Saturday, January 29, 2011

Is Dallas a Drag?

Ooo, I may get in trouble with the Nation for this one.

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I was very struck by segments on three different showgrams -- The Musers, The Hardline, and The Orphanage -- that the nation is not going to have a positive reaction to the City of Dallas when it visits for the Super Bowl.

There were various reasons given.  One common theme was that downtown Dallas is nothing.  It was pointed out that pockets of enjoyable nightlife and retail are few and isolated.  In general, I got the impression from almost every host that they didn't think Dallas was much of a city, for all of its apparent belief that it's world class. 

I agree.

Even ESPN is making its home in Fort Worth.

I arrived in Dallas in 2004.  I moved here because I love Mrs. Plainsman and Mrs. Plainsman's family is here and it's a great family and it was inevitable.  So at an appropriate juncture, we found jobs in the area and made the move.  We were living in a certifiably great city at the time, but I wasn't feeling too bad to leave it.  I'd lived there a long time and had experienced what it had to offer and could always go back to visit.  I had a vision of Dallas as vibrant, young, on the move, putting its money -- it has lots of money, doesn't it?  I mean Dallas and oil and money, right? -- to good use with exciting urban projects.

When I got here, I was stunned.  Compared to the other American cities I'd lived in  (East Coast, West Coast, Midwest), Dallas wasn't even close to being in their league.  And yes, a lot of it had to do with the wretched downtown, the decaying West End and Deep Ellum, the stark southern border and western borders that fall off instantly into poverty and junk, the incomparably ugly public buildings.  As noted, more strip clubs per capita than most anyplace else.  The view along many of our expressways is simply appalling.  I came to understand that local government dominated by the city council was a joke --  no city so constituted ever gets much done, and it does, it's so corrupted and compromised that it's a disaster in the making.  Dallas was a poster child for weak-mayor civic government.

And you know, even in its best parts -- it is really not an extremely attractive city.

Now, if I were a single guy with tons of free time on my hands to zoom from one island of reasonably cool stuff to another, I might feel differently.  It's not that there isn't good stuff in Dallas, it's that its almost randomly scattered about the place.  A couple of good museums.    Dallas is a restaurant capital as well, among the most if not the most restaurants per capita of any city in the US.  (In my judgment, many of the finest by reputation are overrated.)  But what's good about the city is almost random -- you can find good museums, restaurants, night life, architecture anywhere you go, but Dallas doesn't convey an identifiable singular urban experience.  It's entirely generic.  What cities do convey that experience?  Well, Fort Worth; San Antonio; Austin; and, I would argue, even Houston has a better brand than Dallas.

The city has many, many good people, and some gorgeous women.

But, and you must trust me on this, absolutely no more than elsewhere, and, like everything else about the place, and despite the evidence of that photograph, they're so scattered that even the pulchritude in this city is seriously diluted.

Ah  .  .  .  but Dallas has The Ticket.  It is no surprise that in resident surveys on what is best about DFW, a little light-bulb of a guy-based radio station consistently ranks at or near the top of the charts.  This is testimony to The Ticket's greatness, but it must also be counted as a serious rebuke to the city, that so many of its residents can't think of ten things better than a sports-talk station.   I am not entirely sure what I would do without The Little One to elevate my Dallas experience.

In discussing Dallas with others, I am always fearful that I would come off like a snob, so I don't talk much about my disappointment with the joint.  Which is why I was so startled to hear so many Ticket hosts believing that visitors were going to come away with a bad impression.  Yeah, they will, but it amazed me that these long-time Dallas guys believed that.

What do you think, Confessors?  Does Dallas have an inferiority complex?  Does it deserve to be mentioned alongside the great cities of our country?  Tell me what I need to do -- other than listen to The Ticket even more than I do now -- to get into the good things that Dallas has to offer, to learn to appreciate the place. 

I can be educated.


Anonymous said...

You pretty much nailed it.

My biggest gripe about Dallas is that everything is so spread out. There are cool things to do, but they're always far away, and parking is always an issue.

