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Cover Story - Posted February 22, 2013 noon
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photos by Shannon Richardson

25 Reasons We Love Amarillo

We think Amarillo and its people deserve kudos. The courageous folk that settled this vast region the size of West Virginia made it prosper despite the hardships they endured. They set a gold standard for our city that has been sustained for more than a century. Many of their descendants still reside here and continue to carry on their ancestors’ legacies and independent spirit. This is a generous, prosperous city with culture, civic pride and caring citizens who’ll go out of their way to make you feel welcome.

No. 1


Because the people never stop giving.
In our humble city, the adage, “What’s mine is yours,” seems to be the standard attitude. The community as a whole is genuinely concerned about the well-being of its neighbors. Whether it’s organizing fundraising efforts or volunteering at local non-profits, this is a place where altruism and magnanimity shine. The generosity of philanthropists is evident throughout Amarillo. Cutting-edge facilities abound, a credit to the people who have supported our prospering arts community, funded improvements to our medical centers and helped shape our thriving town, knowing they’d leave things a bit better than they found them for generations to come. And for every public recognition, there is just as much behind-the-scenes giving from humanitarians who believe it’s our duty to care for one another. All in all, we have each other’s backs.

No. 2


"Because Amarillo is a place that demands the best of those who live here and repays the effort with the freedom of wide open spaces.
Does it make me odd that I knew I was back home in Amarillo when on a winter’s day I was on a lonely downtown street watching a sheet of paper hurtle toward me through the snow flurries? That was after decades after being away from where I was born, many times trying to explain to people that Amarillo wasn’t nearly as pathetic as they imagined it must be. Things are strong here. There’s not much question the people aren’t shy, the sky really is the broad heavens and about anything can and does happen. Just look at the horses parked in the Dairy Queen parking lot on Washington Street. It’s not for sissies – note the droughts, blizzards and lonesome drives to the big cities (not thinking Lubbock here) – but I wouldn’t have it any other way."
Kevin Welch, AGN Media Reporter

No. 3


Because Amarillo is a community of faith.
We’ve already mentioned folks here are some of the friendliest, most polite people you’ll ever encounter. After a warm introduction, and the requisite, “What do you do for a living?” our goodhearted citizens are likely to take it to the next level and ask, “Where do you go to church?” And if the opportunity presents itself, they’ll follow with an invitation to church the next Sunday. After all, it’s just plain good manners to make people feel welcome.

In a city swelling to 200,000, there are more than 250 houses of worship. While Amarillo is predominantly Christian, with the majority affiliated with the Southern Baptist religion, the city boasts diverse cultures and ethnicities that practice their beliefs here as well, such as a Buddhist group, Jewish community, Chin members, Islamic adherents and Hindu followers. Despite the disparity of beliefs, there is no doubt, that for many, faith comes first.

No. 4


Because you can live in a palace on the plains for the price of a loft on the island of Manhattan.
Ask yourself this: Would you rather shell out $1 million to live in a tiny loft in New York City, or for the same amount, luxuriate in a mansion on the plains? You can live quite comfortably in Amarillo. In 2012, Amarillo’s residential real estate ranked in the Top 10 Markets to Watch, and the housing market posted a double-digit increase in sales, up 10 to 13 percent from 2011. And builders paved the way for the construction of 530 new homes. The average listing price for a home in Dallas is $500,000. In Los Angeles, you’ll fork over $1,200,000, and in New York City, the damage is $2,300,000. But in Amarillo, it’s a sweet and low $188,000. The cost of living here is nearly 6 percent less than the national average, according to the ACC RA Cost of Living report.

Utilities are also quite affordable at 20 percent less than the national average. Our economy is stable and growing, and the unemployment rate continues to drop. Late last year, Amarillo maintained the third lowest unemployment rate in the state, and as of November, the unemployment rate was 4.1 percent. The city stayed afloat during the recession, thanks to our top employers and industries, such as education, the medical field, oil and gas, aircraft assembly, energy, the railroad, agriculture, meat packing and banking. Our diverse economic base gives us staying power.

No. 5


Because you don’t have to love steak to be a happy eater.
All right, we can’t deny it. Beef is king here. We like it hot off the grill and rare, thank you very much (order well done or use Ketchup and you might be shunned by locals).

