The Dallas Puzzle

Oh Dallas…could it live up to the hype? Dallas has been glamorized in a TV show, proclaimed their Cowboys to be America’s Team and frigging invented the word metroplex to make their city sprawl sound special. Another thing about Dallas for me on this visit was lodging. I had found a generous Couchsurfing host to take me in, but had been dutifully informed about how she was on call for the imminent arrival of a friend’s baby. My true personal nightmare, though, was a fear of getting run over in a city called Big D by a shiny white Ford with a “Texas Truck” license plate making everything just a moot point.


First ya gotta just find Dallas….and that proved hard for my Greyhound bus driver. En route from our start that morning in Amarillo, Texas was a scheduled stop in Fort Worth. This stop took a few tries to nail down. The annoyingly chatty but eagle-eyed pack of dudes the row in front of me were the first to raise alarm. Bleary-eyed me eventually noticed the road construction scenery start to repeat itself. Our driver made a sudden U-turn without announcement and never admitted any error.

Made it into Fort Worth on the second pass. Can’t say I found anything remarkable about the cityscape coming in or out of town. My first instinct was the acronym “DFW” for Dallas/Fort Worth must just be a thing cuz of where they put the airport (like “SEATAC” airport between Seattle and Tacoma, Washington). My research shows though that DFW comes from much more calculated marketing work by the NTC, the North Texas Commission, back in the early 1970’s. In 1972, this Dallas-Fort Worth hype machine invented the term metroplex by combining metropolis and complex to describe the area. The NTC promoted the DFW Airport nationwide as “An airport as big as Manhattan” that same year. I had entered a true place of hyperbole.

Research also places 1972 as the same year Dallas TV show creator David Jacobs took his lone drive thru Texas that inspired his writing of the wildly popular 80’s TV melodrama Dallas. Jacobs’ successful show pitch took place in LA. Once he arrived in Dallas for shooting, Jacobs realized he had totally been thinking of Houston. Proceeding on unfazed, the show began shooting January 1978 and soon ascended to the most watched show on TV in the early 80’s.

The tail end of the 70’s brought the final piece of familiar Dallas hype. The NFL football Cowboys at least did not proclaim themselves to be “America’s Team.” The quote comes from a 1978 NFL Films highlight piece. Clever team president Tex Schramm quickly seized upon it. Many theories on what led to that grandiose 1978 proclamation. Here are some from Bryant Sewall, owner at the time of the Phoenix Prowlers women’s football team, in a Bleacher Report article: “Our Cowboys always wore white hats, was the good guys and represented what was best in America, and it just took hold. Certainly the cheerleaders didn’t hurt either. The hole in the roof at Texas Stadium so God could watch the game added to the mystic as well.”

Well aware of that saying mystic rather than mystique. It appears that way on Bleacher Report. Plus, I’d like to think that isn’t a typo and the ignorant man actually said that.

My personal Dallas hyperbole was that the city would be one giant series of highways teeming with speeding trucks. Didn’t prove me very wrong on first glance:

Coming into Dallas

Thankfully the Dallas bus station is centrally located and quickly found myself able to navigate solely on foot. My apartment off Couchsurfing was in a high-rise nearby:

Chatted with my kind host before she went off to work at nearby restaurant. I went back out on the streets chasing daylight to see some sights before dark:

Dallas City Hall

I had quickly found city hall. Such an interesting shape. Evidently Dallas aspired to change its image with fresh, forward thinking architecture to show a progressiveness on the heels of Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. “For the first time in its swaggering existence, Dallas was ashamed of itself.”

My timing for skyline viewing was impeccable:

A few blocks farther along, signs of a lack of parkland and trees in the city. Behold the bird takeover of the man-made environment:

As darkness fell, I strolled into a newer section of downtown. I went thru Klyde Warren Park which looked rather new. Turns out it was built over top of a highway in 2012:

Heading north from downtown I came into high-end condo land:

Abundant restaurants at the ground level of the condo towers:

I walked on for over a mile before caving on a restaurant. I found there to be an overriding bar-like atmosphere to most of them. That, coupled with the persistently upscale “we have a valet service” entrances, was a turnoff for a humble solo diner on foot.

I did finally sit down to eat at The Rustic, a bustling place with of course a giant bar as well as giant burgers. Hiker hunger won out just couldn’t stand to walk any longer.

Afterwards as I walked back downtown, I noted beauty in buildings lit in the darkness that my gut told me would not be as fetching by light of day:

As I had imagined, the smooth, monotone modern facades of much of downtown Dallas were not as appealing heading out the next morning:

I took solace in finding and following train tracks. Dallas somehow has the longest light-rail network network in the US, but doesn’t have particularly effective service according to CityLab which I totally concur with. Not enough stops in the right spots and frequency of trains was lacking.

