Friday, April 29, 2016

Life Changers, Game Breakers

 I wish I could honestly say that I have no regrets. If I could, it wouldn’t be close to the truth.  It wouldn’t even be 50 yards from the truth, whatever that means, but you get the point. What I can admit is I’ve done a lot of things wrong and although it would warp the time-space continuum, I wish I could right a few wrongs. I also wish I could reward those choice people who have shaped my life, but are now in my distant past.

One in particular was a school teacher in Morgan, Utah. I do not remember her name or face, but she made a huge impact on my life simply by giving me a book. My Dad’s job caused us to move frequently, so much of my school years are foggy memories of only faces and classes.

It was Christmas morning somewhere around 1962 and I rode my new bike through the snow to her house to show it off. I didn’t really know anyone and for some reason, it was important for me to show it to her. She was delighted and for my effort, she gave me a one volume very thick illustrated encyclopedia. I loved that book and poured through it daily and this was probably one reason I still love to read. We moved away and I never had a chance to thank her.

I think I was born with a rebellious nature, distrusting authority from a young age. A psychiatrist would probably say it was because of my dad and he’d probably be right. My dad always worked and worked and worked to support a family of 5 kids. Being the oldest boy, I usually had a spanking coming for one of our offenses and mainly my transgressions.

It wasn’t until my early 20’s that this flaw was pointed out to me by a sage of a man named George Theobald. I worked with George at ARCO Chemical in Channelview. He became a mentor to me and was wise beyond his 40 plus years. “Your problem is you resent authority, Bert. If you could ever conquer that, you will be a lot happier man.”

George was a farrier on the side, shoeing horses and opened a feed store up Highway 90 way and I lost contact with him. I wish I could meet up with him again and thank him for the influence he had on my life.

My dad is no longer with us and he’s another I should have expressed gratitude to. Sometimes those who are closest to us are the hardest ones to share our innermost feelings. My dad was not an affectionate man by today’s standards, but I never doubted he loved me or cared about my future. He was a product of his own dad and that meant never letting up on his expectations of me, often using ridicule to try to force me forward.

It sounds horribly incorrect by today’s standards, but like I said, even though I didn’t like it, I never doubted his love for me and our family. I think I was about 45 the first time I remember hearing him say he loved me. It was quite a shock, but not overly uncommon from his generation I’ve learned. Dad taught my siblings and me many valuable skills and lessons and it was done by example. It was years later that I realized the depth of his instruction. Maybe that is why I am drawn to being an instructor in a number of disciplines like Bible studies, Hunter education, Martial arts, or my latest Indoor cycling.

My mom is still the guiding hand of the family, even in her 80’s. My youngest brother never fails to amaze me with his ability to properly decipher any situation. He is the Perry Mason of the family and I learn something from him every time we chat.

Throughout my past are literally hundreds of people who have helped me change direction and it would be mind-bending to attempt to track them down. Some spoke to me and offered their opinion. Other times I heard them speak and decided to adopt that line of thought. Here is the summation of this week’s column; you never know when you will meet one of these good folks, so try to latch onto them. Let them know what they are saying is important and right then thank them.

Tomorrow may be too late.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Evergreen property acquisition in Baytown

