Thursday, September 17, 2009

Take Two Stamps and Call Me in the Morning

“I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

“The government that governs least governs best.”

“Would you want the group that runs the post office running the health care system?”

Amusing bon mots, to be sure. It’s always fun to pick on the Feds. But let’s take a closer look at that last one, shall we? As we debate President Obama’s initiative to provide health care coverage to the population of the United States for the first time in history, let us ask: Would we want a health care system built and delivered by the same institution that gave us the United States Postal System.

Not only “Yes,” but “Hell, Yes!” If we could build a health care system that only rose to a fraction of the efficiency of that hallowed institution, millions of Americans could rest easier knowing their livelihood, savings and retirement wouldn’t be wiped out by one illness or accident.

Originally created by the second Continental Congress way back in 1775, the USPS has been trucking mail across America as long as there have been Americans. At one point, the Postmaster General was in the line of succession for the Presidency! It’s hard to imagine the United States growing through the Industrial Revolution and the Silicon Renaissance without the most efficient postal system on the planet smoothing the way by delivering products, invoices, payments – and yes, even junk mail – in a timely and cost-effective manner. What other system do you know of that will come to your house, pick up a couple of pieces of paper, cart them thousands of miles and then hand-deliver them to your Aunt Rose? And all for less than a buck.

Sounds like a pretty good system to me. In fact, if you wanted to build an efficient Postal System from the ground up, it would probably look a lot like the one we have. On the other hand, if you built a health care system from the ground up, there’s no way you’d design what we have today. Is the USPS perfect? No. I had a discussion with my friend Julia Hoxie the other day and she commented on the fact that they get their mail mixed up all the time. Fair enough. The issue isn’t that the USPS sucks, it’s that it’s been so good for so long that we can’t tolerate errors.

So that brings us to an equally applicable rule: Just because something starts out working well, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t scrap it when it starts to fall apart. The USPS has come under attack from a much more efficient system: e-mail and e-commerce. Can it continue to function the way it has been? Perhaps not. And Postmaster General Jack Potter is already working to revamp the system (presumably he has the time since he doesn’t have to worry about that whole President thing.)

The same can be said for the current health care system. Back when American workers tended to spend their entire careers with one company, and that company provided the benefits, then the program worked. As long as health care costs remained within reach of those who preferred to provide their own savings, it worked. Now? Not so much. And it’s time to replace the system. They say the first step in fixing any problem is recognizing that you have one. We have to recognize that our current system is deeply flawed. All the naysayers out there that keep claiming we have the finest health care in the world are ignoring the fact that this vaunted system is not accessible to a huge number of our citizens. Saudi princes may fly over here to get their arthroscopic surgery, but Frank from South Oak Cliff can’t get a checkup and Mary from Grand Prairie has decided to forgo prenatal treatments because she can’t afford the medications.

So who’s going to fix such a large scale problem? It’s certainly not going to be that amorphous “Free Market” everyone is always talking about. Not on its own, at least. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, in his book Hot, Flat and Crowded, compared the free market to a new garden. Sure you could just throw some seeds in and then watch it grow (the ultimate metaphor for free markets). But your garden will produce a lot better tomatoes if you till the soil, plan your layout, set the stage properly and nurture it with fertilizer and water. Then, Mother Nature, and the free market, will take over and do the heavy lifting.

Face it, there’s not an organization out there that’s big enough to build a replacement for our health care system, except the federal government. That’s right, the same folks that took men to the moon, created the atomic bomb, and built the most efficient postal delivery system the planet has ever seen. So the answer is Yes. I don’t think I’d mind them building a new health care system. They are from the Government. And in this case, they CAN help.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Frisco ISD announces “Office of Presidential Filtering”

(Frisco, TX) In response to the impending intrusion on the valuable lunchtime activities of the students of the Frisco Independent School District by “that guy living in the White House,” un-named FISD “officials” have created the Office of Presidential Filtering. Since clearly our duly elected federal officials have some nefarious plot behind this presentation, local officials have decided that they are best suited to “hone in on important aspects or portions of the message.” At this point, it is unclear as to what criteria would be used to decide what is important and what is not. Nor is it clear just which individuals would assume this post or how those people would be chosen. But FISD wants all Frisco parents to rest assured that no unacceptable content regarding the value of education or the importance of respect for our elected officials would be allowed to sully the minds of impressionable young people. According to unnamed FISD officials, “We feel that our leaders and educators at the schools are best equipped to determine how it (the Presidential Address) should be used. We feel that our staff can best determine impact on instructional time and what facilitating questions and follow-up discussion topics best tie in with our curriculum and learning.”

