- An unidentified criminal robbed the same Dallas sub shop four times in two months.
- Nearly four hundred fish died at the Texas State Aquarium, in Corpus Christi, when workers inadvertently added the wrong chemical to the water.
- A Grand Prairie man was jailed for two nights after failing to pay fines he incurred for not maintaining his lawn.
In February, Texas A&M University announced that Alyssa Michalke, a twenty-year-old junior from Schulenburg, would become the first female commander of the corps of cadets in the school’s 139-year history. The significance of her appointment can’t be overstated. After the corps first accepted female members, in 1974, the women were often insulted, even physically abused. Recently, the corps has drawn more women to leadership positions, and Michalke’s appointment turns a page in the corps’ history book.
Jordan Spieth Returns to Dallas (May 21–31)
Fresh off his triumph at the Masters, the world’s hottest golfer returns to his native Metroplex for Fort Worth’s Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial and the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship, in Irving. Spieth has performed well in Texas, recently taking second in Houston and San Antonio tournaments; fans who want to watch him chase another PGA win should practice yelling “Get in the hole!” now.
“Brenham is an orderly place,” my friend Molly told me. She had moved there from Houston a few years ago and was settling into life in what is arguably Texas’s best-loved small town. She gave me the grand tour on a perfect late spring day when the sky was a cloudless blue and the April air was cool, crisp, and pristine.
It is a town built by thrifty, modest German immigrants. The Victorian and Craftsman cottages had been restored with restraint. Flower gardens thrived without the benefit of professional landscapers, and the rainy winter had left the lawns and wild grasses in the fields beyond an almost otherworldly green. Children roamed the oak-shaded parks, joyously free of adult supervision. The clean, broad streets were devoid of big-city blights like hungry strays, impassable traffic, and people yelling into their cellphones.
In fact, Brenham, with a population of around 16,000, peddles nostalgia better than just about any other small town I know. Molly and I wandered around the “Historic Downtown”—caps theirs—poking through Texas ephemera in the antiques stores and visiting the farmers’ market housed in a restored old warehouse; the locally grown produce and homemade jams were set off nicely by dark-wood floorboards and sunlight filtered through old glass panes. We stopped for salads at the Funky Art Cafe, which was suitably so, and peeked in on the homemade pies at Must Be Heaven, which describes itself as a place where “everything from the hand-painted decor to the old-time atmosphere makes everyone slow down and enjoy the day.” Then we headed out to the airport to check out the Southern Flyer Diner, which boasts Brenham’s best burgers and waitresses who dress in fifties ensembles, including but not limited to poodle skirts. Everyone we met seemed really glad to see us—maybe a little more so than usual, even for a small town.
The reason for that eagerness became all too apparent when we pulled into the hulking complex better known as “The Little Creamery in Brenham,” the home of Blue Bell, indisputably the makers of the best-known ice cream in the state. The town and the company have a symbiotic relationship, both capitalizing on the safe, sweet, old-timey identity of the other. You can, for instance, take Blue Bell Road around town, and you can swim at the Blue Bell Aquatic Center. Locals have benefited enormously and routinely from the company’s largesse in scholarships, charitable donations, and the like. But the day we drove up, the visitors parking lot, normally jammed, was empty, a paper notice taped on the door delivering the sad news that all tours had been canceled indefinitely.
For the first time in its 108-year history, Blue Bell—and, in turn, Brenham—is in crisis. A super-nasty bacteria known as Listeria monocytogenes was found in a few Blue Bell products. Five hospital patients in Kansas had been infected with the listeria bacteria, three of whom died. The outbreak now consists of ten confirmed cases in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arizona. A partial recall led to a full-on recall, and now there are no more half gallons of Homemade Vanilla, Rocky Road, Blueberry Cheesecake, Homemade in the Shade, Southern Peach Cobbler, or Tin Roof to be had in the near future. While locals and desperate fans in Texas and beyond worry over the future of the Little Creamery—the third-largest ice cream maker in the country, one that employs almost four thousand people and brings in around $900 million in sales—plaintiff’s lawyers have already begun to circle. Residents of Brenham have responded by dotting their yards with “God Bless Blue Bell” signs and attending prayer vigils (“It has grieved our hearts that our beloved product … could ever become a source of harm to anyone”). The freezer compartments at local convenience stores remain empty and forlorn, because no Brenham retailer would dream of substituting any other ice cream for Blue Bell.
