Saturday, April 28, 2018

Dallas: streetcars, community bicycle rides, crisp cider, a container for grief

Got myself this morning to the streetcar that connects downtown. In fact, I found convenient parking as the streetcar waited. However, it took 20 minutes to lock my car – the remote was probably low on batteries and you can’t know if it’s working unless you’re far enough away and you can’t have the keys on you to know if it’s locked. Madness. So I watched the streetcar depart as I wrestled with extracting the manual key from the fob. No easy feat.

As I walked away waiting for the next car, I called the rental roadside assistance and was told I could take the car back to the airport – a harrowing 45 minutes away – for a new car. So, I just asked that my complaint be registered. Thankfully, the ride downtown was easy and gave me a sense of the broad neighborhood, the wide gap with a river separating the downtown and the monstrosity of road snaking around the city. The driver was friendly and knowledgeable, offering that the connector is not widely used. It’s easy and free, but I think Texans, like the rest of us, prefer their cars.

The ride ended near Union Station and I walked 2 blocks to the JFK Museum. Seemed like a quintessential thing to do, although a bartender at the cider company, a Dallas native,  said he’d never been. I waited in line to buy a ticket from a sweet cashier who called me – and everyone else – sugar with a southern charm. I waited in line for a timed visit, was handed headphones and a small tablet, then took the elevator to the sixth floor, joining dozens of others to understand and relive the trauma of 55 years ago. Our bratty neighbor ran to the driveway after we had returned home from the grocery to tell us. Even he was shaken.

The exhibit wound through a full floor of the book repository, weaving among displays about the culture, turbulence, politics, idealism, Cold War and nuclear scares of the era. I wondered what we had learned, just as I had recently while visiting the May 4th Museum at Kent State University. We seem to repeat ourselves.

The counter culture and idealism of the times interested me more than a blow by blow of that fatal day; maybe because I had lived it. The AP wire tape caught my attention, but not more than the area from which Oswald shot. As I approached – the corner is kept as it was, littered with boxes and encased in plexiglass, but you can peer out the adjacent windows onto the road and grassy knoll– I felt chilled, the sinister energy of that day present. I couldn’t shake it, so avoided the conspiracy and forensic information areas. It was almost too much information. I needed some way to release the grief.

I quietly exited, walked up a flight to a higher view than Oswald’s where I could take a photo, then visited the shop to purchase a book, Dallas 1963, which purports to explain the crucible of Dallas that contributed to Kennedy’s assassination. Texas conservatives wanted to contain the spread of liberalism, which they felt was undermining America. I asked the cashier what he had heard about this book, the store had tens of books on Kennedy (minute-by-minute accounts, those by everyone who was ever there, conspiracy theory, ballistics, etc), making it difficult to choose. He said this was not among his favorites because it was one-sided. I assumed he meant it placed Dallas in a negative light. I went back, relooked, and felt none met my criteria of local flavor, except for this. I have a habit of picking up a book about the locale when I travel. I am still reading the 500-pager I bought about the Alamo several years ago. I found the paperback version, $10 cheaper and lighter for air travel, and a postcard of a Kennedy campaign poster.

I left, sobered.

My next-planned stop wasn’t so high minded. I wanted to buy some colorful Mexican tiles for the kitchen I’d just repainted with a rustic faux finish. Google maps said it was about a mile away, but neglected to tell me the walk included expressway. After a mile-and-a-half of wandering, I decided to head back toward the streetcar, visit Union Station and return to Bishop Arts and the official tour of the home the happy couple, whose wedding I was in Dallas to attend, is building. But, first, I paused at the Philip Johnson-designed Kennedy tribute that asks viewers to enter this container of peace and silence. The 1970s stark structure is in need of repair and a funding campaign is underway.  I left that bit of grief and was in need of a pit stop. I always feel safe and innocuous in big-city hotels, so wandered into the Hilton Garden Inn. After, I walked fast so I could whip through the terminal, one of my favorite kind of places to visit in new cities. Public transportation is the leveling factor and train/bus stations have so much life and character. Not true in Dallas, where Union Terminal was redone some decades ago in such a blah, uninviting style, it was empty.

