December 2009 Issue

On the Cover

Step Right Up

Press your jeans, pull on your boots, shine up your buckle, and come along on this two-stepping tour of classic country dance halls, from Tom Sefcik Hall, in Seaton, to Club Westerner, in Victoria.


The Great White Hope

During his three terms in office, Houston’s Bill White has been one of the most popular big-city mayors in America. Now he’s just the latest in a long line of Texas Democrats trying to win a statewide election. What makes Mayor Bill think he can break a fifteen-year losing streak?


“I was amazed,” Willis says about the first time he spoke with Willingham, in the rec yard. “His case was just like mine.”

Separated At Death

Ernest Willis spent seventeen years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. And he has a few things to say about the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for a strangely similar crime that many experts believe he didn’t commit either.

Sarah Bird

Hedda Garbler

Help! My voice recognition software is making me save airy funnel things witch nobody wonder Stans.


Object Lesson

Red McCombs’s Office Mini-Fridge

The word “retirement” isn’t in Billy Joe “Red” McCombs’s vocabulary. The 82-year-old businessman, whose entrepreneurial ventures have ranged from owning car dealerships and the San Antonio Spurs to co-founding media conglomerate Clear Channel Communications, typically works sixty hours a week, Monday through Saturday, at his office in San Antonio.

Book Review

Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession

Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession will surprise readers who know Austin native Julie Powell only as the winsome novice chef played by Amy Adams in the film version of Julie & Julia, Powell’s near-brilliant first book. Images of that Julie—and of the saltier blogger from

Book Review

Literary Life

As he nears the winter of his Pulitzer- and Oscar-winning career, Larry McMurtry is taking a staid victory lap with a three-volume memoir, which now yields its second installment: Literary Life. At 175 pages, it is a scant look back at forty-plus books and half a century of

How to Barrel Race

HistoryAs with most rodeo events, pinpointing barrel racing’s exact origin is near impossible. “It probably started out as pretty women on fast horses, but now it’s a competitive sport for serious athletes,” says Martha Josey, a world-champion barrel racer, Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Famer, and co-owner of Josey Ranch,

Adam Ohler, Firefighter and Paramedic

Ohler, who was born in New Mexico, worked as an EMT and firefighter in Utah before moving to Houston six years ago. He is stationed at the West University Place Fire Department.I’m not going to lie: I enjoy fighting fire. There’s an adrenaline rush—it’s exhilarating. I hate to say it,

Book Review

Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present

In 2006 Washington Post lifestyle columnist Hank Stuever headed to Frisco (population: roughly 90,000) as a modern explorer seeking the headwaters of the River Xmas, and the result is Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present. Though not against the holiday, he archly notes its nineteeth-century origins and

Artist Interview

Danny Barnes

As an instrumental virtuoso with a wildly curious nature, the 47-year-old songwriter, banjo player, and guitarist is known for genre cross-pollination: He has played bluegrass with Austin band the Bad Livers, jazz with Bill Frisell, and country with Robert Earl Keen. Pizza Box (ATO), Barnes’s first album on a

Music Review

Looking for a Party

It’s East not West Texas that’s known as a blues hotbed, but Long John Hunter (born in 1931 in Louisiana) staked his claim in the hardscrabble juke joints of El Paso and Juárez, most notably the Lobby Bar. Hunter’s raucous thirteen-year, seven-night-a-week tenure there, which began in 1957, is

Music Review

It’s Not As Bad As It Looks

Though he manhandles his guitar like a professional wrestler and sings with the voice of a walrus, Austin’s Jon Dee Graham makes music about human frailty and emotional vulnerability. Graham has endured a lot lately: His son was diagnosed with a debilitating disease, and last year, a car accident

Music Review

Natural Forces

By now the archetypal Texas country-pop of Lyle Lovett rings with such easygoing familiarity that even his new songs sound like old favorites. It’s a testament to how well Lovett inhabits his own skin. And yet while recent years have seen some excellent recordings, a few of them—particularly the

Joan Schenkar

The award-winning dramatist (Signs of Life: Six Comedies of Menace) looks to the Texas roots of novelist Patricia Highsmith to explain the traits and compulsions that informed her life. In The Talented Miss Highsmith, she explores the crime writer’s journals and love letters to reveal a complex and erratic


The Case for Keenum

The University of Houston quarterback leads the nation in passing attempts, completions, and yardage, and he’s tied for the NCAA lead with 38 touchdown passes. But does he have what it takes to win the Heisman?

Web Exclusive

A Beautiful Mind

Terry Stickels is combining his love of puzzles with spreading awareness of Alzheimer’s disease in his new book, The Big Brain Puzzle Book .


Roar of the Crowd

Yes, We Cannabis

Most people would never suspect that I—a 53-year-old retired Navy veteran who is conservative to the core—would support the legalization of marijuana [“Texas High Ways,” October 2009]. However, I do. It has come to the point in the state of Texas where too much time and effort is being wasted

Editor's Letter

Halls Across Texas

The night I got married we danced for hours at the AmVets Post 65, in Marfa. It’s a large building with sheet-metal siding, a beat-up but gracious wooden stage, dramatic wooden rafters, and an Iwo Jima mural between the doors to the lobby. Like a lot of small-town halls,

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