Love my hometown Dallas
I will preface this post by saying that I’m thrilled that my beloved Oak Cliff is getting so much attention in the national media. From New York Times travel profiles to Cooking Channel star strolls down Bishop Avenue, this is the sort of recognition that will benefit our economy and will finally give Oak Cliff a little bit of the respect it deserves but has long been denied.
But…….They should at least attempt to get their facts straight when they talk about us. This Sunday an article by Carol Huang will appear in the print edition of The New York Times’ Travel Section entitled, “In Dallas, Turning the Page Marked Nov. 22, 1963.” Ms. Huang does a fine job of listing fun dining, shopping and entertainment hotspots in Oak Cliff’s funky Bishop Arts District. But her knowledge of the history and demographics of Oak Cliff is nonexistent, and the premise of the article borders on the absurd. According to Ms. Huang’s article, it would appear that the entirety of Oak Cliff consists of Davis and Jefferson, and the reason why Oak Cliff has been neglected by the rest of Dallas for decades is, wait for it, THE JFK ASSASSINATION!!!!!!!! Because Oak Cliff is home to Oswald’s house and the Texas Theater, don’t you know? I agree with the Dallas Observer‘s opinion that “attributing the neighborhood’s recent growth to declining institutional memory of the assassination is just lazy.”
Yes, New York Times – the venerable gray lady that arrives on my doorstep and in my email box every day – your reporting, in this instance, is lazy. Oak Cliff is not the South Bronx. Though it suffers its fair share of crime, it is not a cesspool of violence and depravation, and it never has been. Though the small portion of Oak Cliff surrounding the Bishop Arts District may feel like current-day Brooklyn, Oak Cliff as a whole bears a closer resemblance to Brooklyn’s middle-class, more sedate neighboring borough of Queens. And, as a multigenerational Oak Cliff’er and daughter of one of Dallas’ leading African-American educators and historians, I think I can say with some authority that the reason Oak Cliff was ignored for decades by the rest of Dallas had nothing to do with Oswald or the JFK Assassination or the location of the Texas Theatre. It was the result of a phenomenon known as “white flight” that occurred in cities all around the country and is well-remembered by most Americans over the age of 30. And Oak Cliff’s current resurgence is a reflection of the migration of urban Americans back to neighborhoods closer to city centers around the country for all the reasons most of us already know. Duh.
As The TexPatch has repeatedly reported, Oak Cliff is a diverse, middle class area of Dallas with pockets of both poverty and privilege, and a predominance of middle class residents and brick ranch-style homes. It is much larger and more diverse than the shabby-chic craftsman cottages and hipster brew pubs of the small, but bustling Bishop Arts District. Many white residents never left – relishing their secret, tranquil location minutes from the center of downtown Dallas. And it was an aspirational neighborhood for Blacks and Hispanics that desired an alternative to South and West Dallas but were shunned by our North Dallas neighbors. I grew up surrounded by Black doctors, lawyers, educators, politicians, athletes and civil servants in a neighborhood that was all white when my parents moved there in the early ’60s, but soon became predominantly African-American. It has its share of problems, but Oak Cliff is a great place.
This “seedy reputation” that Ms. Huang refers to sounds like the unsubstantiated stereotypes that were perpetuated by wealthy North Dallasites for many years. For no other reason than the fact that too many Blacks and Hispanics resided there for comfort (recall The TexPatch’s post regarding a young ’80s-era Highland Park’er referring to “those gross Blacks and Mexicans” in D Magazine). The TexPat is not North-Dallas-Bashing – in fact, I went to private school in North Dallas from K-12 and had an ideal experience during a time in Dallas’ history when the City’s general atmosphere was not exactly “we are the world.” But when a young, Northeastern reporter spends a couple of days in my neighborhood and spews stale stereotypes and tenuous theories with no basis in history or even reality, The TexPat has to speak up. As a person of color, and a native of Oak Cliff, I’m offended.
I wrote a letter to the editor.
