Beck Park

From when I worked Downtown I have had an fond appreciation for small “pocket” parks in the dense urban core. I have a deep love for these tiny jewel-like pieces of nature stuck down in the concrete vastness.

A really nice one in Dallas is Beck Park, a private oasis that is open for public use. Carefully designed, it is a set of four “room” with a waterfall, some rocks, grass, and tables.

I like it and miss the days when I worked down there. Maybe some day during the holidays the weather will be nice enough for me to go down there and sit for a while, read a little, write a little, relax. That would be nice.

A skyscraper towers over the water feature in Beck Park


I forgot to write down the name and artist of this sculpture in Beck Park


I was sitting around with a head full of memories of one of my favorite things – the St. Charles Streetcar in New Orleans. I came to a sudden realization – Dallas has a streetcar too. It isn’t as famous or as beautiful – but it is there

It’s called the McKinney Avenue Trolley, or the M-Line. It’s an important part of Dallas’ hard work at becoming a real city, with a vibrant downtown. The line has been here for quite some time, and runs along McKinney Avenue from the Downtown Arts District out through the West Village and on to connect up with the DART train line at the underground Cityplace Station. Although it is operated by DART, the trolley is free.

Originally, the trolley was viewed as a small, quaint tourist attraction – and it is. However, now that a large population is beginning to move into tony uptown condominiums it is becoming an important transportation artery for the young professionals to get to their offices in downtown. Now, the trolley line is about to expand – first through the new park being constructed atop the Woodall Rodgers Freeway, then on through downtown and across the river into Oak Cliff.

Again, I remembered the trolley as I was on the DART train headed downtown and decided to take a ride. As I walked along the sidewalk a couple of tourists from Henderson, Nevada asked what train to take to catch the trolley.

“Well, actually, the trolley is only a few blocks away, and I’m walking there now, I’ll be glad to show you,” I said.

“Does it go around downtown?”

“No, it doesn’t go around through the skyscrapers. It goes out through Uptown, which is more interesting anyway – there’s a lot of restaurants, shops, and stuff.”

So we chatted as we walked. I always wonder about tourists in Dallas. It’s a pretty nice place to live, but a terrible place to visit. It’s not a tourist type of place.

So I dropped them off at the trolley stop by the Dallas Museum of Art and went on – I wanted to visit a couple other places before I rode the trolley. A couple hours later I was back and sat down to wait for a car. While I waited, trying to read a little, I was bothered by an aggressive, obnoxious panhandler who became abusive when I didn’t give him any money.

Experiences like that make it difficult to maintain feelings of charity and goodwill to all even during the holiday seasons. Downtown is getting a growing population of hard-core homeless panhandlers that are becoming problematic as the city is trying to increase the livability of the place.

While he was yelling at me, my streetcar arrived so I turned and got on board. The car was packed with about half tourists and half office workers on the way home. The residents helped the tourists with information on the trolley route and points of interest along the way.

Dallas doesn’t have a neutral ground like New Orleans does, so the streetcar has to fight its way through traffic like everybody else. It makes for a slow, rattling ride.

Another difference between Dallas and New Orleans is that here, all the streetcars are unique. This day, I was lucky enough to draw Rosie, the oldest operating streetcar in the country.

Rosie, turning around at Cityplace

She looks good for 102 years old

Rosie was built in Philadelphia by the J.G. Brill company in 1909. It spend many years running along the rails in Porto, Portugal. It was the first car that the M-Line restored and ran on the opening day in 1989. Since it ran past and was sponsored by the Crescent development they gave it the name “The Crescent Rose.” This was shortened to “Rosie.” Since it is now over a hundred years old, it is usually used for special events and charters, it was a rare treat to have it out on a regular run. It’s a popular car – a common subject (another).

Down at Cityplace Station they are building a turntable so that they can begin operating some trolleys they have that are only able to run one way.

The turntable under construction

I wasn’t in the best of moods and the trolley still can’t hold a candle to the St. Charles line – but I am excited about the plans for expansion. I can see sitting for a while watching that turntable go round. I think I need to come down some more and ride some of the other trolley cars – the “Green Dragon” looks like fun

Turkey Trot

Everyone has their Thanksgiving traditions, most of them involve massive amounts of food and televised football. Ours involves eight miles of running. Lee was running the Turkey Trot in Downtown Dallas this year.

I would love to do the run, even the short 5K jog – but my job is to get everybody to City Hall on time and to carry all the extra crap.

A six AM alarm on a holiday is an early alarm. I was more than a little stressed about driving down there (we’ve taken the DART train before and that doesn’t work too well – the trains are all packed full) and finding a place to park. It didn’t help when I walked out to start the car and realized the entire city was socked in tight with a pea-soup thick fog.

