A clockwork Buzz
Nineteen ninety-nine, the last year of the millennium, a time to...
OK, hold it right there. Among the dozens of you reading this are no doubt some who just slapped their foreheads, muttered "idiot," and grabbed a pen to fire off a letter pointing out that 1999 is not the last year of the millennium. Since there was no year zero, you say, the new millennium doesn't start until 2001.
Uh-huh. And a peanut is not a nut, and George Washington's false teeth were not made of wood. Thank you. We know. Here's some information for you in return: Nobody cares. Now shut up.
Where were we? Ah, yes...1999, the penultimate year of the millennium (happy now, smarty-pants?), a time to reflect, to ask some serious, soul-searching questions. For instance, Where are the flying cars? Aren't we all supposed to be driving flying cars by now? And personal robots. Where are the robots? The year 2000 starts in a few days, and Buzz is still stuck in traffic on Stemmons, still doing our own laundry. It dawns on us that all those formative years watching The Jetsons might have been wasted.
At least we're not wearing silver lamé jumpsuits -- hot fashion in your cheesier sci-fi. This is a good thing for Buzz. Picture a pear wrapped in tinfoil.
But is that it, then? Is that the score on 1999? No flying cars, no robots, but we still get to wear pants? On balance, not a great year. Surely, there's some reason to be happy as the millenn...sorry...year ends. The Secret Society of Happy People thinks so, anyway. This honest-to-God, Irving-based organization, created in 1998 to persuade people to express happiness, produced a list of the "Top 10 happy events and moments for 1999."
"You don't have to be happy all the time to be a member," the 1,400-member society's cheerful founder, Pam Johnson, told Buzz. "The society encourages the expression of happiness, and we discourage parade-raining."
Despite the fact that "parade-raining" helps put food on Buzz's table, we were encouraged. Surely, we thought, the Secret Society of Happy People can find some reason to look back fondly on 1999.
Then we read their list.
At No. 10 was Ricky Martin's annoying "Livin' la Vida Loca," which "has people swinging their hips for the first time since Elvis."
We were not encouraged.
At No. 4 was "Kosovo families reunited."
This was bizarre. Genocide, refugees, civil war -- we asked Johnson whether this was a bit like the old joke, "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?" She says the listing was meant to celebrate that "folks are getting to go back into their homes" now that the bombing has stopped. We suppose she means those homes that were left standing and those family members who were left alive.
We set aside that list.
Undiscouraged, we turned to the home front, looking for cheer. If the secret society of heavily medicated people can find happiness in Kosovo and in a song that makes "The Macarena" sound like Mozart, surely even Buzz can find a silver lining in the news from Dallas in 1999. Let's see:
The Dallas Independent School District finally found a new superintendent. Unfortunately, he has all the charm of a kidney punch, only not as subtle -- our very own Slobodan in our own little Kosovo.
We kept looking.
Work continues apace on Dallas' new arena. It has a design, a name, and several more bushel baskets of taxpayer money headed its way. Sadly, the Mavericks still intend to play in the new arena.
We still weren't smiling.
The Trinity River project, Dallas' plan to turn a fetid, polluted river into a fetid, polluted downtown lake, has grown to include five suspension bridges whose nifty designs will distract any tourists foolish enough actually to look at the river below. We don't know how we're going to pay for them, but Dallas is a can-do city -- as in, all we have to do is collect and sell all the aluminum cans along the river's banks, plus the loose change found on any bodies floating there, and those bridges are ours.
Is everybody happy?
After months of exhausting work, a blue-ribbon panel delivered proposed revisions of Dallas' code of ethics to the city council, which wasted no time reading them. We mean that literally: Many on the council didn't bother to read them before deciding they would rather pass a kidney stone the size of a billiard ball.
You want to recall 1999? Think of 1998, and add a one.
Still, we admit we could be wrong about 1999. Frankly, Buzz has been a bit cranky since...well, since birth. But we've been especially grumpy this year after remembering a long-ago elementary school exercise in which we calculated how old we would be in 2000. In third grade, 38 seemed ancient. We now know it's not. It's just middle-aged, which is much, much worse.
