A Cowboy in Canada

June 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

Russell Schulte wrangles his way through Calgary

As Texans, we’re about cowboys, cattle, and oil; it’s crucial we have the attitude of a bull and the pride of a rib-eye steak. Coincidentally, the same down-home bravado exists in Alberta, Canada and I was lucky enough to experience it first hand. Located in on the Canadian Rockies just north of Montana, the province is known for it large size, reliance on oil, plethora of cattle, and world-famous rodeo, just like Houston. With the Houston rodeo long gone and the heat of July setting in, I headed north to the world’s largest assembly of cowboys and cowgirls—the Calgary Stampede.

Calgary StampedeAfter a direct flight from Houston, I checked into the sumptuous Hotel Arts in the heart of the city. This boutique hotel is located downtown; it’s moments away from shopping, the theatre, and a bevy of restaurants. Our lavish room was decked-out with upscale furnishing, contemporary décor, 42˝ plasma screens, and an indulgent pillow-top mattress. Within walking distance to the Calgary Stampede, the hotel was the perfect home base for my wrangler adventures.

Like a tried and true Texan, my first quest was to find a warm, buttery, melt-in-my-mouth steak. Alberta has over 3 million head of cattle and is famous for high-quality beef. I decided on the highly recommended Vintage Chophouse and Tavern. During the short walk from the hotel to the restaurant, I couldn’t help but notice all the people in downtown Calgary sporting white cowboy hats; I felt right at home. Calgary not only has a Go Texan day, but the entire city dresses in western attire throughout the Stampede. There’s something special about eating a delicious steak surrounded by cowboy boots and cowboy hats while visiting our northern neighbor.

The next morning I scoured the city to find the hot spots Albertans go to get outfitted in official Canadian western attire. While the signature hat for the Calgary Stampede is a white Stetson made in Texas, my pick was the Canadian-made Smithbuilt hat—a fitting pick considering I was in Canada. Every mayor of Calgary has presented a Smithbuilt hat to visiting politicians, celebrities, and athletes since World War II. Donning my new hat, it was time for a fresh pair of cowboy boots. When looking for boots in Canada there is no better choice than the company tapped to outfit the Royal Canadian Mounted Police—The Alberta Boot Company. Their boots have graced the feet of royalty, movie stars, athletes, and now, this Texas cowboy.

Dressed in my new attire, I headed downtown where country music was echoing through the streets. I followed my ears to a live band playing at Buzzards Cowboy Cuisine, the perfect place to grab some grub. There was a hearty barbecue buffet, but the real cowboy treat was a spread of Rocky Mountain Oysters. It was Texas all over again when the crowd at Buzzards hit the dance floor for the two-step. I fit right in making my rounds among the friendly people of Calgary. Dance partners to do-si-do with were plentiful.

The next day started off with a free citywide breakfast of flapjacks and sausage. What’s more inviting and more Texan than free food? The entire city is invited to breakfasts held in various locations throughout the city. I looked around at the sponsors and noticed familiar oil companies with sites in Calgary and Houston. After breakfast, I hoped aboard a wagon drawn by a team of horses and headed to the main attraction, the Calgary Stampede.

Unlike the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the Calgary Stampede is comprised of three events each day—a rodeo, a concert, and the chuckwagon races. Bob Tallman, the same announcer for Houston’s show, announced the rodeo. After the rodeo, the stadium is reconfigured for the Evening Show. The show begins with a rocking musical performance by The Young Canadians, a group of kids who work all year to put on musical theater performance. The show ends with a God-Bless-America-worthy fireworks display to usher in the main event of the Stampede, the chuckwagon races. The excitement of the chuckwagon races should be on every Texan’s to-do list. Riders saddle up on top of horses and race their wagons along a figure-eight track spanning longer than a mile. Yee-haw!

If you’re feeling post-rodeo depression after our Livestock Show and Rodeo is over, head to Calgary this summer. It’s the perfect place to escape Houston’s summer heat, gorge on a gorgeous steak, and fit right in with the cowboys. After all, what’s better than Texas? Nothing. But, the closet thing I’ve ever seen is the Calgary Stampede in Canada.

