Editor’s note: This story is a first-person narrative paired with “The Stamford Star: James Washington, the brightest son of a slowly dying Texas town.”
I wasn’t sure what to expect.
The idea came to me in April. Mark Cooper, who covers Oklahoma State for the Tulsa World, knew I was spending the summer in Dallas. He recommended I visit the homes of some OSU players while I was there, considering a bevy of them live in the metroplex.
Instead, my mind jumped to an article by Jason Kersey, a former Oklahoma beat writer for The Oklahoman. He had visited Sooners offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s hometown of Muleshoe, Texas, and told the story of how he was viewed in the eyes of the town.
The combination of those ideas began my path to Stamford. I drove the three hours west one Monday in July and arrived in the mid-afternoon.
I walked the streets for a few minutes, taking it in. The first business I went in was Pink Ladies Thrift Store. Don’t judge me. It was close to where I parked.
After looking at some of the old VHS tapes for sale, I approached the woman at the front counter. I told her I was with the O’Colly at OSU. Her eyes lit up as I asked her whether she had heard of James Washington.
“Of course I know James,” she said. “The whole town knows James.”
Her name was Barbara Harrison. It turned out she was the wife of the last person from Stamford to make the NFL, Bob Harrison.
She mentioned some other people I should try to talk to, and I made my way around town.
In Stamford, two newspaper buildings sit on adjacent street corners. One is The Stamford Star. The other moved recently, its building occupied by a restaurant. The paper is The Stamford American. The restaurant: China Wok.
The irony didn’t stop me. I grabbed a late lunch there. A teen boy sat behind the counter, playing Pokémon Go and watching Netflix. I thought about asking him about Washington.
My fortune cookie told me, “Express yourself now.”
Jackie Yang and I talked about Stamford, his move from New York City to the small town at 9 and how he was nervous about getting started at Stamford High.
Yang didn’t make it into my feature on Washington and Stamford, but he gave me so much underlying insight into the town.
At Big 12 Media Days, Washington gave me a home phone number for his parents. When I called and asked to visit their home, his mom, Chrysta, was all for it. She only asked that I be there before they went to the church.
I left Dallas at dawn, arrived in town and took in the Washingtons’ tiny neighborhood. Chrysta and Washington’s father, James Sr., sat in their living room with me and spoke with me for an hour and a half.
After the interview, I needed to grab lunch before leaving town. I had asked Washington at Media Days what his favorite restaurant in Stamford was. He said it used to be Cowpokes, where he worked, but it’s now closed. He chose the Cliff House instead.
He recommended the steak fingers.