I live in the Texas Panhandle.

As you may be aware, the Panhandle has been in the news a lot lately, for a series of devestating wildfires that have consumed over 100,000 acres of land. Life here has been pretty strange, lately. My Mother-in-Law’s farm and ranch survived, but they lost some crops and some livestock. The problem? Rain, or to be more specific the lack of it. According to the National Weather Service, we’ve had less than an inch of rain since November of ’05. That puts us squarely in the “draught” category. Not good. Here’s the weird thing, though. Up here, while the fires are headline news, there’s a sense that this is all just part of life in the Panhandle. Weird.

Life up here is…erm…different. Amarillo sits atop a caprock. If you were going to use one word to describe the main weather conditions here, it would be “windy.” It’s just about always windy in Amarillo. When I first moved here, I discovered that “windy” can’t always be equated to “fresh breeze,” or “breath of fresh air.” No sir. When the wind blows from a certain direction, you learn quickly that the smell of cattle feed lots is not what you want, caressing your nasal passages, day or night. The natives say it “smells like money.” I went for days thinking I was smelling something I’d stepped in, inadvertently.

Then there’s the rain. Recently, as I said, we’ve been going through a drought. This will change. I’m sure, when you have weather that seems to do nothing by halves, we’ll have a monsoon season Really Soon Now. In the couple of years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen wildfires that engulf entire sections of land, hail the size of bricks that have gone through the sheet metal roof of a minivan, dust storms that turn the air dark brown (with a visibility of about 4 feet), and a snowstorm in May (my personal favorite). Calling the weather here “unpredictable” is like saying “the last time it rained like this, Noah built a boat.” Gross understatement.

So with that preamble, it was with a certain sense of ironic bemusement that I tuned into the weather last night on the 10 o’clock news. One of the local channels has what they quaintly refer to as their “Rain Gauage Shootout.” For the uniformed, that’s a come-on where you send in your name to the TV station on a postcard, and once per night they draw a name and send you a rain guage, branded with the name of the TV station and the sponsor.

A rain guage.

I’m NOT making this up.

Now of course, lately you could use a small square of toilet paper as your rain guage.

“Please check the rain guage, dear….paper still dry?”


“Hmm. No rain.”

Yes, percip fans, a rain guage in the Panhandle is about as useful lately as, well…snow chains in Florida. Or a sailboat in the Sahara. Yet, the TV station gives one away each night on the news. I mean, what’s the attraction? Isn’t that just like rubbing our noses in it? Of course, this from the same local media that calls it the “Amarillo Metroplex.” Uh. Yeah. Right. The concept of a “rush hour” here is as foreign as a real strong Vegan Party at the polls. Here’s a comparison. Last place I worked in Dallas, I lived about 10 miles from the office. Took me between 20 and 45 minutes to drive to or from work, depending on the time of day. When I first moved here, I lived at the south end of town, and worked downtown. Took an Interstate highway to work. Lots of big rigs on the road, 14-7. It never took me more than 10 minutes to drive to work. NEVER. Not even if there was a wreck on they highway. And I never drove more than 60 MPH. I crack up when they say things like “metroplex, ” “the loop” and “rush hour” on the evening news. I come from Dallas, where driving is a full-contact sport. Where if you give an inch, you give up your lane. Where if you don’t have enough horsepower to go from zero to 60 in about 5 seconds, you need not apply to run up and down Central Expressway. Rush hour. Feh!

Names are weird here, too. When I first met my wife, we both lived in Dallas. One weekend, I asked her, “are we going out, Saturday?”

She replied “No. I’m going to visit my Mother in Pampa.”

“Don’t you mean ‘Tampa’?”

“No, Pampa.”

I thought for a moment. “So…where is ‘Pampa’?”

“It’s in the Panhandle. Near My-am-UH.”

“Don’t you mean ‘MiaME’?”

“No. MiamUH.”

“…um…where in the HELL are you talking about?!”

“In the Texas Panhandle.”

Later, after we were married. I found out that Pampa is spelled P-A-M-P-A, and pronounced as if it rhymes with “Tampa,” as in Florida. However, the nearest town to Pampa is spelled M-I-A-M-I, but pronounced “My-am-uh.” I asked, “If you’re going to spell it like Miami, Florida, but pronounce it “My-am-UH,” shouldn’t you call “Pampa” “PamPEE”?

She was not amused.

Suffice it to say that life is a little strange here for this city boy. No Frys. No CompUSA. No embarassment of riches in the unique little, one-of-a-kind restaurant department. Two multiplex movie theatres. One drive-in. One mall-based discount movie theatre. One mall. (!) Not a lot of theatre, concerts, et cetera. In short, you have to make your own fun. Still, I’m here willingly. Not because I want to live in Amarillo. Mind you, the people are very friendly here. VERY friendly. And there is Palo Duro Canyon, one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen. But for a city boy, there’s not much to hold me here, except that this is where my wife and daughter are, and since my wife wants to live here, this is where I’ll be. At least until we’re all blown to Oklahoma.

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