Good Evening Bert,
Let me see if I can shed some light on the progress of the Evergreen property acquisition. 
The original intent was to stay away from the City owning any golf facility simply due to the fact that there is only a very small profit margin or hope to break even on a municipal golf course.  But as luck would turn out, both the Goose Creek Country Club and the Evergreen Golf Course landed on the front door of City Hall, both on the same day.  The first of which was Goose Creek CC whose board members have been trying to get the City to purchase and take over that operations.  This was not going to be considered and the City could not make an investment in that endeavor as it was an unknown.  Unknown to the fact that we knew that other municipal golf courses has to be subsidized by the municipality.  Good example of that is Eagle Point, La Porte and Pasadena courses.  Each of those cities has to subsidize their facilities to keep them a float.  That was something we were not quite prepared to do. 
Then when Evergreen Golf Course was presented to the City, we all knew that we had to pull back on the reins and think about this.  If we let both of these courses go by the way side, the City of Baytown would be the largest municipality in the state without a golf facility.  So before we jumped out there, Council and City Management wanted hard facts about the possibility of one of the two golf facilities becoming a municipal facility and thus an added asset for the City of Baytown.  The City hired a research group to look at the two courses and return a report about the strengths of the two sites and projected success/failure likelihood.  The report returned to the City in a since stated that Goose Creek CC would not be successful and would take a lot of revenue to keep it active.  Evergreen Golf Course on the other hand would be a success and due to the location and future plans around that facility, stated that it would not only break even with the right amount of investment, but could possibly turn some revenue back to the City.  Not in large amounts, but the potential of success was there.
After receiving the report, Council and City Management took the consideration of purchasing the Evergreen facility with the help of the residential developer, who by the way did not want the golf portion for the residential development.  Long story short, the developer made a proposal for the residential development to include a newly revise and revamped golf course.  The only items that were to stay intact was the club house/grill, driving range, putting green and all the fairways/holes around the original residential addition already in place.  Every thing else was going to be revise or new.  As agreed with the developer, the City was going to make the initial investment and the developer was going to purchase back from the City any property it needed to develop the residential portions.  The City was gong to pay for the new design and instillation of the golf course. 

The estimated investment was to the tune of $12mm.  Council could have passed an ordinance to get that going but Council wanted the Citizens of Baytown to weigh in on the matter and thus we offered a bond program for vote by the Citizens.  As you know that vote barely failed.  I believe this was due to the water meter impact issues and the disgruntled Goose Creek CC Citizens.  Be that as it may, it was no longer viable due to the voice of the Citizens.
As time progressed, another offer was presented to the City to purchase a portion of the property and this was considered by Council and City Management.  We all agree that we could purchase this property and had the authority to do so.  Also agree was to honor the will of the vote and not purchase the property only to put a golf course back in.  This certainly would not set well with the Citizens and Council never attempted to do that.  Instead the property was acquired due to the fact that we could later develop the land into something useful and we do want to do something to the south end of Baytown. 

Therefore the property was acquired with the intent to develop it into something useful for the public to use.  So present plans are to use as open space with walking and bike and trails through the property.  The City also negotiated with Union Pacific to be able to acquire the rail road bridge (across Hwy 146) and track property that goes west from the northern end of the Evergreen course.  The City intends to make this part of the concrete walk/bike trail into the internal part of the city and tie into the north east corner of the Evergreen property.  In addition, the Goose Creek ISD discuss the need to keep their golf programs alive and therefore the driving range and putting greens will remain open in order to keep the high school golf teams practicing. 
So in a nut shell, that is how we arrived at what we have today. 
Hope this will do and if you need more information, there certainly is more I can give you.  The main thing to understand is that the City was very open with the vote, the future plans of the bond project was not properly vetted through the community and what the future site was to become.  Therefore the Citizens voted it down.  Council and City Management fully respected the vote and will of the people.
Thank you,
Bob Hoskins
District 5 councilman

Friday, April 22, 2016

My Smartphone is making me stupid

There. I said what a lot of us are thinking; my Smartphone is making me stupid - or stupider, I can’t decide.  I can’t or won’t make that call. I see evidence of it every day not only of those around me, but in my own life.

We wonder what time it is, glance at our phone to see and immediately forget.  The reason we do this is we know we can look again and again and again. The same goes for the date and the day of the week. Can’t remember a fact? Just speak it into our phone and a voice will explain it, then we can forget it again. Why remember anything? Its like voting in the primary; it isn’t necessary.

On Facebook, we don’t have to actually think or come up with something original (like a thought), because we can “like” or “share” and now, “react!” (Boom!) to something some genuine smart person wrote or said. Better yet we can post an emoji or animated .gif that really and truly is profound and expressive of our foggy thoughts. The funny pictures are more fun than whatever we are thinking.