C’mon, people. Seriously? This is the best they can come up with?

For any number of reasons – from the valid to the ridiculous –school districts around the country have been falling all over themselves to distance students from President Obama’s planned address on Tuesday. Our own Frisco ISD seems intent on doing the same, without quite coming out and saying so. The information page posted on ( cites issues around scheduling (the plan falls during many students’ lunch periods) and timing (the planned message is geared toward students just starting classes, while our kids have been going to school for a couple of weeks already). Both excuses, of course, are tepid, at best. I’ve seen the schools monkey with schedules for a lot less reason and resulting in a lot more disruption. And quite frankly, I give Frisco students a little more credit than it seems they do. I think our kids can grasp the concept that some schools in other parts of the country are just starting.

So, let’s call it what it is: an attempt to wrap some legitimacy around our school officials’ unwillingness to stand up to the ridiculous pressures being placed by the ultra-right wing blog-o-radio personalities and the local parents that have been whipped into a froth. Even worse, they compound the problem with a collection of wishy-washy language that basically amounts to the establishment of the fictional “Office of Presidential Filtering” described above. In their grand wisdom, unidentified “school officials” have reserved for themselves the duty of editing President Obama’s presentation for use in specific classes such as “speech or journalism,” “history or government” or even the more unwieldy “civics/social studies/current events.”

I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t we set aside partisan bickering and show some respect for the elected leader of our nation? This is not just some political hack pushing an agenda. It’s the President of the United States of America. If you don’t agree with his politics, that’s fine. You have every right to speak out against his policies and, even more grand, vote for someone else during the next election. You can certainly – and I highly encourage this – have an open and genuine conversation with your children about the message and the messenger, if you like. In the meantime, perhaps we can try and teach our children to respect the office and just shut up and listen. No editing. No repurposing. No “determining how it can best be used.” More importantly, no prejudging that somehow this President deserves to be censored based on the ranting of a bunch of media hot heads and the over-reaction of a few parents in the school district.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Pugilistic Parenting

I’m a horrible father.

I know this because my 14-year-old son tells me so on a regular basis. At times, he’s probably right. I have a tendency to “get loud” when really I should listen. Sometimes I jump to conclusions, when I should give him a chance to explain his side of the story.

I really thought I was ready for these troublesome years. I remember my middle-school years only too well. They were rough. I was never particularly popular. The fact that I was an Army brat meant that I was often the new kid in school. But I recall making my way through the pitfalls of early adolescence. So I honestly thought I was ready to help shepherd my son, guiding him away from the problems I once faced at his age.

Fat chance.

The problem that vexes me most is the volatile mix of excess testosterone and other hormones. Throw in the competitive nature of our society and you’ve got a recipe for violence.

My son has had his share of run-ins with classmates. Unlike his father, he’s limited it so far to some jawing back and forth and a couple of shoving matches. Within a few days of showing up at my new school in the 6th grade, I’d gotten into two honest-to-goodness, knock-down, drag-out brawls. Lost ’em both. The funny thing is, I ended up becoming friends with both of the guys I fought.

So when I got the call from the school principal that my son was in detention for almost coming to blows, I struggled to find the right response. Part of me wanted to chew him out. But I didn’t take that road. Instead, I started wondering if perhaps letting the boys go at it wasn’t such a bad idea.

This issue has had some exposure lately. South Oak Cliff High School was exposed for the practice of ushering kids into a steel cage to settle their differences MMA-style. Right idea? Maybe. Poor execution? Doubtless.

You see, I can understand the feeling these young men get when they want to test their mettle against their peers. Around this age, they’re beginning to grow into their bodies, while still trying to figure out how to control their emotions. Coordination starts to catch up with growth spurts. Strength increases to new proportions. Meanwhile, they’re put into competitive, often physical, situations with sports like football, basketball, wrestling and soccer. Maybe we should be shocked if fights didn’t break out now and then.

