Posted with permission from The Washington Times

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Since everything is bigger in Texas, perhaps it's little wonder Dallas residents call their hometown "the Big D." The Lone Star State's third-largest city by population has seen history both glorious and ignominious since John Neely Bryan hammered down stakes on a small plot of land along the Trinity River in 1841 in the then-Republic of Texas- a settlement he called Dallas.

While the origins of Bryan's moniker have been lost to time, what Dallas has found in nearly two centuries since its birth is greatness in the psyches of both Texas and America. As its greater metro area now ranks as the fourth-most-populous in all of the U.S., it's little wonder that springs of culture, entertainment, history and an economy that honor the past while constantly peering toward the future have made Dallas one of the hipper cities in the country.

(And not one, but two television shows have bore its name.)

So much to see, so little time. But here's what I saw and experienced in two days of touring the Big D.

 

Friday:

As you land at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), you stand at the apex of a triangle whose legs reach southwest to Fort Worth and southeast toward Dallas. I take an Uber southeast to the heart of Dallas, where business, recreation, government, history and the arts are said to blend together as one.

I check in at The Highland Dallas (5300 E Mockingbird Ln., Dallas, Texas, 75206, 214/520-7969), the first hotel in Hilton's Curio Collection abutting the Glencoe neighborhood and but a stone's throw from Southern Methodist University. My room is a spacious, welcoming affair, with an open plan that allows me to see the entire room from the doorway. Afore me is a king-size bed with two end tables facing a rather generously sized television. Beyond the mammoth bed is a desk where I will set up my laptop, and on the far end of the room is an L-shaped couch wedged into a similarly shaped corner. Each leg of the "L" corner has drapes to allow in or keep out the Texas heat as I so desire (though the AC will be at full blast) and a small dining table.

To satiate my appetite I head not far to The Rustic (3656 Howell St, Dallas, Texas, 75204, 214/730-0596) for some genuine Dallas cooking. Zane Harrington and Stephanie Faulk of VisitDallas greet me and offer a primer on their town, the local cuisine and, most importantly, the "cowboy way."

I learn Germany is one of Dallas' major visiting hubs, and from where tourists come to Texas to explore the cowboy mythology that has been exported via American films, TV shows and music. The Germans, Zane and Stephanie tell me, are absolutely mad for cowboy culture, mythos and, especially, the attire. Visitors from Deutschland often spend hours perusing local boutiques in search of Stetsons and various other paraphernalia.

In fact, Zane regales me with a tale of how a busload of German tourists spotted a real cowboy walking the Dallas sidewalks and promptly entreated their driver to pull over - only to discover that the "authentic" cowboy was, in fact, a fellow German.

Ain't that just the way it goes, y'all? Naturlich, nein? 

While I chat with my hosts, I enjoy a Blood & Honey from Granbury, Texas. This Texas brew boasts a wheat profile and a deep golden color and is topped with said blood orange and Texas honey for something different. Off the dessert menu, I highly recommend The Rustic's chocolate cake. You won't be sorry.

One of the reasons I enjoy taking press trips is not only experiencing the local cuisines, culture and, obviously, drinks, but communing with the history, both natural and manmade, endemic to the region. And thus, somewhat to my own surprise, my next stop is the George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum (2943 SMU Blvd., Dallas, Texas, 75205, 214/200-4300), located on the campus of Southern Methodist.

Bush was the first president of my life for whose entire tenure I was an adult, and thus the memories of his time in Washington - good and bad - remain sharp, and thus I'm fascinated to see how this facility handles his legacy.

However I might have felt about Bush at the time, I'm truly impressed with not only how balanced are the exhibits, but how thorough. Of course I remember 9/11, and while my day was anything but normal, Mr. Bush, as president, found himself in the single most awful day in American history since the bombing of Pearl Harbor 70 years earlier. The exhibits describing the events of that day, the timelines of the attacks as well as the immediate and later aftermath, are handled with both care and respect for the victims and the survivors. It's a reminder of how so many came together in the face of such horror, and of the greatness to which America can - and does - aspire.

Elsewhere, make sure to check out Mr. Bush's paintings of U.S. military veterans. Panels tell how, after leaving office, Mr. Bush "took a class" in artwork and, to his surprise more than anyone's, found he had a talent for it. You can find these works in the "Portraits of Courage" gallery. Keep your eyes peeled as well for depictions of his father, George H.W. Bush.

While Mr. Bush unquestionably steered U.S. policy during his time in the White House, America's social fabric was unquestionably guided as well by his wife, Laura Bush, from 2001-09. Throughout the library are testaments to Mrs. Bush practicing what she preached and living out the dictums of her faith to serve others by addressing poverty, supporting women's rights in Afghanistan, working tirelessly for literacy and advocating for women's health. One leaves the building with a greater respect for her indeed. (She also broke from her husband in supporting gay marriage long before the Supreme Court ruled it the law of the land.)

