The Rewards of a Good Buzz
For 14 years now, Buzz has written a summary of the previous 12 months of news in Dallas. Not to brag, but that's a pretty impressive stretch, taking into account that it means we've persuaded someone to pay us for more than 730 consecutive weeks. Pretty sly, huh? Countless more productive, contributing members of society — garbage collectors, high school teachers, mimes — can't make that boast.
In the time we've been recording local history, a generation has exited preschool, passed through the educational system and are now old enough to vote in their first presidential election. Too bad nearly every one of them will do so having never read this or any other newspaper.
What did the li'l ignoramuses miss while they were squinting into their cellphones and growing callused thumbs the size of bratwursts? Buzz looked back at some of our previous news recaps to remember:
2000, also shitty.
2001, Super-duper shi ...
You get the point. Suddenly cutting the world's news up into 140-character chunks doesn't seem quite so idiotic. If you gotta swallow a pile of crap, might as well keep the doses small.
Of course a normal person might conclude that the problem isn't with the times, but with Buzz. Normal people are annoying like that, especially when they're right. Regardless, Buzz would rather think we've been ahead of the curve. Only in recent years have the serious pundits read by normal people begun writing long, thoughtful pieces (#boring) about America's inevitable decline. Buzz, on the other hand, has been expecting the worst for 49 years and 11 months. Perseverance is our byword.
Not this year, though. In 2012, Buzz cuts against the grain. Down with negativity! Things are looking up! Things tend to do that when you're sitting at the bottom of a well!
Look, we know we've said this before — in January 2007, in fact — but Buzz is feeling the stirrings of hope. You probably shouldn't bank on that, since we were very, very wrong in 2007. Truth is, we have no clue what the coming year holds, but neither do all those serious, gloomy pundit guys. They just appear more credible because they wear ties and ironed shirts. All we're certain of right now is that benzodiazepines, Adderall and tequila over ice make a nice little cocktail.
But maybe it's not that mixture that has us uncharacteristically cheery. Perhaps it's the fact we're about to turn 50, the age some surveys suggest is the start of the happiest period of one's life. (It's also the age one can afford smooth tequila and good meds, but that's probably coincidence.) Whatever the reason, this year we're determined to be a little more positive. Instead of turning over the compost pile of recent history to find all the undigested garbage, we're singling out a few who made an impact on Dallas in 2011. In a few cases, we're even praising them.
Sort of praising them, anyway. Mustn't over-commit. Tomorrow, we could wake up hopeless, with a throbbing head and dancing the tequila two-step. Besides, as we said, a new cadre of youths will vote for president this year, and we've met some of them.
Pass the tequila.
Buzz's Man of the Year
We know what you're thinking: "Oh, Mr. Ironic is going to give poor Caraway another kick." But we swear on our mother's freshly dug grave (look, Mom, you're being helpful!) that's not the case. Buzz sincerely admires the District 4 city council member as much as we admire anyone in Dallas politics. Granted, that bar's set so low you'd need a shovel and strong back to find it, but consider these facts:
Caraway ended 2010 seeking cover from a shit-storm over his roles in the anti-wet side on the alcohol sales vote and his efforts to keep the cops away from a southern Dallas card room where he and his father happened to play poker. He entered an even bigger rain of poo in early 2011 when he called police Chief David Brown and reported a domestic disturbance. When reporters asked him what the disturbance was about, he blamed it on two surnameless friends — "Arthur" and "Archie" — who he said had argued over a football game.
His story sounded like the sort of thing Billy from "Family Circus" would gin up to explain a broken lamp, and it prompted the largest synchronized eye-roll in city history. Unfortunately for Caraway, the detectives Brown sent to investigate recorded their conversation with the councilman. After a two-month court fight with the media, the recording was released to the public. Turns out, Caraway had told police that he and his wife, state Representative Barbara Mallory Caraway, had argued over her decision to throw away some of Caraway's old kitchen aprons, and she allegedly attempted to carry the debate at the point of a kitchen knife.
In the middle of all this, Caraway, who served briefly as mayor after Mayor Tom Leppert resigned to run for U.S. Senate, decided to award Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and reformed dog-killer Michael Vick an honorary key to the city. The move angered many in Dallas who believe that the Eagles and their fans deserve nothing short of a key to the gates of hell. (When will they get keyless entry down there?) Some folks were pissed about the dog thing, too.
So you're probably wondering why Buzz would name Caraway Man of the Year, a distinction that comes with our old bowling trophy and lifetime invite to our weekly poker game. First, read what he said when Buzz called him to ask about his 2011: "I think I accomplished a lot of great things in 2011. In fact, it was one of my best years, minus a few bumps and bruises. ... These were just distractions, and a lot of great things happened."
Buzz was tempted to ask him what meds he was taking. Calling Caraway's first months of 2011 "a few bumps and bruises" is like calling Elizabeth Taylor "under the weather."
