Rusty Haggard Blog

Archive for May, 2011

Let’s Go Back: Mazatlan, Surfing and 1969

He has been a friend of mine since I was 19. An important friend, there at key moments in my life. I was a groomsman in his wedding.

The other day he called, but the news he had wasn’t good. He had lung cancer. Five rounds of chemo treatments, completed. “It’s under control, but I’ll never get rid of it,” he said.

We traveled together with three other guys on the craziest Spring Break trip ever: 1969 to Mazatlan, Mexico, in an old 1955 Ford sedan with four surfboards strapped across the top. He was a great football player on the intramural fields at the university, playing for our “A” team.

He went on to have a great career in engineering. Traveled the world: China, Venezuela, Iraq. Infrequent phone calls kept us sort-of up to date on where we were in our lives. I flew out to San Diego to visit him and his family back in the late 1980s. They later moved to Houston, their home town.

Life goes by too fast. All too fast. One day you’re 19, 20, 21. Then you’re 35, then 45. And you just hope that it doesn’t end with what my friend told me he has.

All the laughs and the good times dissolve as he gives me the news over the phone the other day. I appreciated him telling me. I just wish we could push “rewind” and go back – way back. To Mexico, the beach, the surf. It’s still there. Thanks, friend, my thoughts and prayers are with you.


Summer: Painted Buntings and Strawberry Icepacks

Memorial Day weekend is, for most of us here in the U.S., the unofficial opening of summer. In Austin, we’re off to a good start – 100 degrees on Friday!

In the backyard on Saturday, I noticed more signs of summer. A painted bunting and his mate! Last summer was our initial discovery of these beautiful, exotic visitors. The bird feeder is about 30 yards from the patio and with binoculars we can really enjoy watching these shy, winged friends.

Of course, I’d rather not be watching them with my ankle wrapped in ice packs. This morning I stepped back to pull the lawn mower over some rough, rocky areas I was clearing and twisted my ankle. Falling to the ground was the result. No one was around to help. Not much sense lying here, I said to myself. Even Rita, our Golden Retriever, was sitting under the air conditioner inside the house. Good dog!

Hobbling inside, I went to the freezer for help icing the old ankle. With material in hand, I  made it to a chair on the patio and pulled another chair around to prop up my injured leg. The ice pack consisted of one frozen bag of spinach underneath the elevated ankle and one frozen bag of strawberries on top, all neatly held in place with a dish towel. That’s when Rita sat down beside me to make sure I was okay. The bird watching commenced. Lucky sighting: painted bunting!

If it wasn’t 9:30 in the morning, I might have taken those strawberries inside and made a pitcher of strawberry margaritas. The thought did cross my mind. This thought also came to me: Heal thyself! And enjoy the return of summer and painted buntings. And strawberry margaritas.

Sometimes I wish I could fly, don’t you?



Great Movie, Mind-Blowing Ending: “Remember Me”

I checked out this film on Showtime last night, thinking it might be a crime story. What I ended up thinking is, “Wow, this is a great film.” The ending, however, (and I won’t reveal it here) is freaky, and one that brings up strong emotions. Or it should for most viewers.

Within the first view minutes, the crime story seems to hold sway. New York City. Subway. Okay, I’m thinking, let’s figure this out. After the initial crime, a cop shows up. So far, so good. Then we switch to two college guys and their ambling lives. Drinks, drinks and yeah, drunk. Fights. Arrests.

And then the girl shows up. College girl, unknown to our two college guys so far. Things start drifting from a crime scene to romance. Then it gets complicated. I’ll leave the plot for now.

What I was impressed with was the writing, acting and directing. Especially the acting. One of the stars of the “Twilight” movies, Robert Pattinson, (I haven’t seen that series of films) gives one of the best performances by an actor I’ve seen in a long time. Equally impressive is Emilie de Ravin as the college girl. Pierce Brosnan shows his range: a high-end New York lawyer, cold as ice in his $4000 Italian suits – convincing as an uncaring, suave and detached divorced father with little time for his children, regardless if they’re struggling college students like his son Tyler (Pattinson) or a sensitive 11-year-old daughter, who loses herself in art simply because she thinks that her father has no interest in her. And then there’s Chris Cooper, who is always good.

It’s a strong movie, with many engrossing scenes that pull you in. As the ending takes shape, you realize that you’re probably in deeper than you want to be. Or deeper than you want to think about. “Remember Me” is a film you should watch!

Book on Saudi Arabian Oil Field Published

I answered the phone at my office. It was January 2009. Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest provider of oil, was on the line and asked if I would consider being the author of a book for them. It had to do with the development of the oil field known as Khurais. Would I accept?

Now, two years later – after saying yes and launching my retirement – the book I wrote about this fourth largest oil field in the world has been published. Just weeks before the phone call, I had written my farewell, sign-off piece – effectively announcing that I was retiring. After 24 years as the only writer and editor at the Construction Industry Institute – the research consortium on project management at the University of Texas – and nine years in the petroleum engineering department there and two-plus years at Boeing, I was done.

Until, that is, I said yes and found myself a couple of months later flying to Dammam. Within 48 hours of landing in Saudi Arabia, I was whisked by car 200 kilometers into the Arabian Desert.

And there it stood: one of the world’s largest construction projects. A $12 billion giant, still under construction and home at one time to 28,000 workers from all around the world.

I was a one-man reporting, recording, and writing operation for over five weeks in the desert. I had a digital video camera, a tripod, a computer with Internet access and about 70 executives, project managers, project engineers, young engineers and a collection of South Koreans, Italians, Brits, Americans and others to interview.

