I had lunch with the former publisher of LareDOS on August 28. I got up to speed with what has happened in the year since she retired from writing.
The anniversary of closing the Journal of the Borderlands:
I closed LareDOS in September of last year. It had been a 20-year haul and I felt it was time to close the door on something that was never really profitable. Of course it brought me a lot of pleasure because I love to write; I love to write stories that matter and that were germane to this town of ours. But the time had come, I think, to undertake other things. I wasn't in bad health when I closed it but I was extremely exhausted. And then as it turned out, in December of the same year, just a few months later, I was diagnosed with cancer, and that has pretty much occupied my time. Getting through the cancer since then, it's been a real journey of sorts, unlike any I've ever taken. And in many aspects it's been a very positive, meaningful journey. I'm learning a lot of things I didn't know before, a lot of things I'd like to put to good use. I know what I'm made of now; there's definitely meddle in there, and resiliency. And I can't wait to get well enough to use my new tools that I've acquired over the last 8 or 9 months.
The journey of cancer:
The first hurdle was understanding that not everything was in my hands. and certainly doctors had a large role in what would happen to me. Having established relationships with doctors it made me feel like my best interest were their best interests, and that did happen and it was a meaningful thing for me to acquire that kind of medical help, to help myself to that kind of medical help. There were other parts of the journey that had to do with faith; That was really important. Another part of the journey was understanding who your friends were, in this case, those people who had unflagging commitment to - and by friends I mean members of my family as well - unflagging commitment to: when I got to the doctor, if I got there on time, what day my next appointment was, how I was going to feel after the chemo treatments. The first couple of chemo treatments are almost a piece of cake; you think, oh well, this is nothing. I'm still Tarzan's mother, I can still do this. But then around the third one it really kicks in, it starts adding up in your system. And you become increasingly fatigued. And it takes a toll on different parts of your body, such as your feet and things you take for granted. I mean, your feet always work, right? And then all of a sudden, they don't work as well. We all take feeling well for granted, I think to a large part, and then all of a sudden you don't and that's a really big surprise, especially if you've never been ill.
But the reason for closing the paper was just understanding that the model I was using to publish an independent news journal in Laredo wasn't working out. It had no economic feasibility for me. The paper had never taken care of me the way I had taken care of the paper. No 401K, no savings for retirement, that kind of stuff. So it just became clear to me that at some point it had to stop and this seemed like a good place. And I never got a chance to find out what the new normal was going to be after the paper closed. I was looking forward to so many things: fishing, being at the ranch, more time with the grandkids. But pretty quickly, by December the 8th, my life changed again with the diagnosis and my life took another sendero, another path.
Meg the fearless (in my opinion):
The fearlessness that I'm reputed to have had while running LareDOS escaped me on the day of my diagnosis. I had great fear, great trepidation. I was alone when I was given the diagnosis and that was almost unbearable -- to find out what the results were of the biopsy, hoping against hope that everything was well. But it wasn't. I don't know if I was fearless when I published LareDOS; I have no idea if I was or not. I have no idea if I acted fearlessly in this cancer process but you muster all kinds of things to cope, and to deal with things. And as I was telling you earlier, the invasion on your body, of surgery, and needle pokes in your arms, IVs and transfusions, and the place where they place the port in your chest for the chemo to go in -- all those assaults on your body, you don't have time to think, they come one right after the other. So you're not really thinking: oh I can't really bear this, or this isn't going to happen. You do whatever you're being told to do. And as it turns out I hope it's to a good end. We finished the chemo and we're waiting for final prognosis and hope that it all went well.
Things look positive but the final word will come after this last CAT scan. I think that will be able to tell us if we're out of the woods for a while. And no cancer doctor ever tells you, you're well now, you're going to be well forever. The best they'll tell you, if your lucky, is you just bought yourself five years of remission. And if you take very good care of yourself , you'll be alright. Now, the changes in my life as a result of the diagnosis were wholesale. They had to do with everything I ate, how much water I drank, wheat grass juice, eating only the cleanest of foods. I was able to exercise really well for the first three months, and then the chemo dominated what would happen as far as how well I was going to walk or how well I could exercise. Chemotherapy brings with it something that people call chemo fog or chemo brain. It just dominates your thought processes . I don't mean, it's always on your mind, I mean it dictates how clearly you're going to think, what you're going to be able to get through. Somehow I've still been able to write, sometimes I think a little bit better than I used to write, because my heart is somewhere else now; it's not where it was when I was roasting and toasting politicians.
Still writing, still present:
I've had the urge to comment on local politics. What I haven't had is the energy to stir up the kinds of documents you need to write a good story. So, while i'm interested, it's sort of from a distance. My priority really, even though I'm interested in what happened in Rio Bravo with the water plant, and I'm mystified by the not-guilty verdict of Mr. Amaya, I don't have the energy to jump into stories like that right now. I do come across on my computer some of the really great stories that we ran in LareDOS about what was happening in the environment, and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to have written stories like that. I don't know that I will ever again write stories with that much of me in them because at this point, really, I'm just trying to resurface from this process , this huge chemical process that I've undergone in the last nine months.