Still, much more enjoyable to share the streets with train cars over automobiles:

Things started to get generic on this grey day as I continued northeast:

Very utilitarian buildings and some bland strip malls (yet still with valet parking options) as I made it to a yoga class:

And class delivered. The thoughtful instructor tuned into my slower pace and synced up the poses to my rhythm. I’ve found it to be quite common in large cities for instructors to feel pressure to really “yoga kill” the typically hard driving modern city dweller. Sore legs from my 10 miles a day of walking didn’t make it sensible for me to push the pace. It was so nice to have such an observant teacher.

The yoga left both mind and body smoothed and better prepared to handle the streets ahead. Soon I was greatly outnumbered by cars and trucks. The air trembled from the rush of vehicles as I navigated to a food source:

Finally safely over the highway interchange and spilling into a residential area to the east. Historic architecture! Proved hard to find that around Dallas:

Nestled between the stand of quaint small homes and a highway trench was the charming breakfast cafe Buzz Brews. Staff made me feel very welcome and comical art adorned the building:

But then back out to the streets. The wind was whipping in my face down this desolate sidewalk stretch:

Traveling parallel to US Route 75 was getting intolerable. A vast, empty lot to cut diagonally across pulled me away finally:

Calm school grounds after traversing the scrubby field:

Dallas likes to boast about every last thing:

Kids from the school were in step with me on the sidewalks navigating around several haphazardly placed and always brightly colored shared bikes:

Warning to dog owners in the new condos:

Again more brightly colored bikes just taking up space. Why did I barely see anyone riding these things around the city? I would guess first it’s a weather thing. Grey skies and temps in the 40’s must seem uninviting to people used to hot Texas sunshine . And second, can’t say that I saw many, if any, bike lanes on the roads. Dallas News puts it at a mere 19 miles of buffered bike lanes existing in the entire city.

I was wandering ever closer to part of Baylor University when I had to do an abrupt u-turn. I got the call: my Couchsurfing host’s friend had just gone into labor. She had to leave town, and I had to get my stuff out of her apartment.

I scampered across and under highways to get back to the apartment promptly so my host could beat the rush hour traffic:


A quick pack up and goodbye had me back out strolling downtown streets. More towering glass structures:

And of course more bikes:

Friday evening rush hour had arrived. Even oncoming trains weren’t scaring the fearsome car traffic:

Have I said it was rush hour enough?

Calm was to be found in the posh lobbies of the new condo towers:

Having been on the road for 2 weeks at this point, I was so accustomed to sleeping random places each night that it somehow didn’t panic me to have to relocate on short notice. Sure enough, a quick blast thru Airbnb listings while sat at a coffee shop turned up a property within 2 miles.

The trade off with the great location was a generic, lonely stay. Clean, quiet and with my own bathroom. Can’t complain about that. It was just…..meh. Everything was so new:

The whole area was pretty much new I came to see as I walked out Saturday morning. New and attempting to be fancy:

Wasn’t a good morning for me to be among so much new pretentiousness. I walked to a yoga studio, but walked out without taking a class. Several reasons: 1) $25 price for one class was steep 2)laborious iPad registration system that went as far as to require setting up an account password took up a full 5 minutes of my time and 3)a sign in sheet for class with “your yoga starts here please write legibly” printed at the top.

It was just too much pretense. I walked out to escape into the fresh air. Hangriness could definitely go a ways to explain my easily annoyed mood that morning. As is typical, my Airbnb stay did not include breakfast. I remembered passing a Whole Foods among all the pricey Uptown area dinner restaurants so I routed myself that way.

Still had a ration of homemade granola stashed in my bag. I would grab a yogurt to toss the granola in with and sit with a coffee in the always comfortable Whole Foods dining area. This Dallas location didn’t disappoint; there was a 2nd floor covered patio with ample furniture. I almost took a nap after eating:

Some of the sadness that comes with a Whole Foods franchise coming to town was on display indoors by the bathrooms. Behold the stats on how much native wood was taken from old growth trees and a historic home to use in the construction of the store. Just gross….would so much rather have been sitting on a park bench under that graceful oak in the photo to eat my yogurt:

Refreshed (from eating but definitely not my morning city experience) I headed back out and under overpasses to explore the eastern side of town:

OK that’s a really amazing piece of public art. Masking a parking garage no less:

Ah yet more bikes though:

But then more art:

The art quotient kept increasing as I drew nearer to the cultural land of the Deep Ellum district:

Of course more bikes as I came into Deep Ellum proper. There was an artfulness to the way the bikes were placed I felt though:

Deep Ellum had an edge to it. Artsy, gritty and full of good food. I had some great thin crust pizza for lunch at Serious Pizza.

