Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The REAL “West Texas Investors Club”

Up until now, I’ve resisted the temptation to comment on “reality television” ... but now that genre has hit a little too close to home – quite literally – for me, and I find myself compelled to rear-up on my hind legs, step-up to the keyboard, and put in ‘my two cents.’

That ‘hit’ comes from West Texas Investors Club, which recently began its second season on CNBC (part of the Universal media family). The show’s website describes it as a series that takes place "deep in the heart of Texas, where self-made multimillionaires Rooster McConaughey and Butch Gilliam carved their fortunes from a harsh and unforgiving land. For the past several years, they’ve chosen to pass on that success by investing in promising entrepreneurs – but only on their turf and their terms." To me, it comes across as something of a mix of different ingredients ... a pinch of “Shark Tank” sprinkled lightly over huge portions of “Black Gold” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Now don’t get me wrong ... I realize that one doesn’t watch reality television for the reality, but for the fun of somebody’s spin on what reality would be like if they were the master of the universe, capable of dramatic changes to the time/space continuum ... and that’s fine. I hardly watch it at all, except for a couple of cooking competition shows ... but I realize that it is a hugely-popular genre.

I watched the first three episodes of the first season of “West Texas Investors Club” ... but I probably won’t watch any more. I’m not questioning the sincerity of the show’s hosts, or their generosity in contributing a portion of their good fortune to business start-ups. What annoys me the most is in the production of the show itself, the context in which the show is presented, and how much of West Texas has been cut out of that context ... including what I would call the REAL West Texas Investors Club.

After a brief introduction by the show’s hosts, the episodes I watched would begin with the contestants’ arrival at Midland Airpark, a small airport devoted to private air traffic on the north side of Midland, a city of about 150,000-or-so in western Texas, in the heart of what we call ‘the oil patch.’ For private air traffic, Midland Airpark is a more convenient alternative to Midland International Air/Spaceport, ten miles to the west, which is devoted to commercial and military traffic, as well as additional private traffic.

This is where the context-cutting begins ... the contestants’ arrival at the airport is shot from a variety of angles and ranges that exclude any views of the south, where you would see a collection of high-rises in downtown Midland ... the business/government/social district that gave Midland its nickname, “the Tall City.” Those high-rises also provide reminders that investors have been busy in West Texas for the better part of a century, investing many millions in a variety of business start-ups ... and not just in the energy industry, either.

Not all of the REAL West Texas Investors – the ones who have been cut out of the reality television show’s context - contribute their good fortune to businesses ... they have a HUGE impact on the community at-large, in a variety of ways.

For example, once the show’s contestants have arrived at the airport, they are transported to the West Texas Investors Club in an old pickup truck with a good ol’ boy behind the wheel ... an opportunity for some in-the-cab exchange between the contestant and the driver, and a chance to get some insight into the contestant. During that portion of the episode, I’m watching the scenery going by in the cab’s windows.

More than once I have see brief snippets of the Midland College campus whiz-by ...

“MC” is a genuine testimonial to what the REAL West Texas Investors have contributed, but there’s no place for that in the show’s context. And that’s a shame ... not because I work there, but because it’s hard for me to accurately convey the full impact the REAL investors have made to their community over the decades, through their contributions to that college. There is the funding of buildings and programs, and the technology needed for those programs, both academic and vocational/technical. And then there’s the scholarships. Students that successfully graduates from a high school – public or private – in our county can apply for free tuition to this two-year, community college ... provided they have the grades, and commit to forty hours of service to a long and diverse list of approved non-profit organizations in the community ... all thanks to the generosity of the REAL West Texas Investors Club.

That same generosity can be seen in contributions to the building and capital improvement funds for those same non-profits, in monetary and in-kind donations to schools and churches, and in support for local museums, lecture series, entertainment venues and annual festivals that bring a broader range of culture to our admittedly-remote part of the country.

We interrupt this program for the following rant ... the first contestant on the first show was a young man who had developed a phone app for ordering drinks in busy bar situations ... I thought this was a GREAT idea for a place like Midland, Texas, where the labor market at that time was such that restaurants and bars were seriously understaffed. But why take it to Corky’s, in nearby Odessa, for testing? I’m as big a fan of Corky’s and its atmosphere as the next guy ... but I couldn’t help but think there were so many places around here where that app could have REALLY shown its advantages. But again, many of those places would not have fit the context created by the show’s producers ... okay, end of rant.

I wish the hosts of the television show nothing but luck in their new venture ... may the ratings gods continue to be more-than generous to you! But it wouldn’t hurt to zoom-out a little bit with your camera, and give viewers a more accurate context for where you are and what you’re doing ... and how you're not so much reviving a tradition, as you are contributing to an ongoing tradition that has lost no steam over the past century.

For everyone else, I hope that you’ll have a chance to come and visit us here in Midland, Texas, sometime. It’s a good town, and the gateway to some of the greatest country in the Lone Star State ... the Big Bend, the Davis Mountains, the Guadalupe Mountains, the Rio Grande and the border with Mexico. It’s a good place to visit, and a good place to live, whether you’re an old-timer or somebody looking for a fresh start ... thanks, in great part, to the REAL West Texas Investors Club.

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