In the middle of our chat, Caraway paused to take a call from his mother, to talk about the new baby about to be delivered into the extended family of a 30-year-old Oak Cliff woman already raising 13 children — her own, her imprisoned sister's and those of a neighbor with a drug problem. In December, Caraway led a group of volunteers and church members who gave the family's home a complete makeover. Now, 13 kids are sleeping in beds instead of on the floor, Caraway said, and he sounded truly happy that a new baby was about to enter a city he believes is getting ever better.
Maybe Buzz is falling for a politician's soppy line, but so what? It's a mostly harmless line. Caraway practices his faith, plays poker with his dad, helps the needy and, most endearing of all, doesn't even screen his mom's calls. As for Arthur and Archie, well, all politicians lie. The best we can hope for is that they tell small lies and are really bad at it.
Caraway went on to talk about some of his reasons for being pleased about 2011 — his wife is running for the U.S. House, the city has shut down some drug houses, the Convention Center hotel opened and southern Dallas is getting a Walmart, despite environmental objections from some North Dallas council members. His wish for 2012 is that northern and southern Dallas will come together as a unified, improving city where every person has easy access to inexpensive, poorly made Chinese-manufactured clothing and housewares. (OK, we made up that last part.)
"We need to make sure that folks understand that we're one city," is what Caraway really said. "It's my dream and wish that we will honor that status so people will be excited to move here. ... We have to keep Dallas alive."
Here's hoping you get your wish, councilman, and, unlike the next guy in this story, may the feds never darken your door. If they do, please hide your trophy.
The Equity Player Award
John Wiley Price
Caraway's home wasn't the only local politician's to be visited by law enforcement officers in 2011, but we doubt Dallas County Commissioner Price invited them to drop by what The Dallas Morning News delightfully referred to as Price's "bachelor pad."
When the FBI pays a visit, they bring their own invites. "If you got a warrant, I guess you're gonna come in," the Grateful Dead sang, and the FBI agents who tossed Price's office, home and cars in June — along with the offices of his chief assistant and political consultant — had a fistful of them. They were there to collect evidence for a federal grand jury investigation into ... into ... something pretty bad, we bet.
The feds aren't saying what, exactly, but luckily Dallas is teeming with reporters who will not be deterred by a trivial lack of information. Thanks to them, the city soon learned the Price investigation has something to do with how Price kept the books at the annual "Kwanzaafest" celebration he organizes.
Unless it's about the way he torpedoed a developer's plans for a warehouse and shipping project that promised jobs in southern Dallas while his political pals angled for an equity share in the business.
No, no, no. It's really all about county contracts ...
Or Price's car and jewelry collection ...
For Dallas news fans in 2011, the only thing more entertaining than speculating about what the feds are up to was watching scads of reporters scuttle about like the stars of Discovery Channel's "Shark Week," but with less decorum.
Buzz almost pitied Price, and would have too, if he weren't such an asshole. (Yes, it does take one to know one. That's what makes us qualified.)
For an example of the kind of mean-spirited, hectoring behavior that has made Price a brand name in dickishness, cast your mind back to February, when a group of voters went to a commissioners court meeting to protest Price's role in firing Bruce Sherbet, the long-serving and much respected county elections administrator, who is white.
"All of you are white. Go to hell," Price told them. He even called one of the speakers "fat boy."
Now Buzz supports any man's right to tell white people to go to hell; we don't want to spend eternity as a minority, after all. As a proud fat man, however, we are deeply offended. Haven't we suffered — and sweated and huffed — enough? Have you priced a bag of powdered doughnuts lately, Mr. Price? Don't judge us, sir, until you chafe a mile in our sweatpants.
Besides, Price doesn't appear to understand that since America elected a black man president and the economy has fallen apart, the quality of white guilt has declined dramatically. It's a new day, commissioner, and that race card you're ready to lay down isn't an ace anymore. It's a trey at best, maybe a deuce, and someday soon the feds are going to flip over their cards, which just might be flush with indictments. Expect no mercy from the white folks and chubbies — especially if one of us winds up squeezing our fat ass into a jury box.
Special Merit Badge for Camping Skills
Buzz obviously is not timid when it comes to being rude, but we flushed a bit when we hit Glynn Wilcox, Occupy Dallas adviser and general assembly member, with the chief question we had for him.
"Um, you guys do realize that we live in a representative democracy?" we asked. "'Changing the conversation' is good, but it's votes that count, right? You know, money, organization ... ?"
Asking the question made us uncomfortable because Buzz supports what we think the Occupy movement is protesting: oligarchy, the wealth gap, grooming. By "support," we mean philosophically, from a comfy chair and within waddling distance of a clean toilet. We've done our time in tents. We prefer Westins.