The ride back was uneventful, I picked up my car and drove to the new house. Parked in front were the wedding party in a black stretch limo and a large black charter bus filled with wedding guests. I reconnected with old friends and visited the stunning house, again. I was met at the door by my new friend Carlos, who lives in the neigborhood, has been helping with the construction, and gave me a sneak peek yesterday. I told him I’d rushed back and was starving. He hadn’t eaten either, so after the showing, we headed up the street to Tribal, an organic, juice-and-rice-bowl sort of place with mismatched woods, steel stools and white wash. I ordered the kale, brown rice, pesto and fermented veggie bowl. He ordered the same as a sandwich. I also had the chai, a very gingery, not-sweet concoction with almond milk. I am picky about my chai; I want it spicy and not sweet. This fit the bill.

We parted ways and I walked to the variety of local shops, encountering a mass of kids and bicycles. The local public school had encouraged kids to ride their bikes all week culminating in an entourage excursion with police escorts, a celebration along two closed streets, a musician using the back of a pickup as a stage and a local restaurant providing mini root-beer floats. There were kids, parents, teachers, shoppers, diners … truly an eclectic community event, one I would like to emulate at home.

After visiting some boutiques and buying local soap and chapstick for my daughters, I rounded the corner and impulsively stopped at the cider company. I ordered a flight of four: guava aged in oak, strawberry rhubarb, blood orange and cran-blackberry. Tasty, sour (which I liked) and crisp like wine. When I asked the tender why ciders are so popular, he replied they weren’t in Texas, but with so many people gluten free, they’re a good alternative to beer. A young man at the bar visiting from Albany, NY was sampling a cider based on a recommendation from a whiskey bar in Ft. Worth, which he said felt more like the old Texas. I am missing that dose as Dallas is modern, congested, filled with concrete, more construction and vegetation similar to home. However, my airbandb neighborhood is comprised of neat, small ranches, working-class Latino-Americans and  breath of fresh air.

My sweater disappears as I head back to the car in 80-degree, wonderful sun, finding a charming, colorful house that must belong to an artist, meet a very tall red, metal man, cross through the bustling neighborhood I visited yesterday, and collect my vehicle. I make one stop at a discount store … because, you never know, deals here may be different than at home. Not so much, except I picked up a sheer shawl the exact color of my dress for the wedding for $5. I’d passed on one at home from TJ Maxx for $15.

After lazing in the late-day sun and calling home, I opt to skip heading back out for dinner (though my host graciously messaged me a couple of taco options), finish the guac, ceviche and handmade tortillas from yesterday atop greens, down a couple of Estrella Jaliscos, and try to watch a movie in Spanish. I give up, put on the Manchurian Candidate, map tomorrow’s adventure and fall asleep.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Not alone in the Lone-Star State

Texas Theatre
I hear an owl, a rooster and traffic from my cozy, studio airbandb. I think those may be apt symbols for Texas, a wild and wooly place new to me. The owl represents nature; the rooster, a rural, village-like culture; and cars, progress as well as a way to get to the spread-out places. I tried like the dickens to do this trip without renting a car, but not meant to be. The guy at the rental-car counter, originally from Chicago, said: “No way, can you NOT have a car. I had a hard time when I moved here three years ago,” he said referencing the Windy City’s EL-subway.

I had planned to be with my 17-year-old on this trip, but she miscalculated prom and was invited to a special awards ceremony she could not miss. So, here I am. In Texas, Dallas to be specific, alone. It IS the lone-star state,

And I don’t mind a bit. Of course, I wanted the mother-daughter trip, but I doubt I would have tackled the hole-in-the wall taco stand [and flirted for a hot sec with the guy who wanted to buy my tacos and take me dancing] or a beer at a crazy bookstore called the Wild Detectives [we would have done coffee, but then I wouldn’t have had the privilege of sharing a beer with Jose, the bartender/barista from Peru]. And maybe not the local, Fiesta grocery catering to an Hispanic clientele or the school-uniform shop in the midst of an authentic and not-so spiffy enclave.