However, if steaks don’t get your tummy rumbling, there’s a smorgasbord of restaurants to fulfill your palate’s every craving. Amarillo’s hole-in-the-wall eateries, or as we like to call them, “little gems,” are simply top-notch. Don’t let some of the exteriors fool you. You’ll find the city’s best offerings tucked away in the most unassuming of locations: a refurbished filling station, a wooden shack on a country road, a remodeled bank or even a reclaimed church.

We’re proud to be a city that supports its homegrown, Mom-and-Pop eateries as well as the variety of chains around town; our people simply love to eat well. We rule the Tex-Mex scene, and you can fill up on traditional Western-style comfort food here, from mouthwatering mashed potatoes and chicken-fried steak smothered in gravy, true Texas pit barbecue and fresh cobbler, and even calf fries. And while we’re bragging, we can’t ignore the staggering amount of Asian offerings in town. Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Laos, Indian – and it’s all authentic.

No. 6


"Because we know how to find the fun.
I love Amarillo because I can write about what there is to do in town 52 weeks a year and never go wanting for something new to point readers to. There’s the vibrant arts community, the object of envy for cities our size and larger around the country. There’s a live music scene that encourages the growth of local bands like Cooder Graw and, thanks to our handy location on Interstate 40, it lets us play host to rising stars on the regional scene (like The Dixie Chicks, Ben Kweller and Cross Canadian Ragweed, to name a few). There are the spectacular locally owned restaurants and the myriad of other ways Amarillo residents find to entertain themselves.

And that’s the key: We do it for ourselves. Our pioneering families helped establish community theaters (one of the oldest in the nation) and orchestras, and we carry on that tradition today, experimenting with music and theater and dance and food and countless other ways to celebrate life, to gather joyfully with our friends, to stimulate our better selves."
Chip Chandler, AGN Media Features Editor

No. 7


Because the outstanding education system gives students the support they need to graduate.
The Amarillo Independent School District alone encompasses more than 50 public elementary, middle and high schools, in addition to alternative institutions and private academies. For the 2011-2012 school year, 34 AISD schools rated “exemplary” or “recognized," according to the Texas Education Agency. Recently, one of AISD’s own educators was named runner up for the 2013 Brock International Prize in Education, being the first alternative education teacher to be nominated for the prestigious award. Thirteen elementary, middle and high schools inside the Amarillo city limits of Randall County are part of Canyon ISD. CISD’s student population is 9,000 in its entirety. Highland Park ISD includes three more schools and River Road ISD consists of four.

AISD schools have also formed a partnership with Amarillo College and West Texas A&M University. The Achievement through Commitment to Education Scholarship Program, through the Amarillo Area Foundation, for example, has assisted 2,000 students by paying for college tuition, fees and books for up to 130 hours. Amarillo College is the first post-secondary school in the nation to join the No Excuses University Network of Schools, along with 10 local schools. No Excuses: Building Student Success, aims to retain students and implement more remedial and entry-level courses to better prepare students for real life. WTAMU, the 113-year old institution that serves the Texas Panhandle, is home to an internationally recognized faculty and 8,000 students. U.S. News & World Report recently named the online graduate business program the No.1 in the nation for its student services and technology. WTAMU has also earned top-tier status in U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” four years running.

No. 8


Because we live in the beef capital of the world.
(Well, 48.2 miles from it at least, since Hereford claims that title.) The Texas Panhandle is the nucleus of beef production. Amarillo ranches and feedlots produce 30 percent of the nation’s beef and 88 percent of Texas’ beef. Ninety-six percent of beef on the market today comes from the Texas High Plains. The Texas Cattle Feeders Association is headquartered here, and Texas Beef, which has been producing beef for more than 100 years spanning four generations, produces 200,000 cattle annually from two feed yards. Cactus Feeders, the world’s largest privately owned cattle feeding operation, owns 10 feedyards, six being around Amarillo. They have a capacity to hold 480,000 head of cattle.

But the beef industry doesn’t just revolve around consumption. As the main area of research at WTAMU, the agricultural department focuses on solving issues within the cattle feeding industry, such as reducing the environmental impacts of greenhouse gases, improving air quality.