I’d much rather see these adolescent pugilists find an outlet for their aggression in a controlled environment than in the alley on the way home from school. Set up a ring. Strap on some over-padded gloves and head gear and let ’em go. A couple of those experiences, and I’d bet the desire to “settle things like men” would quickly fade. Certainly there would have to be limits as to how the matches were organized. And most definitely all parties — kids and parents — would have to agree this was the right course.

I’m sure I’ll be painted by some as a Neanderthal-thug with no sensitivity. But I do know that young men — and even older ones — are wired by nature with a certain amount of aggressiveness. Trying to bottle that up is kind of like sticking your finger in a hole and hoping the dyke doesn’t crumble. Instead, let’s find a controlled outlet for these feelings and perhaps we’ll raise a healthier generation of adults.

As published in the Dallas Morning News, Saturday, May 2nd, 2009. Link

Friday, April 10, 2009

Preventative Parking Pays

Somebody is going to get hurt.

Note the lack of “may” or “might” or “could” in that sentence. It probably has already happened, though I’ve not heard any specifics. But without a doubt, if we don’t do something, sooner or later someone – most likely a small child – is going to come to harm.

The situation I’m talking about appears every Saturday at Frisco’s Warren Sports Complex. An access road runs from the entrance along Rogers Road over to El Dorado Parkway. On the left are multi-purpose fields that accommodate soccer games in the spring and football games in the fall. On the right: the unimproved expanse of dirt (the grass is long dead) that becomes prime parking for hundreds of cars every weekend. A few years ago, the City acknowledged what had already become fact and put in a couple of ramps up the curb, so cars could stop dragging their mufflers across the concrete.

The source of the problem is twofold. First, parents park their cars right up to the curb, some even poking out into the street. This being Frisco, Texas, we’re not talking about sub-compacts, either. No, this lot is full of the hulking behemoths that make up a large proportion of our motorized population; vehicles more than large enough to totally hide a 7-year-old soccer player dashing to join her team before kickoff. Vigilant drivers who comply with the 15 mile-per-hour speed limit are likely to spot such hazards. But that leads to the second problem. They don’t comply. I’ve seen way to many parents – and sadly most of them ARE parents – pushing the limit to make sure their little Meagan or Austin gets to the game on time. And I’m boggled by the number of drivers careening down that path with a cell phone glued to their ears. This weekend, I caught sight of one mother holding the phone against her shoulder, while reaching into the back seat to do who-knows-what.

This, dear readers, is a calamity waiting to happen.

There are several remedies which could help, and the City’s Parks and Recreation department is considering some of them. The idea of paving that field and putting in permanent parking is one option. However, this would lock up an area that might be used for additional facilities in the future. The cost of putting in a paved lot, just to rip it up again in a couple of years is not palatable in a time when the city is facing a budget shortfall. Other suggestions revolve around changing how those fields are used, perhaps assigning older children to those fields to reduce the likelihood of a younger child running out. Other considerations might be speed bumps and dedicated sidewalks to focus the crossing families into clearly identified areas. My suggestion for a quick, low-cost remedy is to erect fences set back from the curb to allow some space between the traffic flow and the parked vehicles.

As for the drivers, I’d like to see the Frisco police department step up their enforcement along that stretch during game days. It’s amazing the effect that a patrol car or even an officer standing along the road side can have on the behavior of drivers. We don’t currently have a city ordinance banning the use of phones while driving in our city parks (maybe we should?), but I’m betting the old “reckless driving” statute could be applied to the aforementioned soccer mom.

But I’m never one to sit around waiting for government to solve our problems. What can you and I do to help ensure the safety of our young athletes? I’m glad you asked. First of all, if you’re one of the parents coming to Warren for a game, try parking your car back from the curb a bit. Better yet, drive a little further and park in the existing lot near the pavilion. You may have to walk a bit further, but isn’t getting exercise one of the reasons you’re at the park in the first place?!? Next, SLOW DOWN. The speed limit is 15 mph, but even that might be too fast if there’s a lot of pedestrian traffic crossing the road. And go ahead and stop to let those people cross. A little courtesy may deter someone from risking the mad dash. Finally, hang up the damn phone. I promise, there is nothing so important that it can’t wait till you park your car.