The trip began with a 4:15 a.m. alarm and my diligent husband depositing me off at Frontier (ok, it’s CGV, so they all pretty much share the same drop-off and terminal these days). Took five minutes to check my bag and get through TSA pre-check, which I see as pretty much white privilege. Rarely do I spot anyone of color in those lines. It feels a bit segregated to me, but the cost of flying probably eliminates the have-nots.

After walking past my gate hidden before the Subway, I stumbled into a friend, who has moved back to town. It was fun sharing an early-morning yawn. No time for a Starbucks as the place was packed and my other half had French-pressed me a decaf and had it ready in a go-cup. Yes, I know, he’s pretty special.

It seemed I’d have a row to myself until the legions of Bengals’ and Browns’ fans began to board for the NFL draft (of which I know nothing, except what my seat mate explained). I silently chuckled as the 6’7” guy stuffed himself into the middle seat across from me. Luckily, Penny and her college-senior daughter, all of us under 5’5”, neatly fit and slept most of the trip. Before some shut eye, I did learn Penny is a longtime Bengals’ season ticket holder and was one of 32 NFL fans flown, wined and dined at last year’s draft. She won a similar honor this year. This six, burley twenty-something guys in the row ahead of us drank Bloody Marys. They weren’t obnoxious, merely entertaining. As much as our flight attendant, who mimed the whole safety spiel (including drowning and gagging from the oxygen)  to much laughter and applause. I asked if she’d studied acting and she said she had attended a school for performing arts, her life had taken a different turn and she wanted to use her skills. The trip flew by.

I whipped through DFW airport, was whisked aboard a shuttle to all car rentals – apparently they ran out of room, so all agencies are located in a new terminal just for cars about three miles away – collected my sporty Mazda and drove off to parts unknown, listening to my navigator. Until there was no guiding voice, so I pulled over to discover I couldn’t sync my phone with the vehicle’s Bluetooth. When my phone charged, there was no audio. This would not do for driving in a city foreign to me. Desperate, I simply unplugged the phone and got my audio back, hoping to have enough charge to get to Bishop Arts, just outside of downtown Dallas, near by accommodations.

I was being charged $3 a day plus the amount of tolls on my rental, so opted for the actual “free” way, which may have been why it was so harrowing. So many switches, confusing construction and snaking roads. When I arrived, I parked next to an elementary school, exhausted and grateful … until I could not get the car to lock. I retrieved the quick-start manual, then the full manual to read up on “advanced” keyless entry, which left me clueless to how it doesn’t work, even though I’ve driven a keyless Prius for years. I called my husband, who smartly suggested looking at a Youtube video. No help, so I called roadside assistance, suggesting either I was missing something or the remote was malfunctioning. After a bit of stifled silence, the operator returned and said to move farther away from the car, lock it and leave my keys at that distance, then see if it locked. Voila. She said they get those panicked calls all of the time. Phew. Now I could get on with my trip.

First order of the day, now midmorning, was to eat tacos. I walked toward a woman in front of a Mexican restaurant and asked her for a recommendation. "Don't eat here, down that way," she pointed,  to a taco stand, "Taqueria El Si Hay." With that advice I ambled down the street to a tiny walk-up joint surrounded by pick-up trucks. I asked the guy ahead of me what he was ordering. He said fajitas. I let the guy behind me go while I debated, then I ordered corn tacos with fajita (steak) and bistek (steak) because they were out of al pastor (pork). The person ahead said I'd made a good choice, but I think he would have said that no matter what. He very persistently tried to 1) buy my tacos 2) have lunch with me 3) invite me to go dancing among other things. He was amusing, not menacing. Even so, when I was able to disengage, I chose to walk a ways to find a quiet place to eat ... alone. My feast was pleasing, if a bit greasy, and topped off with a Mexican Coke. It really does taste better.

