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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Kickin' in Cowtown

My day job has taken me to Fort Worth, Texas this week - it carries the "Cowtown" nickname due to its roots. The legendary Chisholm Trail, a major north-south route for cattle drives, passed through Fort Worth until some enterprising citizens of the town established the Fort Worth Stockyards - then the drives ended in Fort Worth. The Stockyards converted Fort Worth into "Cowtown," making it a major hub for the cattle industry (also for farming, ranching, meatpacking and railroads).

The community was established as a military encampment by Major Ripley Arnold in 1849, one of ten forts proposed by Willam Jenkins Worth to protect the Caucasian invaders from the indigenous Plains Indians. The original fort didn't have many engagements with the Indians - one skirmish in four years - so it was abandoned by the military. The beginnings of Cowtown blossomed in the wake of the abandoned military venture. Through the years, this town has grown in the shadow of Dallas - it was major training center for soldiers heading overseas to fight in World War I, it became a boomtown and energy center when the Ranger oil field was discovered 90 miles west of town, and it became a major military aviation center during World War II with the expansion of the Carswell Air Force Base and the building of the famed one-mile long Convair bomber plant. Lockheed-Martin still builds fighter jets in that old plant.

There is scads of money in this community - the Bass family, the Hickses, the Muses, and all the rest. The picture at the top of this entry in the Bass Performance Hall, a top-knotch, and over-the-top, musical venue. The two massive angels attached to the front of the building are blowing horns that jut out some 20 feet from the front of the facade - over the sidewalk and into the street. It is an oddly disturbing sight.

Dallas/Fort Worth beats the snot out of the place I visited last week, Orlando. Texans are very interesting people. Yesterday, I visited with a self-made multimillionaire, "CR," who is currently enjoying his "golden years" (I am guessing he is over 80 years old). This gentleman has his company's reins firmly in his grip. Every discussion with this sly old dog becomes a negotiation. CR is one ornery SOB and I mean this as a compliment. I think he could live another 25 years, and I bet he will retire only when his heart stops beating.

Last night, I had dinner with a group of customers, including "PM." I had not met PM prior to last night - he just joined my customer's company. This fella has a major twang, an extreme nicotine habit, and a powerful thirst for intoxicating beverages. He also uses the "F-word" as a verb, a noun, an adjective, an adverb and a general declarative exclamation. He was hilarious and horrible at the same time.

Earlier today, I met with the CEO of a smallish private equity firm. "JW" is a very successful African-American professional, a Baby Boomer who spent most of his career in municipal government (generally as city manager). JW had scads of interesting stories about his time as City Manager of Dallas. He completed lots of projects, and arguably left Dallas much better off than it was when he started. And his dealings with the major money players in the Dallas/Fort Worth area gave him an open door to a lucrative post-government career.

On top of these three delightful folks, I have had many brief encounters with everyday Texans. From the wait staff to the high-roller in his brand new cowboy hat, everyone is turned up a knotch. It is a energetic place.

A note on music - Dallas/Fort Worth has a pretty strong local music scene, with a number of decent blues players. Hash Brown, the guitarist/harmonica player/vocalist,is one of my favorite musicians in Dallas. Here in Fort Worth, the music is mostly country. You hear that ol' country two-step beat coming from most radios and restaurant sound systems. I have nothing against country music - some of the songs knock me out, and I dig Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel, and Merle Haggard - but I will always prefer blues, jazz and funk.


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