If you’ve lived in Frisco for any amount of time, and you have kids, chances are you’ve spent some time at Warren Sports Complex. It’s a great facility and one we can all be proud of. But sometimes things can be a victim of their own success. Let’s all slow down, take some extra time and help prevent a very preventable tragedy. And let’s do it BEFORE someone gets hurt.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Riding the Frisco Line - For REAL!

Does anybody remember last summer? The Olympics? Oba-mania? Four-dollar-a-gallon gas prices?

It’s hard to forget the last one. I clearly remember that it took me over an hour to fill up my tank; 5 minutes to pump and then an hour to stop sobbing. Every time I pulled into a gas station, I saw my kids’ college prospects dwindling. But hey, Collin County Community College is a nice facility!

During that “crisis” I expended a lot of effort trying to find a way to cut my daily commuting expense. I looked into bus service, car pooling and even considered riding my bike (what’s a little man-sweat amongst co-workers, right?). The one thing I didn’t consider was taking DART. From here, it takes me just as long to drive to the Parker Road station in Plano to get on the train as it does to drive to my office.

I was encouraged, then, when I attended the Frisco Town Hall meeting a few weeks ago and caught the presentation by Tom Shelton, from the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG). Mr. Shelton outlined something called “Rail North Texas:” a plan to bring rail service to North Central Texas. I couldn’t help but grin when I saw a little red line on the proposed map labeled “Frisco Line.” While the proposed service didn’t connect anywhere near my office, it would get me to DFW airport; a trip I also make on a regular basis.

The plan’s focus is on building and operating a passenger rail system, but it also allows for the development of supporting infrastructure, such as road improvements and bus service. Critics of rail service point out that unless you live or work near a station, you’re not likely to take the train. But with proper supporting infrastructure, a greater number of people can take advantage of the system. Plus, even if you don’t take the train, several hundred of your former road-mates will, rather than jockeying with you for that open slot in the left lane! NCTCOG’s presentation, however, was less about the planned service than it was about how to pay for it. There is no shortage of ideas for building a rail service in Frisco. The challenge is finding the money. And our friends at NCTCOG have an idea for that as well. State Senator John Carona has filed SB 855 proposing the Texas Local Option Transportation Act or TLOTA. A companion bill (HB 9 has been filed in the House by Representative Vicky Truitt and others.

The act is designed to find ways for North Texans to directly fund the investments needed to create a more robust transit system in our area, without having it imposed from Austin or, worse yet, seeing those funds siphoned off to pay for some road in Houston. Funding can come from a number of sources including general sales and gas tax, vehicle registration fees and some property taxes, to name a few. But the underlying feature is that the choice of funding mechanisms is left to the local county voters.

Sadly, the one consistent word in each of those funding methods is: TAX. Given the current economic conditions, most of us aren’t eager to see a bump in the chunk of change we send to the government. But that, too, is a benefit of this bill. If now is not the time, then the local electorate can decline to implement any new taxes at all. That may be a shame, if you’re like me and look forward to the day we can all ride the Frisco Line, for real. But at least the decision is in local hands.

Whether you support bringing rail to Frisco or not, you should take a hard look at the TLOTA bill. For years, our transportation issues have been at the mercy of Austin and Washington. Residents who sat waiting from El Dorado to get funded by the state understand the frustration all too wall. If this measure brings control over our transit system a little closer to home, we should all benefit.

By the way, if you’re interested in tracking our state legislature in action – and really, who isn’t? – check out their website ( Use the Bill Lookup feature to find out the status of any bill currently under consideration. You can even sign up for an alert service to keep up with your favorite pet project as it winds its way through the legislative process. A must-see for any C-SPAN geek!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Reining in the HOAs

On the hierarchy of human needs, shelter ranks pretty high. Depending upon your situation, it’s likely right up there with food, water and watching football. Sadly, it’s this need that is most imperiled by today’s economic downturn. Foreclosures are at an all-time high, as homeowners struggle to meet their mortgage payments.

Consider, then, the case of homeowners who have met their mortgage obligation, yet still face foreclosure. You see, Texas is one of the few states that allows Home Owners Associations to initiate foreclosure for non-payment of fees. Granted, HOA dues are a contractual obligation that buyers know about before they sign on the dotted line. But unpaid fees can be made up of more than just dues. Penalties. Fines. Special assessments. All can add up – and in some cases, compound – until a homeowner is facing a hefty sum.

