Archive for November, 2014

This is Boerne…you never know

A sad but undeterred mother stood on the driveway of her adult daughter’s burned down home. As she picked up some pieces and contemplated the road ahead, she surmised, “This is Boerne. You never know what might happen.”

She wasn’t talking about the tragedy that happened last week at 123 Becker Street on the north end of town. She was talking about the recovery.

By the time I showed up with shovel and wheelbarrow to help with the clean up, Boerne ISD bond contractor Bartlett-Cocke already volunteered to demolish and haul off the totaled structure. An architect donated his services to draw new plans. Several homebuilders expressed a desire to help.

The displaced family of six relocated temporarily to one of the last available 3-bedroom apartments in Boerne. The fire department donated a couple of beds. A thrift store donated a sofa. A random stranger gave a check for $500. A neighbor brought over a dozen eggs. All in less than a week. Yes, this is Boerne.

It is a unique sensation to live in a place so generous. Some people are generous because they can be. Others are generous because they choose to be. Either way, Boerne has a heritage of generosity.

I once heard a civic leader count more than fifty active non-profit capital campaigns in Kendall County. That’s not normal. That’s Boerne.

The persevering mother is confident in her daughter’s ability to fight back.

“We’ll be okay. We come from a very tough family. My mother lived to be 95 years old and only needed one medication.”

Judging by the matriarch’s perspective, I suspect the family will fight back.

“We’re really just thankful everyone made it out alive. The fire department expected casualties when they arrived. They did a very good job. The fire didn’t touch the houses on either side.”

A correlation exists among gratefulness and toughness and longevity.

A correlation also exists between generosity and desirability. Throughout our nation’s history, immigrants have come in droves in part because of the generosity within our DNA.

The same could be said about Boerne. People want to move here in part because our citizens are willing to give their time and wealth to make this a great place to live.

One truth about life is that the tables are always turning. Prosperity one day can turn – on a dime – into disaster the next. You never know when it will be your turn to need. That’s as good a reason as any to give.

If you would like to contribute to the family of 123 Becker, go to http://www.gofundme.com/h8qls4. So far, 83 people have given a total of $10,525. The donation site has been shared 277 times on social media. This is Boerne.

Disasters often strike at the worst possible times, such as two weeks before Thanksgiving. But bad timing can bring people together in good ways. What better time to express gratitude for the gifts we’ve received than to pay them forward to those who need?

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. Follow him at www.kwt.info. Email him at kevin@kwt.info.

Better political mapping will mediate the extremes

Only slightly more than a third of registered voters will vote in today’s mid-term elections. Even in a presidential year, almost half of legal voters forego their constitutional right.

Recently, a political direct mail piece sat on my kitchen table. My son asked me if I was going to vote for the man on the card. I said yes, but that I really didn’t like him that much.

My son struggled to understand. “Why don’t you just vote for someone else?” The short answer is because I don’t care for the principles of his opponent. The long answer is because our system is broken.

As voters, we are less engaged because we are less consequential than ever before. It’s a fact of life: Where you are less needed, you are less present. Star players show up for every game. Benchwarmers come when they can.

Roughly 80% of Congressmen have nothing to fear on Election Day. Their districts are so convincingly one-sided that the chance of an upset is miniscule. They are, for lack of a better term, shoe-ins. No wonder some stink.

What’s more, seventy some-odd Congressmen are unopposed this fall. Assuming they can scrape themselves off the mattress and find their name on the list, they will win. Their constituents are literally unnecessary. So their constituents are disengaged.

Hope can be defined as having options. When people have few or no promising candidate options, they have no hope in the political system.

We live in a time of political extremes. On one hand, most elections are non-competitive exercises in equivocation. On the other hand, Washington, DC, is hyper-competitive and polarizing. Stalemate and stagnation, gridlock and grandstanding are ubiquitous.

Officeholders from “safe” districts cause the impasses. Think about it: If your home district rewards you for purity and not progress, you have little motivation to solve problems. In fact, it behooves you to leave them wanting for job security’s sake. After all, where will you find another job that pays $174,000 a year to maintain the status quo?

Non-competitive districts are the fruit of two things: one, the tendency of like-minded people to settle near one another; and two, political gerrymandering. No human can stop the former. I have an idea for the latter: block political mapping.

It’s pretty basic and quite achievable in the age geographic information systems. No matter how unique a state’s outline may be, you start on the state line in the most northeastern point of the state. You then start drawing a line to the southwest.

At whatever point the line becomes the diagonal of a rectangle that encapsulates the number of citizens a particular political district is required to have, you stop. That is District 1.

Repeat the process until the state (or county, city, etc.) is divided into equally populated, right-angled rectangles. Only the districts along an irregular border such as a river will not be exact rectangles. But they will still be drawn by a non-partisan computer.

Block mapping will bring more competitive races, and rarely does competition fail to increase quality of life. More competitive elections will force parties and philosophies to put their best, least smelly feet forward. “Good enough” candidates will no longer be good enough to win.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

A Holy House of Horrors

For good or bad, Halloween strikes at children’s imaginations (and taste buds) like no other holiday can. Think about it: You get to dress up like something you’ve always wanted to be, run around the neighborhood after dark with your friends and eat as much candy as you want.

Not even Santa can match those specs.

Halloween wasn’t perfect. There were inefficiencies, such as the houses that gave out raisins or pennies or pencils. Sometimes Mom insisted on driving along the street as we went door to door. But for the most part it was – and is – a kid’s dream.

My earliest Halloween memories occurred at church youth group parties. As a grade schooler, I blindly stuck my hand through holes labeled “Eyeballs” and “Brains.” Wet grapes and cooked pasta noodles never tasted the same.

Plenty of innocuous fun filled those parties: bobbing for apples, scarecrow dressing, pin the tail on the skeleton. But there was a next level that I couldn’t wait to experience.

A visionary youth minister (with perhaps a few skeletons in his closet) dreamed up the attraction. High schoolers would concoct and conduct a haunted house for the middle schoolers. Except for the fellowship hall where the G-rated party was held, the high school students had free reign on the entire church building.

Now when I say church building, please don’t picture a 10,000 square foot metal building with a few offices attached.

Picture a 3-story, red-bricked, multi-columned, fully-steepled, 60,000 square foot urban fortress on a 2-acre spread. Built in the Sunday School heydays of the 1950s, it was an imposing monstrosity and an ideal place for monsters.

The building had plenty of spookiness without the high schoolers’ help, especially since declining attendance left many sections minimally utilized.

For instance, the “Room in the Inn” homeless ministry took over the west wing of the 3rd floor once a week. Sleeping cots filled the rooms. An eery plastic molded shower was installed in the hallway.

Legend had it that a man simply known as “George” lived in the building for months, maybe years, without ever being caught. How else could the empty cans of beanie weenies in the church’s commercial kitchen be explained?

All this provided more than a fair share of fodder to freak out ‘tweenagers and early teenagers. The 20-minute tour of terror wound its way from the fellowship hall, through the industrial boiler room in the basement and past the baptistry, dyed red for the occasion.

Limp bodies hung from chandeliers. Masked monsters filled Sunday School rooms otherwise home to flannel board Bible characters. The haunted house was as good as any commercial attraction I ever saw.

Before I got to do my share of scaring, a more mature church leader nixed the annual Halloween party and haunted house tradition. Better to leave seldom-used adult education classrooms boringly neutral than to formally commit them to the dark side, I suppose.

But it was too late for me. Evil had already taken root. My best friend and I began building our own house of horrors in his attic each October. We eventually added a haunted woods.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.


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