Ike Lawyers

June 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Edit

By Leah Faye Cooper

Every month, we write checks to insurance companies “just in case” – just in case we get in a car accident on the way to work, or set the house ablaze while frying the Thanksgiving turkey. And though some of us amped up our insurance policies after Hurricane Katrina, the thought of ever really needing our insurance wasn’t we lost sleep over. Fast forward to post Hurricane Ike, and losing sleep is the least of our worries – it’s the loss of roofs, cars and other possessions that have us troubled. But thankfully, we’re covered. Here’s where those monthly payments come to our rescue, right? Not necessarily. For many of us, recovering what we lost in the storm is less promising than PETA hosting a dinner at Vic&Anthonys. We thought we could turn to our insurance agency; instead, we’re turning to the law.
“A lot of companies are trying to avoid responsibility and aren’t honoring the terms of their policies,” Houston attorney Michael Josephson says. “They’re shortchanging customers left and right when it comes to paying for house repairs or compensating them for lost or damaged personal property. Lawyers see this on a regular basis, but it’s not something the everyday homeowner thinks about until it affects them.”
The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA), the state’s insurer of last resort, has been a go-to group for homeowners who can’t find adequate coverage elsewhere. However, shortly after Ike hit, TWIA announced they wouldn’t pay for storm surge damage; they consider surges floods. Most insurance companies follow similar policies, leaving homeowners waist deep in distress.
“People assume they just have to make a claim and they’ll automatically get their money, but that’s rarely the case,” Josephson says. Flooding is extremely damaging and rarely covered by insurance policies.
All insurance companies must abide by the Texas Insurance Code, a set of guidelines that help ensure fair insurance practices. Though many individuals try to pursue their claim alone, it’s advisable to hire a lawyer at the first sign of wrongdoing on behalf of an insurance company. The sooner you get legal advice under the Insurance Code, the better chance you have of getting fair and faster treatment from your insurer. Lawyers who specialize in settling insurance claims are well versed in the code and will likely recognize infractions you’re unaware of.
An insurance company should take legal action very seriously and in some instances, will present your case to multiple claims adjusters hoping to resolve the issue without going to court.
According to State Farm spokesperson Kevin Davis, the insurance company has handled over 102,000 claims from Hurricane Ike and paid out over $900 million to date. “Every claim is different so some require more attention than others,” Davis says, “but our goal is always to help our policyholders recover their losses – especially after something like Hurricane Ike. The Texas Department of Insurance tracks policyholders’ complaints and deems whether or not they’re justified. Of the thousands of complaints against State Farm, only 37 have been labeled justified and the company has extensively addressed each one.
Conversely, some companies often have a vested interest in dragging out the process, even if they know they’ll eventually have to pay a claim.
“They’ll postpone making payments for as long as possible because they lose money when they have to answer these claims,” Josephson says. “The longer it takes to resolve the dispute, the more time they have to come up with the money they owe.” In addition, some companies anticipate individuals will become increasingly frustrated and simply give up.
While there are many situations when a lawyer can help strengthen your claim, in some instances, insurance companies are well within their rights to refuse it, or compensate you for less than you anticipated. Homeowners should also be aware of rising deductibles. After filing claims for damage accrued from Ike, many homeowners were shocked to find that unbeknownst them, their deductibles had recently increased. Still, there is no harm in contacting a lawyer. If your agent didn’t sell you the right insurance or evaluate your needs and risks properly, they may be liable for covering part or all of your losses. “There are times when people will go to a lawyer with a claim that isn’t covered by their policy, but they can usually get some assistance, whether it’s guidance through the claims process, or closure to months of battling with an insurance company.”

