News, Spin

Allen, Texas, of the 1980s Was a TV Show

Editor’s Note — wait, the writer is the editor: Each time I cleaned some syntax, another mass shooting or three were reported, and the shore moved even quicker from my drifting dinghy*. Time for a final update, publish and move on.
*“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

ALLEN, Texas — It took four minutes for a neo-Nazi with an arsenal of firearms to kill eight people and wound seven others at a Dallas-area shopping center before a police officer ended the rampage [May 6, 2023].

What to Know About the Mass Shooting at a Texas Mall, The Associated Press

I was once a big shot in Allen, Texas. It didn’t seem so at the time, nearly 40 years ago. Then, summer 1984, I was 26 or 27, the new managing editor of The Allen American having left Belo Corp.’s News-Texan chain of suburban Dallas newspapers after three years (moving from one paper’s general assignment reporter to its assistant editor to one of the chain’s page designer/copy editors).

The twice-a-week American was mailed by post to subscribers and sold on news stands, not tossed to driveways — typical for rural or formerly rural newspapers.

In 1980 the town was 8,314 then grew to 18,309 in 1990, according to the Texas State Historical Association. The last U.S. Census, 2020’s, had the city’s count at 104,627.

Managing editor was a great job for my young age and inexperience, a great reason to leave News-Texan and headaches there with my head high, but helping cover a town of some 10,000 is far from big time. My business card though made my parents proud. Allen was on the second layer of Dallas suburbs, north of the main band that includes Plano for example.

My apartment at the time was in far north Dallas, a 10-15 minute commute to News-Texan’s press building in Farmers Branch. The main reason I did not move to Allen, with its minimum 30-minute commute, was Allen had only one apartment complex, and it was ragged, even by my bachelor-journalist standards.

The single multifamily was proof that Allen at the time did not particularly welcome working-class residents. The 10-fold population increase now allows for an “outlet mall.”

The Jan. 7, 1985, Allen American front page
The Allen American, Jan. 7, 1985,

It had an appropriate number of short strip shopping centers or standalone stores, certainly no malls, outlet or otherwise. Allen had a modest school district and a police department with far less than a dozen officers of all ranks and staff. As managing editor, I was also the main reporter and photographer, so I covered city council and planning commission meetings, school board sessions, dropped in the cop shop and fire station several times a week to get their reports for a police blotter and any separate crime articles.

Charlie was the publisher. He may have been 30, married with young children. He couldn’t have been more amiable. As I also served as the paper’s photographer then he was the photo tech, running the darkroom, developing film and prints during spare moments of his work day. Charlie and I shared editorial writing duties, and each of us wrote a weekly column.

One of my shooting assignments was Pet of the Week. Someone from the Allen animal shelter would bring animals over for us to photograph. One time they brought over two sibling kittens 6 months old. The female got to me, and she became my first feline B.C. That stood for Ben’s Cat, as I had no idea for a name and my best friend of the era Ron (retired as a longtime Dallas Morning News photographer, now teaching his art in high school) being a cat person named her for me.

The calico moved with me to Little Rock in summer 1985. B.C. lived into the early 2000s, our first years in Fayetteville.

There was no outstanding crime in the small city of Allen at the time. Stories big enough to break out of the blotter, or log of incidents, would be injury wrecks and larger burglaries. A few years earlier, however, what became an infamous love-triangle murder had a connection to what was called the Allen-Fairview-Lucas set of rather wealthy bedroom communities. That was explored for Texas Monthly by reporters Jim Atkinson and John Bloom, who turned it into the best-selling 1984 book Evidence of Love: The Candy Montgomery Story, adapted several times for the small screen, including twice this year, 2023.

Until this May, apparently, that 1980 slaying and eventual trial comprised the worst thing that happened there.

My 12 months there were terrific. (My career path and family concerns propelled me to Little Rock in June 1985.) Allen staff shenanigans could’ve been a sitcom, nearly a WKRP but for print not radio.

I hired away one person from News-Texan to set prepress pages for offset printing and be our editorial cartoonist, the latter being his passion. We had one full-time ad salesperson, there years before Charlie and she kept me in line to not talk too rough or too loud when regular and potential clients came in.

When Playboy Magazine sent us a press release that an Allen High School graduate was to be a Playmate of the Month, I assigned our sports writer to interview her at the newspaper and Charlie to photograph her. I did attend, along with the reporter, the promotional reception at the Dallas Playboy Club. I designed the front page with mainbar and sidebar to resemble the Playboy interview format of a three-photo collage from the interview, her talking animatedly.

Besides the sports guy, we had one reporter. Charlie and I hired a fresh college graduate, sweet and sincere. She moved on after a very few months. Then we hired a firecracker, a former TV “weather girl,” with looks (red hair and zaftig) appropriate for that on-camera job in those decades. She was a fine beat print reporter. Her humorous but self-effacing candor about her earlier jobs, as well as an ex-husband and current and ex-boyfriends, kept us both entertained and worried about her judgment.

The building was basically one big room with Charlie in a glass-topped cubicle, restrooms and darkroom off to the side, the newsroom comprising three desks along one wall. Then it was owned by Taylor Communications, whose flagship newspaper was Plano’s. Now both are properties of Star Media. I can’t imagine the newspaper being in the same location these decades later.

As noted, the American had something of a WKRP sitcom atmosphere. Though with the 2023 mall shooting, I guess it’d now be more of a Lou Grant drama. Cultural update: the just ended single-season ABC series Alaska Daily displayed that small-market-journalism melodramatic edge.

The Gun Violence Archive is one of several outposts tracking such crimes with transparency and reliability, with a mass shooting commonly defined as at least “four victims shot, either injured or killed, not including any shooter who may also have been killed or injured in the incident.”

All this to say that Allen’s May 6, 2023, death spree disappeared into more mass shootings that month across these United States, then more mayhem well into summer, with three this week linked to Fourth of July celebrations.

Last night, we attended the symphonic July Fireworks Spectacular with $10 tickets, passing through one of the Walmart AMPs array of metal detectors, complying with security policies, all longstanding. As we settled into our seats, I sighted the exits: If anything happened, we’d be goners.

Copyright 2023 Ben S. Pollock

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