A few minutes after two-thirty on the morning of November 18, the bottom stack of the Texas A&M bonfire began to groan and creak like a door opening in a horror movie. The 18-foot logs, which were wired together so that they stood perpendicular to the ground around the base of a towering center pole, started to lean slowly to the southeast. Above this base rose three more perpendicular stacks, stair-stepped to make the entire 59-foot structure resemble a wedding cake.
Otis Crater was late for the fanciers’ organizational meeting at the Cherokee Lounge for good reason. He had just stabbed a U-Totem attendant following a discussion of the economic impact of a five-cent price increase on a six-pack of beer.
We may never know exactly what was in Lisa Marie Nowak’s heart—what she thought, felt, believed, or dreamed. How desperately she loved or how compulsively she hated. Or why she would do something, entirely of her own free will, that was guaranteed to ruin the extraordinary life she had spent 43 years meticulously crafting. Maybe someday she’ll write a memoir or, sunk in shame and isolation, sell her story to Hollywood and offer up her social and professional suicide for money and another kind of fame.
It is a fine, sunny mid-april morning in South Texas. The weather has been unusually cool and rainy, and the spacious, pool-table-flat wedge of land between the Nueces River and the Mexican border—which the Spanish once called El Desierto de los Muertos—today looks as green as Ireland. I am in a pickup, bouncing through a pasture on the 237,348-acre Norias division of the King Ranch, one of four massive chunks of land that make up the 825,000- acre (1,300-square-mile) spread.
Compared with the glistening two-story mansions that surrounded it, the house looked like something from another time. It was only 2,180 square feet. Its redbrick exterior was crumbling, and its gutters were clogged with leaves. Faded, paint-chipped blinds sagged behind the front windows. Next to the concrete steps leading to the front door, a scraggly banana plant clung to life.
It is easier to understand the destruction of a human body than the destruction of a city. To fully comprehend a town in ruins, you need a before-and- after shot, some solid reference to what was once there. Or at least a tour guide, someone to walk you through the remains of a neighborhood and tell you how tall the buildings used to be, who lived there, where they worked, and where their kids played.
Unlike so many people who have become part of the Dallas narrative, Robert J. Groden doesn’t radiate the aura of a winner. He is a paunchy 67-year-old nebbish who drives a PT Cruiser and loves dining at Red Lobster. He is tall, but he slouches. His color isn’t good, probably because, by his account, he suffers from three kinds of heart disease. His shaggy hair, doleful eyes, and chronic wince give him the mien of a man locked in a perpetual if not entirely painful state of mourning, which actually happens to be the case.
One afternoon in early September, I pulled up to the gates of a nine-acre estate in North Dallas. I waited for them to open, then drove down a long, curving lane to a 15,254-square-foot mansion that looked like a country home for England’s royal family. I rang the doorbell, and a voice over the intercom said, “Please, come in.” But when I opened the door, there was no one to greet me.
With the decline and fall of Lance Armstrong, Texas is on the hunt for a new athletic darling. And the state just might have found that in two preteen sisters from Alvin who hold pace with—and beat—adults on the endurance running circuit. Kaytlynn and Heather Welsch, twelve and ten respectively, together have competed in more than 160 endurance races in the last two years.
In July 2011, more than five thousand miles east of Waco, an assistant designer at the Hermès silk factory, in Lyon, France, unfurled a ninety-by-ninety-centimeter square of the company’s famous silk twill.