busily at work.

The indictment said the person affiliated with the Texas grassroots group also promised the Russian nationals he or she would pass along Facebook events to Tea Party voters in Florida. That doesn’t make any sense, but a lot of this story doesn’t. One right-wing fringe group, the Texas Nationalist Movement, which advocates for secession, put out a statement saying it “had no knowledge of nor any involvement with the Russian-led efforts to influence” the election. Of course that’s what they would say. Does anyone really expect their press release to read, “Yeah, we worked with the Ruskies to elect Trump and defeat Hillary. So, what’s your point?”

For advice, I needed to talk to my neighborhood spy, Clark N. Dagger. I found him listed in Google, and he agreed to meet me at midnight at his favorite bar, the Ode-kay Oom-ray. Dagger looked around as he approached me. “Thomas wears pink socks,” he whispered. I replied, “The ostrich awakens at dawn.” We exchanged our secret handshake and then I explained the situation. “Were you followed?” he asked. “Did anyone ask if Oscar drinks orange sodas?” I replied no. Dagger looked around, then whispered, “You are dealing with two of Putin’s most dangerous agents. They go by Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova and Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik. That’s their cover names. They’re actually Billy Ralph Pecos and Tex Spindletop, or maybe it’s the other way around.”

He paused for a moment: “Anyway, we think they traveled to Texas and eight other states in June of 2014 to gather intelligence. They bought political ads under fake names and staged political rallies. They got email servers like Yahoo, Gmail and Outlook to pass along their messages. They even set up fraudulent bank names to open PayPal accounts to pay for their work. Some of the addresses included usernames like allforusa, unitedvetsofamerica, patriotsus, staceyredneck and ihatecrime1.” It was all to elect Trump.”

He continued: “Big time operators. You don’t send them out for borscht. Krylova is described as the Internet Research Agency’s third-highest-ranking agent. Burchik is described as the executive director or second-highest-ranking agent. Your life is probably in danger.”

A few days later I spotted the two Russian spies again. They were using Facebook to push “Trump in 2020.” I approached them. “You two are the most incompetent secret agents I’ve ever seen. First, you don’t blend into Texas in those ridiculous cowboy outfits. Your back stories are unbelievable, and finally, you are wasting your time trying to swing Texas voters to Trump. Last election he beat Hillary by nine points here in Texas. Spend your efforts on purple states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida where you might make a difference.”

“Maybe right,” sighed Pecos. “We shouldn’t spend rubles any place where Trump is beloved and welcomed.”

“Like the White House?” I asked.

“No, the Kremlin.”


Ashby is watchful at ashby2@comcast.net