December 6, 2000
This is the last welcome sign that I saw before I hit Dallas. It's on I-35 which is the Lone Star State's main north-south artery, connecting Brownsville, San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas/Fort Worth with Oklahoma City, Wichita, Kansas City, and other points north. The bridge over the Red River is not too spectacular, and I think that I must have crossed at low tide, as it seemed only a few yards from bank to bank.
Oddly enough, the first thing that you see when you cross into Texas is a big porno store. There are farm roads that follow I-35 just off to the west, and the welcome sign is about two miles down. It is on the cusp of a sharp left turn and the shoulders aren't that wide, so I had to bypass it. I stopped at the Texas Welcome Center which was about another mile or two down, but you couldn't get from the parking lot to that farm road without offroading it. And being in state only about five minutes, I didn't want to begin my trek this way.
So I continued south, took the next exit, and finally got on that farm road heading north. I pulled off, and then climbed partway up the embankment and took this photo.
One thing that I did notice about Texas is how much the gas prices vary. You could pass a gas station that had regular unleaded for $1.29, and then a mile or two down the road see another one that was charging $1.49.
The winter meetings were held at the Wyndham Anatole Hotel in Dallas, just off of I-35E (Stemmons Freeway) between Wycliff and Oak Tree Avenues. The Anatole is just an immense hotel. But since I represented the absolute bottom of the baseball totem pole (I was a job-seeker, and I don't mean like how ARod was looking for a job), there was no room for us at the inn so they put us up at the Wilson World next door, which was much more standard.
I saw some famous faces down there; I'm not really a schmoozer, so I didn't really talk to many. Among those I saw:
- ESPN's Peter Gammons (about 55 years old, but he walks around like he's 85)
- ESPN's Tim Kurkjian (very short, couldn't be more than 5'5")
- ESPN.com's Jayson Stark (looks like a former college football player more than a baseball columnist)
- Rocky Mountain Press sportswriter Tracy Ringolsby (walked around in public dressed like a cowboy, and it wasn't even Halloween!)
- Yankee broadcaster Michael Kay (about 6'3" or 6'4")
- Dodgers Hall-of-Famer Tommy Lasorda
- Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly (walked around in jeans all weekend)
- Mets PR Director Jay Horwitz
- Braves VP Stan Kasten
- Blue Jays manager Buck Martinez (has an Al-Pacino-like presence)
- Astros manager Larry Dierker (saw him on the jogging track in the hotel's courtyard)
While I was down there one of the guys in our little group was able to score some tickets to the Baseball Winter Meetings Gala at the Ballpark in Arlington, but that's another column.
While in Dallas I hit Dealey Plaza. A word of warning: If you are walking around Dealey Plaza at less than full-city-walk-speed with anything that looks like it might be a camera, people will come out of nowhere telling you little trivia about the JFK assassination, and they don't stop until they pitch whatever they're pitching. I'm not much of a souvenir-buyer, but I bought everything that the people that found me were selling. It made a good Christmas present for my friend Vanya, who's a JFK assassination fan.
As I left Dealey Plaza, with my head down, walking at about full speed (though I did stop to look at a plaque), someone from across the street starts yelling out, "Excuse me, sir, are you planning to go to the museum today?"
"I know you can hear me!"
Yep. I can hear you. And I'm still walking. Funny, isn't it?
December 11, 2000
I arrived in Austin in the thick of the 2000 presidential race.
Which meant, of course, a month after Election Day.
The Texas State Capitol, with the grounds that it occupies on Congress and 11th, is probably the stateliest capitol I have seen. As I have said, West Virginia is on the top of my list for the atmosphere that its capitol grounds created, and I have used that as my benchmark.
Ever fall in the trap when your girlfriend catches your eye wandering, and she demands an answer to the unanswerable question ("Do you think she's pretty?"), and you say, "Yeah, but in a different way"? That's kind of how the statehouse in Austin seemed. It couldn't really compare to Charleston.
The grounds in Austin were huge, occupying perhaps six city blocks. There was very little I saw surrounding it in terms of other buildings. There are some, however; they are connected with the capitol by a series of underground passageways, and all of the auxiliary buildings are either beside or behind the capitol, not in front of it. The statehouse grounds are surrounded by an iron fence, with a little iron star few inches. As you enter the grounds from Congress Street, there is a wide pedestrian plaza made of brick that leads from the street to the South Portico. That is where I posed for this picture.
The dome is actually about seven feet taller than that in Washington, D.C., but it is not unique in that respect. It is the largest state capitol in the United States. The capitol was designed by the same architect that built the capitols in Colorado and Michigan. Though as yet I have not been to Denver, judging by pictures there is a definite resemblance; less so with Michigan's. Construction began on February 1, 1882, and it was completed on December 8, 1888. It sits on the former site of the capitol of the Republic of Texas. Texas is one of three states that used to be a sovereign country, the others being Hawaii and Vermont.
At the end of the plaza is the South Portico. It rises probably more than 50 feet above the ground. I wonder if it is a small design flaw, like that of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City: As you get closer, dome gets more obscured.
Across the street is the Texas Governor's Mansion. Following the "More JimPoz Photos" link below, I have included images of the executive residence, something I have not done for any other state. I felt it necessary considering how much we'd seen of it on TV in the last two months. On the opposite side of the Mansion from the Capitol, the sidewalk was closed to pedestrian traffic and closely guarded by the State Police. That was the location of the gate where every day we saw Governor Bush getting in and out of his Tahoe or Expedition (don't remember which one it was).
The opposite entire sidewalk (and entire sidestreet) was limited as well. This time, by cables and wires all over the place. Television news vans were parked with one or two tires on the curb, associate producers sat in chairs on the sidewalk drinking coffee, and black tape on the pavement marked each station's territory. I stopped for a while and watched a Japanese reporter talk into his camera.
If I was an enterprising sort in the Austin Police Department I'd have been writing a whole buttload of parking tickets.