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Texas | Columns | Notes From Over Here

Same Old Lubbock

by Byron Browne

Last week, at the gym, I began speaking with a woman whom I have seen there for many months, maybe even a couple of years, and it turns out that she and I have a great deal in common. As we huffed and heaved on our respective aerobic machines (these are not facile conversations) we discovered that the both of us are schoolteachers here in Austin, both of us are co-caretakers of a parent living out of town and we are both originally, from Lubbock. Small world. It seems her mother is, at present, living in the “Hub City” and has plans to move closer to central Texas soon to be closer to other family. As we spoke of the town and its landmarks, some omnipresent, some recently deleted, I noticed that she had, in a sly, quiet manner, begun a sort of competition as to which of the two of us had closer ties to the area and which had spent the most time there since moving away. When I had become aware of the contest, I had already lost it. My childhood friends and I would certainly not recognize one another on the street and, not having family there any longer, trips to the area are planned and purposeful and few. I was content to concede the victory. If she was in need of an emotional blue ribbon then, I was more than willing to take the sucker punch and kiss canvas. However, she wasn’t content with just winning the “I have stronger, more frequent ties to Lubbock than you do” rivalry; she was out for blood. When I told her that my wife and I visited Lubbock with some regularity she responded that, “I’m sure you don’t.” What? Biting back my initial anger, I looked closer. Nope. It wasn’t my mother or ex-wife. This woman really was being a social bully. After I told her about my articles in the Lubbock Avalanche Journal on the wine business in west Texas she grew silent and sullen. Honestly, I wasn’t trying, Rocky-like, to rise from the floor and take another shot. I was only trying to illustrate the truth. Really.

However, the conversation got me thinking about my childhood home and as I left the gym that day I was reminded that I had heard quite a lot of news lately about Lubbock and, as usual, most of it was odd.

First, for anyone familiar with the area, you’ll probably remember that Lubbock is infamously dry and I don’t mean the climate. I mean the absence of a cold beer on a dry, hot summer’s day. Since, well, forever, Lubbock has been one of the adamant holdouts from Prohibition, refusing to buckle to the Devil’s will and allow the sale of anything alcoholic in its stores. In the 1960’s residents allowed for the sale of alcohol just outside of town and the little Vegas known as “The Strip” opened up on US 87. In the 1970’s, liquor by the drink allowed some restaurants to sell the stuff within the boundaries of the business. Today, just this summer in fact, resident’s have passed a new law allowing for the sale of alcohol in the city’s larger retail stores but, as we all knew would happen, the owners of the stores on the “Strip” have gathered their collective lawyers and sued the city to prohibit (fun word to use here) this action. Who would have thought that a company with a name as docile as “Pinky’s” would one day clench a fist and shake it at the entire city? Nevertheless, have no fear. The young, assistant manager I spoke with at a local supermarket told me that his store should be selling beer and wine by the end of October. “There’s a lawsuit or somethin’,” he stated with a cracked, pre-pubescent drawl. He was very cute defending his store’s potentially, progressive status.

Speaking of lawyers, have you heard about Maria Elena Holly, the widow of Buddy Holly or, as some residents of Lubbock refer to her, Maria Ono? For years the city’s chamber of commerce and other municipal officials have wrangled with Mrs. Holly (it seems that Mrs. Holly changed her name back to the famous moniker after divorcing her second husband) over rights to the artist’s name, image, music and icon. As altruistic or benevolent as the Good Mrs. Holly’s behavior may seem, there is no denying that every time the city of Lubbock (or whomever) creates a “Buddy Holly” boulevard or museum, the widow is merrily getting her cut. From only a couple of hours of research, I found that there have been several instances, over the years, when lawyers from both sides have had to hammer on the righteous wall of copyright until it bent to everyone’s satisfaction. For instance, a decade ago, a festival honoring Holly and the opening of his “museum”, had to undergo a name change from the “Buddy Holly Music Festival” to “Music Crossroads of West Texas Rock and Roll Festival” because the widow Holly could not be pacified with an up front $50K, and subsequent 15% of sales, package.

More recently, 2008, the legendary Peggy Sue’s efforts to publish her memoirs were blocked by the same force of attorneys. Holly’s widow has stated that the book’s publication would be slanderous to both her deceased husband’s name as well as her own. (Evidently, the book suggests that Buddy was planning to leave Maria and pursue Peggy Sue. Maria says, No Way-Peggy Sue says, Uh Huh. Buddy has remained silent on the issue.) However, the book was eventually published. I saw a used, paperback version on Amazon for $143.00. I’m not sure why the cost is so exorbitant but I’ll bet the story is an interesting one.

And, speaking of famous, deceased Lubbock citizens, J.T. Alley, the town’s police chief from 1957 to 1983, passed away this past April. Chief Alley was in charge of the force for much of Lubbock’s more notable history. He oversaw the integration of the force in the 1960’s, was a very vocal opponent of unionization (once even threatening a union representative with police dogs if he didn’t leave the station) and took control of the chaos that was the violence of May 11, 1970 when an F5 tornado chewed through the city in the middle of the night. After the tornado tore the police radio tower out of the ground, chief Alley famously went to a local radio station and made the announcement that looters would be shot on sight. The official word is that there was not a single instance of looting that night or the next day. I remember the night well even though I was all of seven years old. I saw the tornado’s massive “head”, illuminated by the city’s soon to be extinguished lights, swinging over the downtown area a couple of miles away from my bedroom window. That window also, was soon to be destroyed when a neighbor’s trashcan cleared the roof across the street and bulleted its way into my bedroom. I missed that event; I was in the bathtub covered by a mattress. In effect, chief Alley was that protector for the whole city that night. He became, during his tenure, stereotypical, iconic and legendary.

Sitting in a bathtub with a mattress over your head is not too uncommon for a Lubbockite. In fact, a few decades ago when “tornado alley” wound straight through the Panhandle, this was sort of a rite of passage every spring. Nowadays, finding a fellow Lubbock native on the treadmill next to you is about as common an occurrence. We find each other once or twice a year. You’ll see us around the store wearing our Raider ball caps or moaning in the bar’s back room during the annual UT/Tech football game. And, for the record, my wife and I have plans to return this winter to watch the snow fall. It doesn’t do that here in Austin too much.

© Byron Browne
Notes From Over Here September 2, 2009 Column
Byron Browne can be reached at Byron.Browne@gmail.com

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