To Marfa and beyond

The 60 Minutes segment made Marfa, Texas, sound like a peaceful coexistence of cowboys and artists. Lions and lambs lying down in blissful harmony under the million stars of Big Bend range country.

Marfa’s artistic vibes and geographic remoteness landed the west Texas town on our Memorial Day getaway plan.

“I wouldn’t fool with those hippies,” a young ranch hand said after leading us on a horseback trail ride through his family’s ranch in the Davis Mountains.

“If you like baseball, you should check out the minor league team in Alpine,” he suggested. “The stadium is really cool.”

Note taken, but Marfa is where I had booked two nights at the Thunderbird Hotel, the minimalist cousin of the hipster Hotel San Jose on South Congress in Austin.

When you pull into Marfa, you feel like you’re driving a teal 1960 Chevrolet going seventeen miles per hour. You don’t see much activity, but you sense there’s action in the woodworks.

The lavender-scented Thunderbird is a few blocks from the strip containing the historic El Paisano Hotel and the hap’nin’ Hotel Saint George. The stretch, shooting south from the Presidio County courthouse, also includes Stellina, our first night’s dinner destination.

A seven-minute cruiser bike ride past funky artist studios and auto repair shops put us at Stellina, self-described as Mediterranean home cooking. Yes, Mediterranean in Marfa.

“We’re having a food shortage in Marfa,” our server informed us before relating the menu dishes no longer available. Memorial Day tourists had taken their toll, but we still found sufficient fine sustenance for the next day’s art walk through Chinati Institute.

“Will you be coming back for the afternoon session?” our docent inquired after the morning tour. I was noncommittal. I wanted the Marfa arts experience but not at the expense of an afternoon nap.

Chinati is the brainchild of Donald Judd, a modern artist who in the late 1970s assembled funds to acquire a retired World War I-era Army installation in Marfa. The Missouri native spent time in Manhattan but found the west Texas landscape inspiringly unscathed.

Judd added a mile of concrete boxes to that landscape. To the untrained eye, they appear to be drainage culverts. To the trained eye, they appear to be drainage culverts.

He also filled two former artillery warehouses with a hundred precisely-finished aluminum boxes. Each box was four feet by four feet by eight feet. No two were the same. Angled, three-eighths of an inch slices of shiny metal differentiated the pieces.

While many iPhone-carrying, Airstream-sleeping, trust-funded artists have made their way to Marfa to express themselves, Judd gets credit for pioneering the movement.

For those needing a break from navel-gazing, fifty-five miles east of Marfa sits the historic Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas. Refined Big Benders often overnight there before or after trips to the national park. We went for the hotel’s 12 Gage Restaurant.

From the ranch water cocktail to the elk and bison meatloaf, the meal was exquisite, meaning “really good.” On the drive back to Marfa, we stopped in Alpine for a few innings of the Cowboys’ game against the Roswell Invaders.

At Kokernot Field, built in 1948 as a bit of a Wrigley replica, fans pass the hat each time one of their boys knocks a home run. It was classic. Incentive compensation as pure as the west Texas air.

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Some words to live by

Several years ago, I was invited to speak to some graduating high school seniors. What follows is a synopsis of my advice. (Spoiler alert: I haven’t been invited back.)

You’ve been told you can do anything. You can’t; humans have limitations. Work your tail off discovering the few things you do well that you also enjoy. Master those.

Some academic degrees boast that they are so broad you can do anything with them. In reality, they are so general that you can’t do anything with them. Specialize.

Don’t stall out trying to find exactly the right school, major, job or mate. There are many right ways to maneuver through life and only a few wrong ones. Keep moving. Like a car, life’s easier to steer when you’re rolling.

Create more than you consume. People who create are more valuable to employers than people who don’t. In other words, you’ll get paid more.

Practice voice to voice and face to face communication. Consequential business will always happen through them.

Be present. Try leaving your phone in the car.

Build relationships with people in other age brackets. The world is changing; human nature is not. Older friends have wisdom that will help you navigate both.

Budget while you have a little, and it will be easier to budget when you have a lot. You’ll never have a lot unless you budget.

Time, not money or geography, is the limiting factor of our age. Treat it as your most valuable asset.

Don’t over-schedule. Notice the rhythms of the earth. An omniscient God created days, seasons and years. Fallible humans created hours, minutes and seconds.

Learn to say no. Responsible people will always be in demand. Don’t be afraid to forego an opportunity if it takes you off your focus.

The people you spend time with will help shape who you become. Choose wisely. Screen carefully.

The music you listen to will also help shape who you become. Don’t assume the “artist” on the other end has a good plan for your life.