I walked the arts district, peering into a t-shirt shop, then meeting Kristen in her lovely, artistically curated gift shop, all GOOD things. She drafted a list of her favorite places – she lives downtown and loves her city – around Dallas for me on beautiful embossed stationery. “My boyfriend and I are thinking of writing a guide because we get so many requests.” I got a sneak preview. I stopped in the electric bicycle shop to enquire about a rental, was lured into Lydia’s eclectic shop by the smell of patchouli and we traded stories about the helpfulness of CBD (hemp) oil. I think it was there I saw a t-shirt that read: “I love Jesus and I like to drink.” A bit edgy and sacrilegious, but VERY human. My daughter said it sounded very Texas, which was my impression.

I eventually made my way to Wild Detectives for a restroom to wipe away the travel grime and order a coffee. Only I began conversing with Jose, the barista/bar tender and we shared local brews (his was half size since he was working). A transplant from Peru with a degree in philosophy and a local teacher-girlfriend, he imparted his local tourism knowledge, pushing the Kimball Art Museum in Ft. Worth. “You walk in and see the Old Masters and Picasso. No on believes Texas has that kind of culture, like New York.” Apparently, there’s an entire cultural corridor in Ft. Worth, more of Old Texas with this exception, Jose said. Another customer, visiting from Brazil, overheard and highly recommended not only the Kimball (designed by Louis Kahn), but the Amon Carter Museum designed by Philip Johnson and American Art and the Modern Art Museum of Ft. Worth, designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. He delighted in their exteriors as well as their collections and seemed to be an architecture geek.

I still had time to kill before my rental was ready, so walked to a more authentically Hispanic, less gentrified, section of the area, as recommended by Jose. So many glamorous dresses filled little shops, tucked beside mini mercados stuffed with piñatas and auto-insurance and medicare/caid-assistance businesses. I stopped in a consignment shop because I always like to see what the local treasures are, and met a young woman from Guatamala, a preschool teacher with a very sick seven-year-old. A bright red, wingback rocker tempted me, except that I couldn’t imagine the hefty baggage fee Frontier would charge. I was mesmerized by Levine’s, an old-school department store, offering rack after rack of school and work uniforms and every sort of Levi style ever conceived. There was a platoon of navy blazers embroidered with school names. I asked the clerk if there were a lot of private schools. Charters, he corrected me. I ended my visit at Fiesta, the local, large grocery, perusing the exotic fishes, meat parts, stacks of tortillas and cactus leaves. I opted for store-made ceviche, guacamole, Amarillo tortillas, a small wedge of queso cotija, a six-pack of Estrella Jalisco, a handful of 10-cent limes and piece of flan.

With an hour left to check-in, I drove by the home my childhood friend and her fiancé – their wedding is the REAL reason I am in Dallas – are building in the arts district. Workers installing the tile on the front porch motioned me inside when I asked for the groom-to-be and general contractor. My mouth was agape at how stunning this spacious, well-planned, heavily-detailed contemporary-but-classic home is. I waited for Carlos to finish a phone call. A friend of the groom, he graciously showed me the house, all of its nooks and crannies and secret storage. Some of the storage rooms are bigger than bedrooms in my house. Harry Potter would have a villa under these stairs. Intricate, hand-crafted wood floors, deep crown molding and custom cabinets made me drool. This is a to-die-for dream house. I swore Carlos to secrecy that I hadn’t been there because the wedding includes a chartered bus ride to see the home.

I am so happy to learn more about my friend, Amy, a Texan for a long time, on her turf. I only see her when she returns to Cincinnati. Our parents became friends in college and lived in Chicago as young adults raising young families. They followed us to Cincinnati shortly after we were transplanted. We’re more family than friends. Because of life circumstance, I am the only one from my family available to make this trip. Amy and Stephen recently flew home to visit my sister and husband as he struggled with illness. That’s family and long-term friendship.

I left this beautiful spot to head to my well-appointed, but much sparer studio to revive myself from the very long, but fruitful day. I opened a beer and lingered in the late-afternoon sun, feasted on my store-bought goodies, planned the next day, binged a bit on Netflix and retired to the sounds of the owl, rooster and traffic, which lulled me to sleep.