How did they do it? What does this monstrosity do? What was it like to plan and execute this unbelievable, world-class project? I found the answers and as the company wished, developed a dramatic narrative story to inspire others to excellence – the excellence that was essential in creating the Khurais megaproject.

The book is published. Now if I can write the story of how I wrote the book…

Victory in Tampa: First Place Finish

Tampa, FL, May 16, 2011—The moment came on Monday night here at Vizcaya, a cool Spanish restaurant in a quiet suburb, with 60 or so writers, poets and guests. We were attending the 25th anniversary banquet for the Tampa Writers Alliance and hoping for a big announcement. It happened!

“First place, book length fiction, Thomas Haggard for ‘A Good Year for the Roses,’” barked the contest coordinator. It was the highlight of a whirlwind trip for Cherie and me. As the winner of the writing competition, I was honored.

That was at 9:00 that night. Fifteen hours earlier, we began the journey with a trip to the airport in Austin and then flew half-way across the U.S. There was little margin for error: our flight was scheduled to arrive at 4:00, the dinner was at 6:30. Any delay, missed connecting flight, mechanical failure, or missing paper work by the flight crew could’ve spelled disaster for making this crazy thing happen. In the end, all went perfectly. We met some wonderful people , had smooth flights and by Tuesday afternoon were back in Austin.

We learned that last summer the Tampa Writers Alliance reviewed how the 15 best writing competitions in the U.S. are conducted. The group then revamped and upgraded their entry rules for the 2011 contest and opened it up to the entire world via the Internet. If an entry did not measure up and accumulate the necessary point total to make it to the finals, they tossed it. That means that the judging was tough, fair and a good measure of where a writer stands in the eyes of the professionals who served as judges. What an honor for me. Thanks, Tampa and the Tampa Writers Alliance, for a great evening and an unforgettable experience.

Sunshine State Holds Promise for One-Day Trip

When we take off for Tampa on Monday morning, Cherie and I will be hoping that a lot of good things will happen in the Sunshine State. It rains a lot there, you know. First up, we’re expecting a good launch for the Space Shuttle.

Then, as a finalist in the Tampa Writers Association writers contest, I’m vying for a first-place finish with my initial (an as yet unpublished) novel, “A Good Year for the Roses.” At the group’s twenty-fifth anniversary banquet on Monday night, we’re going to find out where I fit among the more than 60 entries that they had.

 “A Good Year for the Roses” gets its title from the country-western song made a classic by George Jones. It’s been sung, however, by the likes of Elvis Costello, Lorrie Morgan, Alan Jackson and others. In the book, a once-famous high school athlete is now a washed up, 43-year-old coach in the middle of nowhere with a history of losing teams, faded glory and a desire to stay out of the limelight fans still hold him in. He seems to have the perfect life: a loving wife he married in college, a 14-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter, all who adore him, and a solid job as athletic director and head coach. Urging his players to make good decisions in life, he’s living a lie himself – embroiled in an affair that he can’t possibly keep under wraps. As his life unravels when the truth is known, he struggles to transform himself and regain his self-respect and hopefully his family. The team undergoes a transformation as well – inspired by their coach into winners. Even a winning streak and a turn for the better by the coach, we learn, are tough odds against the consequences of bad decisions.

We’re cleared for take-off. Next stop: Florida.

Actress, Play Provide Matinee Surprise

At our friend’s house for Easter Sunday, we were enjoying a backyard bar-b-que, beer and conversation under the oak trees. Dogs scampered about, donkeys and Longhorn cattle wandered in the pasture and the sunshine, and conversation and chatter with friends new and old added to the day’s enjoyment.

We made a new friend there — Alexis. She said she was studying as an actress at the University of Texas and was in a play to be staged in about a month. She graduated from Brown University, the Ivy League school in Providence, Rhode Island, and was in a three-year graduate program at UT that was basically paying her to go to school. “Sure,” we said, “we’d love to see your play.”

With no expectations whatsoever, Cherie and I drove down to the UT campus on a sunny Saturday afternoon last weekend for the 2 o’clock matinee. It was the fourth and final day of the play. It would close that night with the 8 o’clock performance. In a tiny cubby hole of a theatre, nestled somewhere near the East Mall just north of Memorial Stadium, we joined about 50 others in the 200-capacity playhouse and were astonished. Blown away. In awe.

To begin, the director – a UT drama professor – stood in front of the first row of patrons and explained that the play, “Clybourne Park,” had just two weeks prior won the Pulitzer Prize! He hoped we enjoyed the show, he said casually. The house went dark, the lights came up, and there was our friend Alexis – the lead female in this timely, well-written play about race relations in a Chicago suburb – first in Act I in 1959, and then again in Act II, which takes place in 2009. Two professional actors from the Actors’ Equity Association joined the four student actors in a performance that – honestly – was one of the best plays I have ever seen.

I’ve been to Broadway theatres in New York. “The Secret Garden.” Petula Clark. David Cassidy. “Cats” in San Francisco. I’ve seen “Phantom of the Opera” here in Austin. Not to be outdone,“Clybourne Park” and this troop of actors were astonishing. The cast in Act I is the same as in Act II, but each actor plays a different character in the two acts. What a pleasant surprise.

We waited down front after the play was over. Alexis came from the backstage area toward us. Her face lit up. I kidded her about her downplaying of the production. “A little play?” I asked her. “A small role?” She smiled and hugged us. Pulitzer Prize, great performances, and all tucked away at UT on a sunny Saturday. What a great resource the university is for Austin. Congratulations, Alexis! We’ll see you in your next production!