When in doubt, end the relationship. If it’s meant to be, it will come back around – on your terms.

Immature people will want you to be responsible for them. Don’t give in. It will make you miserable. With mature people, give and forgive. It will make you happy.

Sex is not for entertainment. Don’t expect to give yourself physically to a slew of partners and get a committed, satisfying marriage in return.

Don’t worry about what people think about you. They aren’t thinking about you; they are mainly thinking about themselves.

You were born into a situation you did not choose. You are not responsible for that situation or what happened to you as a child. You are responsible for how you respond as an adult.

You are not alone, nor will you ever be. The One who made you loves you. Draw near to him and he will draw near to you.

In the end, your life will be judged by how you relate. To God, your family, your friends, your enemies, yourself. Relate well and you will live well.
Kevin Thompson can be reached at

Another university tail wagging its dog


Stories of college students’ imposing their wills and views on administrations and faculties are running rampant. Often in the name of social justice or some other liberal term of art, student groups flex their muscles and find little resistance from adults in the room.

One more episode of a higher education tail wagging the dog came out of Texas last week. The setting for this most recent installment was the 9,200-student Texas Southern University, a historically black institution in Houston.

Texas Southern students co-opted the school’s spring commencement exercises when an invited speaker was perceived to have unappealing views on the Trump Administration, voter identification laws and so-called sanctuary cities.

The university’s core values of “inclusiveness” and “fairness” must only extend so far.

The invited speaker was the senior United States Senator from the second largest state in the nation, Texas. The three-term senator also serves as the second-in-command Majority Whip of the U.S. Senate. He is currently in the running to head the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

John Cornyn knows a thing or two about fairness. As a Texas Supreme Court Justice from 1990 – 1997 and as Texas Attorney General prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate, Cornyn decided and pleaded hundreds of cases based on the fair application of law.

Plus, the steady-as-a-rock lifelong public servant knows a thing or two about service, leadership and succeeding in life.

Nevertheless, in all their twenty-something years of wisdom, the Texas Southern students decided Mr. Cornyn offered them nothing of value: no word of advice, no tip for the future, not even a healthy exchange of opposing ideas.

Remarkably, the students pushed their administration to rescind Cornyn’s invitation. Noteworthy, the students left invitations to Democrat Congressmen Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green untouched.

As myopic as the students’ behavior was, the most tragic part of the story is this: there was no wise man or woman to hold the ground in the name of civil discourse or even historical significance.

“Every consideration is made to ensure that our students’ graduation day is a celebratory occasion and one they will remember positively for years to come,” the administration said in a statement.

In other words, students will receive their trophies in untainted homogeny.

Cornyn, a man of grace, graciously bowed out, though he must have wondered how many more collective forests we will miss in the face of stubborn ideological trees.

Contrast the Texas Southern story with that from another historically black university, Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Its president, Edison Jackson, invited United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to speak at the school’s spring graduation. He then defended her right to express her ideas in the face of student jeering and turned backs.

DeVos has devoted much of her life to helping inner city children escape the burning houses of failing urban schools. President Jackson appreciates her achievements even if many of his young graduates do not.

The regents of Texas Southern University should seek out a leader of Jackson’s stature if the school wants to be taken seriously as a crucible where groundbreaking ideas form.

Otherwise, it will flop in the winds of popular positions held by people long on passion but short on perspective.


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A Tribute to Moms


For all the motivational experts and the purveyors of inspiration, moms have the original fire in the belly. They are the original incubators, creating a safe place for new life.

For all the entrepreneurs and startup junkies, for all the adventure sport fanatics, for all the seventh grade boys looking for their first date to the dance, moms are the world’s biggest risk takers.

They give of themselves, literally and figuratively, in the face of endless potential harms. They bring life into a world fraught with death. They nurture that life until it can stand on its own, with no guarantee that it will, in fact, stand.

Motherhood is a purely remarkable feat, wherever it may be found. May it be forever honored, first by fathers, then by others. Without it, the world simply does not go on.

When I think of Mom, I think of soft hands and back scratches. I once so loved her touch that I dreamed of inventing an automatic back scratcher – complete with her nails and her perfect pressure – for when life would take me beyond her reach but not beyond the need for comfort.

I think of macaroni and cheese and Smiley Stew, i.e., ground beef and beans I refused to eat before a creative re-branding. I think of leftovers and a microwave. Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred, the Proverbs say.

I think of Easy Listening 92.9 FM. The music soothed Mom’s stress amidst bumper-to-bumper traffic. It gave me a headache.