So maybe 1999 was a good year. To help you decide, Buzz has compiled a list of what we believe were the most notable local events in the past year -- or at least those that are worthy of a few wisecracks.
If, after reading it, you share Buzz's perspective, perhaps you would like to help us form a new order, the Secret Society of Embittered, Cynical People. (Buzz isn't just a member; we're the president.) Everyone is welcome to join -- everyone except those of you who still feel compelled to explain how a calendar works. Membership is free, and you won't get squat for joining, but then our members wouldn't really expect anything, would they?
JanuaryCable guysTXCN, a regional cable news network created by Belo Corp., owner of The Dallas Morning News and WFAA-Channel 8, begins operation. The fledgling network broadcasts news and weather to an audience consisting of 30 residents of the Sunnydale Retirement Home in Lubbock, who say they accidentally tuned to the station in the home's recreation room and have been unable to change the channel since one of the elderly residents inadvertently flushed the remote down the toilet.
Almost free at lastFormer DISD Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez leaves federal prison for a San Antonio halfway house, where she will serve out the remaining three months of her sentence for using school district funds to buy tacky furniture for her home and office. Her stay gets off to a rocky start when a delivery van arrives to drop off an ornate velvet settee and antique daybed -- cash on delivery.
Coulda been a contendahThe hopes of Mavericks fans that the luckless team will end the season with a .500 record are dashed when the NBA ends a 191-day player lockout, thus forcing the Mavs to actually play a game.
TurnaboutThe Dallas Children's Theater offers to pay the Catholic Diocese of Dallas $1.5 million for St. Ann's school, which the church is seeking to sell to developers despite the objections of Hispanic and preservationist groups that wish to declare the building a historic landmark. Church officials want to sell the property in part to cover expenses from litigation involving priests who sexually molested children. "They had to pay kids for entertaining them," a theater spokesman says. "It seems only fair that we pay them so we can entertain kids." The diocese rejects the offer as too low. The city council later designates part of the property a landmark.
Party poopedOrganizers of "The Turn, America at the Millennium," a massive celebration of the end of the millennium planned for Fair Park, cancel the event after raising only $1 million of a needed $12 million in sponsorships. "People weren't interested because the new millennium doesn't really begin until 2001," an organizer says. "Who knew there wasn't a year zero?"
Beaver patrolResidents of a Far North Dallas neighborhood seek the city's help in capturing beavers that are destroying trees along a creek near their homes. City officials assign Dallas vice cops to catch the rodents, reasoning they're the most experienced at controlling wayward beavers.
FebruaryPayback's a beaverCity crews begin replanting trees on vacant land near Northwest Highway and Skillman Street, where a maintenance supervisor had mistakenly ordered a stand of mature trees clear-cut in December, angering neighborhood residents. Embarrassed city officials, who will eventually enact stricter guidelines for tree removal, admit the mistake after first attempting to lay blame on "a gang of vengeful beavers."
This Bud's not for youPolice ticket 150 teenagers, most of them from the Park Cities, for possession of alcohol during a raid on a keg party in Deep Ellum. Among the roughly 250 youths attending the party at a Commerce Street warehouse are two children of Stars owner Tom Hicks, who along with other parents is at first critical of the police's handling of the raid. Highland Park school officials suspend 200 students from extracurricular activities after learning that the teens were drinking domestic beer.
Up the anteThe Dallas 2012 Olympic committee and the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau are chastised for violating guidelines after offering the U.S. Olympic Committee a private plane and limousine service as part of the city's bid to host a media summit in 2000. "Those pikers are going to have to do way better than that if they wanna win any friends here," a USOC official says.
Next time just eat the peanutsAmerican Airlines is forced to ground 6,700 flights after members of the Allied Pilots Association stage a sick-out during a labor dispute over American's plans to merge with a Nevada airline. A federal judge fines the pilots' union $45.5 million for ignoring a back-to-work order, despite union officials' claims that the crew members really were sick. They blame a clerical error that resulted in American pilots eating the same meals the airline serves its passengers.
Tough loveChild-abuse investigators decide not to press charges against an assistant principal who bound and gagged an 8-year-old girl who acted up in class at DISD's Onesimo Hernandez Elementary. School officials decline to comment on what actions the district planned to take against the assistant principal, though rumor has it that she left the district to take a job with what one source describes as a "backward, jerkwater school district up in Ponder, in Denton County."