I'm very much interested in what happens in our town and many times I've missed not being at the epicenter where I could write about it. But for the moment that's not possible.
Opinion on local matters:
Outrage never leaves you if you have a political conscious. I've been outraged many times. It's another thing to muster the energy. I have to say my focus is really different now. For a change, my focus has been my own welfare.
Johnny Amaya and the water plant:
I think this went on for so long, the negligence, and thats what is at heart here: the kind of negligence that could kill people if you don't follow the kinds of rules put forth by the governing agencies. The focus shifts also to all the years that he was involved with the water system there in Rio Bravo. What about the commissioner from that district? What about all the other commissioners? What about the sitting county judge from that time, the judge before this one? They all knew there was a terrible problem in Rio Bravo but they all chose not to deal with it. Whether they believed those people didn't matter - which is kind of what it boils down to - you couldn't have gotten away with that had you had that problem in north Laredo: with filthy water, telling people they had to boil their water on a daily basis, or that contact with their water was dangerous. That wouldn't have flown at all in the north. So I think where the finger points, it points at the whole system of county commissioners and the judge at that time. And we all know Mr. Amaya had great political utility; He was a vote harvester and a fundraiser.
He was a great use to other elected officials. But for that to be an excuse to be negligent, I mean, they were all negligent
County Auditor being exiled from Commissioners Court:
I've always gotten along with Leo Flores. He's always been forthcoming when I've made open records requests, sometimes even before the requests came to my desk. He was always forthcoming with information. I felt like he was a good watchdog of the public money. The way it looks from the outside is that he stepped on some very big toes, or he offended somebody in some way, and now it's coming back to bite him. I always thought he was a rather good public servant.
I think one of the most egregious things about these types of accusations is when you drag it on. The longer you drag it on, the more he appears guilty in the public eye. I think they should just come forward; I think they should just hurry up and give him his day in court or exonerate him.
One of the most progressive things that I've seen happen downtown is that somebody now cares about the four blocks that approach international bridge 2, that will be upgraded to reflect better on the city. It won't be such an eyesore. And maybe it will be a more welcoming place for visitors. Beyond that it sounds like the members of the American Institute of Architects, that have been on this project with the city, they have great plans to make this be sort of a showcase, a bit of a historical venue that gives a nod to parts of the El Azteca that were torn out to build that bridge and that approach. It'll be a nod to the escuella 'marilla, the historic escuela 'marilla, and la plaza de la noria, which was there at that time. To me that is a bit of progress, for us, that we care about things like that. And certainly the farmers market downtown, I think, has been a real positive thing for the City of Laredo. It says something about the city.
Grand designs of art for downtown:
It's a start. Certainly they'll have to clear all kinds of hurdles with the city: how much can be spent on things like that, where the money will come from. But I think it was a great start. And I was very taken by the commitment of those architects that work pro bono, to host these events, to get input. I was taken by the number of citizens that showed up to give input; that was real important. So I think what you may have seen as grande or grandiose -- and I've heard that from other people too: too modern, not in keeping with the historical theme -- I think those things will come about in the best way possible with a lot of public input, and certainly with the city as the balance for what it wants to look like and be like.
The future for downtown:
I think there's already so much in place downtown with private investment in old historical properties. I think it's just a matter of connecting the dots, place to place, from the Webb County Heritage Foundation, to the museums, to La Posada, to San Agustin Cathedral, Plaza Theater, Plaza Hotel. All those places are beautiful within blocks of each other; we just need to fill in what's in there.
And I wanted to go back to the four-block area. In essence, whatever you think of the prototype of the monuments that the architects came up with , the heart of it is going to be the nod to history. Maybe it will be statues, maybe it will be a walkway that portrays important things of our history, xeriscape landscape, conservation of water. I mean, all those features will be part of that. So regardless of what we think of the first drawings for the features, the monuments and the plazas, those other elements are really critical
Connecting the dots:
For now, neither the city nor the county have jumped in to revitalization in a large way. If you read between the lines, will is lacking. There is no will to really put some muscle into saving downtown. Actually, saving it is the wrong word to use. So much of downtown is intact; the beautiful buildings are still there, they just need to be put to good use and re-purposed. Someone needs to believe that there's viability in downtown. But neither the city nor the county have had the will to do that. I think a real huge example of what neglect can do when you really don't care about the history of your town, or its buildings, it's this beautiful courthouse annex that seems to be imploding upon itself . It used to be called the Latin American Club. It's right across from the historical courthouse and adjacent to an IBC location. If years ago the Commissioners Court had the will to re-roof it, or take care of it, it wouldn't be pulling itself down to the ground. That's one thing that the Webb County Heritage Foundation calls demolition by neglect, and there's a lot of that here.
There are probably still historical architects that, for a pretty penny, will tell you: yes I can save this; we're going to need to do this. Obviously the will is lacking because this county can't get its hands on enough parking lots, or the city can't get its hands on enough parking lots
If we don't speak up as citizens in whatever it may be, whether its your voice at a commissioners court meeting or city council meeting, a letter to the editor or a newspaper article, if you don't have a voice, you really don't have anything. You have no say and that also goes to your vote. Your vote is your strongest measure of your voice, and if you don't vote then you get the government you deserve.