Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Oak Cliff Experience

When I first moved to Dallas back in October of 1997 I was warned not to wander south of I-30 and the Trinity River. I was told that Oak Cliff was to be avoided if you valued your life. The story was that Oak Cliff, once a separate town from Dallas, had been a beautiful enclave for the upper middle class back in the day. But beginning in the late 1960's it had become a drug infested ghetto. The story had a ring of tragedy about it since everyone admitted that to this day Oak Cliff by far possesses the prettiest topography in the city. Too bad you can't go down there without risking your life.

What a load of crap that was.

First of all, what defines Oak Cliff has long been in dispute. Most white north Dallasites pretty much describe everything south of I-30 stretching to I-20 as belonging to Oak Cliff. But most of what is described as Oak Cliff (including South Oak Cliff High School) actually lies outside the boundaries of the original OC. And most people who warn you about the Cliff haven't ever been there except for a quick trip to the Dallas Zoo or Methodist Hospital. The amount of ignorance regarding Oak Cliff is staggering.

Well, I finally met some people who live in Oak Cliff. As part of an SMU class project back in May I attended a community gathering of activists and organizers in the beautiful Kessler Theater on Davis Street. Besides trips to the aforementioned zoo and Methodist Hospital it was my first visit to Oak Cliff. As soon as I exited Sylvan and crossed underneath the I-30 overpass I was amazed at the beauty of the drive. Rolling hills, live oaks and beautiful classic homes greeted me.

I was inspired by the community gathering. These people are fighting to make their community a vibrant and colorful place. One described Oak Cliff as playing the same role to Dallas as Brooklyn plays to Manhattan. It's full of artists, entrepreneurs and activists. Sure there are sketchy areas that you might want to avoid at 2 am. But things are getting better and the citizens of Oak Cliff are fighting hard to make their neighborhood a better place. They were quite passionate and I left inspired and encouraged about local grassroot movements.

So to celebrate our anniversary my wife and I headed south of town. We stayed at the newly renovated Belmont Hotel which is quickly becoming the hippest boutique hotel in Dallas. The Belmont was built decades ago on a hill overlooking Dallas. It was rescued and completely renovated a few years ago. It is a true destination hotel in Big D. It has retained the flavor of a 1950's art deco motor court while upgrading every room to near upscale status. The pool has stunning views of the Dallas skyline. The Belmont has become one of the anchors in the restoration of Oak Cliff.

We visited the Bishop Arts District a couple of times. We ate at Tillman's Roadhouse for dinner and had pie at Norma's Cafe. We ate lunch the next day at Bolsa. We shopped at the specialty stores which all seemed much more authentic and supportive of local artists and business than the West Village or Stonebriar Mall. We had a wonderful time and we will return. We even got to drive by (embarassingly for the first time) the school where my Mom teaches kindergarten (the Tyler Street Christian Academy) right around the corner from the Bishop Arts District.

Yet, when I told people about our sojourn into Oak Cliff many of the same ignorant prejudices came to the surface. Some people had been down there and shared our appreciation of the area. In a city that likes to tear down and build everything new it was nice to find an authentic neighborhood where history and uniqueness is celebrated. So get on down there. Cross the bridge and visit The Cliff.

Photo: me at the Belmont

Friday, June 03, 2011

The FoCo Wolfpack

One of the things I like best about traveling to Fort Collins is reuniting with the crew...or the Wolfpack. We come from all over. In this photo is (starting top row and going right to left, then bottom row right to left): James (McLovin') from L.A., Chas from Saipan, Jerry from Stillwater, OK, Wes from Keller, TX, Curtis from Chicago, Eric from Detroit, me from Forney and Corey from Hurst, TX. Ernie from Denver was out somewhere and didn't make the pic.

There are other guys we hang with but this is the crew that hangs out the most and commandeers the same corner table at the cafeteria every evening. Good group of guys who understand all the World History jokes.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

67 in FoCo

Nice to beat the Texas heat by flying off to Fort Collins, Colorado to grade AP World History exams.

Speaking of Heat...did you see the Mavs amazing comeback? Amazing! Watched the game at the legendary FoCo establishment Woody's which you can see here is closing. This is a very popular and historic joint, yet they're closing it to build apartments. Ridiculous.

Supposed to get down to the fifties tonight. Mid-70's for a high tomorrow.

Things going well so far. The whole crew is accounted for and ready to roll. Started grading essays today. Got the dreaded Document Based Question (DBQ) this year. But it's not so bad. Assigned the legendarily ghetto Corbett Dorm. But its not too bad, actually has new carpet. It was my turn after lodging in the Taj Mahal of Summit Dorm for two of the past three years.

Last year we're grading in Ft. C. Next year we're heading to Salt Lake City. Since we're not going to be in a dorm situation we'll have to share hotel rooms with a roomate. Got mine lined up.

Okay...beat the Heat!