MarchChip off the old blockheadGov. George W. Bush introduces his "exploratory team," whose job will be to explore how much money a man with limited political experience, few clearly articulated policies, and a poor grasp of geography can raise if he chooses to run for president. The short answer: tons. At a news conference introducing the team, the GOP front-runner attempts to distance himself from his father, former President George Bush, by telling reporters, "He's not the candidate. I am." The governor's standing in the polls subsequently drops 30 percent.
Play niceAfter enduring months of criticism from a public weary of endless internecine warfare on the DISD board, trustees hire a consultant to help them build team spirit and reduce the squabbling that has delayed the search for a new superintendent, which began in 1935. According to the Morning News, consultant John Carver recommends that the trustees "eliminate trivia, boredom, and incomprehensible reports" from meetings, "stop rubber-stamping and meddling simultaneously," and "quit bringing knives to board meetings."
A friend in needA federal grand jury issues a 65-count conspiracy and bribery indictment against Dallas City Councilman Al Lipscomb and Yellow Cab Co. owner Floyd Richards. Lipscomb is accused of accepting nearly $95,000 -- including regular monthly payments of $1,000 -- from Richards and his cab companies in exchange for favorable votes on ordinances affecting the companies. Both men initially plead not guilty to the charges. They admit the money changed hands, but deny that the payments were in exchange for votes -- Richards claims he was just helping out a friend. No, seriously.
They maintain this defense with a straight face until two days before Christmas, when Richards pleads guilty to one count of conspiracy and agrees to testify against Lipscomb. The agreement with prosecutors comes just days after U.S. District Judge Joe Kendall orders the trial, scheduled to begin in January, moved to Amarillo.
Why the apparent falling-out among friends? Lipscomb and Richards aren't talking, but Buzz, who lived in Amarillo 15 years ago and still hasn't warmed up, believes that the prospect of 80-mph winds and 20-degree temperatures might have had something to do with it. Given a choice between weeks on the cold prairie or five years in a warm prison cell, we'd sell our own mother down the river. One other possibility: Al gave Floyd socks for Christmas.
Cocktails are still $6In a deal worth an estimated $195 million, American Airlines secures the right to have its name plastered on Dallas' new arena, scheduled to open in 2001. Critics note that Dallas taxpayers, who are contributing $125 million toward the building's construction, won't see any of the money. To mollify them, developers Tom Hicks and Ross Perot Jr. announce that fans attending sporting events at the American Airlines Center will be served complimentary soft drinks and packets of honey-roasted peanuts.
AprilBump and grindDallas City Council member Barbara Mallory Caraway, who is seeking re-election, says she will return a $2,000 political donation from the managers of two local topless clubs after her campaign opponents accuse her of allowing sexually oriented businesses to flourish in District 6. Caraway denies the charge, but notes that she was reluctant to take the money regardless, as it arrived in the form of crumpled $1 bills that were "kind of sweaty and icky." Caraway wins re-election.
Click's hang-ups Dallas police Chief Ben Click, who will later retire, seeks criminal charges against the publisher of the weekly newspaper The Met after it prints an ad for a performance-art troupe that depicts a baby dangling from a meat hook. The case against publisher Rand Stagen is eventually dropped, to the relief of officials at Onesimo Hernandez Elementary, where meat hooks were recently introduced as a disciplinary tool.
Miller chokes chickensOn an 11-4 vote, the Dallas City Council passes an ordinance banning roosters within the city limits at the behest of Councilwoman Laura Miller, who says the birds' incessant crowing is disturbing the peace of her Oak Cliff district and endangering the lives of residents who are unable to hear the sound of neighborhood gunfire and don't know when to duck. Among those voting against the ordinance is Al Lipscomb. Subsequent to the vote, federal authorities open an investigation into rumors that Lipscomb has received regular monthly shipments of a dozen eggs from unknown parties. Lipscomb admits he took the eggs, but denies they influenced his vote, saying they were "merely gifts from [his] many fine feathered friends."
