By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The tree, all trimmed with popcorn and tinsel and Dallas Morning News :CueCats converted into Christmas ornaments, is dim now. We've finally shipped off the gifts. (More free colon-afflicted :CueCats. Buzz is cheap.) So it's time to toss a few :CueCats on the fire, fill up a water tumbler with the traditional Yuletide tequila, and reflect on the year gone by in Dallas.
Lord, how we hate the holidays.
That's not exactly true. It's not the season Buzz dislikes so much, but three facets of it: children, hearing Anne Murray sing "The Little Drummer Boy," and maudlin sentimentality about the past. Children are noisy, impolite, and smell bad. Anne Murray is, well, Anne Murray. As for the last one, blame that on our upbringing.
When we were young, Buzz's father would haul us out of bed on Sunday afternoons to go collect our 90-something grandpa for long--very long--drives in the countryside where our old man grew up. There we'd be, the car filled with old-people smell, tooling down dirt roads at 20 mph past abandoned farmhouses with a young Buzz--16 and bored--trapped inside. Our granddad would drone on like Grandpa Simpson: "Is that corn or milo? What kind of cow is that?" and "That's where old Bob used to live; he let his hogs sleep in the kitchen." Eventually, we'd end up at some cemetery, saying hello to dead relatives.
Out of the 30 or so centuries we spent on these drives, the only conversation that sticks in Buzz's mind was the story of a farm boy our dad grew up with, a lad named Happy Johnson. (This story is as true as anything our father ever told us, which isn't saying much. Buzz's tendency to exaggerate comes to us honestly.) Happy's grandmother raised him, and she always wanted a daughter. Happy, being a boy, didn't exactly fit the bill, so the old girl made do with what she had: She made him wear dresses. He would stash overalls around the countryside to change into when he had to go to town or school but obligingly wore dresses around the homestead until he entered the Army in World War II, the old man said.
Young people had much more respect for their elders in those days.
Between the tedium, carsickness, the stink of the elderly, death, and tales of forced cross-dressing, you can see where Buzz might have developed a certain distaste for nostalgia. "Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?" You can bet that Happy, wherever he is, thinks so.
So did we until recently, when we began looking over headlines for our annual year-in-review. Former City Councilman Al Lipscomb was convicted and is tucked away in home confinement, out of sight, out of mind. No more bribery scandals there. The Dallas school board came down with a nasty case of rationality, appointed an apparently sane man superintendent, and hasn't done anything particularly loopy in a while. Even Councilwoman Laura Miller, after fighting to keep city swimming pools open and winning a new city ethics code, has faded into quietude. (Going over plans for her new home in North Dallas, we suspect.)
Dallas has suddenly come down with a case of niceness, and frankly, as a paid professional wiseass, we're getting a little misty-eyed thinking about unhappy days gone by.
Of all the characters to exit the Dallas stage in 2000, we'll miss none more than former Dallas school Superintendent Waldemar "Bill" Rojas. With his free-spending ways, take-no-prisoners management style, and thinly disguised contempt for all things Dallas (particularly the school board), Rojas promised many hours of entertainment and column inches of news in the months ahead--a promise that was cut short when DISD trustees cruelly canned him this summer. Buzz thinks we speak for all of Dallas media when we say that was a dark, dark day. In fact, rumor has it that Channel 8's ace investigator Brett Shipp was seen sitting at his desk and bawling like a schoolgirl when Rojas got the hook. (We don't know if that really happened, since we just made it up, but it certainly might have.)
So, before we go into our month-by-month roundup, Buzz would like to take a special moment for a little uncharacteristic mawkishness on the occasion of Bill's parting. Please, dim the lights, raise a glass, and join us in singing this little song we wrote, to the tune of "The Way We Were." It goes something like this:
So-o-opers can be very hard to find
Rabid, whacked-out school guys,
Guys like Waldemar.
Costly contracts, of the clowns he left behind,
Deadwood we'll pay until doomsday,
Thanks to Waldemar.
Stu-u-udents may be better off, but don't bet.
We're still stuck with the same school board.
We may miss Wally yet.
Slam-dunk.com: Internet billionaire Mark Cuban, flush with cash from the sale of Broadcast.com, the Web broadcasting company he co-founded, reveals his plan to purchase a majority share of the Dallas Mavericks. The deal sets the value of the team at $280 million, or roughly $1 million for every point it scored during the 1998-'99 season. Cuban promises to be a hands-on owner, bringing the same innovative spirit to the court that he brought to the Internet with Broadcast.com: Mavericks games will now consist of four two-hour quarters, with 11 random, mandatory timeouts of anywhere from 10 to 90 minutes' duration.