The entrance to the creamery was open and so was the store, so we pushed on past the lobby photographs of Texas’s most famous baseball coaches. (“Families and sports—that’s what matters in Brenham,” Molly pointed out.) We climbed up the wide staircase and stepped into an empty version of an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, decorated with marble-topped tables, wrought-iron chairs, stained-glass hanging lamps, and large guest sinks for proper hand washing. Our footsteps echoed on the tile floor. No one was scooping ice cream for the multitudes, and the pyramids of display containers in the familiar rainbow—lavender, mint-green, vermilion, caramel—stood at attention, like soldiers on a futile training exercise. A solitary employee bustled past us but seemed eager to talk when we stopped her. Yes, she said, things were looking up. Yes, she expected the products to be back on line within a month. “June,” she said hopefully and then pushed on, disappearing down the steps, a Blue Bell version of Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit.
The store, in contrast, showed definite signs of life. It was full of merchandise, a cross between an airport souvenir shop and a down-home boutique, with gentle lighting and displays inside homey wooden crates. From one saleswoman’s account, the store was doing a good business, particularly among avid Blue Bell supporters. One Houston company had purchased 130 T-shirts to help out. There were nightgowns decorated with dairy cows and the phrase “I’m Moooody in the morning.” T-shirts adorned with an ice cream crank and “I get cranky without my Blue Bell.” There were old-fashioned ice cream sundae glasses and cookbooks with treasured Washington County recipes. There were scoops, mugs, lacy hoodies, bumper stickers, coasters, wallets, gimme caps, and just about anything else you could stamp with the company logo, that charming silhouette of the little girl in a sun hat leading a milk cow somewhere, well, nice. “They’ve thought of everything,” I heard a customer say in awe.
Everything, I thought, except what can happen when the reality of the business world busts in on a deeply held dream of the past.
“Lightning killed near Blossom, Tex., a mule and cow at the same time. They were a mile apart.”—Jefferson Jimplecute, May 1, 1908
Earyl this year, The Daily Show posted a rapid-fire video montage titled “50 Fox News Lies in 6 Seconds.” Such montages, usually riffing on the day’s news, are a staple of The Daily Show and its offshoots, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver and the late, lamented Colbert Report. Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, and Dr. Oz are just a few of the famous figures who have been savaged by these shows’ full-frontal video-clip assaults.
A newly installed nacho-cheese-melting machine at Round Rock’s Dell Diamond burst into flames the night before opening day. Though no one was injured in the conflagration, it did $200,000 worth of damage to the stadium’s eatery, the Nolan Ryan Fireball Express Grill.
In the way to meet Iliza Shlesinger at a cafe in Los Angeles’s Hancock Park neighborhood, I pass a fourteen-foot-tall version of the comedian. Freezing Hot, the billboard announces to everyone driving down South La Brea Avenue. That oxymoron, the title of Shlesinger’s recent Netflix special, is also a neat description of her comic style, which mates icy reserve with feverish belligerence.
Texas politicians have never been strangers to presidential ambition. Sam Houston ran for the White House twice, and in the decades that followed he was joined in the losers’ circle by such figures as Governor Edmund Davis and U.S. Speaker of the House John Nance Garner. The first Texan to make it to the White House, of course, was Lyndon Johnson. (Ike doesn’t count.) Perhaps inspired by his example, such figures as Lloyd Bentsen, John Connally, and two different George Bushes have thrown their hats in the ring.