Elderly abusePopular longtime WFAA-Channel 8 anchor Tracy Rowlett signs a $1 million annual contract with rival station KTVT-Channel 11. Rowlett's departure threatens to weaken top-rated WFAA, one of several Belo-owned Texas stations that provide content to TXCN. Residents of Lubbock's Sunnydale Retirement Home send a cable to Gov. Bush, asking him to "please, please send someone who can change the channel."
MayJava jiveAnswering the prayers of Frappuccino fan Laura Miller, Starbucks announces plans to open a coffee bar in Oak Cliff, the first such shop in Dallas south of the Trinity River. In a nod to neighborhood sensibilities and to help clear the neighborhood of unwanted roosters, a Starbucks spokesman says the chain will add a hot chicken sandwich to the usual menu of pastries and croissants.
A touch too cleanOrganizers of a drive to clean up the banks of the Trinity River come under fire after they schedule a reception for volunteers at a dance hall donated by the same local topless-club manager who earlier donated $2,000 to Barbara Mallory Caraway. Critics say use of the hall sullies the event. Hundreds of volunteers show up for the cleanup, many complaining afterward that "it was not sullied nearly enough. We were expecting a lot more sweat and ickiness."
Survival of the fittestDISD trustees vote 9-0 to approve a three-year contract naming Waldemar "Bill" Rojas head of Dallas schools. Rojas will be paid $260,000 annually, making him the highest-paid superintendent in the nation. Parents, teachers, and school officials here applaud the rare unanimous vote, as do staff members of Rojas' previous employer, the San Francisco Unified School District.
The unanimity won't last long, thanks to Rojas' management style, which might be politely described as "aggressive" or, less politely, "rabid."
Rojas, who begins work in August, quickly shakes up the district, reshuffling positions, bringing in a half-dozen new high-dollar administrators, and telling the Morning News that the only thing DISD employees have to fear is "their competency or lack of it."
Panic grips DISD's Ross Avenue headquarters. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
Rojas suggests administrators read Only the Paranoid Survive, a text on management. Other books on Rojas' reading list reportedly are Machiavelli's The Prince, and Gen. George S. Patton's War as I Knew It.
JuneCan't get there from hereThe DFW Airport board adopts new standards for cab and limousine drivers requiring that they dress nicely, speak English, pass a local geography test, and accept major credit cards. Nearly half of the drivers who take the geography test after the rules go into effect in September fail, many of them stumped by the question "What's the best route to follow when taking a tourist from the airport to downtown?"
"Through Denton," it turns out, is not the correct answer.
"It was a trick question," one driver complains. "They said best, not most direct."
Bridges of Dallas CountyWith Donna Blumer casting the lone dissenting vote, the city council adopts an ambitious, unfunded plan to build five elaborate suspension bridges over the Trinity River. The first of the bridges scheduled to be built, on Woodall Rodgers, gets an unexpected boost in November when an anonymous donor pledges $2 million toward the project. City officials decline to name the benefactor, saying only that the money will be delivered in the form of crumpled $1 bills that are "kind of sweaty and icky."
Endangered species Newly elected members of the city council are sworn in, giving Dallas its first council with a majority of members who are either black or Hispanic. The city spends roughly $50,000 on food, gifts, and entertainment for an inaugural ceremony welcoming the new council. The tab includes $11.95 for a bag of pork rinds, a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and a copy of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue for the council's lone Anglo male, Alan Walne.
JulyLost in spaceGOP presidential front-runner George W. Bush faces ridicule over several geographical gaffes, among them confusing Slovenia with Slovakia and referring to Kosovars as Kosvarians. Bush dismisses the criticism, saying that if he doesn't win the White House, he could always make a living as a Dallas cab driver.
Too bad it wasn't a death matchSupporters of Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura wrest control of the Reform Party from Ross Perot loyalists in a 12-round tag-team wrestling match in Dearborn, Michigan.
Checks in the mailDISD scrambles to reissue paychecks to as many as 900 school district employees after the U.S. Postal Service mistakenly routes their original checks to the Washington, D.C., area. Postal officials blame the mishap on a malfunctioning piece of machinery operated by a former Dallas cab driver.
