Sunday, September 30, 2012


I was bemoaning the fact that whole streets get badly flooded here whenever it rains even a few inches, and a friend pointed out that these were called 'playas' and that, along with 19th and Flint, another bad one was at 50th and Quaker. I had already known that for all intents and purposes I had to avoid 19th and Flint at all costs for at least a few hours when it rained. Police cars come from different directions just to warn people away, perhaps because those people see no other choice besides driving through the intersection, and invariably lose their car or soak it badly. The water appears to be bad enough to swallow whole cars; I'm reminded of friends in Japan who hear about impending typhoon and just hunker down and stay home for days on end. That option is not open to me, but I'm on a bicycle, so I've begun to plan alternate routes, and there aren't many; there are actually playas wherever one turns.

Now I don't want to slam the city's sewer system, because tearing up whole roads for months or years at a time isn't necessarily even possible. Part of the reasoning is that it rains so rarely that comprehensive million-dollar plans for managing these rains is not really cost-effective. In many other ways the city seems to be well-planned; it's easy and safe to get across town, and they always take out the garbage. I've also noticed that they basically leveled a whole area north of Broadway; much of it is now fields but there is a lot of fairly new housing up there and a kind of boulevard that, like Broadway, doesn't seem to be getting a whole lot of action. Their rebuilding of the city ("revitalizing") was not entirely successful, I can see, but I can also see that a lot of love and care has gone into trying to make this a more habitable, pleasant place to live.

What makes a playa into a playa is that the water has nowhere to go, so it becomes a lake on the plains that just sits there, becomes stagnant, and eventually evaporates. There is one theory that "estacado", the so-called "stacked" or "escarpmented" plain of llano estacado, was actually estancado or "stagnant", which would lend a touch of irony to our idea of the plains as a nice place to live.

But I've been thinking a lot about one naturalists' assessment of why we no longer have water in the aquifer. He said that our downfall was getting rid of the buffalo, who wallowed in the lowlands, thus making mud wallow areas where rain water would work its way naturally down into the water table. My question is this: is he right? Do we actually lose a lot of water to evaporation, that we need down there? This of course is a question for the entire plains area to answer, and do something about, but we, Lubbock, as the biggest city on the plains, could lead in figuring out creative solutions to making sure rain water, what little we get, goes back where it belongs.

So, you ask, am I suggesting mud wallows, with buffalo, in the middle of the city, at corners like 19th and Flint? Well, that would be a little extreme, but, remember, there are lots of medium paths. Any run-off system would be better than what we have now, and there are systems like French drains that do essentially the same thing without making people actually live next to buffalo. People seem to like these raised roadways like the exit ramps of the Marsha Sharp, one of which took me way up over Lubbock the other day, a fine view, but with no place to pull over; you might protest that these are lousy places for cars to break down. Yes, but four-foot floods are lousy places to have to go through, when you need to get somewhere. I say, if you have a crucial intersection that everyone needs, that plays an integral role in traffic flow through the city, consider raising the road, and making wallow-type arrangements that naturally take in some of this water, and get it out of our hair. We water our grass enough, so that we aren't really falling short in the evaporation department. But our water table needs a hand. One long-term way of ensuring our survival out on this windy arid plain, is to hang onto what little water we get, and not set it to the winds.

Friday, September 28, 2012

everything revisited

So at first I said, football kills people and it has to be stopped. Now, I feel like a complete chameleon, talking to people about Tech football, and I've become a fan. It may be that I ride my bike past the marching band every day. It may be that people are so darned friendly and you can really learn a lot from them by listening to them talk about Tech football. There's no question it's engrained in the culture. Everyone's excited about the big Iowa State game. Iowa State seems to be a team that's a lot like us.

The City of Lubbock (I think) honored four musicians this weekend including Lloyd Maines, father (?) of Natalie. Natalie didn't make it to the celebration. She is the black sheep, spurned relative. Doesn't even come back to town; people are still mad at her, maybe, or she's mad at them. Or just busy, who knows?

In some ways I've grown impatient with the rearview-mirror theme although the pictures really were coming fast and furious for a while. I haven't begun to get what I want in those mirrors, either. It's actually a photogenic town, lots of pretty buildings, houses with courtyards, interesting weeds, etc. But to me, always looking in the mirror is kind of like obsessing with letting go, to some degree. Enough with the frames. Just use the phone/camera, and get out there and see it all. It's my new strategy.

When it rains, my own corner, Flint and 19th, becomes an ocean. Police actually come out to make sure it doesn't swallow up whole cars. Other places are bad too: Boston and 19th, right behind the Student Center, etc. But our own ocean is the worst. We have to go out of our way. We expect to see cows floating in it one of these days.

Our kids say the Texas pledge every day. Apparently they do this all over Texas. I'm going to study this pledge, I think. It was pointed out to me that it's ironic that a state that believes so strongly in government leaving you alone (especially if you're a business, or a cowboy) takes such an active role in ensuring that everyone's education is the same, statewide. This is another topic I hope to explore, if I have time. Does recitation every day for many years actually help? I have noticed a number of Texas flags, and "secede" bumper stickers which implies that it got somebody at some point, at least something did. Texas pride!

Flatlanders are in town, but I'm missing it. It's raining, and it's 30 bucks, and I'm exhausted, and I"m staying in. But I'm ok with Lubbock, still. I'll bring pictures. Now that it's fall, maybe I can get out more, and take a few more of them.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Approaching seven weeks in Lubbock, and I have a few questions for the locals here. Actually I have been asking a lot of questions, and people are pretty forthcoming with the answers. This is a very friendly place; people like to talk, and share information.