We have arrived at the enlightened state where people walk off cliffs or drive their cars into light poles and up on medians because their Smartphone is steering their short attention. We’ve learned the once lost art of burning rubber to make it through that yellow light after 30 seconds of green has evaded us while we stare at the little illuminated screen.

Our Smartphones have given us something to do with our hands when we are idle – forget cigarettes (they are so old school!). What? I am supposed to read a magazine at the doctor’s office or make casual conversation with another patient? (Seriously rolling my eyes here.) If I want to be social, I’ll text you (a lot less germs you know).

Then there is this: nomophobia. Nomophobia is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. “What?  No signal?  MOMMY!  Uh, I can’t even breathe! Can’t anyone see I’m dying here! This is serious! I mean, like help!”

How ridiculous. More often than not I leave my phone in my gym bag or my Jeep and 3 hours later I retrieve it. Sometimes it spends the night inside one of those 2 dark places and I think I’m fairly well connected. If I have a meeting or sit in church, I just turn it off or leave it in my vehicle. I’m even one of those rare people who doesn’t wear headphones in the gym or when I am jogging and or riding my bike.

As I’ve said before, I repair PC computers. Over the last 2 years this has became sporadic at best as more people abandon their laptop and desktops for a handheld “computer-like” device. This is fine for many banal activates, but there is no handheld substitute for a sit in front of computer.

Try writing a page of text or researching a subject to any real depth to understand what I am saying. I run 3 large screens here in the Orbiting Command Ship Central and often have 2 or more windows open on each. I like what I do here and I like ferreting out virus’ from people’s computers, but I surely don’t get separation anxiety when no computers come in. I like to read copious amounts of information and a little handheld device simply doesn’t fulfill my need.

What I think will happen in the future is people will wake up and realize this little handheld device is not as smart of a decision as they once thought. It is getting people in trouble left and right, not to mention distracting them from literally everything. The computer that it is, is great, but it needs to be used as such, rather than as a friend and a constant companion to the exclusion of everything and everyone around you – especially when driving!  Hello!

The truth is that we don’t need to be that connected. It is good to go off the grid on a regular basis. “Hey look, Mom!  No hands!”  Hey, it’s liberating to ride this bike without touching the handlebars now and again. Try it. Shut that phone off for a half hour. “Uh, you mean like really, really shut it off, like literally?”

Yup, shut er down. Unplug. See how long you can go. The longer the better and after the initial anxiety wears off you’ll realize how much more relaxed you’ve become. When you turn it on and forty-seventy billion texts come in, just erase them. They were fluff anyway. I promise you; it won’t hurt and you will feel smarter too.

Friday, April 15, 2016

We are no longer a Dirty Bay

My bride and I were discussing Baytown, its future, and our perceived reputation as “just another working class oil town” or dirty bay as some claim. We have an organization here named Keep Baytown Beautiful which I aligned myself with for a short spell.  It has a mission to well, keep the city beautiful. For starters I think we need a paradigm shift to make Baytown beautiful first, and then we can keep the ball rolling.

Eleanor Albon and Kathy Nelson are the movers and shakers in this organization and my hat stays off to both of them.  Eleanor runs the Adopt-a-site program and Kathy overseas beautification projects. Both of these are crucial to making Baytown a better and cleaner place to raise our families. They are making headway and it is making a difference in our city.

My new goal is to have positive input into the Strategic Planning Advisory Committee with other like-minded citizens. Our aim is to plot the 5 year future of the city. As I’ve stated before, I am all about the quality of living here, not in a new restaurant or retail store. Other committee members can worry over that.

This past week, my bride and I made our 3rd trip into Houston for outdoor activities.  Each time we racked up about 65 miles going and coming. The 1st and 2nd trip were to take our grandson to Donovan Park in the Heights. This closed-in and wrought iron-fenced castle-like playground is hugely popular and is large enough that it is never really overly crowded. There is covered seating so parents can watch their kids in comfort and the gate lock is high enough that only adults can open it.

