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Jon Mark Beilue column - Posted February 22, 2013 noon
illustration by Andy Chase Cundiff

Red in the face at an annoying red light

I would trade a few less red Amarillo sunsets a year for one less red light

What do we like about Amarillo? There’s plenty to be found in these pages. There’s the color-splashed sunsets and the determined spirit of her people, the Tex-Mex on almost every corner and the smooth cultural cocktail of urban and country lifestyles, the 10 Cadillacs buried nose-first in the ground to the west and a 72-ounce steak to the east, big dreamers and a few schemers, all just miles from the second largest canyon in the country.

But enough about that. Spin it the other way – what do I hate about Amarillo? It’s a strong word, hate, a word your mom at one time likely said to avoid. Ah, but even mom would make an exception on this. It’s a visceral, saliva-forming hate.

Take a bow, you stoplight at Western Street and SW 21st Avenue. You snarky little stoplight, you are the bane of my existence. If others have the misfortune of having to motor down Western to I-40 in the flow of a week, I know you’re nodding your head.

I don’t pretend to drive through every intersection and gnarled street in the city, and I avoid most rush= hour traffic. But that stoplight is, without a doubt, the most aggravating, useless, frustrating, smartalecky traffic light in Amarillo. It has its own personality, and it hates me. But that’s OK, pal. The feeling is mutual.

We all have an uneasy coexistence with traffic lights. Like taxes, they are a necessary evil. If they are fair and reasonable, that’s fine. That’s all anyone asks. But life isn’t fair, and neither are most traffic lights, and you know who you are.

I’ve heard complaints about lights on Coulter Street around the medical complex, and, true, depending on the time of day, a guy can grow a five o’clock shadow before getting through. There are some lights on north Bell Street that are longer than a Russian winter.

Granted, red-light rage is a personal preference, heightened by our daily routes. Familiarity, it’s said, however, breeds contempt, and I’m much too familiar with the Grim Stopper at Western and 21st. Where, you say? That intersection may be hard to recall, and that’s part of my gripe. It’s not really an intersection.

There’s the major street of Western that goes north and south. But then there’s this asphalt alley, aka SW 21st Avenue, that bisects it. That short little strip of nothing has IHOP and Blue Sky to the west and the back end of the Olive Garden to the east. And that’s about it. Think of it as a long driveway.

If a car is approaching 21st from the north, it’s fair. But Lord help you if you’re coming from the south about to exit onto I-40. Forget it. Traffic to the south is backed up 30-deep. We’re strumming our fingers on the wheel waiting for Gramps to painstakingly exit out of the IHOP in his Olds 88 after the Early Bird Special.

I’ve sat through that light long enough to watch the nearby gas prices change twice at Murphy USA. Meanwhile, there’s no sign of vehicular life on little old 21 as the afternoon passes in front of our eyes. What’s even more confounding is less than 100 yards away is yet another traffic light at I-40 and Western.

This light has haunted me for years, and now it mocks me. It knows what I drive, and waits, waits, waits, and – zap – yellow at the last allowable second followed by life-sucking red. And it’s hanging up there, so cool like it’s unaware of what it just did.

On those rare Halley’s Comet moments when I actually get through without stopping, only my strong moral upbringing keeps me from rolling down the window, giving the stoplight a one-finger salute and
laughing hysterically. That light is in my head. It was once an irritant that grew to a pain that has metastasized into hate.

I know this – I would trade a few less red Amarillo sunsets a year for one less red light.

by Jon Mark Beilue

Jon Mark Beilue is an award-winning columnist for AGN Media. He can be reached at or (806) 345-3318.
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