The first one is a toughie. A little while ago I was looking for the driver's license station and got lost. Somewhere downtown I saw a beautiful block, beautiful on both sides, old buildings with nice facades and all. I pulled over so I could ask directions in a store that would presumably be open. But the entire block was vacated. Every single store! It was quite an amazing experience for me. There could have been people living in the apartments above the stores, but the stores themselves were empty.

Well, my only question is obvious: What's up with this? They talk a little about a downtown renovation project, but apparently it hasn't done so well.

I had a question about the "Big Eight" or "Eleven" or "Ten" or whatever. Forgive my ignorance about football issues. When I was growing up, Nebraska was in, Colorado was in, Missouri was in, but TCU? Even Texas Tech was not in. I'm not even sure Texas itself was in. These are the usual plains state teams: Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, West Virginia?? I'll find out in due time.

They say I should be grateful that they built up the city to the south and to the west, because the wind comes from the southwest and blows less dust now that everyone has a green lawn. OK, I'll stop harping on this lawn thing. And another thing I hear is, not a single tree is native to this place. By nature, it's intended to be, just a few people, and a lot of sun. We all just about got sunstroke today, outside to play soccer for a while, maybe a few hours, and it was piercing hot all afternoon. To me, it was not so much that it was relentlessly sunny, or hot, but that here it is late September...does it ever let up?

Friday was 50's day at Roscoe: poodle skirts, and lots of Buddy Holly music. I continue to hear things about all our favorite sons/daughters: he lived here for a while, he used to play music right over there. But what was he really like? The plaque says he was an "above-average student"...and what does that mean?

I have more questions, but I'll save them for later...chou

Monday, September 3, 2012

lubbock in the rearview mirror

I think it was shortly after I mentioned Lubbock to somebody, back in Illinois, that I first heard the expression "Lubbock in the rearview mirror" and, at that time, I was also aware that it was a line in a song. My wife relates a story that at one point she was driving and that line came up on the radio, just as she turned it on, also at a crucial point in my life.

It was soon after I got here that it was pointed out to me that Mac Davis actually liked Lubbock, and that if you listen to the entire song, he ends up coming back and being grateful to be here. Now this is another level of awareness entirely; I think that not everyone knows this, and I for one never listened to any song all that carefully, so I would have never known it had it not been pointed out to me. But at the moment that it was pointed out to me, I surmised that people here might be a little defensive about that song, and the concept in general, so they might be a little more likely to know that than most people.

So I was at a party the other night here in Lubbock, and we were discussing the benefits of the place, versus for example picking up and moving to another locale. The expression "Lubbock in the rearview mirror" came up and one guy then pointed out what I did above: that in fact Mac Davis liked the place, and the song makes it clear he was glad to come back. At this party I was one of few who knew that; it turns out that not everyone, even in Lubbock, is fully aware of the different meanings that song carries.

All this brings up the question: how uncool would it be if I were to just lift the lyrics, and put them here in this blog? He still owns them, after all, and although people do that, and put lyrics all over the internet....oh bother, I guess I won't. But here's another question: How cool or uncool would it have been, if I had just said, at the moment we were discussing it, hey, I've been obsessed with that idea ever since I got here, which was about a month ago, and as a result, every time I go out, I take my camera and take pictures of whatever I see in my rearview mirrors, and as a result I have a whole set of pictures which are all essentially Lubbock in the rearview mirror. Now, at the time, I bit my tongue, I didn't say it. It's partly because, I'm new here, I'd rather just let these conversations go their course, and see if something else comes up (which invariably happens)...let's just say I'll let the pictures speak for themselves and, for the moment at least, keep cranking them out. I can say this much: the inclusion of a rearview mirror in a cell-phone/instagram pop art photo gives you instant contrast: where you are with where you've been, the van you're in vs. its environment; the rounded-angular shape of (2006 Kia Van) rearview mirrors vs. the desolate straight lines of telephone poles, etc....

Let's just say I've gotten into the composition side of the equation, and have lost sight a little of what Mac Davis was driving at. So I guess I'll just link to the lyrics and let it go at that.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

football culture

Today is "game day" in Lubbock, and I'm aware that a large amount of cultural energy is wrapped up in the football industry. The Will Rogers statue is red; there is a "Raider Walk," some people will be doing serious tailgating all day, etc.

At the same time a body of research is showing how bad football really is. To put it bluntly, rattling your brain repeatedly tends to wreck it. I used to think that the main thing wrong with football was that you can only run in one direction, and your knees can only bend in one direction, but they come at you from all directions. No, the worst part of it is that your brain turns to mush after a while. In short, football is killing people. This article is a gateway to lots of the recent information about it.

So at this point you might be furious at me for bringing it up, or overjoyed that somebody is saying it bluntly. Either way, we live in a polarized world, and this issue may polarize us more. But actually, I'd like to be objective about it. Is there a way to save football? Or, will it be like smoking: We find out it's deadly; some of us reject it outright and teach our kids to do so; eventually most people reject it, because the culture gets smarter.

Football (American football) grew up with television; its primary advantage is that it's fun to watch, especially from above where you can see the whole pattern. But to the people down in the thick of it, its most notable characteristics include how easily it rattles your whole body, and how easily you can break knees, elbows, etc. I played it a little when I was growing up and had fun, especially when we played it on mud. There was a touch version that was especially fun to play though I can see how people prefer the hard version. The tricky part, for those of us who love the game itself, is going to be how to save it. Can we make helmets better without sacrificing movement, or vision? Can we make it so parents don't have to feel like they're sacrificing their boys to the great god of American entertainment? I'm not sure.