Petty politicsMayor Ron Kirk denies longtime foe Laura Miller a leadership position on any of the city council's nine standing committees. Kirk says the decision was not meant to punish Miller for her frequent, vocal criticism of him. Rather, committee leadership positions are awarded based on expertise, and the council doesn't have a Chicken and Coffee Committee.
AugustNot-so-strange bedfellowsThe Belo Corp. pays $24 million cash for 12.38 percent of the Dallas Mavericks and a 6.19 percent share of Ross Perot Jr. and Tom Hicks' Arena Group. The decision, announced in a short business-section story in the Morning News, prompts a fierce debate among the newspaper's staff after the News' City Hall reporters post a scathing memo blasting both the investment and the paper's lackluster coverage of it. "We believe that the purchase will strengthen the perception among some in the community that the Morning News is not an independent editorial voice in Dallas, especially on controversial civic endeavors," the memo states. The News' editors counter that the daily's coverage will remain as unbiased as it has ever been. Sadly, both sides are correct.
BustedA grand jury decides that Executive Assistant Police Chief Willard Rollins should not face criminal charges for leaving the scene of an alleged minor traffic accident on July 31. Although he avoids prosecution, Rollins doesn't manage to stay out of the pokey. In September he is demoted three ranks to captain and assigned to the night shift supervising officers at the county jail.
Two plus two is sixCity council and DISD trustees approve $40 million in tax breaks for arena developers over the next 10 years. The money will be used to repay The Arena Group for building roads and utilities near the arena. In exchange for the school district's $21 million contribution -- which will be reimbursed by the state -- DISD will receive a $500,000 package of scholarships, free days at the arena for students, and other small inducements. School board members -- remember, these are the people responsible for ensuring that your children can add and subtract -- call this a good deal.
SeptemberUnfair testCity Councilman John Loza is sentenced to two years' probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service -- being a Dallas council member doesn't count -- after being found guilty of driving drunk in Austin in 1998. Loza was arrested after police stopped him for running a red light and demanded that he perform sobriety tests, despite his contention that no sitting Dallas council member can reasonably be expected to walk a straight line.
OctoberKnow your placeDISD Superintendent Bill Rojas asks the leaders of the district's Latino and black ethnic advisory groups to step down, accusing them in a letter of "focusing on non-substantive issues that create suspicions, divide the community, and undermine public support for the district," the Morning News reports. Damn straight, Bill. If they want to engage in that sort of behavior, they should run for the school board or take an administrative job.
Top copTerrell Bolton becomes Dallas' first black police chief and quickly begins a series of promotions, demotions, and reassignments aimed at increasing diversity among the department's top ranks and placing more patrol officers on the streets. The moves anger many veteran officers, who accuse Bolton of "pulling a Waldemar."
The nerveDallas school trustees reject a proposal pushed by Superintendent Bill Rojas to turn management of up to 11 schools over to Edison Schools Inc., a private educational company.
Apparently, trustees have not kept up with their recommended reading.
Gen. Rojas swiftly counterattacks, holding a news conference at which he ridicules trustees Hollis Brashear and Lois Parrott for their opposition. He then complains to U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins and U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders that the two board members are attempting to micromanage the district -- by daring to say no to him.
Rojas later apologizes.
NovemberHere we go again...Chris Beamon, a 13-year-old Ponder High School student, is freed after spending five days in the Denton County juvenile detention facility for the crime of doing his homework. The seventh-grader was arrested by sheriff's deputies and ordered detained by Judge Darlene Whitten after he read aloud in class a graphic Halloween horror story in which he describes shooting a teacher and three students and getting high on Freon.
The arrest makes the tiny community the butt of jokes worldwide, including one in the Dallas Observer, which publishes a satirical story containing obviously fictional quotes from Whitten and Denton County District Attorney Bruce Isaacks, who sue us. Our made-up quotes hurt their feelings and, they claim, damaged their reputations. What reputations, you might ask? You might. We won't.
Our lawyers tell us that political satire, even when it uses made-up quotes from real people, is protected by the First Amendment. We hope they're right, otherwise a whole bunch of people are going to come gunning for Buzz's butt, including this next guy.And againThe Dallas school board narrowly approves a scaled-down version of the Edison plan after Rojas tells trustees: "Look, I said I was sorry. I even revised the plan. If you people don't OK it this time, I'm gonna bitch-slap you so hard, your grandchildren will be born dizzy."