Post Time Why Houston should still be a two newspaper town

June 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

The HOUSTON POST—the newspaper’s old home at the Southwest Freeway and the West Loop is still standing strong—a magnificent structure from the outside. But inside the front towers, all the interior walls are gone. There are only naked concrete ceilings and concrete floors (something about asbestos), torn window blinds and large air pipes stacked about, an echoing hangar covered with dust. The printing presses still run, printing the current owners product, the Houston Chronicle. But if I close my eyes and open my memory I can still see it as it was. This is the third floor, the city room, where inked-stained wretches hammered away at their typewriters (and later computers) delivering only truth, beauty, and their own biases to Houston. Photographers raced in and out, TV sets flickered, and phones rang among busy people on deadlines. The life of a newspaper city room has often been portrayed in movies and on TV as a tense, exciting, meaningful place. It was really much better than that. Here in the front northeast section was my office and the rest of the editorial/opinion section, a newspaper’s heart and soul, though many detractors called us other parts of the anatomy. This is where I worked from 1985, when the Canadians bought the paper, until the end in 1995. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows, I could view my domain of billboards from the east to the west. The high and mighty came through our conference room to explain that we were a bunch of commie idiots and, by the way, would we please endorse them in the next election? The ed/op staffs’ desks were always piled high with reading stuff; they read everything, and were unquestionably the brightest minds in Houston. Now the desks are gone. So is my lovely office—the Canadians spared no expense. The change in office decorations began for me on the morning of April 18, 1995, when I arrived tardy to an emergency executive meeting and found the Post out of business. Armed guards watched over the staff as we vacated the building with our belongings. We were warned that guards were also at the Houston Chronicle, so don’t go there looking for jobs. An article in the next day’s Chron gave the same warning, but didn’t mention the guards. A few days later I went back to the paper to see if I could sift through the mail and pick up my letters, including a check for $1,400. I was not let through the door. Ever since the folding, it’s been rumored the Post went bankrupt. Unless our owner, Dean Singleton, was cooking the books, we had made $10 million the year before and posted a profit 12 of the 15 preceding months. We didn’t have to close. So Hearst, the Chronicle’s New York-based owner, has always been careful to say it bought the “assets” of The Post. To have purchased the competition and closed it might have raised questions with the Justice Department. A lot of newspapers run a last edition, their own obit, when they cease operations whereby the staff bids farewell to its readers. Singleton said such a gesture would be “useless.” At its demise, The Post was 111 years old, but we traced our heritage back to the 1830s and the Telegraph and Texas Register in San Felipe. In our library I could read old microfilm copies of the paper’s news, ads, and legal notices sprinkled with names like James Bonham, Stephen F. Austin, and William Barrett Travis, who wrote a letter to the editor ending with, “God and Texas—Victory or Death!!” The paper ran the Texas Declaration of Independence, news of the fall of the Alamo, and reported Col. William Fannin and his men were ready to face Santa Anna at Goliad. As Sam Houston’s army passed through San Felipe just ahead of Santa Anna’s army, the publishers, Gail and Thomas Borden, loaded their presses on ox carts, joined the retreat and eventually had to dump them into Buffalo Bayou. The April 14th issue of the paper was still inside the presses when it was dumped. The move caused the Bordens to miss reporting on the Battle of San Jacinto one week later. Over the years the paper ran the good, the bad, and the Pulitzer. (The Chronicle remains the largest-circulation newspaper in America never to have won a Pulitzer; but it hired a winner, cartoonist Nick Anderson.) Like so many newspapers, the Post went through owners, names, and failures. It was variously called the Houston Post-Dispatch, the Daily Post, and the Houston Chronicle. One owner, Rienzi Johnston, went by the title “Colonel” although it seems he never got higher than drummer boy in the Confederate Army. When another owner, Julius Watson, died at the age of 38 of tuberculosis, he left the paper to his six-year-old son, Roy. A.C. Green lost the paper and turned the assets over to the employees only to see it fail completely in 1880. By then, 16 Houston papers had already been financial failures. Managing editor Marcellus E. Foster had a falling out with the publisher and resigned. He started the Houston Chronicle in 1901. William and Oveta Hobby were running the Post before they bought the paper in 1939 from Jesse Jones, who also owned the Chronicle. Jones thought it wrong for both major newspapers to be under one owner. Post columnist William Sydney Porter eventually went to prison and there changed his name to O. Henry. Then there was William Cowper Brann, who later wrote, “In the year of our Lord, 1891, I became pregnant with an idea. Being at the time chief editorial writer on the Houston Post, I felt dreadfully mortified, as nothing of the kind had ever before occurred in that eminently moral establishment.” An irate reader shot Brann dead in Waco. Walter Cronkite got his start as the Post’s correspondent at The University of Texas, and for years the Post had a paperboy in Alvin who could plop the paper right on the doorstep—Nolan Ryan. But there is a footnote to this story: Several years after the demise of the paper, an organization came to me and asked if I’d like to be its executive director. Sounded interesting, but then the water boarding began. I sat through an intense, two-hour interview with the entire board of directors, then was asked to write a lengthy essay so a handwriting expert could check my warped and possibly lethal inner being. Afterwards, I heard nothing. Since they had approached me, I called to inquire. “Sorry. We hired someone else.” OK, no big deal, although it was a rather strange way to operate. End of story, until last year at a gathering, a gentleman introduced himself and noted he had been on that interview panel. “After that meeting, we got a call from the Hearst people,” he said. “They warned if we hired you, they’d never give us another dime.” As he walked away, he turned and said, “Come to think of it, they still didn’t give us any money.” Today, the Post is no more, only a collection of dusty concrete and departed souls. Houston is left with the sound of only one tongue flapping.