The past few days we’ve camped on a Corps of Engineers park called Canyon Lake. It’s about 25 miles southwest of San Marcos, the birthplace of Baseball Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, and workplace of Aquarena Springs’ inimitable Ralph the Diving Pig. The water is a deep blue thanks to its limestone floor and 50 years of tree decomposition. Canyon is a beautiful lake and a lovely campground: here’s one more thing that government does well.
We bought lunch yesterday from a roach coach just up blue Highway 306. We paid $10 for four tacos, without vegetables, plates or forks. Our tacos were beef and chicken fajitas, enchilada, and carne guisado. It was a satisfying and flavorful lunch, if not exactly autentico. The owners, Fancy and Josh, are in no way authentic Mexicans, but may be real Texicans. Yo, it was good grub.
There are many Corps lakes in Texas, while most states have but a few, or none. I have a theory on that. Between the 1930’s and 1960’s southern states never voted out a US Senator; they all served for life and built up seniority and a backlog of favors to call in. Texas had Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson. Louisiana had Russell Long. There was John Stennis from Mississippi, Wilbur Mills of Arkansas, and Richard Russell in Georgia. They understood that to get along, you need to go along. All those states have lots of Corps lakes. Talk about your coincidences!
I once worked for a Texas real estate developer who loved telling this story. “Back in the 50’s, Lyndon Johnson called up four of the best developers in Texas, sat ‘em down, and unrolled a map on a big conference room table. He took a marker and divided that plat into four sections, then informed his guests that each was to quietly buy up all the land in his quadrant, and to keep good records. ‘Cause in eight to ten years we’ll sell it and split the profits five ways!’ After a long pause, the boldest responded. ‘Lyndon, we’re gonna have to put up millions of dollars. You want a share of our profits – what are you putting up?’ LBJ smacked his big old paw in the middle of that map and thundered ‘I’m putting a damned lake right here!’.
LBJ worked in government all his life. He started as a school teacher, became a Congressman, a Senator, then moved to the Executive Branch. Despite the rumors, public service isn’t lucrative. He was famously cheap, and no doubt enjoyed a lot of free meals. If he somehow saved half of every pre-tax dollar he earned and achieved a spectacular return on those savings, say three times the growth rate of the stock market over his lifetime, he would have died with a net worth of $14 million in 2014 dollars. Last week Yahoo reported that LBJ passed as the 6th wealthiest President of all time, worth $98 million.
Is the story true? Somehow Lyndon turned his $970,000 lifetime earnings (it’s public record) into a fortune. The financial arithmetic is merciless: it tells me he made that fortune off the books. But he ain’t the first or the worst. And hey, we’ll always owe Lyndon for Medicare.