Baytown needs one of these parks – or two. Again it will require a paradigm shift from the prefab playground stuff most cities erect, including ours. As a committee member planning our city’s future, I do not want to be the proverbial flea in a lidless jar, who only jumps as high as where the lid should be. There is no lid and there is no reason Baytown can’t have a unique park where people drive 30 miles to come to it.

Look at Kemah. Mainly through one man’s vision, it is an international draw. We have some of this amazing stuff in Baytown already, so it is not unreasonable. We have Pirates Bay and the new fountain on Texas Avenue which doubles as an ice rink in winter. We have the Royal Purple Raceway. Thanks to Scott Johnson’s leadership and our hard-working parks crews, we have well maintained parks for kids to play.

The Heights in Houston.
In talking to Director of Strategic Initiatives Nick Woolery the other day I suggested we have a second and maybe a third Calypso Cove. Parks are money sinks, but if one is breaking even, or better yet, making money like Pirates Bay, to me it is a no brainer to build another or expand the one we have.

Our disc golf course is the best in the Houston metroplex! The best! We are soon to expand the trails in Jenkins Park and I am asking for elevation changes and a certified 5K trail. This may not seem important, but if it is certified, runners will train here for competition. I would love to see a flyover connecting the Blue Heron Parkway trail to Jenkins Park. This would be hugely popular, as runners can practice their hill climbing other than running over the Fred Hartman Bridge.

In the Heights of Houston, the ten foot wide sidewalks are safe because they are so heavily used. Cyclists, runners, families, dog walkers, roller skaters, and yes, geocachers are on it constantly. People are choosing a healthier lifestyle over sitting on the couch simply because it is available and easy to get to. Our city is planning an entire loop of connecting 10 foot sidewalks that will allow us to take long bike rides, hikes, and runs. Everyone is aware that our kids need to lose weight and this is one great way as a family to accomplish that goal.

I’ve made the claim for years that Baytown is not friendly toward people on bikes or afoot and if I can change that, I surely will. Healthier cities have a lot of foot traffic, but when the only walking we do is a half a parking lot occasionally, we are kidding ourselves. There is a plan to have a 10 foot wide sidewalk from the Evergreen defunct golf course all the way over to the Baytown Nature Center using old RR tracks as a roadbed.

The Goose Creek trail starting at Bayland Park will run all the way to Emmett Hutto Drive in the next expansion. Baytown can be like Kemah. We have the water resources and we can exploit them with kayak/canoe launches and amenities to draw water lovers. I am working with the tourism department to bring a Geocaching Geotour here, which will attract people from all over the country. We should be launching it in the next few months.

So, the preconceived notion that whatever we do here is “good enough” is not good enough. We need to be that flea that jumps high enough that it realizes the sky is the limit. Baytown can be THE place to visit and the place to raise a family and through your help, we can make it so. So, how do you get involved? Send me input. Talk to your councilperson. Call the tourism department or the parks department and give them your suggestions. Most of all when you hear the city is trying to push through a Parks-related issue, give them a high five.

You can also go online and submit your ideas by taking the Imagine Baytown Survey!  It is very short.

Friday, April 08, 2016

The Blue Star-shaped Glass

On my geocaching adventures, I happened upon a paperweight of blue glass in the shape of a five-pointed star. It was inside one of the caches I was seeking. The rule was that if I took it, I had to leave something of equal or greater value. I left 2 dollars. Time would reveal that it was not an equal trade.

I don’t know what it is about this simple piece of beautiful glass art, but it has been on my desk for about 4 years now and I am remiss to part with it. I often pick it up and hold it to the light and look through it. It reminds me of Long Beach, California when I was 8 years old for some strange reason.

I used to walk down Long Beach Boulevard into Compton and there was a business with fishing nets and blue glass balls hanging on it. I used to stop and stare at how beautiful they were and the rich color mesmerized me. I imagined pirate ships and exotic islands and untold secrets.