Not to worry, after thirty-odd years I’ve learned my way around downtown (the key is to use Good-Latimer Expressway and sneak in from the east) and found a ten dollar parking spot on Wood street across from the Presbyterian Church. We had to step over the sleeping homeless folks in the fog, but the walk wasn’t too far.

As we walked past the closer-in lots I noticed a lot of people putting on turkey costumes. I had not read the notice – the race organizers had a representative from the Guinness Book of Records for the most people dressed as turkeys in one place. They did set the record – 616. There sure seemed to be a lot more turkeys than that wandering around.

Everybody said it seemed a little less crowded this year. I think the thick fog had something to do with that. They announced thirty eight thousand runners (including 616 dressed as turkeys) with another 15 thousand spectators (the folks that had to drive and carry all the crap).

City Hall Plaza is packed with runners until the race starts. Then, suddenly, it is almost empty – a very strange conversion. That doesn’t last long – there is an eight mile race (which Lee runs) and a 5K run/walk. The first 5K runners show up in less than twenty minutes, and it takes longer than that to get everybody going at the start. In other words, the fastest runners are finishing before the slower ones start.

Lee has not had enough time to train properly, but he finished about five minutes before he had estimated – a pretty good time if you ask me. He said the whole course was foggy and there is one leg that goes across the Trinity River on a causeway. He said that the ends of the bridge were lost in the fog but he was crossing as the fastest runners were coming back. All there was were runners going in both directions coming in from and disappearing into the dense fog.

We walked back to the car and slipped out, missing the bad traffic.

What about all the food? We stopped at the Boston Market on Forest Lane on the way home where Candy had pre-ordered everything. A ten minute wait in line and we had Turkey and all the fixins. Ready for all the football games.

The fog was thick at the start of the race on Dallas City Hall Plaza

To set the world record, all the turkeys had to be "cooped up" for ten minutes.

There was live music at the start.

A turkey dancing to the band

A Henry Moore sculpture and an Inflatable Turkey.

Lee dancing before the run

The runners lined up at the start. This picture was taken about a half mile from the actual start.

The starting line. Thirty eight thousand is a lot of runners.

And the turkeys are off. I don't know how anyone could run in those costumes.

Near the end of the eight mile race, there is a steep hill to torture the runners. I always wait there to see my kids run by. Here is Lee a hundred yards from the finish.

What I learned this week, November 25, 2011

Need some good advice? Ask a Lobster!

The last thing in the world I need is another weird time-sucking project. But I want to build a Harmonigraph. What I want to do is to build a four-pendulum harmonigraph, like this one:

Now, what I want to build is one that moves a camera and a light so that it makes digital photographs instead of pens on paper. Painting with light.

Thanks Carrie.

Images by Ursus Wehrli, from Tidying up Art

Wordiness, Wordiness, Wordiness List

Amazon Cutting out Publishers

A Master Plan for Taking Back Control of Your Life

  1. Make more of your behaviors automatic.
  2. Take yourself out of harm’s way.
  3. Whatever you feel compelled to do, don’t.
  4. Sleep as much as you must to feel fully rested.
  5. Do the most important thing first in the morning.
  6. Eat energy rich foods in small doses at frequent intervals.
  7. Do one thing at a time.
  8. Work in sprints.

Oak Cliff Bicycles

I found a nice little cafe in the Bishop Arts District. It’s a latin inspired coffeehouse called Espumoso Caffe. Inside, it’s a dark, relaxed place with an inviting couch and window seating – I’ll have to try that place as a writing location sometime. Today, though, I bought my coffee and settled in to a little table on the sidewalk to sip and do some people watching. They were playing some awesome latin jazz on a speaker over the door.

I sat there looking at the posters on the clothing store next door. Let’s see, what do we have going on in the big evil city… Salsa Lessons, Music at the Granada, Blood and Black Lace at the Texas Theater, and Roller Derby…. I’d like to see me some Roller Derby.

A couple doors down is the Oak Cliff Bicycle Company. It’s a little bike shop with an attitude. How can you not love a place that wins the Best Vigilante Justice award from the Dallas Observer.

Out in front was the usual display of bikes for sale. One, in particular, really caught my eye. Not an ultralight racing machine, this was an urban bomber sort of bike – a beautifully utilitarian ride. It had chrome mudguards, nice canister shaped pack containers in back, a useful double kickstand, and best of all, a luscious, gorgeous, classic Brooks leather saddle. There is nothing better than a Brooks saddle.

As I watched a couple guys came out of the shop, pumped up the tires, and went off for a ride. I tipped my coffee cup a little bit – some folks get it exactly right.

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!
For your holiday enjoyment – The Best Television Thanksgiving Episode Ever

If you want to see the whole episode – It’s online at Hulu.