There are also interactive exhibits, videos of the Bush daughters, artifacts galore and, of course, a recreation of the Bush-era Oval Office, where you can sit behind the desk and, if you're like me, make a ham of yourself.

At closing time I trudge back to The Highland through serious Texas heat and sweat up a storm. LeVaughn Parker, The Highland's senior sales partner, greets me at ground level for a little tour. The lobby features extremely comfortable chairs for gathering or simply awaiting an Uber, as well as a modern staircase that winds upward to the second floor and perches above a small pool featuring a gently gurgling waterfall.

Near the lobby is the restaurant Knife, which offers a hearty menu of serious cuisine. LeVaughn recommends the Sriracha pork belly served on a muffin, and says that, rather than sitting in the dining room, perhaps I might enjoy taking my dinner up to the rooftop pool and hot tub.

I find this a splendid idea.

The rooftop of The Highland offers a relaxing atmosphere now that the blazing Lone Star sun has occluded behind the skyscrapers and thereby allowing for some genuinely chill moments in the pool and hot tub. I pick a chaise near the pool and immediately am invited into conversation by two local women whose children frolic in the waters nearby. (The hotel shares the pool facilities with an adjoining apartment building.) As the two moms inquire after my travels and my writings, this Yankee reporter cannot help but feel incredibly welcomed.

Not long after, I need to hop back in an Uber to head over to AT&T Stadium for tonight's Metallica concert. At the conclusion of the show, I learn a valuable, yet necessary lesson about the stadium in Arlington: Be prepared for travel hassles. There is no light-rail stop nearby, so it's driving (i.e., parking) or Uber or Lyft (i.e., price hikes).

No matter. Eventually I am able to grab a "viable" rate for an Uber and head back to The Highland for some much-needed rest.

 

Saturday:

Ask anyone what is most noteworthy about Dallas history, and chances are two words will follow: Dealey Plaza.

It was here, on Nov. 22, 1963, that President John F. Kennedy's motorcade turned left off of Houston St. and on to Elm. Then, within the span of a few seconds, Kennedy was struck by two bullets - one to the abdomen and the other to the head - with Jacqueline Kennedy scrambling on to the trunk as the convoy disappeared underneath the infamous triple overpass.

Abraham Zapruder, a Russian-born dressmaker who lived nearby, caught the horror on film, and his footage would become the single greatest piece of evidence in the then-largest murder investigation in American history.

I've seen the footage of the assassination's prelude and aftermath dozens, if not hundreds, of times, and even now, nearly 54 years after the fact, it's still hard to look around Dealey Plaza - named for civic leader and Dallas Morning News publisher George Bannerman Dealey - and not behold early-'60s vehicles cruising by.

Markers throughout the grounds point out the approximate location of where the president's limo was struck. You can then compare photographs showing where key witnesses, Secret Service, Texas Rangers and Dallas police all once stood. The infamous "Grassy Knoll" is just nearby, from where some conspiracy theorists posit a second shooter hid. (Even today, nearby there is one such collusion positor hawking "alternative facts.")

Today, Dealey Plaza is oddly peaceful and serene. But for that unfortunate day, it likely would have been little remembered as just another city park. But despite the grim associations forever linked, the plaza this day is eerily calm. Contemporary vehicles make the same turns President Kennedy once did, while tourists take photos and read signage.

And, if they are of a certain age, remember.

Steps away is the so-called Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (411 Elm St., Dallas, Texas, 75202, 214/747-6660), where you can learn all about that autumn day that started off like any other for the charismatic president, who was greeted by enthusiastic crowds at Love Field airport and shook hands fresh off the tarmac. Artifacts here showcase the president's schedule that day, including speeches to various civic organizations and meetings with politicians such as Gov. John Connally, who was seated in the same limousine as the president when he was shot. (Connally too was hit but survived.)

No photography is allowed on the Sixth Floor exhibit space, which is appropriate, but there is so much to take in here that you won't have time - or the desire - to reach for your phone anyway. You can spend an hour or several here, starting with witness testimony and descriptions of the confusing moments immediately following the shooting, and walk forward in time as a horrified public waited anxiously for news. A monitor nearby plays ad infinitum that moment when Walter Cronkite, barely maintaining professionalism on CBS, informs America that their 35th president, just 46 years old, has died.

The Sixth Floor Museum's exhibits are exhaustive - and exhausting, but in a good way. No detail is spared, be it the manhunt that resulted in Lee Harvey Oswald's arrest or the Warren Commission's finding that Oswald in fact acted alone. You can also see a large-print image of Robert H. Jackson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph depicting the instant Oswald, handcuffed to Dallas police Det. Jim Leavelle, reacts in horror just before nightclub owner Jack Ruby shoots him in the abdomen less than 24 hours after Oswald himself shot the president and Dallas patrolman J.D. Tippett.

If the still isn't enough, video of 24-year-old Oswald's moment of reckoning is also on display, as is footage of his protestations of innocence just moments before he too was shot.