Congrats to one of my favorite Oak Cliff haunts, Oddfellows, for being designated one of the top 10 “worth the wait” restaurants in the entire U.S. by Yahoo Travel! I’ve never had to wait in line there, but I hear that Sunday brunch requires patience. But is well worth it. Even the puppy loves it.
On a tangent today. Perhaps the number of hours I have spent cleaning closets and scurrying between the DMV and the post office has warped my brain. In between all of this child-of-a-senior activity, I had a chance to check out Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters (thumbs up) and notice that my neighb is home to an abundance of NYC, Bloomberg-worthy bike lanes! Big D imitates the NYC! Laughter and smiles at a notion that could cause me to be shot in the street by an open-carrying fellow Texan that takes the time to think about it in this way.
On another tangent – The TexPat’s overabundance of ‘Cue in my current trip to Dallas has caused me to seriously analyze the combination of BBQ, white bread and pickles that is the hallmark of my home’s culinary offerings. OK, it’s probably the margaritas that have led to my intense introspection regarding this topic, but that’s just details, details…. Is it the significant German influence in Central Texas that has contributed to the Lone Star State’s mastery of the smoked sausage and reliance on the pickle as an accessory to every meal involving BBQ? And is it our history as a part of Mexico before we were annexed/stolen by the US that adds the jalapeño (pickled is preferred) to that menu? The mind reels.
The TexPatch’s trips to Texas are always too short. And they cause my mind to whirl in so many directions that it takes a while to articulate my thoughts and impressions. The puppy, as usual, is enjoying the visit, though she’s not a huge fan of the heat. But her cuteness and easygoing temperament earn her lots of pats and treats from strangers, which she enjoys immensely (in addition to bbq bones, though she really shouldn’t have them).
My father’s house shines, hard and bright
It stands like a beacon, calling me in the night
Calling and calling, so cold and alone
Shining cross this dark hallway, where our sins lie unatoned.
“My Father’s House,” by Bruce Springsteen. All photos courtesy of The TexPat.
I sat today on a breezy, shaded patio overlooking a large, mixed-use development/construction site on what once were arid grasslands near one of the bridges that connects Oak Cliff to downtown Dallas. Glossy, glassy contemporary structures, promising sleek lofts and studios. Catty-corner to this construction site is a group of contemporary single-families with lengths of large floor-to-ceiling windows, cut off from the modest frame houses of its mostly Hispanic neighbors by physical barriers and a number of rather scary signs. The affluent pioneers craving a respite from sameness can do so with at least a little bit of shelter from the more “undesirable” aspects of their adventurous “new” neighborhoods. Gentrification.
Like native Brooklynites and Oaklanders, I of course have mixed feelings. Overall in the TexPatch, I have felt and expressed exuberance regarding the changes that have crossed the Trinity River and infiltrated the area in which I grew up. Oak Cliff was dry for a long time – not just “dry” in the alcohol-free sense (which it was), but also arid in its absence of quality services and amenities for its residents, which dissipated during the era of white flight, despite Oak Cliff’s still-sizable white population and solid tax base of hard-workers of varied ethnicities. Enter the new millennium, and not only have Caucasians and fresh produce returned to the ‘Cliff, we also have green markets and green juices. We have wine bars, brewpubs and sidewalk cafes in the Bishop Arts section serving a rainbow coalition of patrons that has expanded beyond the traditional Black/White/Mexican trifecta. Pho, curry and sushi spots sit alongside BBQ joints and taquerias. A new place specializes solely in hard cider. There are more newspaper boxes dedicated to Dallas’ LGBT weekly than the Dallas Morning News in some areas. There’s Yoga and Reiki. Indie bookstores and vinyl records. Today, a kind, bearded waiter in a straw fedora brought me a “black and blue nitrogenated cold coffee on tap” and a water dish for my dog on the patio of one of my favorite new cafes. As I sipped my newfangled coffee creation at one of the rustic-cool outdoor picnic tables, I spotted two Vespas and a charging station for electric cars in the adjacent parking lot.