OK, I take that back, my biggest gripe about Dallas is the absolute hostility toward live music. Apathy would be a step up. One of my friends calls Dallas "The City That Hates Music," and he's right. From hostile city government to shady venue owners, opportunistic booking agents to apathetic "fans" and a lack of good music shops - this town does everything it can to ensure live music will never make it here.

-Anon B

Anonymous said...

Anon B,

What do you count as a live music scene? If you're talking about alt-country, well, there's a pretty good thing going on here. If you are into metal, same thing. Now if you are, say, into garage or punk rock, well, you might be onto something. The thing is to know where to find it. I used to play music for a living. I toured all throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Japan. EVERY city, says their live music scene sucks. Music scenes such as the one the occurred in Seattle during the early 90s are rare. That scene is now stale. New York bands keep doing the same thing, year after year. No matter where you are it's always the same. That is, a band or a genre gets some hype and bang there's a supportive scene. As soon as it gets old, the scene is gone. Shady venue owners and booking agents are the same everywhere, too.

Anonymous said...


Dallas, if you are also including its suburbs, is indeed spread out. If not, then it really isn't any different from many other major U.S. cities. If you think that the interesting things to do in Dallas are too spread out, then what do you make of Los Angeles? I've spent a considerable amount of time there, and believe me, while there are more things to do and see there, they are not close to one another; and the traffic makes ours look like a one stop light town. As well, its downtown was a vacant, sans prostitutes and junkies, until about 7 years ago.

You are right regarding Dallas's city government. You have progressives on one side who live in a fantasy world where we must spend millions upon millions on designer bridges, and conservatives on the other side who find no wrong in whatever big business wishes to do. Each side is infested with corruption; each side is unable to work with the other in a meaningful way. Thus nothing of consequence gets done that is of actual benefit to the city.

If you think Houston is better than Dallas, take a visit and see what zoning deregulation can do to a city. There are literally liquor stores next to schools, sex toy shops at the end of neighborhood blocks, and 25 story buildings in the middle of 1-2 story neighborhoods.

There are more strip clubs in Atlanta than Dallas. (Houston is about even with us, too.)

The views from the expressways aren't very nice here, but in some places they are. The views from most areas in Chicago aren't very nice either (unless you're going along the lake right north of the city or directly into downtown). Same can be said of L.A. and most of Boston.

Where things are really happening in the area are Oak Cliff, East Dallas/Lake Wood, and slowly but surely, Downtown. Downtown wasn't always the way it has been for the last 25 or so years; it used to be vibrant. Sadly, there has been no real effort until recently to revivify it. A full recovery will take some time, and a lot of money.

As to the "Dallas Experience": I'm not sure what the San Antonio or Austin experience is (?). The riverwalk? 6th street? Being a slacker? Tex-Mex? Blues? UT? With the exception of UT and Tex-Mex, both city's denizens will tell you the rest is all touristy, movie perceptions; not what it's really like to live there. And while Ft. Worth has its lovely downtown with its adjacent (small) restaurant scene, the rest of it is no different from Dallas. Very few cities are defined by their downtown life anymore; most people live in the suburbs.You've lived here since 2006. I have a feeling that there is a lot of Dallas and the surrounding area that you have no idea exists--e.g., from the Wagner Society, to the Institute for the Humanities, to the rowing and sail clubs, to the Sherlock Holmes Society, to despite what you claim its myriad of Zagat and otherwise acclaimed restaurants and even celebrity and Michelin starred chefs, to its Frank Lloyd Wright designed houses, to Fair Park's singular example of art-deco, to... In other words, Dallas is diverse in its riches; that is the unifying singular urban experience. Are there things wrong here? Many. But is it generic? No.

And as far as pulchritude goes: Plainsman, you're either so much in love with your wife that you are blind, or you are indeed blind!

The Plainsman said...

Excellent comments, all. My sole rejoinder relates to the pulchritude -- its plentiful here, but as good or better in cities where people actually walk on the streets.

Now: I'm perfectly happy to hear about Dallas and I'm sure I will. I see that in my close I asked for it. But what prompted this article was the attitude of The Ticket hosts. Is anyone surprised at the unanimity of their view that visitors will not find the city up to snuff?

