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P OPULISM IN LEASANTON ‘4 ,,t,… ,Z k 7 ..-, ,. ‘.1!: hi J .*,:.,; , ; i.’ ..’ Ili. 5 11..” _ !..V,Iti . V: ”.. …+ 1; .-14.. il”’ . . _ :.,,,,,,._,.,..,, “Things change, but they change slowly here.” By Geoffrey Rips Pleasanton WHEN I WAS A BOY, Pleasanton was divided by a river. We used to drive south out of San Antonio in the early morning dark to the place south of Pleasanton that my family owned. There we fished my father, grandfather, great uncle and I and looked for nutria, alligators and water birds. Once we saw javelina running in the brush. Another time. I stumbled on a nest of rattlesnakes. My grandparents had moved to Pleasanton when my father went off to war. Once, soldiers appeared along the railroad track that runs 200 yards behind their house. They wouldn’t say why they were there, but by plying them with coffee, cake, and the story of her son stationed far away, my grandmother got them to admit that Roosevelt was coming through. She stood with them as they stood at attention on a cattle guard in the middle of the night. Some time after the end of the war, my family moved back to San Antonio. When I was a boy, driving out of San Antonio we would reach the clay pits that marked the halfway point on 281 just as the sun was coming up. The patches of grass in the Leming schoolyard would still be wet and sparkly. By the time we reached North Pleasanton, a truck piled high with watermelons would already be parked beside the huge oak tree of the highway produce stand. The ice truck would be slowly making its way up the highway from the ice house by the railroad. A teenaged boy sitting on chunks of ice would stand up and wave a huge pair of tongs. There were landmarks to be observed. The sign for Philip Mittanck’s \(Fill Up painted on the side of the Ice Box, giving mileage to distant places: Chicago-1328, Devine-36, Austin-109, Mexico City-883, Texarkana-453, Los Angeles-1423, Jourdanton-5. I wondered if, somehow, this were the center of the country. My father told me, No, this was only North Pleasanton. By the time we crossed the Atascosa River, the air was hot and filled with grasshoppers and sand. As we came off the bridge into Pleasanton proper, my father would tell me that the two sides of the river were always fighting one another. For what? I wondered. In Pleasanton there was the movie theater, the Ben Franklin, feed stores, the Jones and Laughlin shed. There was the Dairy Queen, which was followed on this strip by Eddy’s Motel coffee shop and much later by the Queen Bee. They knew us at the Dairy Queen, where we’d hit the church crowd on our way home. Beyond the Dairy Queen was the Coughlan Road turn-off that we took to our place and the Catholic cemetery and a row of little houses. There were always vast beds of flowers in the cemetery and the people there were brown. Other than that, as far as I can remember, in the 1950s everyone in Pleasanton, along the main road and in the Dairy Queen, was white. In those days Pleasanton was divided by a river. Today, the river runs through a city park, where every once in a while alligators still appear. The separate community of North Pleasanton is no more, and the Ice Box has closed down. The mileage chart painted on its wall is cracked and fading. No one stands there sipping Dr. Pepper, contemplating distances. Nor do they need to. The world comes here. Television brings it. It trickles in with the nationwide migration from cities back to small towns that showed up in the 1980 census. The highway produce stand is now a shopping center. The movie theater has a double screen. A drug counseling program for teenagers is run by a local church. New businesses and tract housing line the road to Poteet. From the new interstate that runs a few miles east of town, oil pumps can be seen here and there, working or standing idle in the fields. Behind the city limit sign Pleasanton “The Birthplace of the Cowboy,” and beyond that are signs for the county commissioner’s race, pitting Seay against Holguin. Has there been a substantive change in Pleasanton? In recent years Pleasanton has developed a reputation for having one of the best school systems in the state, a system open to innovation and dedicated to bilingual education. Articles have been appearing in the Pleasanton Express addressing important civil liberties questions. A leading Pleasanton attorney is writing a history of populism in Texas and an analysis of its future. Is the Pleasanton of Atascosa River rivalries now experiencing a cultural and political renaissance? Does this presage the rebirth of small towns in Texas as the centers of progressive thought and action for the future? 0 LIN STRAUSS USHERS me into his paneled office on Main Street, Pleasanton, and closes the door. It is the office of a small-town lawyer. Legal briefs are stacked neatly on one corner of the desk. Framed diplomas and certificates cover parts of two walls. Tow-headed children smile in a photograph behind the desk. But Olin Strauss is not only concerned with wills and plats. He is the newlyelected chairman of the Atascosa County Democratic Party. He is, also, a closet intellectual. He pulls open a desk drawer and begins pulling out books and papers, piling them up on the desk: Lawrence Goodwyn’s Democratic Promise: The Populist Movement in America; A Populist Manifesto by Jack Newfield and Jeff Greenfield; Fred Harris’s The New Populism. Olin Strauss has an idea that there is a form of popular government, offering an alternative to laissez-faire capitalism and to socialism, while borrowing elements of each, that may present the best hope for this country’s economy. In slow, soft tones, he builds his case. He discusses the manipulation of the energy crisis by the multinationals and the ways that’s affected Atascosa County, how the oil glut that followed the tiny deregulated oil boom hurt a lot of people. He speculates about the possibilities presented by independent Chicano voting power, which has for the first time begun to assert itself in the region. Then he returns to his central theme. It is Strauss’s contention that fairness, individualism, and independence have always been underlying strains in Texas politics. At the same time, they have 10 OCTOBER 15, 1982