Still, part of us was glad the Occupy Dallas protesters pitched camp outside City Hall. Speak truth to power! squeaked the small, musty corner of our brain where we store our ideals.
Meanwhile, the weary, cynical part of our brain made fart noises. "Oh, boy," it said with a sneer, "more chants and Magic Marker signs. Those always work."
(Our brain is split four ways: youthful ideals, 7 percent; bitter, lazy cynicism, 25 percent; Internet porn, 22 percent; trying to remember where the hell we put our damn car keys, 46 percent. The porn part is dwindling while the car-keys part grows like that weird thing on the bottom of our foot. Just something for you to look forward to.)
Where were we? Ah, yes. Wilcox. He gave us a thoughtful, encouraging reply, presumably hackeying the shit out his sack or something.
"That's always been the kind of weird quandary that people in the media and even Plano moms have had," he said. "'The weird hippies, that's nice what they're doing, but what does it mean?'"
What Occupy Dallas means philosophically, to Wilcox anyway, is replacing a political order in which "my worth as a citizen has a good deal to do with my ZIP code" with one that acknowledges that a whole generation of twenty- and thirtysomethings are wondering whether they will be able to provide for a future, a family, a career.
Listening to him lay out how no one's citizenship is more valuable than anyone else's — how a citizen is "not a legal entity without a heart ... a citizen is somebody with a heart and soul" — had even the cynical 25 percent of our brain ready to shout hallelujah and trot down to the altar for a quick wash.
But we've been to revivals before. Didn't stick. And as sure as the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the road to power is paved with money and votes. So the question remains: How does Occupy Dallas get on the right road?
Just wait, Wilcox said. The coming year will determine whether the Occupy movement will step up, organize and become a force in electoral politics. That means firing up the social media, articulating positions and reaching consensus on projects that will let candidates know that Occupy's viewpoints deserve respect from those who want to get elected. "This is an election year, a big, meaningful year and a big opportunity to change this country," Wilcox said. "The thing to expect from Occupy Dallas in 2012 is to actually do something. ... We have to play in those spheres."
Well, OK then. You guys lead, and Buzz will follow ... slowly, with lots of bathroom stops. There will be room service, won't there?
The Moral Hazard Award
Ken Robinson (Squatter Extraordinaire
When we told Robinson that we were thinking about referring to him as a more concrete example of what the Occupy movement was trying to accomplish, he was not pleased. Though perfectly polite, he was not happy we called.
Over the summer, Robinson paid a $16 court filing fee and moved into a vacant McMansion in Flower Mound, utilizing a complex, obscure and legal process called "adverse possession," which allows people to assume possession of an abandoned property. Since then, he told Buzz, talking with reporters has brought him nothing but grief.
Yeah, reporters will do that to you. They'll steal your frozen burrito out of the office fridge, too. Join the club.
Even the Observer's own Leslie Minora let him down, Robinson said, after spending hours with him for a profile that ran in September. Her story was fair enough, he said, but he didn't like being called a "squatter," as our headline referred to him.
"I'm not a squatter," he said. "What I did has nothing to do with Occupy Wall Street. It has nothing to do with squatting, to tell the truth."
It was at this point that we totally meant to tell Robinson that Minora didn't write that headline. But we forgot. Probably because we became distracted after we mislaid our car keys again. Definitely not because we wrote the headline.
But let's not be distracted by minutiae over who wrote or didn't write something. Let's just forgive Leslie and move on.
The point is that Robinson did something that won him a ton of admirers and quite a few critics: He found a house whose original owner had stopped paying his mortgage and departed to parts unknown, a house that had not been placed in foreclosure. He then filed some paperwork with Denton County and moved in. He contends the law says that if he lives there long enough before the mortgage-holder, Bank of America, gets around to seeking the title, the house will become his. His plan just might work, because mortgage lenders are busy oiling their paper shredders.
Does that make Robinson's move right? Some say he's gaming the system, legally or not, to weasel his way into possession of a house. But with a glass house, a 22-percent Internet-porn brain and a lousy shoulder, Buzz's moral stone-casting days are long over. And as moral philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote in his lesser-known treatise So's Yer Old Man: "Gotta git yours, homie." You could say much the same about the entire home finance industry, in other words. So whom do we root for?
Robinson would rather we just shut up. It's just a real-estate transaction, he insisted, and he's experienced in the real-estate business. Novice home-seekers still call him daily seeking advice on how to follow his path, and he worries innocent people are getting misinformation from the news and face trouble with the law.
"They think it's just about going down and signing a piece of paper," Robinson said. "That's far from the truth."
The No Good Deed Goes Unpunished Award
Charles Allen (Trinity Outfitter)
Our conversation with Charles Allen, owner of Trinity River Outfitters, went much better.
"Have you decided where you're going to hang that medal or plaque or whatever it is the city gave you for keeping them from killing people?" Buzz asked.