I think of Extra sugar-free gum and white Tic Tacs, the ones that tasted real good for a minute and then quickly turned into menthol overkill.

I think of the dread of Sunday nights and her preparing kindergarten lesson plans for a principal’s review. I get it. Just how many ways can you say, “This week we are studying the color purple?”

I think of a canoe trip down the Buffalo River and her clamoring for our family’s canoe not to capsize. She couldn’t swim, and she couldn’t get her perm wet. Ours was the only boat that stayed upright.

I think of swimming lessons and the way she walked backward to give me more practice even when I begged her not to. She knew what was best for me.

I think of Perry Como vinyls and an Amy Grant concert.

I think of her sitting next to my bed on nights I was scared or sick. I think of the hum of the humidifier and amoxicillin’s aftertaste.

I think of the time she called the city fire department to our rural property one snow day.

She had smelled the neighbor’s fireplace, saw steam rising from my father’s workshop and felt warmth on the shop’s dark red door. (It was in the sun.) She wanted to keep us safe.

The late Rich Mullins’ music career and free spirit took him far and wide but never outside the reach of a mother’s love:

“I’ll carry the songs I learned when we were kids. I’ll carry the scars of generations gone by. I’ll pray for you always, and I’ll promise you this: I’ll carry on, I’ll carry on.”


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Putting the coach in coach pitch


After three years of coaching “kid pitch” Little League baseball, I’ve been sent down to the minors. For the first time in a while, I’m coaching a “coach pitch” team again this spring.

At the season’s start I wondered if the coach pitch coaches would be less wound up, no pun intended. Nope. Some of them might as well wear stirrups. To them, there’s a reason “coach” comes first in “coach pitch.”

“I’m just trying to teach these kids error-free baseball,” one of them told me last week. Wrong league, sir. Barring a birth certificate scam, you have all six and seven year olds just like the rest of us.

“We haven’t had one clean inning. I want a clean inning!” another coach told his crew before a final inning in the field. They subsequently made about five errors and gave up three runs and the lead.

Somewhere along the way, many coaches – and parents, for that matter – have forgotten that we learn the most when we succeed the least.

Certain coaches are too smart to say it, but their driven-ness clearly communicates that winning is everything. It’s as if their egos and their legacies are on the line.

So, they stretch base running rules beyond what’s reasonable; games look more like track than baseball. They banish ballplayers to the bench or the outfield, never letting them see the light of infield day.

They forget – or never learned – that the real objectives are fun and character formation. Baseball is still a game, though for some kids, it feels like a job.

That’s why some kids are bucking the trend. They’re hanging up the cleats and picking up the clubs…at age eleven. Like a corporate manager nearing retirement, these kids have had enough of the intensity. They’re hitting the links to relax.

Of course, not all coaches are over the top. Many keep things in perspective.

A retired Little League coach suggested this strategy: “I used to tell my parents at the start of the season, ‘Please remember that out of all the kids on our team, only one will play high school baseball.’”

“Did you mean only one will play professional baseball or in the Major League All-Star Game?” I asked, to help prove the point.

“No, I meant high school,” he reiterated.

And that’s what’s so spellbinding about the state of modern youth sports. It’s like we’ve shelved old-fashioned statistics beside the old wooden bats. Or maybe we know the odds. We just think our progeny can beat them. Hubris is hereditary, after all.

Ironically, upper level coaches like Jason Marshall at the University of Texas at San Antonio will tell you the cream rises to the top regardless of a coach’s zealotry or a parent’s pressure.

We can cure for the obnoxiousness that taints the nation’s pastime at the lowest levels. The Little League pledge, penned in 1954, is a good place to start:

“I trust in God / I love my country and will respect its laws / I will play fair and strive to win / But win or lose I will always do my best.”

Fed brings economic insights to Boerne

Investors in the Boerne Kendall County Economic Development Corporation convened for a semi-annual meeting two weeks ago. On the heels of the Federal Reserve’s third short-term rate hike in less than a year, the event’s guest speaker was timely.

Blake Hastings, de facto leader of the San Antonio branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, addressed the meeting of about a hundred Boerne, Texas, business leaders.

Hastings started with macroeconomic data about the national economy. He specifically addressed the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet which ballooned from less than a trillion dollars in assets before the financial crisis to more than $4 trillion afterward.

Of course, Fed leaders didn’t call its balance sheet ballooning “money printing.” They called it “quantitative easing,” which sounds more like a gastroenterological process than an economic term.

During multiple rounds of “QE,” the Fed bought trillions of dollars of bonds (Treasurys and mortgage-backs). As Mr. Hastings admitted, it was an experiment of historic proportions.

