F. Carter Smith Portfolio

21 Years

Our dear Lindsey turns twenty-one today and will celebrate the milestone far from home. She begins her semester abroad to study French language, architecture, culture and cinema today in the Riviera. While at Texas, not only did she achieve academically, but made an impact as an intern for the Texas Civil Rights Project where she championed research into prisoner's medical care rights. This young woman has touched us all with her gifts, and we wish her further success in the world forum. We are extremely blessed to have two such extraordinary daughters. Love, Dad


Being Sarah Palin

You Betcha! The former Alaska guvernator-turned-reality star couldn't resist picking up the baby of a serviceman in uniform who stood in line for an autographed copy of her new book Monday, What the F, America? Faith, Family and Flag. Her mama bear instincts were to lift the six-month old girl wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words "Future President". Overheard was the daddy Sergeant exclaiming, "Oh, no, I'm gonna hear it from the wife now!" as he left the table.  Another group of tea party goers in red, white and blue garb had her attention now. "We're from Clear Lake, that's near NASA ..." which elicited a blank stare. Another woman who resembled Sarah herself was interviewed by a local tv newsman as she entered the bookstore. "I support Sarah because she is trying to do good things for the country." Young daughter Piper played with her mommy's iPhone in its pink case, stroking her hair, using the device as a mirror, bored of the publicity tour.


Recapturing Lightnin'

Saturday was proclaimed "Sam 'Lightnin' Hopkins Day" to honor the city's most famous bluesman nearly 30 years after his death in 1982.
A sharecropper's son, Sam built a guitar at age 8 by cutting a hole in a cigar box, nailing on a plank and stringing it with wire. He performed for pennies and dimes until he was drawn to Houston in the late 1930's. He played dance parties and gin joints, the sidewalks and even on city buses. "He loved to drink and play dominoes and shoot dice. Oh, that was his game", recalled cousin and guitarist Milton Hopkins who performed after the dedication of the state historical marker.
In 1960 he played Carnegie Hall with Joan Baez and Pete Seeger. He opened for the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones, and performed a royal command performance before the Queen of England. Hopkins was a major influence on the playing of singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt and ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons. The morning after a performance in Houston's Liberty Hall, a Daily Cougar writer and a young photographer were invited into Sam's apartment for an interview by his daughter Annie Mae Cox, pictured, right. He wouldn't let me use flash and there was only a single lamp burning as we talked with the shades drawn. Here was a man, a legend of country blues, who reluctantly talked about his new fame, discovered by a young white audience searching for the roots of rock and roll. My photos were not great. We did learn that he recorded many hundreds of songs, insisting on $50 cash up front per side, a mere hundred bucks for a 45-RPM record, including his future songwriting royalties. 
His granddaughter Bertha Kelly loved to visit. "You could always find him in his big Cadillac parked in front of the liqour store on Dowling Street, his doors open, chatting to passersby." Annie May and her children, along with a great granddaughter attended the ceremony. We chatted and posed in front of the marker. My daughters also enjoyed the morning, listening to live music, visiting the Flower Man's house across the street and lunching on barbecue. Howling Wolf made an eerie appearance through the voice of bassist King Dino. And across the country, Bob Dylan was beginning his current sets, bopping away at “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat,” its gruff veneer gave a surprising nod to Mr. Hopkins' song “Automobile Blues” from which Dylan drew the inspiration. Lightnin' was a man set free by his music, free to tell us his stories. Goodnight, Sam.
(Thanks to the Houston Blues Society, Eric Davis, Marty Racine and the Chronicle.)

My Second Texas World Series


As you know by now, the Texas Rangers lost the World Series to the band of misfits, the San Francisco Giants in five games. I got to cover my first World Series for MLB.com when the Astros were swept by Ozzie Guillen's Chicago White Sox in 2005. That first series was closer than most remember as all the contests were decided by one run. Things might have turned out different if our best two pitchers, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, had not been limited by a sore hamstring and rain on Chicago's South Side. Still, it became the first World Series played in Texas, and a lasting memory for all who attended.

Flash forward to 2010, and the Rangers were headed to the big show after beating the best two teams in the American League, Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees. The Giants won their division on the final day of the season to "sneak in" to the playoffs. Their bunch of rag-tag parts and stellar pitching defeated the defending champion Phillies to earn a trip to the Series. I am sure that FOX TV was hoping for a better marquee matchup to boost ratings. I was happy for the outcome, and the work it brought. Texas had no answer for the Giants pitchers who mostly silenced the bats of the leagues best hitting team.

Edgar Rentería, at age 35, was the unlikely hero with a three-run home run off ace Cliff Lee. It was the second World Series-winning hit of his career, having singled home the penultimate run for the Florida Marlins when he was a 21-year-old rookie. Thanks Edgar for this lasting memory and my second opportunity to visit a winning locker room while covered in plastic to shield my camera as best as possible from flying champagne.


The Hurricane I Couldn't Avoid

Five years ago, I had the opportunity to chase Katrina up the Gulf coast. As it's path veered up the coast, I feared this Cat5 storm would be the big one. Some compadres in the news biz headed to New Orleans before it hit. I doubt many were prepared for the madness to come. When the levees broke, it became Louisiana 1927, just like the Randy Newman song. When the news reports grew bleaker and the roads were closed, I would have had no luck getting in.

I viewed tornado devastation in east Texas and happened to spend the night in the Orange City jail, guest of the captain on duty. The city was in the dark with little contact to the outside world. The station had emergency power and frozen dinners. The Press (me) was welcomed to share.

After transmitting some photos via a dial-up modem connection (using their land fax line), the Captain checked in with his buddies on AOL, relieving some fears. One tiny prayer in a world turned upside down.

                Astrodome, September ©2005, ©2010 F. Carter Smith


Two days later I had made it back to the safety of home and family. Then the Astrodome was declared home to 25 thousand-plus evacuees from the Superdome (I tend to call them refugees - survivors of a war zone). Hurricane Katrina had hit home. 

Another call comes in from a London newspaper. Some British college kids had arrived in the French Quarter the night before the storm. After a night of partying the group found themselves out of their hotel and in a not-so-quiet corner of the Superdome, fearing for their lives. One kid texted his dad, a metropolitan police officer who caught the first plane to Houston, the evacuees' assumed destination. A reporter and I met Pete Henry as he got off the jet. His son had texted again and we headed towards Dallas' Reunion Arena. In the wee hours we finally caught up with the bus at a staging area 30 miles east. My camera witnessed a truly great father-son reunion. The stories of lawlessness in New Orleans were heard first-hand as I drove them home, stopping only for Tex-Mex and a different slice of America.