Because we all know, depending on the direction of the wind, there are some days when the smell of flatulent cattle hits you so hard you can almost taste it. But the locals will cheerily say, “Smells like money!” ($15 million worth.)

Within a 150-mile radius of Amarillo, there are 130 feedlots. That’s 130 pens of 2.5 million head of cattle. One of those is the 474-acre Nance Ranch feedyard at WTAMU. It has the capacity of holding 900 head of cattle and produces 25,000 pounds of feed per day. According to Don Topliff, Dean of Agriculture, Science and Engineering, the agriculture industry in the Texas Panhandle will be responsible for feeding 9 billion people by 2015. There’s a reason this area is called cattle feeding country.

No. 9


"Because we still have manners and remember to use them.
At 190,000-plus people, Amarillo is a city poised to do great things. But it’s a city that hasn’t lost its small-town friendliness. I can still walk into a restaurant, a store or a meeting and either see someone I know or meet someone I don’t because I was greeted with a smile. Maybe we long-time Panhandle residents soaked that courtesy up from our roots. Our predecessors on the prairie lived miles apart, making personal relationships all the more precious. In some places, drivers gesture as they pass each
other. Here, we mostly wave. We hold doors open for one other. We let someone with a gallon of milk and loaf of bread cut in line because our grocery baskets will take longer. I’d like to think that neighborly aspect will always stay with us, no matter how much our city grows."
Karen Welch, AGN Media Reporter

No. 10


Because our tourist attractions aren’t “traps.”
The obvious tourist attractions are Cadillac Ranch, the 10 graffitied cars protruding from the prairie along I-40 and the infamous 72-ounce steak challenge at the Big Texan Steak Ranch advertised on billboards scattered down I-40 and Route 66, which are quite the magnet for foreigners. But one of our biggest claims to fame was granted to us by nature. Dubbed the “second-largest canyon system in the nation” and nicknamed The Grand Canyon of Texas, Palo Duro Canyon is 277 miles long, 18 miles wide and 6,000 feet deep.

The canyon also serves as the natural stage for the longest running outdoor musical drama in the country, “Texas, the Musical Drama.” The nearly 50-year-old tale chronicles the settlement of the Panhandle through music and dance in the Pioneer Amphitheater of the canyon, our state’s pride propelled by a lone rider on horseback galloping across the rim at sundown, the Texas state flag triumphantly thrashing against the pink sky. Also south of town in Canyon, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum is the largest history museum in the state and the first of its kind. It touts a life-size replica of a pioneer town, a to-scale drilling rig and some of the first manufactured automobiles in addition to permanent galleries that display paintings, geological artifacts from the region and traveling exhibitions.

No. 11


Because we’ve made our mark in the rodeo arena (and even a shout out in an iPhone 4s commercial).
Apple thinks we’re cool enough to be in its commercial and so do we. Rodeos are a long-lived tradition in these parts and this Old West custom continues to rope in crowds. Competitor’s athleticism is put to the test bull riding, calf roping, bareback riding and team branding.

The American Quarter Horse Association is based here, along with its noteworthy hall of fame and museum. Every year, Amarillo hosts the Coors Cowboy Club Ranch Rodeo, the World Championship Ranch Rodeo, the Women’s Ranch Rodeo National Finals, and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Rodeo. The World Championship Ranch Rodeo, established by the Working Ranch Cowboys Association, planted its roots here 18 years ago, and will continue to illustrate the life of a working ranch cowboy for years to come. The Tri-State Fair and Rodeo, which holds the PRCA rodeo, will celebrate its 90th anniversary season. It’s one of the last PRCA qualifying rodeos before the national finals, so it’s the big cheese for competitors. And there are the Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch Rodeo and the Will Rogers Range Riders Rodeo, which saw its 70th year this past Fourth of July. A pillar of our Western heritage, the arrival of rodeo season every year reminds us of the legacy of the cowboy that will forever be identified with this region.

No. 12


Because there’s a die-hard group of people here who succeed at gardening despite the harsh conditions.
The Panhandle is not a place for the weak, but we like a challenge. Although the average temperature hovers around 68 degrees, gardeners can deal with fluctuations of heat and cold that don’t make for prime growing conditions for vegetables, fruit or flowers. Our thirsty soil contains various grades of sand and caliche, measuring between 7 and 8 on the pH scale, making it alkaline.