Four legs good, two legs betterCity council members take up proposed revisions to the city's ethics code drafted by a task force whose recommendations include a ban on nepotism, adoption of a detailed financial disclosure form, and the creation of a permanent ethics commission to review complaints of bad behavior.
They quickly put them down again.
Hailed as the toughest ethics rules in Dallas history -- a title it wins by default; any code would be -- the proposal's chief virtue is that it manages to unite the Dallas business establishment and newly empowered minority council members. Neither group likes it. It cramps their style.
"Just when Hispanics and African-Americans are coming to the table, they want to make a big hue and cry over it," council member Al "Mr. Ethics" Lipscomb tells the Morning News.
Pardon us while we pontificate, Al, but isn't that the point? Didn't voters elect all this new blood to the council to change the way the city does business? Of course, that's the proletariat's dilemma. Once the revolution finally does come, you're no longer part of the masses. You're The Man.
Quick, someone lend Lipscomb a copy of Animal Farm before the new code comes up for a vote in January.
Shooting the messengerCouncil members Barbara Mallory Caraway and Maxine Thornton-Reese call for the resignation of City Auditor Robert Melton after he issues a report that finds Margie Reese, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, and other officials rigged the award of an architectural consulting contract.
She did it. She was reprimanded for it. But she has friends, and at City Hall, friends are sometimes more important than integrity -- sometimes, but not always. A council majority votes to keep Melton on the job.
DecemberScrumptious American Airlines pleads guilty to illegally storing and transporting hazardous wastes and is fined $8 million by the Justice Department. Among the materials the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami uncovers during a two-year investigation are 6,000 trays of heat-and-serve chicken Kiev and 32,000 dinner rolls dating to the Korean War. "Hey, we've got to serve our passengers something," an airline spokesman says.
Isn't it ironic?After nearly a decade of traffic-snarling construction, work on widening Central Expressway is completed, $6 million under budget and 10 months early.
And what did the city do to mark the opening of the freeway and the end of a 10-year traffic jam? Why, they shut it down and had a parade. People in cars driving slowly, celebrating the fact that other people in cars can now drive quickly, if only the damn road were open. Whoopee! What's the city going to do when the new police headquarters opens downtown in 2003? Declare a "Go Shoot Someone Day"?
Sorry. We don't really mean it. The men and women who did the work on Central should be proud of themselves, and they deserve a parade, no matter how ironic. Since we moved from East Dallas a few months ago, we take Stemmons to work. That's enough to make anyone bitter.
So what have you learned, Dorothy?This is the point where Buzz is supposed to wrap it all up, step back, and offer up some gentle lesson garnered from the past year, some optimistic greeting to the year to come.
Give us a minute...
It's right there on the tip of our tongue...
Instead, let's just turn out the lights, load up the shotgun, and spend New Year's Eve waiting to see whether Y2K really does mean the end of civilization as we know it. (We should be so lucky.)
Before you go, we here at the Secret Society of Embittered, Cynical People would like to give you our choice for Dallas' Person of the Year, that one cranky creature who best embodies the society's philosophy, which is: "If you can't think of anything nice to say, please send your résumé and samples of your published work to the Dallas Observer, 2130 Commerce St., Dallas TX, 75201."
Whom to pick? Chris Beamon certainly knows how to scare the hell out of purported grown-ups. So does Robert Melton, plus he knows how to spell. Bill Rojas? You gotta love any man who takes a post at a record-setting salary and spends his first few months on the job telling his bosses to go screw themselves -- especially when those bosses are DISD trustees.
No, they're too obvious. Instead, our choice is the unnamed customer of III Forks restaurant who, according to The Associated Press, last week ordered a $35,000 bottle of wine only to send it back because it was bad. "Why, I wouldn't wash my pet pig in this swill! It's worth 20, 25 grand tops!"
God love him, whoever he is.
So, as 1999 becomes 2000, let's all pour a glass and raise a toast in his honor and to the year that was.
Then spit it out.
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