Allen laughed. "I haven't gotten any slaps on the back or attaboys," he said. "I got threatened with arrest."
Oh, yeah, that's right. In this warm glow of positive feeling, Buzz forgot: We're in Dallas, where Allen, who has equipped and guided canoe tours on the Trinity for decades, is just the sort of blabbermouth the city would want to toss in a cell. He's the guy who pointed out that the city's $4-million-and-counting "Dallas Wave" should more accurately be called the "Dallas Wave Bye-Bye."
The wave, a stretch of fake rapids downriver from downtown, was built to entertain whitewater kayakers. It includes a bypass channel meant to allow canoeists to pass through safely.
"Safely" is a relative term. In this case, though, "potentially-lethal-but-far-less-so-than-going-over-Niagara-Falls-in-a-beer-cooler-oh-don't-be-such-a-pussy" might be more accurate.
In May, Allen told the Observer's Jim Schutze that the city-built bypass was too narrow, short, steep, turbulent and, you know, deadly to allow safe passage by canoeists. That month, city officials held an "opening" ceremony for the Dallas Wave and then closed it the same day.
Allen continued to guide trips down the river, avoiding the Wave Bye-Bye. In late May, he took a group to a city-owned boat ramp below the wave and entered the river about a block upstream from where construction crews were at work on a new river trail. The City Attorney's Office awarded his entrepreneurial perseverance with a letter threatening to arrest him for criminal trespass.
"It's just a big mess," said Allen, who fears that even if the city fixes the bypass — they're supposedly working on it — the wave's damns will to lead to silting upstream and higher water levels, which might worsen floods or kill off aquatic life.
Still, he refuses to let the city's threat put him out of business. He has trips down the same stretch of river scheduled this month, and contends that federal and state laws don't allow the city to block movement on or portaging along the Trinity. He's even heard rumors that he won't be arrested for trespass.
See? There is reason for optimism in Dallas. Not only is City Hall not actively trying to drown its citizenry, it might not even illegally jail the man who warned them about the danger. Granted, a tiny, persistent voice in Buzz's head keeps thinking we should lend Allen our copy of Deliverance. But we can never remember where we left it.
The Dallas Is Not And Will Never Be Portland Award
How much does it cost to paint bike lanes on city streets? Somewhere between $0 and $8 kabillion, depending on whether you believe bicycle advocates or O'Donnell, the director of the city's Department of Sustainable Development and Construction. For now, it looks like the city's going with the lower estimate, as O'Donnell was left brushing skinny tire tracks off her suitpants after she informed a council committee the city has no money for bike lanes. That sparked outrage among bike advocates who pointed out A.) O'Donnell exaggerated what the lanes cost and B.) City Hall promised to install them.
Congratulations, bikos. Soon you may well be pedaling down the edges of Dallas thoroughfares, safe in the knowledge that you're protected from Dodge Durangos, Dallas' insane, texting drivers and Texas' 135-degree heat by a sturdy white stripe of paint.
The Git While The Gittin's Good Award
"My heart's in Dallas," the then-Dallas Independent School District superintendent assured the city in September 2010, when he lost a bid for the super's job in Las Vegas and was awarded a three-year contract extension by DISD trustees. "My name is off the market."
His heart may be in Dallas, but his ass these days is behind a desk in Cobb County, Georgia. That's where he headed in June, taking with him a $200,000 Texas pension that, added to his reported $237,000 base salary in Georgia, netted him nearly $100,000 more income. Hinojosa said he left to be near his son and new grandbaby in Georgia, though we wonder what his excuse would have been if he had won the Vegas gig in 2010. Baby needs a new pair of shoes? His departure was his last great act as an educator in Dallas, where he faced mounting discontent from the fractious board, shrinking budgets and rising test standards. Offer a man a choice between a thankless job or a soft landing, and only a fool turns down the soft landing.
The Your Trash Ain't Nothin' But Cash Award
Mayor Mike Rawlins & The City Council
And finally, kids, a lesson in why it pays to read newspapers. If students at Paul Quinn College kept up with the news at City Hall, they might have saved themselves a trip downtown to attend the city council's vote last fall on "flow control," the city's euphemism for requiring private trash haulers to dump all the garbage they collect in Dallas in the city-owned landfill next to the college. The students had earnestness and social justice on their side. The city council had a pot of money from dumping fees in its grasp and a check ready to purchase the good will of one of those southern sector "leaders" whose "leadership" has made Paul Quinn's neighborhood what it is today — Dallas' dumping ground.
In other words, the students never stood a chance. Don't give up hope, though. The commercial trash haulers have money to hire lawyers, and they've taken the city to court. This is politics at work: The people speak, the money moves and the guys with the best lawyers win. Chins up, students. Unlike most little people who petition government, you received something valuable: an education.
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