The other slam dunk: An Amarillo jury convicts Dallas City Council member Al Lipscomb of 65 counts of conspiracy and bribery concerning cash payments he received from Yellow Cab Co. in exchange for his vote. Despite the verdict, Lipscomb continues to claim that the monthly $1,000 he secretly received from cab company owner Floyd Richards was not a bribe, but merely a gift from a "generous friend" who generously ratted him out in a deal with prosecutors. Lipscomb eventually will be sentenced to 41 months' home confinement. After the verdict, federal prosecutors reveal allegations that Lipscomb also received more than $7,000 from local topless-club owner Nick Rizos in exchange for influencing police enforcement at the club. Lipscomb insists that this also was not a bribe but merely gratuities he received for "a little booty-shaking" he did at a drunken bachelor party.
Air power: Concluding years of legal wrangling among Dallas, Fort Worth, and American Airlines, the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals clears the way for Legend Airlines to begin long-haul flights from Love Field. Legend promises fliers fine dining, extra legroom, and first-class service at coach prices. Not to be outdone, American announces its own plans for expanded service out of Love featuring in-flight meals with macadamia nuts and roasted almonds instead of pretzels.
The Worm returns: The Mavericks sign aging power forward and Oak Cliff native Dennis Rodman to a $450,000-plus contract. As part of the deal, Rodman will be allowed to rent Mavs owner Mark Cuban's 4,000-square-foot home for $3,000 a month, plus have access to a full line of smart little strapless Halston numbers with matching pumps along with free bikini waxes. Rodman will be cut from the team less than a month later, despite leading the team in rebounds and groin kicks.
If you can't say something nice: After a week of jokes by national media, the tiny Denton County community of Argyle revokes a ban on negative comments and "rumor spreading" by municipal workers. Sensing which way the wind is blowing, Dallas City Council shelves plans to place a bounty on the head of City Hall gadfly Sharon Boyd.
Tip of the hat: Dallas mourns the passing of former Cowboys coach Tom Landry, which Buzz mentions here only to suggest that "Tom Landry Stadium" would be a fine name for the Pokes' home field.
Al was a bargain: Dallas Stars goalie Eddie Belfour is arrested on misdemeanor charges of assault and resisting arrest after a drunken scuffle at The Mansion on Turtle Creek. Belfour purportedly offers police officers a $1 billion bribe to avoid arrest. News of the offer reaches a stunned and disappointed Al Lipscomb, who is rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital suffering what doctors describe as a "major shit fit."
The roof is on fire: Dawn Rizos, wife of Lipscomb pal Nick, announces that the couple won't rebuild their Caligula XXI strip club, which burned down in late 1999 when men attending a bachelor party reportedly rioted after becoming overexcited by the "booty-shaking of a skinny old guy."
Deserting a sinking ship: School officials in DeSoto announce plans to eliminate rats plaguing two campuses. "They've been scurrying down here like crazy from DISD ever since we advertised some administrative job openings," a frustrated DeSoto official says.
Hooray for Hollywood: Former Dallas Cowboy Hollywood Henderson, now living in Austin, wins $28 million in the Texas Lottery. A caravan of Dallas crack dealers, speeding south on Interstate 35 to greet the winner, turns back at Georgetown after learning that Henderson has overcome past drug and alcohol problems and is now a devoted community activist.
Bars for a bar: A jury in Tyler sentences a 29-year-old man to 16 years in prison for stealing a $1 candy bar. "It was one of the good kind, with nuts," a jury member says, explaining the sentence, which draws further international attention to Texas' tough judicial system. The verdict is later overturned. A retrial leads to a sentence of death by lethal injection.
Last roundup: In separate ceremonies weeks apart, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman and running back Emmitt Smith wed--women, not each other. Aikman's ceremony is marred when bride Rhonda Worthey slips while tossing her bouquet, striking Aikman in the head and causing a concussion that benches him for the duration of the honeymoon.