The scary part this is that, unlike most other governing bodies, HOAs are not subject to the same rules that apply to city or county governments, or even school districts. HOAs are guided only by their by-laws and declarations, which may vary widely from group to group, and may not even be publicly disclosed. They’re often controlled by people with little or no experience in public policy. This has led to cases where homeowners have racked up serious fees, often for minor “offenses” having nothing to do with dues. Push comes to shove and the next thing you know, they’re facing the loss of the roof over their heads.

At least two Texas legislators have had enough. Burt Solomons (R-Carrolton) has filed House Bill 1976 to try and curb some of the power HOAs wield in Texas. State Senator Royce West has filed a similar bill (SB429) in the Senate. Solomon’s bill seeks to curtail HOAs in several areas, but the most significant is that it removes their ability to foreclose on a homeowner’s mortgage due to unpaid fines. They can still file a lien against the property, but in most cases they’ll have to wait until the property is sold to collect.

Taking the fight one step further, Solomons’ bill would change how HOAs do business. First of all, it requires that HOAs follow the same Open Meeting guidelines as every other government entity. No more closed door sessions and behind the scenes machinations. Everything out in the open, folks.

Some of the bill’s restrictions seem to be a direct response to events right here in Frisco. No longer would an HOA be able to restrict what kind of car you park in your driveway. And boards could not restrict any member from running for office, unless he or she is a convicted felon.

Many will argue that Solomons’ bill eliminates the ability of HOAs to do what they’re supposed to do: keep the neighborhood amenities repaired and help protect property values. Certainly, taking away the foreclosure option removes one of the big sticks that HOAs use to compel people to pay their dues.

Another provision of the bill eliminates HOAs from entering your property to enforce rules. So if your neighbor’s grass is 2 feet high, you can’t just go over there and mow it. Then again, given Texas’ Castle Laws, that’s probably not a good idea in the first place.

Nobody is suggesting that HOAs are inherently evil. The vast majority are well run by civic-minded individuals just trying to keep the neighborhood looking neat. For these organizations, the changes being discussed may make their job a bit more challenging. A few more forms to fill out. Perhaps not as much money in the kitty for the big block party.

It’s not clear how far HB1976 will go. There will certainly be organizations throwing lobbying money around to get it killed. Some tweaks will surely be found to (hopefully) improve it. I’m usually one of those that holds his breath whenever the Texas Legislature meets, hoping they just stay out of the way. But in this case, I’m happy to see them rein in a group that has become an un-regulated government entity. The home they save may be your own.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Has Frisco Lost Its Mojo?

Flashback to 2004. The economy is chugging along. North Texas is thriving and little bitty Frisco is blooming into a regional economic powerhouse. Stonebriar Centre mall is the dynamo driving the growth, with additional outparcels filling as fast as they can be built. Target. Best Buy. TJ Maxx. And on the horizon, the Metroplex’s first IKEA. Companies were lining up to open their shops north of 121.

Jim Gandy, president of Frisco’s Economic Development Corporation, tells the story of how the developer of Stonebriar Centre, General Growth Properties, chose Frisco over our southern neighbor, Plano, as the site of their new shopping center. As the legend goes, the president of General Growth was driving up 121 with his wife and asked her which side of the street she preferred. Her choice – along with countless hours of negotiation – set in motion one of the most successful retail developments in the United States.

Now, five years later, the story has changed. Development around the mall has filled out, though there are a few pockets of new businesses here and there. Meanwhile, other parts of town have been slow to take off. The one area that was to be our crown jewel – Frisco Square and the area around Pizza Hut Park – has been a dud. Take a drive through the square on a weekend evening and you’ll find that foot traffic is pretty sparse. Even when there’s an event across the street, the fans generally clear out shortly after it ends.

Meanwhile, our neighbors haven’t been sitting still. Plano has developed the Shops at Legacy, attracting the kinds of retail, dining and entertainment that Frisco Square wishes it had. Further east, Watter’s Creek at Montgomery Farm in Allen has an innovative design that puts Frisco’s flat, vintage-1980 strip-mall aesthetic to shame. Just up the road, the Village at Fairview is set to open this summer, the first new mall to seriously challenge Stonebriar since it opened in 2000. (They even managed to slip in a Dog Park, something we’ve been struggling with for years.)