If you don’t know what that means, let’s just say the odds of growing a Garden of Eden here are against you, but that doesn’t mean we won’t try! Just look around: the Amarillo Botanical Gardens flourish with a variety of plants that thrive in our climate, there’s a sizable, nutritious garden at High Plains Food Bank, which supplies fresh food to the hungry all over the region, and a respectable farmer’s market every summer.

The master gardeners have, well, mastered gardening here, amending the soil, arming it for the volatile weather so it yields. All you have to do is cruise through the neighborhoods to see the fruits of their labors. What’s more, they’re happy to share their expertise through a variety of hands-on classes for everything from choosing the right plants and shrubs to soil preparation and watering methods to xeriscape gardening, so even the least green-thumbed among us can succeed.

No. 13


Because we’ve turned an irritating natural element into a money-maker.
We’ve learned to celebrate one of our area’s greatest natural assets. Sure, we still swear when we open the car door and the wind slams it back on our leg. We moan when a few minutes outside ruins our perfectly teased tresses, but when we look across the horizon and see the spinning white blades of wind turbines generating renewable energy, producing jobs and revenue for the economy, our frustrations begin to blow away. Studies have shown that for about every 100 megawatts of power generated, 440 construction jobs will be created.

As the third windiest city in the nation, Amarillo averages an annual wind speed of 13.3 mph. Somehow that number seems a tad low considering we can experience 50 mph gusts at times. Classified on a scale from 1 to 7, the wind in the Panhandle is considered the most desirable form, ranking class 4. Llano Estacado Wind Ranch, built in 2001, was the first of its kind to sprout up on the plains. One of the most powerful wind farms in the area is the Wildorado Wind Ranch, which consists of 161 megawatts. Its 70 Siemens turbines supply enough electricity to meet the needs of 48,000 average households, and all of the wind farms in the region generate more than 1,000 megawatts of power, with plans to add 5,500 more in the next several years.

Most recently, the National Nuclear Security Administration awarded Siemens Government Technologies a contract to build the federal government’s largest wind farm at the Pantex Plant. The $55 million, five-turbine facility is expected to save taxpayers $2.9 million yearly in energy costs. Earlier this year, Vega, a town a few miles west of Amarillo, was hit with a mighty gust from Google when the web titan announced its investment of more than $200 million in the Spinning Spur Wind Farm, its first renewable energy investment in the state of Texas. We don’t expect Amarillo’s role in building a greener future to blow over any time soon.

No. 14


Because our medical community touts some of the best doctors and specialists in their fields.
We don’t need to travel far and wide to seek the best medical care because we have it right here in the heart of our city. Our medical center alone serves more than 500,000 patients annually and employs more than 13,000 people. One of the largest health-care providers in the Panhandle, Baptist St. Anthony’s Health System was named one of the Top 50 performing hospitals for neurology and neurosurgery in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Northwest Texas Healthcare System houses the area’s only Level III designated trauma center, and takes care of 57,000 patients annually. For cancer care, patients can find cutting-edge technology at the Don & Sybil Harrington Cancer Center, a non-profit center that serves more than 50 cities in 26 counties, or at Texas Oncology-Amarillo Cancer Center where 80 percent of cancer treatment is given in an outpatient setting. Texas Oncology’s Amarillo Blood and Marrow Transplant Program is one of 12 programs in the state that is accredited by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy. Physicians and health care specialists who are recognized throughout the state and country for their dedication to their patients and quality service set up practices here. Amarillo’s medical community makes a tremendous impact, providing patients with specialized care.

No. 15


Because cowboy boots and cowboy hats go with everything.
If you’re on Facebook, we know you’ve seen the shared photos of Country Outfitter’s cowboy boots. Repeatedly. It may be trendy to hike up your wedding dress and show off your custom-made boots or even pair them with a dress for a night on the town, but let’s not forget where Western footwear made its first boot print. What began as footwear for the working ranch cowboy has become something of a fashion statement.