Ruby was convicted of murder and died of cancer in 1967 while awaiting retrial after his first conviction was vacated. The museum notes the many, many, many theories that have propagated in books, documentaries and fictional films over the decades, such as Oliver Stone's "JFK," but the exhibits wisely hew as close to the truth as humanly possible.

A rifle stand depicts where Oswald set up to shoot at the president, and room-length windows allow the visitor an amazing view from what was once a book repository but is now, and forever, something else entirely.

Just around the corner from the museum, it's a fitting step to pay your respects - especially on the centennial of his birth - at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza, a sculpture designed by Philip Johnson as a cenotaph, or "open tomb," that pays tribute to Kennedy's desire to better his people and all mankind.

After such heavy, but important, history, it's time for lunch and a beer. I was told there's only one place in Dallas for BBQ on a Saturday afternoon, and that's Pecan Lodge (2702 Main St, Dallas, Texas, 75226, 214/748-8900).

I was forewarned there would be a line, and so there is.

I was also told the wait would be worth it, and so it is.

Seated at the bar, I cool off with a Fire Ant Funeral Amber Ale from the local Texas Ale Project. It's delicious and refreshing after walking the hot streets of D-town. Since I skipped breakfast more or less on purpose, I order up the Pitmaster special, which entails a brisket sandwich plus pulled pork and sausage and various sides.

There are many words of ecstasy I wish to use to describe this meal, but far too many of them are unprintable here - so suffice to say I am in heaven. Topping it all off with slaw, BBQ sauce and sliced jalapenos may sound a bit decadent, but as they say, everything is bigger in Texas (including, no doubt, my waistline tomorrow). The mac 'n cheese with bacon bits served on the side is exquisite, and the okra is equally amazing.

If I'm somehow ever on death row, this very well may be my last meal.

To wash it all down I take a quick saunter over to Deep Ellum Brewing Company (2823 St. Louis St., Dallas, Texas, 75226,214/888-3322) for some hoppy refreshment. If you find yourself here in the hot months, try out the Deep Summer ale brewed with hibiscus, lemon peel and chamomile flowers, but for me the big winner, for both taste and refreshment, is the Dallas Blonde, with its citrusy and floral nose and fresh malty taste. Not to mention its cheeky, cartoonish gal on the can.

Because I'm a big baseball fan, it's a must that I head back to Arlington to meet up with Zane of VisitDallas for a Texas Rangers game at Globe Life Park in Arlington (1000 Ballpark Way, Arlington, Texas, 76011, 817/273-5222). It's my 23rd major league stadium, and thankfully the sun has now dipped enough in the sky for me to sit with my hosts and enjoy without getting cooked.

Joining Zane and myself is Nikki Stephens of the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau. Much to my fascination, she tells me that Arlington considers itself its own separate entity from Dallas, with their own culture, restaurant scene and identity. I make a mental note to spend more time exploring this sister city someday.

On the causeway surrounding the ball field, Zane and I peruse our beer options, which today includes the aforementioned Dallas Blonde from Deep Ellum. I also pay my respects at the statue of the great pitching legend Nolan Ryan, whose 5,714 career strikeout mark has yet to be bested.

Zane informs me that the Rangers are due for a new park in the next few years - this one with a retractable roof for climate control - which is another reason for me to return.

Before my final stop of the evening, I'm in need of dinner, and so to Northwest Dallas for some autentico Tex-Mex at Pappasito's Cantina, (10433 Lombardy Ln., Dallas, Texas, 75220, 214/350-1970). Chips and salsa are homemade and served hot right out of the fire. There are several margaritas on offer, and you can't go wrong with The Original or The Platinum. For the entree I go in for the Chicken Tinga enchiladas with verde sauce. It's a different twist on the type of cuisine that I enjoyed during 15 years of living in California, but it's insanely groovy. I'm glad I had at least one Tex-Mex meal on this trip.

I can think of no better final activity here in Dallas than to take in some live country music and line dancing at the nearby Cowboys Red River (10310 Technology Blvd W, Dallas, Texas, 75220, 214/352-1796). To sweeten the experience, my friend Belinda, whom I knew from those long-ago California days, meets me here along with her boyfriend, Jesse. Belinda is one of those friends with whom the conversation just picks up no matter how many years have intervened, and so it is true today for our first meeting in over six years.

As we catch up, beers are plentiful and inexpensive at Cowboys, as is the vodka. I join my friends on the dance floor, the locomotion of which travels in a counterclockwise fashion around the bar. Some of the locals here are true country, not only in their manner of dress but in their sheer mastery of the dance. When trying to exit the floor, it's a bit like playing "Frogger": Look behind, afore, to both sides and even down at your feet to sashay between twirling couples to safety.

Local beers, chatting with Texans, seeing old friends and being high on life is the best possible way to end my weekend in Dallas. It's an entirely self-contained world down here, with everything you could ever want for, from the great knowns of this town to the lesser-trod paths still to be explored.

If everything is bigger in Texas, then it is here in Dallas where the horizons of culture, cuisine and history come swimmingly into sharper focus.

To learn more about Dallas, go to VisitDallas.com.