There has always been a certain aspect of gentrification that has appealed to me and my middle class, wannabe-cool-and-comfortable-at-the-same-time-sensibilities. As a kid, my favorite Dallas neighborhood was Oak Lawn, on the northern border of downtown (as opposed to my Oak Cliff home, which flanks the south). North Dallas has always been “preferred” by most Dallasites, because of its wealth and homogeneity, but Oak Lawn was always a little different despite its prime location. There were artists and gay people and funky cottages-turned-cafes. In the more opulent sections of Oak Lawn, sleek, contemporary homes were constructed adjacent to stately Georgians and Tudors in a way that was harmonious, not hideous. Hippies slept on the rolling lawns of Lee Park overlooking Turtle Creek, mere steps from Dallas’ must luxurious high-rise residences. A theater designed by Frank Lloyd Wright overlooked the creek, hidden behind a thicket of evergreens. Oak Lawn was, and possibly still is, a microcosm of energy and diversity and culture and experiences that made a huge impression on me as a middle class kid in the middle of the country. What attracted me to Oak Lawn as a kid is what currently attracts me to New York and San Francisco and L.A. and the changes to certain sections of my hometown.
These days when I return home, I don’t have to head north to Oak Lawn or other areas of North Dallas for a taste of mosh or style. Or a non-wilted green vegetable. In Oak Cliff I can swaddle myself in the comfort and security of my family’s Leave it to Beaver, tv dinner lifestyle (if The Beav was Black and Female, that is), but in minutes enjoy cold brewed coffee on tap and catch a yoga class in Bishop Arts, followed by a leisurely cruise past some shelter magazine-worthy, midcentury modern home renovations in Kessler and Stevens Park on my way back to the crib.
Much of my family and many family friends reside about 10-15 minutes south or east of the funkiness of Bishop Arts and the relative affluence of Kessler Park and Stevens Park. My parents’ home sits among the leafy, quiet lanes just beyond the action, where brick ranches and ramblers spread long and low on freshly-mown lawns. Most are still well-maintained, at least on the exterior, though opening a door is a crap shoot. For Sale signs still abound, in spite of the economy’s rebound. Elderly residents move on or pass on, and are not quickly replaced with new families that bring energy and life to a neighborhood. One home on my mother’s street was torn down when the heirs either couldn’t or wouldn’t maintain it during the difficult years when no one could sell anything. The home of a gracious, and thankfully-nosy neighbor (her eagle eye on the block’s comings and goings was far more precise than any security system) who brought us a homemade bundt cake one Christmas appears occupied – an older model Chevy sits in the drive, a satellite dish is visible from the curb – but the sheets covering the once-lace-curtained windows call to question whether the new folks are neighbors or squatters. The types of squatters that burned down one of my parents’ investment properties after making off with all of the copper wiring and fixtures. I take refuge among the familiar furnishings and photos of my family home. But our routines and day-to-day lives are different. More cautious. And less conscientious. A layer of dust coats many of my memories.
My prior Oak Cliff home, where we lived in my younger years, is even harder to visit. Despite its proximity to a lovely golf course and public parks, what was once an aspirational subdivision for educated Black folks (who unintentionally drove out the less educated white folks that preceded them) is no longer so idyllic. Some of the old friends are still there, and their pride in their homes is still evident. But as we drove past our own prior home yesterday, my elderly mom shook her head and said “we used to take so much pride in where we lived.” The new windows, doors and other renovations detracted from the clean lines of our modest, GE home with its built-in appliances, picture windows and planters. Cars filled the narrow driveway, a satellite dish tacked onto the front of the house sullied the curb appeal, and menacing “Beware the Dog” signs were stuck all over the place. These observations are shallow and snobbish, but when a place where you lived and loved life changes for the worse, these emotions are human. Decay is harder to accept than decor, which is why gentrifiers have appeal, until you realize that they are pricing you out of the neighborhood you supported and stuck with during their prior periods of disdain and neglect of what they now covet.