Oddfellows Chicken and Waffles

On the extremely rare occasions that I watch certain films or especially certain television programs featuring fashionably cool people (Sex and The City come to mind immediately) I am always gobsmacked by the amount of time these people spend leisurely sitting around cute round tables at outdoor sidewalk cafes, sipping mimosas and chatting away. It appears these people are able to enjoy several hours every afternoon with their dearest chums completely relaxed and rested, exercising their witty bones: a little tète-à-tète, a little repartee, topped off with a dollop of vicious gossip and a viscous ice cream sundae.

Do real people actually live like that? Of course not. Life is not leisure and conversation. Lunch is a short brutal orgy of quick gobbling, if it exists at all. Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so (Douglas Adams). In Texas at least, the weather is only conducive to al fresco dining a handful of days each year.

Still, you do drive by these places and see people sitting outside… sometimes. There they are, take a quick glimpse before you plow into the car in front of you and are late for whatever unpleasant task awaits at the end of the drive. They seem happy enough. Who are these people?

I’ll never know.

At any rate, the other day while we were visiting that pleasant oasis of interestingness in the desert sea of the big evil city, The Bishop Arts District, we realized that the weather, while a tad coolish in the shade and a bit sweltry in the sun, was bearable and we had an opportunity to dine out in the open. After considering a number of opportunities (most establishments had at least a couple tables out on the sidewalk) we had an appetizer tray in a couple of very well-worn comfortable Adirondack Rocking Chairs in front of Eno’s Pizza and Tavern and, as the sun set, headed on down to a place called Oddfellows for dinner.

Oddfellows seems to be gathering a following and I can see why. It is an open plan, with both sidewalk tables and an innovative and attractive set of open bench spots along the windows. It must be a popular hang out in addition to a place to eat as a number of folks had their laptops out and seemed to be settled in for the duration.

The bar dining spot at Oddfellows - a wooden bench, metal pipe for a backrest, and a log for a footrest. Our waitress has my wheat beer and Candy's wine.

The restaurant was attractive and had a good attention to details. While I was waiting in a corridor for the men’s room, I saw they had their larder on display (This may have been a fake shelf meant to impress… it doesn’t really matter) with such things as a dozen boxes of Cafe du Monde Beignet mix, gallon jugs of Frank’s Red Hot Wing Sauce, and large boxes of Bisquick, all comestible ingredients of necessity and quality. When they serve tumblers of water, they leave behind a glass bottle (like an antique quart milk bottle) of the cool stuff.

Candy ordered the Macaroni and Cheese with Buffalo Chicken. It was very, very good (I ate the leftovers later) – the Mac N Cheese was flavored with Blu Cheese which was great and the chicken was really spicy (Now I know where all that Franks’s Wing Sauce goes).

Looking over the menu, I was quickly drawn to the Chicken and Waffles. Who wants to live forever?

Chicken and waffles, a bottle of water and a wheat beer. This is truly the best of all possible worlds.

The waitress said that was her two favorite things. I’ll bet she always says that.

Now, recently, I have traditional Chicken and Waffles at a soul food drive in, and a modern take at a local food truck. Now was the opportunity to try some at a real restaurant.

The chicken was spicy and crispy, the waffles were nice and fluffy. What more do you want?

They come with butter, syrup and white southern gravy. I ate every scrap. My only complaint was that I was too full and stuffed and sleepy on the way home.

I’ll get over it.

The Soda Gallery

There are some really cool places in the Bishop Arts District. One of them is The Soda Gallery. It’s the place where you can hang out… and it gives the phrase “pop art” a new double meaning.

It’s a little art gallery and it’s a soda shop… it’s both.

So you can go inside and make a selection from their extensive collection of soft drinks – 30 kinds of root beer, Dublin Doctor Pepper, Nesbitt’s, Ramune (the Japanese stuff with the marble), and so on and so forth. They have a nice little table out on the sidewalk and I watched some groups buying sodas and sitting there drinking them. What a nice idea! I am so down on alcohol right now – it’s cool to find another option for social interaction other than booze or coffee.

And inside they do have art displayed on the walls. They had some really good stuff – screenprints of superheroes or comic book panels and other examples of local pop art.

I wish this place was in my neighborhood – but I’ll go visit when I can.

On the Soda Gallery’s website they have some examples of interesting soft drink ads… here’s some for your enjoyment.

Nesbitt’s Orange, from the 70’s. There is a lot of Robert Crumb psychedelic stuff going on here.

Japanese Fanta Commercial

It’ll Tickle Yer Innards!

The Raven

Ravens Pharmacy

500 West Jefferson Boulevard, Oak Cliff, Dallas, TX

Ravens Pharmacy, Oak Cliff

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted – nevermore!

The Raven (last stanza) – Edgar Allen Poe