Editors’ Note: On March 20, 2012, shortly after this story went to press, Texas Parks and Wildlife executive director Carter Smith announced that the department would suspend its policy of lethally removing burros from Big Bend Ranch State Park until the feasibility of non-lethal removal options could be assessed. As an initial step, Parks and Wildlife and the Humane Society of the United States will share the cost of an aerial survey to establish how many burros are currently in the park.
We are on a mission of love. There are no other words to describe it. After a meeting of Southwest Airlines’ Culture Committee, sixteen of us have deployed down a dim, windowless hallway in the company’s inner sanctum at Love Field, in Dallas. I am following a young woman named Jamie Lanham, who is wearing a metallic-pink cowboy hat, a pink tutu, and blue jeans. She is very excited. “Don’t you love this?” she asks.
At seven o’clock in the morning on February 11, 2010, a man drove to the well-heeled community of Bellaire, in the heart of Houston. He turned onto South Third, a quiet street dotted with million-dollar homes built on small lots, and stopped in front of a two-story, five-bedroom stucco house with a swimming pool in the backyard. It was the residence of Jeffrey Stern, a successful personal injury lawyer; his wife, Yvonne; and their fourteen-year-old daughter and twelve-year-old son.
I’d called Ben López about dumping my old water heater for a new one. Since he couldn’t do it, and his uncle Manny Aceves didn’t have time either, Ben gave me the number for Luke’s Construction. I don’t know why it was surprising to me that Ben was buddies with a big white guy like Luke, but that was based only on my dating Ben’s sister, the activist Chicana, years earlier. Ben did air-conditioning, sold weed, and did a little plumbing on the side.
Mary Eula Sears spent her final afternoon painting pictures in the scrubby West Texas plains she had known her whole life. It was November 22, 1981, a crisp fall Sunday, and Sears had driven from Abilene to meet her friend Billie Joe Carmichael in the town of Merkel, seventeen miles away. The two women had a ritual: they would drive the rural back roads until they found something worth rendering, like an old ranch house or a barn built ages ago, when Sears was just a little girl growing up down the road.