We may not all track dust and cow manure into town after a long day working cattle, but we wouldn’t call ourselves "drug store" cowboys, per say. Cowboy boots are comfortable. Plus, they go with everything, from snap-front shirts and jeans, to a skirt and blouse, to even a suit and tie. Just ask WTAMU President J. Patrick O’Brien. You don’t have to be from the Lone Star State to appreciate the boot. When he first accepted the position as president, members of the Ag Development Association took the N’awlins gentlemen to the West Texas Western Store in Canyon and had him fitted for Western boots and a Stetson. The Stetson mostly stays at home, but let’s just say he’s worn those boots in.

No. 16


Because no matter where you are, it will take around 10 to 15 minutes to reach your destination.
Laid out in a grid, Amarillo is simple to navigate, it’s true. Forget the GPS. All you need to know as far as main streets go is that east to west streets are numbered and designated as "avenues," and north to south streets are named and designated as "streets." Need to run to the airport to catch a flight? Fifteen minutes and you’re there, ready to check in. Need to get to the university in Canyon for class? Twenty minutes – including finding a parking space. Rush hour traffic here is minimal, so commuting to work is basically hassle free. It’s possible to hit the snooze button until 7:30 a.m. and drag yourself to work by 8 a.m. And, there’s something to be said about living in an area as flat as ours. The wide open spaces give us an unobstructed view; no concentrated clusters of trees to block landmarks here. If you’ve ever tried to plot a course through the twisted downtown streets of larger cities, take on the highways in DFW, or wondered what’s lurking behind all the dense foliage in the South, you can surely appreciate the ease of navigating Amarillo streets.

No. 17


"Because we’re bursting with civic pride.
When you move to Amarillo, as I did a little more than 10 years ago, people will ask you: “Do you like it here?” In fact, they might ask you that for several years. Why? My guess is that they like Amarillo and they want you to like it, too. But they also realize that, at first sight, it’s flat, dry, windy and there’s a lack of green. But you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Beyond those initial, superficial impressions, there’s more to Amarillo than meets the eye, and we know it. The people possess a generosity unsurpassed in nearly any other community I’ve seen. And we certainly don’t lack interesting personalities; there’s more than a few citizens here who’ve made their mark on this town.

There’s beauty here, too, when you look for it – in the residents and the hard-won land, the abundance of sunsets, and clear night skies filled with stars. We’re proud of the place we call home, and we’re on a mission to win over as many newcomers as possible. Give us a while; Amarillo is sure to grow on you."
Les Simpson, AGN Media Publisher

No. 18


Because we love our hair and makeup.
Women in Amarillo battle heavy winds, the heat of summer and a climate that leaves skin as dry as an alligator’s. But you won’t see us give up our style. Colored, teased and piled high, straight and full, or curly, we like our hair styled and our lips glossed. Our mamas raised us to be ladies, of course.

No. 19


Because internationally recognized artists call Amarillo home.
We’re honored that a prestigious group of artists shares its works with a grateful community. You’ll glimpse evidence of their talent all throughout the city. There’s Lightnin’ McDuff, the creator of fascinating metal sculptures scattered around town. Amarillo is also home to Western painter Jack Sorenson and an award-winning artist of the Boston School tradition, Kirk Richards, who has shown all over the U.S. You’ll see works of art everywhere from coffee shops and restaurants to medical plazas and a women’s healthcare facility.

Contemporary artists thrive here, showing off their creations at The Galleries at Sunset and Process Art House downtown. Photographer and Guggenheim Fellowship recipient Scott Hyde mastered the art of offset lithography more than 50 years ago, and his work is world renowned. Tucked away on historic Route 66, Kent Harris fashions functional stoneware from local materials. His works have shown all over the U.S. and internationally. The Amarillo Museum of Art and Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum exhibit pieces from all over the world, from photography, sculpture and pottery to textiles, drawings and murals. Many regional and state benefactors have generously gifted and donated permanent collections for all to enjoy. We embrace the arts by supporting local talent of all mediums, welcoming international works and advocating art education through our outstanding art institutions and patrons.