Gift horse in the mouth: The Dallas City Council votes not to use a $50,000 donation from the ExxonMobil Foundation for its intended purpose of repairing and upgrading two of 26 aging wading pools closed by the park board. Councilwoman Laura Miller had solicited the money to repair the two pools, including one in her district. Citing issues of cost, safety, and fairness, the council opts instead to place the money into the general park fund. Citing the fact that many council members are mendacious, petty buttheads looking for a little payback to the abrasive Miller, voters from across the city begin a private fund-raising campaign to save the pools themselves. The drive includes a benefit at which Miller is soaked in a dunking booth. (To the surprise of many, she doesn't melt like the Wicked Witch of the West.) Bowing to pressure, the council eventually relents, graciously allowing the public to spend its own money on public amenities as it sees fit.
Home sweet home: Al Lipscomb begins serving his home-confinement sentence. Lipscomb announces that he plans to use the time productively, knitting car-seat cushions and G-strings for his many friends in the taxi and adult-entertainment industries.
Strike out: Hundreds of taxi drivers halt service at DFW Airport, seeking a long-overdue fare increase and protesting new regulations that include requirements that cabbies be proficient in English and map-reading. A planned rally at City Hall fizzles, however, when many drivers, through miscommunication and poor directions, wind up at the Hillsboro Kingdom Hall.
Jailhouse crock: A Dallas County sheriff's task force finds that security measures at county jails are adequate, despite escapes by six inmates in as many weeks.
Home, unsweet home: Al Lipscomb petitions a federal court to have his sentence of home confinement changed, seeking instead to serve his time at the Dallas County jail.
Scout's honor: The Dallas Morning News reveals that federal authorities are investigating allegations that the Boy Scouts of America Circle Ten Council inflated its membership rolls for fund-raising purposes. A Scout official defends the rolls, saying, "We may have added fake people, but at least none of them were gay."
True love ways: Perennial city council candidate Elijah McGrew announces plans to sponsor seminars to assist undocumented immigrants with the immigration process. McGrew tells Buzz--true story--that he came up with the idea in an effort to win back the heart of his Hispanic girlfriend, whom he slapped around in a fit of jealous rage during oral sex.
Squeak, squeak: As rumbling at DISD headquarters with the performance of Superintendent Bill Rojas grows, the district's No. 2 administrator, Bill Coleman, announces he will leave DISD to join an Internet firm. He is the second high-ranking school official to leave the district in as many months. Coleman, described as a longtime friend and colleague of Rojas, says he opted to enter the private sector "after a bad experience looking for work in DeSoto."
Skoal: The Starplex amphitheater is christened the Smirnoff Music Center after the vodka maker agrees to pay $6 million for naming rights, beating out contenders that included Mad Dog Music Hall, Marlboro Cough-a-torium, and Smack Center.
The fat lady clears her throat: A divided DISD board tables plans to discuss firing Bill Rojas, who insists that his status is "just fine and dandy" and that trustees will fire him "when pigs fly."
Birds of a feather: The Morning News reports that three city council members have nominated people with misdemeanor criminal records to city boards. The red-faced council members apologize, saying the appointees are new to city politics and have yet to undertake any felony crimes.
Higher ground: After months of debate, a unanimous city council adopts a revised city ethics code that limits nepotism, stiffens financial-reporting requirements for council members, and creates an ethics review panel to hear complaints against public officials. Though hailed as a step toward restoring trust in City Hall, critics--i.e., Laura Miller--complain that the new code is much watered down from one recommended by an ethics task force. "There will never be a day in this city in which it is OK to accept money or extort money from people in a public capacity," Mayor Ron Kirk tells the Morning News. Eight council members who tendered their resignations after hearing the mayor speak change their minds after being assured that he was just kidding.
Grounded: Former Dallas City Council member Paul Fielding, jailed in 1997 on fraud and conspiracy charges, is released from federal prison in Beaumont to serve the remaining few months of his sentence confined at home. Family members report that Fielding plans to spend the time relaxing, catching up on the soaps, and playing Quake Arena over the Internet with Al Lipscomb.
Overdue Bill: Dallas school trustees vote 7-1 to fire Superintendent Bill Rojas less than one year after he took office. Trustees cite poor communication with the board and the fact that Rojas "acted like a total jerkface" as reasons for the firing. Rojas, despite having tendered his resignation, threatens to sue when he learns that he will be fired instead and paid only $90,000 severance. Rojas complains that the trustees did not even give him enough time to filch district money to furnish his home and office.
Look out below: A chartered DC-9 makes an emergency landing at DFW after a midair collision with what a startled pilot describes as a "winged Poland China pig."