Early on (ca. 2011), the Wall Street banks that sold bonds to the Fed took most of the cash proceeds and deposited them back at the Fed itself. There was simply not enough loan demand at the time to lend the money out in the marketplace. Plus, the Fed paid a quarter of a point on the deposits!

Since then, the economy has improved and the big banks are making more loans. The Fed’s balance sheet shows bank deposits have decreased by $500 billion in the last five years. Conversely, currency in circulation has increased by $500 billion.

It appears we have two problems on our hands: (1) an increasing number of dollars floating in the economy brings inflation risk; and (2) the Fed still has more than $4 trillion in bonds on its balance sheet.

A friend smarter than I summarized three possible solutions to the latter problem, a quandary  inexorably linked to our $19 trillion federal government debt. You can either grow your way out, inflate your way out, or default your way out.

Mr. Hastings and his Fed colleagues are clearly hoping for years of steady economic prosperity in order to grow our way out. This proposition seems too good to come true.

What’s not too good to be true is San Antonio’s recent economic performance. Hastings rattled off a number of encouraging performance indicators for our area.

San Antonio’s four per cent unemployment rate is below that of Texas and the nation. Military City’s job growth increased by three per cent in 2016 despite a lackluster oil price. We have seen similar employment gains thus far in 2017.

Stock prices of San Antonio-based companies trend above the S&P 500, though the margin is narrowing. Overall, San Antonio’s economy continues to track above its long-term growth average and has since 2011.

Hastings noted that Austin’s job growth has stalled for want of skilled labor. He issued a word to the wise: educated human capital is the single best predictor of an area’s economic prospects. He encouraged listeners to prioritize workforce training.

A diversified employment base saved Texas and San Antonio when oil dropped seventy per cent three years ago. Will it be there to save us at the next bust, oil or otherwise?


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Tension over riverside developments is nothing new


“Proposals for new use of the river’s tree-lined course as a park gained momentum … when irate citizens went before city commissioners to protest overzealous clearing of overgrowth along the river.”


That’s how the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) summarized strong feelings expressed about the San Antonio River … in 1904.


About a decade later, some San Antonio businessmen wanted to send the dwindling river through a conduit underground in order to create more room for downtown development.


A newly formed San Antonio River Improvement Association opposed the idea and city commissioners took no action.


In 1920, when flood control measures required the river’s banks to be cleared of all trees and shrubs so as not to impede flow, a “wave of protest” persuaded officials to leave the trees.


By 1933, when the mastermind of the Riverwalk, Robert Hugman, proposed his Venice- and Aragon-inspired vision, city planners sided with a master plan to keep the River Park a natural area.


Just a few years later, hotelier Jack White championed a taxing authority to raise funds for Hugman’s idea. City and federal dollars soon followed and the Riverwalk as we know it began to take shape.


“But leaders of the Conservation Society and others still loyal to the River Park were dismayed at the lavish amount of fanciful stonework Hugman insisted upon adding to the once sedate park,” TSHA notes. The activists got Hugman fired from his own project.


For survival, civilizations are built beside bodies of water. Like San Antonio and the river that bears its name, Boerne, Texas, grew up where it did because of Cibolo Creek.


Naturally, citizens prize their water sources. No one, including the developers of the proposed 17 Herff Road project in Boerne, wants Cibolo Creek to degrade. The project’s stakeholders, especially those who live in Kendall County, would be shooting themselves in the foot if they did.


Like good neighbors, 17 Herff’s developers have accommodated many requests and alleviated many concerns of conservationists.


Through tree preservation, drainage filters, building height restrictions and other efforts, project designers are trying to maximize the property’s unique location and its natural beauty.


Given the alternative of not annexing 17 Herff into the city’s limits and leaving it subject to any industrial use county development regulations allow, the pending 17 Herff proposal should be a sigh of relief.


Boerne adds more rooftops every month as approved residential developments come on line. Boerne needs additional commercial services and commercial property tax base to keep schools and infrastructure solid.


17 Herff’s mix of high quality retail, office, medical and residential uses meets many of the public policy goals city planners have advocated for years. We would be wise to accept it, welcome it, shape it and patronize it.


Along with water sources, road construction predicts an area’s growth prospects. When interstate planners put IH-10 through Boerne, the city’s growth trajectory was set. And when Herff Road was widened and extended, the areas along it became prime for development.


Not everyone loves the Riverwalk. I don’t hang out there every weekend. But no one can argue the billions of dollars of positive economic impact the attraction has brought to our region.


All because conservationists and visionaries worked together to achieve common goals.

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