What hold does this crystal have over me that I am so attached to it? I don’t have an answer to that and no doubt the person who released it into the public didn’t think anyone would feel passionately about such a bauble. The truth is they probably haven’t thought twice about it since they placed it.

If asked I wouldn’t even pick blue as my favorite color; that color would be green. Neon green is my choice, like the Christmas tree lights or maybe pistachio sherbet. Is it possible that a green star would have more of an effect on me? Simple pleasures, I know and that brings me round to the purpose of this column.

Living in the moment. 

Late last month a group of us hiked 12 or so miles on the Lone Star Trail up by Huntsville. 12 miles doesn’t sound like much, but strap on a 20 pound backpack and do the numerous water-crossings and root-infested trail and it is a long danged stretch requiring half a day of fairly steady walking. We stopped for a rest and sandwich at the halfway point and that is when I felt compelled to expound on living in the moment.

Some people call it taking time to smell the roses, but it is more than that. It is recognizing that you are at a special place in your life and savoring it. It is having an epiphany that you are having the time of your life. You could be any place at that moment and not recognize how wonderful the experience is. Most of us relive it later and that is when we get connected.

I was on my Spin bike at the gym the other day with a group of sweating people and I glanced at the clock. 20 more minutes! 20 minutes of beating myself down. 20 more minutes of self-abuse… or is it only 20 more minutes to experience something most people wouldn’t recognize as wonderful? At that point my whole mind-set shifted and I felt a surge of emotion. I was in the moment and yes, I can do this in spades – or Spandex! Those last 20 passed in a blink of an eye.

When we go on vacation we take our cameras so we can relive the experience later and we zip past the very experience we came for. The photos don’t do the visit justice and we miss out almost entirely. The sad thing is this is exactly what we continue throughout our lives. I’ve talked to many people who have been on cruises, but not once has anyone really relayed the experience in specific detail.

None of them remembers or reminisces about seeing their own blue star-shaped glass. One of my brothers had a mouse crawl on his lap while he was bear hunting in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He calmly watched it make a burrow in the heated pillow he was sitting on and will recall that moment over and over again for the rest of his life. Most people would not have the identical memory for sure, but his was amazing.

Children live in the moment almost 100% of the time. As adults we learn to ignore most of our life and focus on emergencies, distractions, delicious food, and tasks. My future is to find more blue star-shaped glass and I’ll have to slow down and make it a point to find it. How about we start today?

How about we slow down to see those little things we are missing. Last night I stepped outside and right above me in the sky was the planet Jupiter glowing like the moon. My mind went immediately to our ancient astronomers and once again I marveled at how they mapped the planets. Early this morning I witnessed Mars and Saturn in the south-eastern sky. Wow! So simple and free and so unnoticed by most.

Like my blue star-shaped piece of glass, most people forget to hold it up to the light.

Friday, April 01, 2016

A city competition to remember

I haven’t had this much fun since the last time!  I’m talking about the Pogo stick and hula hoop match-off on Texas Avenue this past weekend.  If you missed it, you are the loser, as it was about as much fun as watching Texans and Cowboys fan do a group hug.

The competition was City Manager Rick Davis’ way of announcing the “newly up-to-the-minute organized well-thought-out Department of Redundancy” and I heard it came in under or nearly-nearly under budget.  It was a “huge and gigantic announcement” according to him and kicked off the invigorating competition.

I must say, I had no idea Mayor DonCarlos could hula hoop like that!  The man is simply amazing… and agile as a Zumba instructor!  Maybe it’s just me, but until I saw that man in tights, I always thought he was a little doughy around the middle, but not anymore.

The newly refurbished Texas Avenue was the perfect place for the competition and they had the streets blocked from North Main to the old Sears building.  Ken Pridgeon and I were judges and if I have a complaint, its Ken’s constant request for me to listen to some of his gospel karaoke recordings he made at his house.  Between you and me, there is more heart and soul there than actual talent, but don’t quote me.