Scout's honor: Democratic House members urge President Clinton to resign as honorary head of the Boy Scouts of America because of the group's policy against gays. A puzzled Clinton responds that he was unaware that he was even listed on the rolls of the Scouts' Circle Ten Council.
He who steals my name...: Mark Cuban offers KTCK-AM radio jock Gordon Keith $125,000--with half going to charity--if Keith changes his name to Dallasmaverick for one year and has the team's logo tattooed on his body. Keith at first agrees, but later backs out when, he says, the deal makes him feel like a "whore." Al Lipscomb phones in to Keith's radio show and offers to change his name to Dallasmaverick "till the cows come home" for $6,500. For an extra $250, he'll "shake his moneymaker."
Ook-ook: Judy, an 11-year-old chimp, is electrocuted when she touches a power line after escaping from the Dallas Zoo. The French government condemns the death as "another act of Texas barbarism," but Gov. George W. Bush, reached on the campaign trail, assures reporters that he is certain that "no innocent ape has ever been electrocuted in Texas."
Burning bridges: From the Lie Down with Dogs, Rise up with Fleas Department: Dallas City Auditor Robert Melton, whose blunt-spoken reviews of city agencies had earned him foes on the city council and beatification in Buzz's eyes, lends aid and comfort to the enemy when it's revealed that he has been working full-time as a county auditor in Florida while still employed by Dallas. Melton, who we suspect left Dallas City Hall a day too late, defends himself by stating that how he uses his vacation and comp time is his own business, despite city restrictions on moonlighting.
Our boy Dubya: In a stirring speech at the GOP national convention in Philadelphia, soon-to-be President-suspect George W. Bush vows to "untie the nation in hominy" and cross party lines to work for "our nation's prosperatiousness, just like my daddy did."
Forked tongue: Lee Alcorn, president of the Dallas branch of the NAACP, is removed from office after he refers to Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Lieberman as a "Jew person" on a local radio program. "I think we need to be very suspicious of any kind of partnerships between the Jews at that kind of level, because we know that their interest primarily has to do with, you know, money and these kinds of things," Alcorn says. The campaign of Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan announces that Alcorn is on Buchanan's "short list" of potential nominees for secretary of education.
Hootchie-Gucci: D magazine Publisher Wick Allison orders 70,000 copies of his magazine destroyed after discovering that the issue includes two ads that he considers "obscene." One of the ads reportedly is for the fashion house Gucci and features a thinly clad woman sitting at the feet of a male model, her face level with his groin. Allison vows to keep blow jobs out of his magazine's pages, at least until the next time the business community needs his editorial support for a bond issue.
Smoke out: Sheriff Jim Bowles announces that smoking will be banned in Dallas County jails by the end of the year. The move is intended to improve security at the jail, which had been plagued by inmates stepping out to buy smokes and not returning.
Don't do as we do: In his annual state-of-the-city address, Mayor Ron Kirk decries conditions at DISD, calling for more community involvement in improving education. His comments echo those by leaders of Dallas' business community, who throughout the summer have pressured DISD trustees to appoint a suitable replacement for Bill Rojas, vowing to do whatever it takes to ensure better public schools--anything short of sending their kids to them, that is.
President potty-mouth: On the campaign trail in Illinois, Gov. George W. Bush, unknowingly standing before an open microphone in Illinois, refers to a New York Times reporter as a "major-league asshole," unaware that the phrase is considered a compliment in New York City.
Right on cue: In the greatest technical innovation since early hominids struck two rocks together and lit the spark that would eventually lead to Weber barbecue grills, Dallas-based Digital:Convergence unveils its :CueCat in a series of ads on WFAA-Channel 8. Unfortunately for WFAA's reputation, the ads are broadcast as part of the station's regular news program, thanks largely to Belo Corp.'s $40 million investment in Digital:Convergence. (Belo owns WFAA along with the souls of its news personnel, apparently.) The :CueCat, a cat-shaped device that plugs into Internet-connected personal computers, allows users to swipe bar codes on products and in publications, whisking them to Web sites with more information. The device also allows you to connect your computer to your television via a cable. Signals in certain programs will take your Web browser to a site with more information on what you're watching. The Belo-owned Morning News will follow up with its own series of breathless stories about the :CueCat in the weeks that follow, and begin publishing bar codes in what editors tout as the first "Internet-enhanced" daily newspaper. Sadly, early response to the :CueCats is poor, as hundreds of computer owners complain of damaged floppy drives after trying to jam the Internet-enhanced paper into their home PCs. Still others suffer electrical shocks as they move their home computers into their toilets in order to Web-surf and read the paper simultaneously.