The Plainsman said...

Wait. Forgot. Do like the weather.

Anonymous said...

Excepting Bob and Dan, the rest of the Ticket hosts have either lived their entire or most of their lives here. They know what Dallas is; it's greatness; it's flaws; but most of all it's unique nature (see my last rambling post!). Being a native Dallasite, I understand why they're taking this stance. People, to this day, from other parts of the country (especially the northeast) and the world as a whole seriously think that we ride horses and are like the characters in "Dallas." I wish I was exaggerating, but I'm not. Too, there is real distaste for all things Texas, but especially Dallas from both coasts -- where most of the media comes from. This dislike, and even disdain, arises in part from the Bush presidency (fairly on not), in part from thinking southerners are dumb and racist, and in part from the Kennedy assassination. The latter still casts a pall over this city in the eyes of many.

So... take all of that and throw in a not so happening downtown, a rebounding but nowhere near there yet music and nightlife mecca (Deep Ellum)a downtrodden tourist trap (the West End, which, Plainsman, is what that area's once intended purpose was, and to some extent still is), a half-finished mini-St. Louis Arch, half-finished road construction in Arlington, the rather dismal surroundings of the Death Star, the fact that most of the media doesn't like Jerry, the Cowboys, or anything that has anything to do with them... and that's why I believe the Boys from our favorite station feel the way they do.

The Plainsman said...

Very nice summary, Anonymous. It has the ring of truth.

P1 Steven said...

I always thought the DFW area suffered from ADD. Never to much investment in any one area. Thus a whole bunch of half ass finished areas. I wouldnt not be surprised if Arlington continues to build around Cowboy/The Ballpark in Arlington. I think we naturally have a disdain for where we are fun, BUT ask out of towneres who have transplanted... They love it. Why? Cost of living & weather. Not exactly big draws for someone staying for a week.

gunnertec said...

Most of the cookie-cutter nature of the city is due to big biz. We play host to numerous corporate HQs which pull in transplants from all over the country. The by-product of this is developers creating commerce and residential areas that are doppelgangers of other developments in other states. It ends up being fairly bland but, for the guy who just transferred from Tampa or Tempe and his haus-frau, it "feels like home."

What it all spells is a great deal of derivative culture.

As a native Dallasite and a younger generation, I can say that our lack of perceived culture has never bothered me much. In fact, I can get nearly any type of food from any number of restaurants within a 20 minute drive or less. Further, many of these restaurants are family owned and/or independent franchises. I can see almost any movie that comes out, even limited releases--with only a few exceptions playing in NY/LA. I can see fairly high-quality plays, musicals, symphonic and choral productions. I have access to almost any book through our library system (in Plano, no less) and even more if I lived in Dallas. I can participate in any number of community non-profit enterprises both metroplex wide and locally. The weather is fairly decent most of the time (the extreme heat and humidity are bothersome occasionally). What I notice about the transplants from other states is that they will bitch and moan about Texas or Dallas and tell you how great other places are, where they were from. BUT THEY CONTINUE TO LIVE HERE! And that goes for athletes as well. How many countless athletes moved here and then left, only to maintain a home in the area?

I really enjoy it. I complain about the traffic, just like most other Dallasites, but I deal. Just like would have to deal with foot-traffic or subways, elsewhere.

The Plainsman said...

And a big, big My Ticket Confession welcome to gunnertec!

Superb inaugural post.

"Hollywood" Matt Shannon said...

As someone who's lucky to live in the Mid Cities area and doesn't have to go to Dallas often, I can't say that I'm the biggest fan of Dallas. The drivers suck, for one(that's a given in almost any big city, though). And when I decide to go to an event that's in Dallas(i.e., Mavs game, Stars game or WWE), I'll take the TRE train to the AAC rather than mess with the parking and having to drive in Dallas. About the only motivation I could have to go to Dallas would be to make a visit to Freebirds(think Chipotle, but a lot better, imho), but guess what? Now there's one only five minutes from where I live! So please, don't feel bad about this post at all! :D