Perhaps because the changes are close but concentrated, the gentrification of Oak Cliff has been easier to take. In fact it has been welcome, because of the added flavor options, and opportunities, in our backyard. The hipsters are here, and we are benefitting from what they have to offer and the offerings that follow them. But beyond Oak Cliff’s hot pockets, one is still hard-pressed to find a hardware store, clothing boutique, card store, ice cream parlor, butcher, bookstore or quality home furnishings outpost. There’s no Fedex Kinko’s I’m aware of, and our lone Starbucks (which was SO convenient to my parents’ place and even sported a drive-through!) closed a few years ago. Today I had to drive to Duncanville just to have some keys made. Big box stores like Home Depot and Target, and chain restaurants like Olive Garden and Chili’s skirt the southern perimeter of my southern neighborhood, since so many middle class Oak Cliffers saw fit to move to southern suburbs like Duncanville, DeSoto and Cedar Hill in the ’80s and ’90s. In between the ‘burbs and bohos, in the spaces where folks like my parents live, sit long stretches of tire stores, tax preparers, beauty supply spots, drive-through banks and fast food drive-throughs. So many tire stores and tax preparers that I wonder if Oak Cliff is an entire community of drag-racing sole proprietors that can’t figure out the tax code. And as a hallmark of both our normalness and fabulousness, within walking distance of Bishop Arts’ hipsters is a string of far-out and fabulous quinceanera dress shops.
Now I’ll move beyond my Oak Cliff home and back to the question of what’s up with that general “Texas thing” that has become a running narrative for me and has morphed into The TexPatch. For better or worse, home defines us, even when we break from it, reject it, move on from it. Thoreau’s Walden, Faulkner’s Mississippi, Wharton’s privileged Northeastern society, Achebe’s Nigeria – though our homes do not control or limit us, our homes still influence us and the stories we choose to tell, personal and fictional, whether we like it or not. Texans are prone to infatuation about our Texan-ness, and I am no exception, particularly in this reflective stage in my life in which I am sharing my voice, vision and opinions with the world. The TexPat absorbs it all and abides, albeit in my own way.
The proximity to my childhood home and really good margaritas ensures more wandering, rambling reflections to come.
Blogging from various wifi locations in my hometown neighborhood of Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas this week. Today’s perch – the lobby lounge of the Belmont. Good to be home, but as always being home brings forth a rush of overwhelming, conflicting emotions.
Before I left for Texas, I was asked by a loved one (a Northeast born and bred loved one, of course) a typically direct question: “what’s up with you and this Texas thing?” It startled me, because like most Texans, I never felt that I left the “Texas thing” behind when I left home for school, work, travel, life lessons beyond the Lone Star State. It has always been there. But of late the “Texas thing” seems to be seeping out of my pores and into my writing – fiction, nonfiction, essaying, blogging – like the residue of some debauch. The hangover from the first (more than) half of an average lifespan? The hallmark of the time of life when memories invade and mesh with day-to-day life to the point where one doesn’t know where one begins and the other ends? These are the questions that margaritas inspire. More to come …
Some have wondered about the landscape in the background of the TexPatch. It’s the view of Downtown Big D (Dallas for the non-Texans) from Oak Cliff generally, and, specifically, from the meandering path at the Belmont Hotel that I pursue while walking my Westie whenever I stay there on visits home. On my last visit I immensely enjoyed the aesthetic that the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge added to the lovely landscape we enjoy from Oak Cliff’s limestone hills. This lovely new bridge is one of the connections to Oak Cliff from places beyond the Trinity River and hosts pedestrian yoga sessions, festivals and all around fun. Like the Dude, Oak Cliff abides.
