Friday, September 21, 2007

Take a Ride on the Frisco Line

A hippopotamus is huge. A full-grown male can reach up to 7,000 pounds or more. Hang that much weight on an eleven-foot-long frame and you’d expect a slow, ponderous beast. Surprisingly, hippos are actually quite fast, reaching speeds that would leave Olympic champions in the dust. Yes, hippos are impressive beasts. But one thing hippos aren’t is native to Texas. Why, then, is there a “Hippo Capital of Texas”? It seems that back in 1915 a circus train passed through the sleepy burg of Hutto, Texas, a few miles east of Austin. A wily hippo was able to slip away from its handlers and set up housekeeping in a local creek. This landmark event lead to the adoption of the hippopotamus as the Hutto High School mascot. 87 years later, the Texas Legislature made it official by designating Hutto as the Hippo Capital of Texas. The fact is, while Austin retains the rights to the designation “State Capital of Texas,” there are over fifty cities across the state that can lay claim to being the “something” Capital of Texas. Some make sense. Fredericksburg, for example, is the Polka Capital; likely based on the German and Eastern European roots of many settlers in that area. Glen Rose, home of some impressive fossil finds, is the Dinosaur Capital. Others are a bit more outlandish. The Ostrich Capital (Midland) joins Hutto in honoring an animal not native to our shores. And its neighbor, Odessa, claims the distinction of being the Jackrabbit-Roping Capital. Clearly, there’s just not enough to do in west Texas. And while each of these capitals is designated by an act of the Texas Legislature, some seem to be in dispute. Three different areas lay claim to the Crape Myrtle: Waxahachie, Paris and the entire Lamar County (and that’s not even counting McKinney’s un-official claims). Wildflowers, meanwhile, are claimed by both the city of Temple and DeWitt County. Which leads to the burning question of the week: What is Frisco the Capital of? I’m sure you’d get a variety of answers from citizens across town. Those living near the intersection of Teal and El Dorado would likely vote us the Traffic Jam Capital. A trip down Preston could lead to the distinction of the Bank Branch Capital. Drop by Pizza Hut Park on any Saturday and you could make a case for Frisco being the Soccer Capital. I think Collin County would certainly be in the running for the Toll Road Capital. And while all of those suggestions have merit, I’d like to put forth another suggestion; one that ties more directly into our City’s heritage. I am hereby starting my own personal campaign to designate Frisco as the Railroad Capital of Texas. The Frisco area was initially settled as a stop on the Shawnee Trail. The settlement grew with the arrival of the St. Louis - San Francisco Railroad, called “The Frisco Line” by people along its route. The first plan was to name our city after local resident Francis Emerson. But in 1904, citizens chose the name Frisco City in honor of the railroad that brought commerce to the area. The Frisco Line ultimately became part of the Burlington Northern Railroad and still plays a part in our daily lives. The sound of a train’s whistle as it rumbles past is certainly part of our daily environment. Recently, the City Council moved to adopt the original Frisco logo as our town’s public image, recalling our railroad heritage. You’ll notice that I’ve taken a tip from history to designate this biweekly column The Frisco Line. This is the first in a series of articles about Frisco, Texas. We’re a rapidly growing city that faces a number of unique challenges. I firmly believe that we can meet those challenges if our citizens are kept involved. And to be involved, you have to be informed. So in the coming months, I’ll be touching on topics like road development, toll collection, tax rates, parks and more. If there’s an issue on your mind that you’d like to see exposed, please drop me a note. And if I write something that touches a nerve, let me know that, too. My e-mail address is posted at the end of each piece. Plus, in an effort to reach the widest audience, the Frisco Enterprise will be publishing this piece as part of an online Blog, where you’ll be able to discuss these and other issues with your fellow citizens. Next spring, all of us are going to be faced with the decision of electing a new mayor, as well as a few new city council members. I hope that between now and then, The Frisco Line can help inform and educate you so you can make the best decision for our future. So consider this an invitation to join me here, every other week, for a look inside the Railroad Capital of Texas.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Forced loyalty indentures patriotism

It’s an image that invokes the very essence of American culture. A classroom full of kids standing at attention, hands over their hearts, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. If Norman Rockwell never painted such a scene, he should have. And if you grew up in the United States in the last 100 years, chances are you’ve participated in this ritual. Originally written in 1892 as an advertisement to sell flags for Columbus Day, the Pledge was adopted by Congress in 1942. But kids here in Texas get a double-dose of pledges. Not only are they avowing their commitment to our nation, but there’s a separate affirmation of devotion to the Great State of Texas. When I first heard of this tradition, I assumed this to be a holdover from our brief stint as a sovereign nation. Not so. In 1933, the Texas Legislature seemingly identified a hot-bed of disloyalists (perhaps a cabal of Okies encroaching south of the Red River) and decided that we needed everyone to express their devotion to the Lone Star State, along with our nation. In their original incarnations, neither the national pledge, nor Texas’ version found the need to invoke a deity to express one’s devotion. It wasn’t until 1954 that the phrase “under God” was added to, as President Eisenhower put it, “reaffirm the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future.” Now, fifty-odd years later, our Texas lawmakers have inserted a remarkably similar – and somewhat repetitive - phrase in the Texas pledge. "Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible." Plenty has been written about this latest modification. Many of the religious among us herald the inclusion as a return to the core values of our founding fathers. More liberal (albeit no less spiritual) elements point out that our founding fathers recognized the slippery slope of such inclusions and established rules against the government foisting any one religion – or any religion at all - on the public. Interestingly, it was a religious group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses - that first challenged the pledge on the grounds that it violated the Bible’s admonishment against idolatry. The most recent challenge to the state’s changes were brought by a pair of atheists. Strange bedfellows, indeed. But rather than going too far down that path, let’s consider why we have a Texas pledge at all, and why is it recited to the Flag? Only a handful of states have any kind of pledge. Georgia and Kentucky both have a pledge similar to ours, while Alaska has a whole song: Alaska’s Flag. When I was going to school in Oklahoma, the only pledge we had to learn were the words to Boomer Sooner (and it took some of us till the sixth grade to get those right). Perhaps Texas schoolchildren should count themselves lucky that all they have to recite is a couple of lines. But what is it about Texas that requires an affirmation of allegiance? Certainly our history is a bit more colorful than most, being the only state added to the Union by treaty. But do we really need to pledge our loyalty to the State? And what does that really mean? If I buy my wine from California, am I being disloyal to Texas? When I put on the crimson and cream at the Cotton Bowl every October, am I violating my pledge? An odd thing, these loyalty pledges. Where does one’s loyalty to one entity stop and another begin? It’s notable that in the enacting statute (Title 11, Subtitle A, Chapter 3100, Subchapter C, in case you’re interested), a distinction is made for men and women in military uniforms. They are directed to face the flag and salute like the rest of us, but are to remain silent. Presumably, this is to preclude any conflict due to their military Oath of Office. Compulsory loyalty oaths have been used throughout history, for both good and ill. Fortunately, there’s nothing in our state or national laws that compels anybody to recite either pledge. Sadly, our school board thinks otherwise, requiring a written request from a parent before excusing a student from making the two pledges. Lively is the debate over the inclusion of God in our two pledges. But we should give equal consideration to the meaning of all the words whenever we recite them. The next time you stand and face the flag, LISTEN to the words you’re reciting. Understand the commitment you’re making, or asking your children to make. Nobody can compel loyalty to any institution. At the end of the day, it’s a personal choice. And actions will speak far louder than any recitation of words.