As far as being the place to go in North Texas, Frisco has definitely lost its mojo.

There are some signs that Frisco will right its slipping tiara. The new toll bridge across Lake Lewisville opens a path for a whole new set of shoppers to make it to IKEA. And the expansion of Deja Blue arena in the StarCenter will give us the premier mid-sized concert venue north of Dallas. But unless we put some creativity into leveraging these resources, neighboring cities will continue to siphon retail tax dollars away from us.

Don’t think it matters? Take a look at our city budget. Currently, we enjoy one of the lowest property tax rates in the area. You can thank Mrs. Stonebriar Mall for that. Over the years, we’ve been one of only three cities in Texas with a population under 100,000 to rank in the top 20 of sales tax revenue (Round Rock and Sugarland are the other two). We’ve now crested that population mark, and our per capita tax revenue is starting to slip. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before we’ll have to raise the property tax rate to offset the dwindling retail pool.

How can Frisco get its groove back? It’s going to take the same kind of forward thinking and creative financing that started things moving a decade ago. The national economic slowdown means we can’t count on growing our way to prosperity. We have to attract the businesses and build the kinds of shopping areas that will entice people to drive over the new bridge, or stick around town after the concert, or come early before the soccer game for dinner.

Thinking of running for one of the two city council seats this May? To get my vote, you’ll need to come up with some new ideas reignite Frisco’s mojo.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Biking Beavers Bend

Last Wednesday morning as I watched the ice accumulate on my back porch, I wondered if I was going to make my afternoon flight to Jacksonville. (I did.) On Sunday, I broke out the bike and went for a ride in shorts and a t-shirt. Welcome to winter in North Texas.

I’ve written before about some of the hike and bike trails being developed in Frisco. So as the day dawned bright, clear and warm, I decided to try out the latest: Beavers Bend Trail Extension. The first step was to find the place. Sadly, this proved more of a challenge than expected. I have the utmost respect for our Parks and Recreation department here in Frisco. But updating the city website is not one of their strong suits. The status of the Beavers Bend Trail Extension was listed as “Construction of this trail is scheduled to begin in 2007.” I found other references to projects that were slated to “be completed in 2008.” Meanwhile, the PDF map showing the various trails and parks in town was more confusing than helpful.

But ultimately, with the help of that old stand-by, Google Maps (the city GIS system was off-line), I found the trailhead off Legacy, just north of Lebanon. First of all, let me say that if you’ve got a young one who’s fondest desire is to poke around ponds looking for frogs; this is the place for you. Beavers Bend Park is basically a large wet-land area wrapped by a paved trail. Picnic tables poke out into the middle of the boggy area, providing easy access to budding herpetologists looking for the latest amphibious life forms.

The trail itself, however, left something to be desired. Unlike its counterparts, the Caddo and Taychus trails, Beaver Bend is pretty much devoid of any trees. While this made for a nice ride on a warm winter day, it left me exposed to gusting winds (we get those from time to time around here) and I can only imagine the temperature out there come summer time.

On the plus side, Beavers Bend is one of the first “connector” trails in town. On the eastern end, the plan calls for a connection to the future Grand Park through the corridor provided by Stewart Creek. On the western end, the trail already connects (almost) to our newest community park, BF Phillips. Ultimately, the master plan calls for the trail to continue down the creek, ultimately connecting with Lake Lewisville near the Colony. While that day may be years off, it’s nice to see some of the structure that will someday allow casual riders to cycle around town without risking life and limb in traffic, and actually getting some decent exercise along the way.

While I was pedaling around BF Phillips, I took the opportunity to wander through the space recently designated for an upcoming Dog Park. I must say it seems to be an ideal location. The nearest home was well out of barking range, and the terrain will lend itself to an interesting playground for all kinds of dogs and (lest we forget) their owners. Funding remains a steep obstacle to getting the park built, but I for one look forward to this addition to our diverse park system.