Baytown Police officer Stewart Beasley should never ever be allowed to get on a pogo stick, let alone in a crowed street atmosphere.  There.  I said it.  The man is dangerous.  He is so physically strong that a special reinforced device had to be flown in from the bowels of industrial Channelview so he could compete.  The frame was made by Caterpillar Inc. and had railcar springs to put it in perspective.

Okay, okay, I am getting ahead of myself here.  First off, I am not a reporter.  I am a columnist, so sometimes I get my facts behind or in front of the other.  The event was the idea of our honored Parks Superintendent, Scott Johnson – who I respect to the third knuckle. The premise was to launch this new new Department of Redundancy and he thought a “friendly” competition between our city Councilmen and Mayor against the expertly led Baytown Police Department would be “Neat-O Neat-O” (evidently his favorite word).

Team Captains were, of course Chief Dougherty and Mayor DonCarlos and I was a bit surprised when the Chief showed up in full SWAT gear.  I had an idea they came to win, but geeze.  He looked like Chuck Norris and the Mayor’s get up was almost embarrassing in contrast, except for the tights of course.

I knew the city councilmen were taking it serious when they arrived in six limousines and Daniel Blackford was running around with five other “men in black” acting like they were guarding Hillary Clinton.  Bob Hoskins later told me that he had trained for the pogo stick event using the John Belushi “little chocolate donut” diet and the definition in his abs was apparent to all.

I didn’t quite understand the reason for David McCartney’s cape until he was disqualified for having a Nitros Oxide tank and a small block Hemi under it.  For the love of all that is sacred, come on guys.  It’s supposed to be fair.  The City took another hit when Brandon Capetillo got in an argument with the other councilmen over who was the handsomest of the six.  It got ugly until Assistant Chief David Alford told them to “Can it!” and made them all do push-ups. I’ve always admired a man who can snuff out a fire like that.  Semper Fi, Marine!

Councilman Capetillo didn’t take it well and said (and I quote) “That right there is why I’m not seeking re-election!”  There was one wild-eyed scruffy fellow in the crowd eating donuts and he yelled out his support to the man, but for the most part, everyone ignored him and went back to enjoying the competition. Another old curmudgeon stole an opportunity to get people to vote for “either Hillary or Kasich!” and was taken into custody for psychological testing, as he was clearly delusional.

Each team pitted one select “volunteer” to go up against their opposite in five separate heats and the first four went fairly well.  The fifth one got up close ugly and personal when Stewart Beasley and Kevin Troller squared off on them danged pogo sticks.

Ken Pridgeon and I were sitting in front of the Art League and Ken handed me a pair of ear plugs, a rubber apron, and safety glasses and said, “Trust me.”  Well, Ken and I go way back to the Brown shoe days of the Air Force and I did as was instructed.

Kevin is an ex-Army Colonel and Stewart runs the Baytown Police departments gym, so when I heard Stewart making those funny engine sounds with his lips, I knew this was going to be something for the books.  City potentate Rick Davis held up a flare gun and unexpectedly fired it and this is when Stewart went blind-missile crazy and launched himself clear past TSO and landed next to the old Brunson theater.

Assistant Chief Alford tackled the city manager and cuffed him, yelling “GUN!” and Kevin Troller was spotted a short distance away eating tacos off a food truck.  The bright light of the flare incensed Baytown Fire Department’s Shon Blake and he put a Judo chop on police educator Stewart after they removed him from the roof of the old Brunson. In a brilliant move straight out of the Obama Administration, the Mayor, declaring executive powers, crowned Troller the winner.

Chief Dougherty, being the humble civil servant that he is, conceded the match and it was over almost as quickly as it started.  The very next day, the council double disbanded the Department of Redundancy stating the City Manager “was getting his cart in front of the horse, or vice versa”.  All in all it made for a grand time and I’m glad I was there to witness it.  I guess no one can argue that Baytown is most decidedly, a city on the move move.

The real poop on the Ukraine

Mitt Romney’s top adviser, Joseph Cofer Black, joined the board of the Ukraine energy firm, Burisma, while Hunter Biden was also serving on ...