When I studied abroad, I biked. The first time was in Switzerland. After hitting the slopes for a day, and falling and falling and falling, I decided to switch from ski to bicycle the next morning. A bike shop stood adjacent to our hostel, largely unnoticed and unused. It was February. A light snow fell and temperatures hovered in the upper 30s at best, yet biking sounded like the right idea.
Unlike running, my exercise of choice, biking feels like the same activity I loved as a kid. My mind wanders much easier, and I don’t exert myself to the limits of pain. Biking is still a “fun” activity.
In Switzerland, I biked through the small town of Interlaken to a lake that was filled with water from an old glacier. I biked past empty churches, restaurants and high-end wristwatch boutiques. I never felt cold.
Bike rides became a tradition of sorts. In Prague, I biked as close as I could to the Prague Castle, breaking when the security guards ushered me to turn around. In Galway, I biked alongside steep, green cliffs, peering onto beaches that had no company except for the surf.
My last week in Rome, I biked through the crowded urban piazzas, weaving through traffic like I was on a Ducati, dodging buses, before I ventured out to the countryside and the Appian Way, the oldest road in Rome and one of the oldest in the world. I couldn’t consider a place fully explored without seeing it from atop a frame mounted on two wheels.
Last Monday, I biked through Dallas.
Stop One: Deep Ellum
The rich, hickory smell of barbecue wafts through the air, though I’ve heard none of the neighborhood’s barbecue joints are worth stopping for, and I’ve never tried them.
A mural says “Save Deep Ellum,” and its presence encapsulates the essence of this neighborhood. First, the mural. It’s not the only one. Murals don’t hug the sides of every building, but several of them feature the inviting splash and whirl of color and culture. Live bands play at most of the bars. They are small and intimate, places you would imagine Lana Del Rey would have played at when her name was Lizzy Grant. The buildings are composed of brick, most of them old warehouses that have stood since the 20s or 30s or who knows how long.
Second, the message, “Save Deep Ellum.” Long before I lived in Dallas or knew what “going out” meant, Deep Ellum was the place to go out in Dallas. This was the late 90s. The bars are often empty now, the metered parking spots free of cars, the sidewalks roamed mainly by invisible people, unless it is lunch hour.
On Commerce Street, a megaphone is painted on the garage of one of those brick buildings, and wide white letters spelling “DCH,” standing for Dallas Comedy House, rise above its painted red tint. In the summer of 2010, a friend of mine and I discussed standup comedy. We talked about the opportunity to write our own, to perform. He never did, but about a month later, I performed a set of standup comedy at the Dallas Comedy House. I did again a month after that and have a few others times since then, as well as improv.
I really hope they save Deep Ellum.
Stop Two: Fair Park
I went to one state fair throughout my life in Kansas, in Hutchison, when I was about five or six years old. I remember less about that fair than I do about the fair featured in this Ashanti-Ja Rule music video. State fairs are small-time at best, constantly strange, and the butts of stale jokes from Mike Meyers, except for in Texas.
Dallas is one of the biggest cities in the country, and it features a state fair. One of the memorable pieces of its skyline is a ferris wheel, a ferris wheel that could be joined by another ferris wheel that is meant to resemble the London Eye in the future. Oklahoma and Texas play football at the state fair. Regular people compete to fry the strangest food or beverage annually, from Frito Pie, to butter, to salsa, to beer. Everyone from all over the city and the state comes. In short, the state fair is actually awesome down here.
Two and half years ago, I told a co-worker I hadn’t gone to the state fair as the event reached its last few days in town. His response was mostly, WTF? YOU NEED TO COME TO THIS FAIR. He was right.
Stop Three: Downtown
Bluntly, there is nothing to do downtown. Downtown Dallas is best defined as the site where JFK was killed. On Elm Street, just west of Houston, outside of the book depository, two X’s are painted on the ground. The first X is where the first bullet hit JFK. The second X is where the second bullet hit JFK. Morbid enough for you?
Almost three years ago, I arrived in Dallas on a Saturday night with my brother and dad. On Monday, I would begin an internship at The Dallas Morning News. That Sunday we visited downtown, stepped on one of those X’s, listened to the man on the grassy knoll recite his tales of conspiracy. We walked back to our car and then traveled through the rest of a vacant downtown in a matter of five minutes.
And I wondered, what the hell am I going to do here?
Stop Four: Bishop Arts
South of downtown, the neighborhoods change. Potholes puncture the roads. More police cars patrol by. And some of the coolest places in Dallas fix tacos or pizza or sell alcohol.
Fuel City is south of downtown. This wonderful drive-thru daiquiri place is south of downtown. The Bishop Arts District is there, too. I didn’t go to the Bishop Arts District until a few months ago. It reminded me of college, of Lawrence, of Austin, of people who know who they are and like who they are. It reminded me that if you want to find the best of anything you just have to try.
Stop Five Uptown
A couple months ago, I wrote about Austin, mentioning the city’s famous t-shirt that bears the slogan, “Keep Austin Weird.” Dallas has a lesser known slogan but still one that you see on t-shirts here and there, “Keep Dallas Plastic.” So much of Dallas that sucks, the parts broadcast in pop culture on TV shows like “Most Eligible Dallas” resides in this neighborhood. .
But on Routh Street, Crooked Tree coffee is located in an old house. Two college graduates sick of the business world opened it up a few years ago. I found it shortly after I moved here, and it is without question the best coffee shop in the world.
Uptown is where I went with my friends on most weekend nights, drinking, talking and singing karaoke at places like Quarter Bar and The MAT. Those nights and my friends weren’t anything like those T-shirts.
This is the last stop, before I trek the last few miles home for a total of nearly forty miles and three and a half hours of biking.
It took me too long to find White Rock Lake. I didn’t visit it for the first six months that I lived here. In the spring of 2010, I finally saw the lake. A nine-mile loop, almost always filled with bikers and runners, surrounds a pool of fresh water enclosed by the woods, and the tall buildings of downtown pop out from inside of the green, close enough to see their grandeur but too far to see any commotion. I’ve come here almost every week since then.
My post college-life has been defined by embracing change, oftentimes breaking silly preconceived notions and coming to the realization that life and people are pretty much always awesome. It just took some time and some work, and I figured out this city, and I especially met some great people.
I’m finishing this blog on a Tuesday afternoon. I leave Dallas tomorrow. I’ll miss it.