No. 20


Because a Panhandle sunset (or sunrise) makes you mindful of nature’s splendor.
The magnificence of watching ribbons of orange, pink, red and gold ripple over the boundless blue sky that blankets the plains is a divine experience. As soon as the sun sets over the prairie, an observer is instantly cognizant that this sight is unparalleled. There are no distractions from this spectacle. Some say you can actually see the curvature of the earth if you gaze out at the horizon as a dark curtain cascades over the open sky. An Amarillo sunset is so beautiful and intense that in the time it takes for the colors to dissolve, you are flooded with emotion and gratitude. If you’re an early riser, you’re rewarded with the same display of color at dawn, the most remarkable benefit of the clean air we enjoy in the Panhandle.

No. 21


Because we’re loyal to locals.
It’s not that we don’t welcome chains and franchises here; a drive down I-40 proves that. Look to the north or south and you’ll see people out in droves on Friday nights at their favorite restaurants or shopping on the weekend at Westgate Mall. But we save a good bit of loyalty for the self-starters and the generations-old, homegrown family businesses. It’s in our pioneering spirits. We pride ourselves on our restaurants, car dealerships and banks that were started from scratch and have continued to prosper for decades. Customer service isn’t just a statement printed on our menus and signs. Making long-standing relationships built on respect is the way businesses survive around here.

No. 22


Because we aren’t exaggerating when we say we can’t tell you what to pack when visiting.
Never rely on the forecast. Even if it hasn’t rained in 90 days, you’ll find umbrellas tucked away in our cars, just in case. One day it’s 30 degrees and snowing and the next it’s 70 degrees and sunny. Sure, the seasons are intense to say the least. We’ve had freezes in May, snow in October, floods in November, hail in December, wildfires in February and a tornado here and there. But at least we have four distinct seasons, even if that means we’re going to sweat with every step in the summer and shiver with every stride in the winter.

But those autumn nights, well, unless you’ve experienced it, there are no words to dutifully describe the bliss. Even during the heat of July, a hard day’s work in the triple-digit temperatures is rewarded by a temperate, enjoyable evening designed for grilling out with family and friends, washing away all the suffering in the sun.

No. 23


Because there’s no other place where you’ll see Ronald McDonald sitting atop a fiberglass horse statue.
All over town people can keep a look out for the quirky, painted horse sculptures nobly standing guard in front of a variety businesses. Established in 2002 by Center City of Amarillo, Hoof Prints of the American Quarter Horse is a city-wide public art display of nearly 100 horses painted by area artists. By collaborating with local businesses, the mission of the project is to showcase our Western heritage and raise funds for more downtown development. In addition to “Ronald,” there’s a horse sporting a Texas vista, the Texas flag and the Pony Express, but then there’s one with images of Marilyn Monroe, a rainbow of handprints and a zebra. There’s even a horse donning Hooters’ notorious orange and white uniform. (It goes by Philly). Now where else in the world are you going to see that? (By the way, the horses make for an awesome scavenger hunt.)

No. 24


Because we don’t let fashion trends and style pundits dictate our wardrobes.
Simply stated, we’re independent folk. And we know what looks good. Look around. No matter where you go, a benefit luncheon, play, romantic dinner at an upscale restaurant followed by the ballet or opera, you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll see anything from furs and dinner jackets to boots and jeans. We’re comfortable in our skin and confident enough to pull off our own unique style, whatever it may be: Western wear, glitz and glam, biker garb and everything in between. Besides, what’s the best accessory to an outfit if it isn’t confidence?

No. 25


Because Georgia O’Keeffe taught art classes here. Twice.
Before she was world-renowned, the American artist taught art at an elementary school while living here from 1912 to 1914. Two years after departing Amarillo to take a teaching assistant position at the University of Virginia, O’Keeffe returned to the Panhandle and accepted a faculty position in Canyon at West Texas State Normal College (now West Texas A&M University). As head of the college’s art department and its sole instructor, the 29-year-old often dined at the bed and breakfast, Hudspeth House, which is still in operation. She found inspiration in the High Plains and a muse in Palo Duro Canyon, a definitive landscape that no doubt helped her arrive at her distinctive, Southwestern style. In her words, “It is a burning, seething cauldron, filled with dramatic light and color,” the fiery palette of reds and oranges personifying her emotions. One of five oil paintings O'Keeffe created in Texas, “Red Landscape,” hangs in Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum for visitors to enjoy.

-- the AM Team

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