Trouble, trouble: An invitation to Wiccan Bryan Lankford to lead the invocation at a Dallas City Council meeting is withdrawn in what Mayor Ron Kirk says is a misunderstanding. Lankford is later invited back to lead the prayer after Kirk assures him that the change in schedule was not intended as discrimination against the neo-pagan religion, and Lankford agrees to remove the curse that had turned Kirk into a newt.
To boldly go: Dallasite Jack Kilby, inventor of the microchip, is awarded the Nobel Prize for physics. A humble Kilby tells reporters that he never dreamed that when he created the first integrated circuit more than 40 years ago it would help give birth to a revolution that led to modern personal computers, cell phones, and "the greatest thing since sliced bread, the :CueCat." Oddly, that quote appears only in The Dallas Morning News.
Igor, fetch the salsa: Irving-based Mission Foods Corp. recalls a line of products after traces of bio-engineered corn are found in a taco shell manufactured by the company. The company was alerted to the possible contamination after an enraged guacamole tostada terrorized townspeople in Cuero, Texas, for three days before being shot from the bell tower of a local church.
Unnatural calling: Activists around Lower Greenville Avenue, angry over incontinent bar patrons whizzing in the neighborhood, began snapping photos of men who urinate in homeowners' yards and posting the pictures on the Web. Hustler magazine offers to buy the Barking Dogs Web site for an undisclosed sum.
It's from H.G. Wells: The Highland Park Town Council ends discussion of a proposal to build a 5-mile-long, $800 million tollway in a tunnel beneath Mockingbird Lane. "You let the masses tunnel beneath us, next thing you know you have a bunch of Morlocks eating our children," complains one opponent from the wealthy suburb. (Editor's note: For an explanation of this obscure literary reference, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Parting the waters was easy: Mike Moses, a deputy chancellor of the Texas Tech University System, signs a five-year contract making him superintendent of Dallas schools. Moses, a man depressingly lacking any history of scandal, insanity, criminality, or particular meanness, vows to improve teacher morale, instill a culture of cooperation and civility at DISD headquarters, and "lead his people to the land of milk and honey." Moses will be paid a reported $280,000 annually--what is believed to be the highest salary of any U.S. public schools chief. Board President Roxan Staff justifies the high salary, saying, "He's gonna need it. Those vipers down at headquarters are gonna take this choirboy's lunch money."
You scratch his back: Belo Corp. sues Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, claiming that Cuban reneged on a promise to buy Belo's minority share of the team and American Airlines Center. Cuban backed out of the deal after the Belo-owned Morning News declined to increase its coverage of the team as much as he desired. Belo lawyers respond in court pleadings that the paper would be happy to print more Mavericks news if the team owner would agree to change his name to Mark :Cueban.
Exact change only, please: New projections suggest that the cost of a proposed tollway along the Trinity River will be in the range of $669 million, or $230 million more than original estimates, the Morning News reports. The city contends that the project is vital, though officials say millions in needed state funding are not likely to be available "until sometime after hell freezes over." City council members urge that work on the road forge ahead; the unfunded costs, they claim, can be made up by increasing tolls from the proposed 75 cents per car to $11,875.32.
Curse you, Red Baron: Just months after inaugurating flights from Love Field, fledgling Legend Airlines shuts down unexpectedly and announces it will file for bankruptcy protection while it seeks more investors to stay alive. President and chief executive T. Allan McArtor blames the airlines' troubles "on those damn macadamia nuts American decided to start serving."
Next comes graffiti: Dallas Area Rapid Transit opens the city's and Texas' first subway station under Cityplace north of downtown. The $50 million light-rail station is hailed as another step on Dallas' elusive journey to becoming a world-class city. The station's contribution to Dallas' world-classiness is affirmed when wino Harold J. Warren becomes the first vagrant to pee and shout random obscenities on the subway platform.
Mustard is extra: The Texas Rangers sign free-agent shortstop Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $252 million contract, the richest in the history of baseball. Rangers owner Tom Hicks announces that concession prices at the Ballpark in Arlington will rise to help cover the cost of the contract. A hot dog and 12-ounce cup of beer will now cost $14.75, an increase of 25 cents.