On a completely unrelated note, I made another discovery during my ride. Years ago, I abandoned the daily coffee-grind in favor of tea. One catalyst to the switch was visiting a tea shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown that opened my eyes to the amazing variety of flavors available. But here in North Texas, I haven’t been able to find a shop that carried any kind of selection. Enter the Halo Tea and Chocolate shop at the northwest corner of Lebanon and the Tollway. They’ve got a dandy selection of green teas (great antioxidants), blacks (more caffeine that coffee!) and even some white teas, all sold in loose leaf bins. I tried the Green Caribbean Breeze – a nice fruity blend – and was pleased that it wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet like most of those packets you find in the grocery stores. If your exposure is limited to Lipton tea bags, drop by Halo for a taste of what tea is really like.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Buying Ink by the Pixel

An age-old aphorism states, “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” Attributed variously to Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and H.L. Mencken, the basis for this adage is rooted in the idea that newspaper editors, authors and writers are somehow omnipotent, as they can disseminate their side of the argument to a much wider audience through their publications.

Those days are gone.

Today, everyone has access to wide variety of outlets in which to express their views of the world. Sure, editors and columnists may have a ready-made audience, but the success of individual web sites and blogs has certainly narrowed the gap.

Just because you don’t work for the newspaper doesn’t mean you can’t get your opinions in print. This very publication has a quite an open editorial policy. Drop a note to the Frisco Enterprise (you can find the e-mail address in the masthead on page two) and chances are you’ll see your comments in an upcoming edition. Naturally, you’ll want to make your point relevant to current events. And bear in mind that the extraneous use of colorful epithets may not help your case. But if you make a cogent argument, the editor is likely to give you the benefit of the doubt. For those of you inclined to wax rhapsodic in a more loquacious fashion (that is, use a bunch of big words), you might consider penning an entire editorial column. Trust me, newspapers are always looking for unique content from their local readership.

When I started writing “The Frisco Line,” the first thing I asked for was a web page where I could post my articles, soliciting feedback and comments from readers. With the agreement of my editor, I launched a Blog at I had the choice of a myriad of online services, most of them free. Shortly thereafter, my wife launched her own site. Now, I can think of half a dozen people off hand that post their various musings for anyone so inclined to read. Most of them aren’t looking to capture a world-wide audience or become the next Drudge Report. Instead, just the act of articulating their thoughts in a public forum gives them a chance to closely examine their beliefs, and often refine them a bit.

If you’re not ready to step up to your own Blog, check out some of the online discussion sites. I spend a fair amount of time perusing the Frisco Online forums ( While I don’t personally contribute much, there’s a robust crowd of folks out there that aren’t afraid to share their opinions. Again, with a minimum of effort, you can make your positions known and, hopefully, take away a few nuggets of wisdom yourself. Fair warning, though: participating in the forums is not for the faint of heart. Be prepared for folks to take a razor sharp scalpel to your ideas.

If writing’s not your bag of chips, how about the noble art of oration? In the days of Rome, opinions rang out from every street corner. In modern times, if you stood on the corner of Preston and Main and started spouting ideas, you’d be more likely to draw the attention of the local mental health authorities than an audience. But just about every municipal meeting – from the City Council to the Urban Forestry Board – has a slot on their agenda for “public input.” That’s your chance to rise and speak to just about any topic you see fit. Sadly, due to the convoluted requirements of the Texas Open Meeting Laws, the board members won’t be able to respond directly. But you’ll have had your say and, if you strike a nerve, chances are you’ll see that topic on a future agenda. And in the case of the City Council, your performance is captured and broadcast on local cable stations and across the internet. Your 15 minutes of fame have begun!

While you’re at it, don’t stop at just attending a board meeting, go ahead and join the board! Every year, there are dozens of board memberships open for appointment. All it takes is filling out a simple form, submitting a resume and then undergoing a 15-minute grilling by the City Council. Come through that process and your odds of getting on a board are pretty good. Personally, I had to go through the process twice before garnering a seat on the Community Development Corporation board, but it’s been well worth it.

In casual conversations with friends, acquaintances and the odd fellow citizen in line at Starbucks, I find that there is no lack of opinions about Frisco, North Texas and the world in general. Sure, you can continue piping up at the local watering hole, hoping someone picks up on your ideas. But why take the chance? Never before in the course of human history have ordinary folks had more access to more people through more media outlets.

Go ahead, share!

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Bottom 10

The Pollyanna Principle: a term used to describe people who agree with positive statements describing them or things close to them. See also: The Frisco Line.