Plenty of unique sights on the buildings around it:

Great neon sign for the area too:

As it hit midday, I needed to move west on my cultural tour to make use of the short winter daylight. Once again ducking under overpasses:

Passing back thru downtown, Money Alley caught my eye:

Modern times and that parking garage on the right side had taken the gloss off Money Alley’s location. In contrast, the western side of downtown had preserved historic areas more completely:

The JFK assassination is the driver for this level of preservation. I came to the site of the tragedy:

It was jarring to see the “grassy knoll” in person after seeing it so many times on film. Also especially jarring was the fact that the road Kennedy’s motorcade had paraded down is actually a very busy access road onto Interstate 35. After almost seeing a few tourists get run down while taking pics in the middle of the road, I had to get out of there.

Nature called and I was soon on the hunt for a bathroom. Before I left on this trip, a friend had shared an anecdote about Texas public bathrooms always being messy. What I found inside the nearby Amtrak train station took messiness to new heights. There was a thorough, almost seemingly intentional, randomness to the way every element in the room had been messed around with:

MInd blown, I needed to settle down for a moment before proceeding on. I found a well kept park square with mature trees to lounge in while enjoying views of the city:

My final friend-recommended cultural stop before catching my evening flight home to Missouri was checking out the Bishop Arts District. The area was to be found across the Trinity River and several bits of highway. I used the Dallas Area Rapid Transit DART light rail to span the distance:

Went above lots of highway overpasses as well as a giant trough of greenspace around the river. Interesting. I would see much more of this in the coming hours.

Off the train near to the Bishop Arts District and it was serenely more quiet than downtown:

Wholesome wishes on the gracious old tree:

Very quaint and residential around the Bishop Arts area. There were a few main streets with shops and restaurants, but the Saturday masses were taking away from the calmer scene I was in need of. I stuck to side streets:

Not a huge area. I was soon out on West Davis Street flanked by modest cars in an ecclectic setting:

Some symbolic art in a field along the route:

The historic one-story brick buildings along the road were starting to see new businesses move in. Beautiful dog outside a fancy new coffee spot:

It had come time to focus on reaching famed DFW airport. I needed to head north and get to a train line. Up North Tyler Street thru well kept suburbia I went:

Decidedly car territory around this area:

Crossing under Interstate 30 and then across a freight rail line, both the quality of housing and the sidewalk dropped significantly:

The rush of traffic began to quiet as I approached a wide bridge to cross back over the Trinity River:

The bridge had a significant hump in the middle, so it was intimidating on foot not being able to see where it ended. The vast, empty expanse of land the bridge was up above also made me feel quite small as I trekked onward.

The view to the left:

View to the right:

View straight ahead. Finally could see an end to this monster:

And here finally was the river. The Trinity can flood and a particularly severe one in 1908 led to the city keeping development at a very respectful distance from it:

Off the bridge and on industrial looking streets in the Design District:


I had aimed myself at the massive Dallas Market Center and its nearby DART rail station for my departure point to the airport. Navigating around the area I found it favoring car travel with no signs pointing pedestrians where to catch a train. I was the lone person milling around on foot:

Found the train stop. To send me off to the airport was a homeless man trying to sell me the “virgin leather” jacket right off his bare back. He wasn't totally dishonest though, telling me where he slept along an embankment back downtown in condo land and how you could really just ride the train for free.

The sun set as the train pulled in:

I only like to fly when I can get direct connections that are affordable. My hometown Columbia, Missouri has direct flights to Dallas, so before I knew it I was back in Tiger country:

Dallas was the last stop of my 2 week trek around Texas. Not a cohesively grand city, but in certain sections Dallas has appeal. There was enough yoga and food to keep me happy, a train service to get me long distances across the city and I met some nice people. Dallas car culture is strong and polluted my experience for sure, but in the cold of winter I could imagine much worse places to be. How does Dallas stack up for my purposes overall? So glad you asked:

Berndog City Score: Dallas, TX

Weird to be Walking Score(1=everyone thinks I’m homeless to 5=part of a pedestrian parade): 2

Public Spaces and Places(parks and buildings where anyone can hang out 1=none to 5=lots): 2

Screwed Without a Car Factor(1=no bus or train & wide busy roads to 5=I’m in Manhattan): 3

Food Scene(1=fast food, bad chains & gas station groceries to 5=local farm to table all over): 3

Access to Nature(1=endless concrete prairie to 5=in the shadow of mountains): 1

Cityscape(1=strip malls & boring new buildings to 5=locally distinct style with historic districts): 3

Total Score: 14 out of a possible 30. Not the best city for a Berndog, but still worth a visit.

Cheers for reading and thanks to the good people of Dallas:)