Image courtesy of Pinterest
In true U.S.A. fashion, the TexPat spent the Memorial Day weekend manning the grill, enjoying diet-destroying portions of burgers and ribs, hanging out on beautiful, flower-filled early summer days in the back (less than) forty, and serving up heaping scoops of ice cream – a combo of some artisanal espresso variety I picked up at the local farmer’s market and Haagen-Dazs vanilla (can’t go wrong with that). The TexPat was way too full and waist-conscious to savor that “welcome summer!” tradition, but suffice it to say that a good deal of ice cream was consumed at the ranch. This long overdue hint of summer here in the Northeast took me back to the (very) warm, Texas summer days of my youth. Sultry Saturdays and Sundays when we piled into the Pontiac, and my Dad drove us to the local Polar Bear ice cream parlor for lemon custard (Daddy’s favorite) or rocky road (Mom’s favorite). For some reason, though I remember so many details of that experience, down to the sweat beads on my bony forearms to the sanitized, refrigerated scent of the store, I can’t remember my favorite flavor. Perhaps it’s because I tried a wide variety and never stuck to any one favorite for very long – which may explain my Wanderlust to this day.
Coincidentally, when I glanced at my Pinterest page while waiting on line at the drugstore this morning, I noticed a pin of one of Dallas’ long gone Polar Bear ice cream parlors that someone pinned from one of the Oak Cliff, Dallas historic sites. And not just any Polar Bear, but the one my family used to frequent in our Oak Cliff neighborhood (other than those Sundays when we decided to take a leisurely drive across town to the Oak Lawn ice cream parlor on Knox Street, across from Weir’s home furnishings, whose windows we used to browse while enjoying our frozen treats). I’ve posted it above.
The photo makes me ponder whether my, over-scheduled, over-managed little New Yorker has the same heady vision of wonderfully long, lazy summer days that I have. To a degree, I assume that she does. Though I reflect often on my Oak Cliff youth, including my long TexPatch regarding my adventures exploring my Oak Cliff stomping grounds as it transitions into something very Brooklyn/Oakland-like, I am sure that my experience, though personal, is not singular. That we all may have some sliver of our childlike selves that are allowed to come to the surface in the summer thaw, wherever we spent those youthful summer days.
Of course, being a native Texan, I’m inclined to persuade you that mine was the best, whether it was good or godawful. Luckily my Oak Cliff, Dallas childhood was pretty good, even before the community became cool. Speaking of which, I just stumbled upon a site with a wide selection of ironic, Oak Cliff t-shirts, in true Brooklyn/Oakland style. The tipping point?
t-shirts from Skreened
Welcome to summer madness!
The southern Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff has been proclaimed by no less of an authority on all the news fit to print, The New York Times, as a “hipster enclave.” There’s a boutique hotel with a great bar, a film festival, yoga studios and really good coffee (snapped the photo above at Oddfellows one morning). I found goat cheese and arugula at the supermarket (though don’t despair – there’s still Dr. Pepper and pork rinds). One of my mom’s neighbors almost became Dallas’ first openly gay mayor. The transformation of my ‘hood from the place where “those gross Blacks and Mexicans live” (a quote from a Highland Park teen that appeared in D Magazine back in the ‘80s that I have never forgotten) to the hot spot where folks drive from all over the Metroplex to check out the latest restaurant has my head spinning. The Oak Cliff of my youth (and my mother’s) was not at all “gross,” so that’s not the source of shock. Oak Cliff was a relatively quiet and diverse (compared to the rest of Dallas) neighborhood of middle and working class folks populating modest but well-maintained ranch and craftsman homes among pecan trees and limestone hills. Strip malls, fast food joints, a few nice golf courses and parks, pockets of blight, pockets of privilege and no alcohol (during my last visit, the wine aisle at the Walgreen’s near my mom’s house was almost as startling as the availability of artisanal cuisine). Like many neighborhoods near downtown areas across the country, white flight during the ‘70s and ‘80s had an economic impact on Oak Cliff – even though many white residents chose to stay, merchants and services still abandoned the area. Folks had to drive to the northern part of town to find clean supermarkets and department stores. My parents sent me even farther north – DC, Boston, New York – to pursue my education and my career, and I still haven’t found my way back across the Trinity River to my Oak Cliff ‘hood. But I visit often. Each short gap of time between visits reveals so much change that it challenges my notions of the kind of place that Dallas is or can be. A new mayor ran and won on a promise to “GrowSouth!” I’m thrilled that this place I love is now experiencing some love – and investment in its future. Hopefully it’s a future that won’t shut out the old as it embraces the new. More on this to come.