That’s right, folks, I’ve got a pretty rosy outlook on our fair burg. A quick review of past editions of The Frisco Line shows a definite predisposition to highlighting the positive aspects our Frisco, Texas.

But not all is sun and roses in North Texas. Just last month, I compiled a list of the top 10 things I love about Frisco. This month, it’s time to look at the dark side. Contrary to popular belief, there are some things about this area that set off my personal peeve-meter. Some are particular to Frisco, while others apply to the entire region. Some can be fixed. Others I’ll just have to learn to live with. Here, then, in no particular order… the Bottom 10:

Topographical Relief – Yeah, I know. This is North Texas. It’s flat. But I grew up around the Wichita Mountains in southwest Oklahoma. Then, a 12-year stint near the Wasatch Range in Utah firmly planted a love of the vertical in my psyche. Now, I’ve been in Frisco for almost 10 years… give me a mountain! A hill… a bump… anything that goes UP!

No Trees – First of all, let’s just discount all the silver leaf maples and other quick-growing trees that builders plant in every development. You can find dense groves of trees in the undeveloped plots around town. But those are really just “trash trees” that provide some ground cover, but mostly get in the way. I’m looking for some Oaks. Some Elms. Some deciduous or coniferous edifices that provide equal parts of beauty and shade!

Traffic and Toll Roads – Maybe it’s just my imagination, but it seems like the lights on the access roads along the tollways are set to slow you down. Every time I approach the on-ramps to SH-121 or the Dallas North Speedway, I go through a quick “time vs. money” debate. Is it worth a buck and a half to avoid a couple of stop lights? Then I roll the dice, figuring there’s at least an even chance that the lights will be green. No such luck. Going the speed limit along the access road just seems to ensure that you hit EVERY RED LIGHT along the way. And Preston Road is no better. Whatever happened to timing stop lights so you can travel just under the speed limit and hit green lights all along the way? Not in Frisco, I guess.

Naming Things After People Who Are Still Working – More than anything, this really accentuates the lack of significant history in Frisco. We just don’t have that many notable figures to draw from. We’ve already got a Dr. Pink road and a Dr. Pink stadium. Now, I’m not debating whether the people in question deserve the honor – I’m sure they do. It’s just that naming buildings and parks after people who are still actively involved in city business sort of gives them an unfair advantage. Honestly, how are you going to argue the finer points of civic matters with Mike Simpson when you’re standing in the middle of Simpson Plaza?

Summer Heat – When I left Utah, I was looking forward to not having to shovel three feet of snow every winter. But I guess I wasn’t quite prepared for living through 3 months of inferno! At least when it snows, I can put on more clothes.

The Water – Have you tasted our water lately? Earlier this year, the North Texas Municipal Water district made some changes to how the water is processed, with the goal to eliminate that funky taste that so many of us have come to recognize. Keep working, guys.

No Performance Center – Mrs. Line and I love to go out to plays, musical events and other “cultural” activities. Sadly, we have to travel to McKinney, Plano, Dallas, or any number of other cities to satisfy our needs. Frisco does not have a single, decent performance venue, outside of the high school auditoriums. The new Dr Pepper Stars center is going to provide a nice venue for mid-sized concerts, but it doesn’t address the need for a theatre where we can catch a play or a jazz recital.

School Zones de Jour – My children were fortunate to attend Curtsinger Elementary throughout their grade school years. But most other Frisco residents aren’t so lucky. I know of some students who have changed schools almost every year! Other than that “new school smell,” that can’t be any fun. I’m looking forward to the day when FISD can slow down the new building and let things settle down.

BONUS PEEVE: “Kiddos.” I don’t have kiddos. I have children, or kids. If I have to listen to one more principal or teacher laud our wonderful “kiddos” I’m gonna lose my cookies!

Hike and Bike Trails (or Lack Thereof) – Until some of the large tracts of land are developed in town, it’s unlikely we’ll have a robust set of trails that link up to take you around town. For now, we’re limited to some nice trails here and there (Taychas Trail and Caddo Trail come to mind), but no way for most of us to get to them, short of driving.

So, that’s nine. Oddly, long discussions with my wife, poker group, and random characters on street corners failed to conjure up a tenth. So I’ll wrap up my gripe list, and return to my usual sunny disposition. Frisco, Texas, may not be paradise, but I’ll take it.