My unexpected diversion in May…
Dallas is not a Mecca for the crazed or the destitute, like San Francisco, LA, Miami, or NYC. People here work. Be it the overweight white man or the careworn black lady (to pick a couple of stereotypes), everybody I saw here was dressed for work and going somewhere with a purpose. Even the people loitering in the surprisingly numerous green spaces of the city looked like they were loitering with a purpose – a free afternoon hard-earned.
Dallas, or Texas at all, was the last place, really the last place I expected to be at this time. I knew nothing about Dallas, other than that JFK was assassinated there, and there was oil money. I was far from pleased when Canadian Immigration said they were sending me back there (the point of departure of my last connecting flight) – what on earth was I going to do in Dallas?? But there seemed no point in not making the most of it before my unanticipated journey home.
Texas has its own special colour which I first spotted from the air – sandy brown with shiny bits on. The part 70s, part space-agey Dallas-Fort Worth Airport epitomised this. My flight home not being for another day, Carlos, the exuberantly friendly and helpful hostel manager, hustled me onto a train downtown to explore for the afternoon. He was so enthusiastic that I rushed to catch the train without even stopping to eat some lunch or drink some water, both of which I’d been thinking about the entire journey to the hostel.
Downtown Dallas appeared as the Texan panorama had from the sky: brown, shiny, and huge! There are a remarkable amount of green spaces – plazas and tree-lined boulevards, extravagant fountains of gushing, chlorinated water – amongst the huge, shiny skyscrapers. Everything is incredibly clean. It’s almost to the point of creepiness, like in Mountain View, a bizarre little town we visited in Silicon Valley populated almost exclusively by IT professionals. Or soullessness, as in the dull and utterly untempting streets of Reno… But not quite. Dallas teeters on the edge of those things, but pulls it back with its proud and apparent work ethic, and its strong awareness of and pride in its Texan identity. Somehow it has earned the right to be clean and shiny.
Despite all the things you hear about Texans – their gun-toting ways, their Republican inclinations, the prevalence of obesity and worse, racism – I was more taken by these people than the square, characterless white folks of Reno, or the dead-behind-the-eyes sad souls of Miami. They’ve got spirit here: a culture and a history they’re proud of, and whether it’s to my taste or not, as a Scot, I respect that.
I walked from the ‘historic’ district, which contains some beautiful, antiquated and largely decaying buildings from the pre-skyscraper days but is now principally a transport hub to outlying suburbs and barrios, up to West Village, the ‘college’ district where the ‘kids’ hang out. Whereas the historic district is a sea of black workers making their way home (I sometimes find it uncomfortable to note such distinctions, but the racial divide in the States is palpable), the kids in West Village were a mass of blonde clones clad head-to-toe in labels from the designer boutiques that comprised the area. Fake blondes all with the same straw shade of hair, so sure that they’re well-dressed because they’ve paid exorbitant amounts for each item… To my eye they are utterly styleless.
I went to an upmarket taco place Carlos had recommended which was indeed delicious, despite its clientele of vapid college girls and moneyed Latinos with attitudes. It tasted right out of D.F. and I had terrible pangs of nostalgia and longing for dodgy taquerías and shady tavernas, dancing to bad Latin pop and drinking 50c beers, midnight taxi rides across swathes of dark, unknown city with friends made only an hour before…
Carlos did make me almost sorry later that I wasn’t staying longer. On Thursdays he takes the guests for a Country and Western dance lesson, then for beers and a face-reddening attempt at the mechanical rodeo bull. The Friday night excursion is to the biggest honky-tonk saloon in the world, which contains 23 bars and holds 10 000 people! How unfortunate i was leaving on a Wednesday.
I slept unbelievably soundly that night, though my dreams were not peaceful (they rarely are). I didn’t wake up once, and awoke into a clean morning light that felt like the glow of snow on a Christmas morning…