Music In the Used Book Store

When I first moved to Dallas, 36 or so years ago, I lived in the venerable (and still there) Turtle Dove Apartments, off lower Greenville Avenue, behind the Granada Theater.

One of the things I liked to do was to walk up to Greenville and Mockingbird and then down a few blocks to a crackerjack used book store, Half-Price Books. I have a bad book addiction and the maze-like selection of rooms chock-full of tomes of all types was an irresistible draw.

Is there anything more evocative than the paper-and-mold smell of a used book store?

Over the decades I moved and so did the store. It kept outgrowing its present digs and, like a gigantic paper hermit crab, shed its shell and found larger quarters. It moved north to Northwest Highway, settling in to an old Captain’s Cargo store – leaving it with two incongruous sailing vessel type stairways (that location is torn down and an REI landed on the spot).

My addiction was as strong as ever and one day I went to the place only to find giant “Closed” signs plastered all over. Sadly, I turned to my car only to spot giant streamers and “Half-Price Books New Location” signs across the street in a giant new building.

It’s the biggest used book store I’ve ever seen, in an open-plan of comfortable rows rather than the usual maze-like configuration. I’ve been to this big main store hundreds of times over the years, though I’m slowing down now as I try to get my inner hoarder under control and deal with the realization I have more books than I can read in the rest of my life.

Meanwhile, in another story, in 2012 Candy and I stumbled across a group of singers, a jam, at the Bar Belmont in West Dallas. I became their fan.

Charli's Sunday Afternoon Acoustic Jam

Charli’s Sunday Afternoon Acoustic Jam


Playing the Dobro

Playing the Dobro

Over the years, Charli’s Jam has been forced to move around too. As their fan, I followed to various bars and other spots – and enjoyed most every place.

And now, they have settled in to the Big Main Half-Price. The same bookstore I’ve been hanging out in all these years. They perform on Sundays at three PM – I stopped by for a listen and to check out the new digs.

Other than the unavailability of alcohol… it seems like a sweet spot.

Charli's Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore

Charli’s Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore

Charli's Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore

Charli’s Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore

Charli's Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore. I think this is the same guy playing the Dobro that I saw in 2012.

Charli’s Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore. I think this is the same guy playing the Dobro that I saw in 2012.

Music cases and used books... and a bass.

Music cases and used books… and a bass.


Over 99 Billion Served

Over 99 Billion Served - but no more.

Over 99 Billion Served – but no more.

There is a joke in Dallas… it goes like this, “Whenever you ask someone for directions, they always start ‘Get on Beltline…’.” And it’s true.

I live a handful of short blocks north of Beltline, so I know that endless loop well. Less than a mile to the West, on Beltline, of course, is was a McDonald’s. I have been in that place exactly once, when we first moved in, before our internet and water was hooked up. I went in there for coffee and wifi.

Now when my kids were little, we went to McDonald’s (and various other fast-food emporiums) all the time. Not for the food, per se, but for the ball pits and climbing tunnels. My kids were connoisseurs of fast-food ball pits. They would sit around at home discussing the comparative merits of all the local McDonald’s vs. Burger King. They would arrive at a decision and off we would go. When driving long distances they would spot a unique climbing structure out the speeding windows and we would have to stop. Candy would walk to another place, any place, and get food – she could not stand McDonald’s… no matter how fun the ball pit was.

But the kids had outgrown all that before we moved here. Shame, because that McDonald’s had a really nice climbing structure in a huge glass enclosure out front. (Google Maps Streetview from before the demolition). At any rate, I had no reason to go there and had only been there that once.

Still, though, I drove or biked past it at least twice a day for years and years and it had blended into the daily background of my life.

Then, one day, coming home from work, it was gone. There was nothing there except a pile of rubble.

Plastic tunnels and ball pit netting, bulldozed and torn asunder.

Plastic tunnels and ball pit netting, bulldozed and torn asunder.

It was a shock. There were the plastic tunnels all bulldozed and torn asunder. It was like finding a body in the yard – like someone you knew slightly had died. Of course, the neighborhood email list went into a frenzy of indignation and fear – nobody knew what had happened.

Of course, this is Dallas (or at least a suburb), and nothing is allowed to rest for long. The rubble was gone in a couple days and already, concrete is being poured. I assume it will be another McDonald’s – probably bigger and better.

But I bet the food will be the same.

There is another Dallas joke. “There are only two seasons in Dallas, Football and Construction.”

If Music Be the Food Of Love, Play On

If you go down to Deep Elem
Just to have a little fun,
You’d better have your fifteen dollars
When the policeman come.

“If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.”
― William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

If you go down to Deep Elem,
Keep your money in your shoes;
The women in Deep Elem
Got those Deep Elem blues.

Glass from Wine Walk Deep Ellum Dallas, Texas

Glass from Wine Walk
Deep Ellum
Dallas, Texas

One of my favorite things is the Deep Ellum Wine Walk – you should check it out.

If you go down to Deep Elem,
Take your money in your pants;
The women in Deep Elem
Never give the men a chance.

“And I thought about how many people have loved those songs. And how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs. And how many people enjoyed good times with those songs. And how much those songs really mean. I think it would be great to have written one of those songs. I bet if I wrote one of them, I would be very proud. I hope the people who wrote those songs are happy. I hope they feel it’s enough. I really do because they’ve made me happy. And I’m only one person.”
― Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Now I once knew a preacher,
Preached the Bible through and through,
He went down into Deep Elem,
Now his preaching days are through.

“People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.”
― Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

Now I once had a sweet gal,
Lord, she meant the world to me;
She went down into Deep Elem;
She ain’t what she used to be.

Her papa’s a policeman
And her mama walks the street;
Her papa met her mama
When they both were on the beat.

Outside, For A While Anyway

“They had laughed. They had leaned on each other and laughed until the tears had come, while everything else–the cold, and where he’d go in it–was outside, for a while anyway.”
― Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

One of my favorite new places in Dallas is the Cold Beer Company. It’s on the far east side of Deep Ellum, and has been built as the rebirth of an interesting old building. It’s in a good location, has nice outdoor seating, and, of course, a good selection of cold beer.

I rode my bike there and noticed the brick patio entrance. Right in the middle of the paving was a single brick marked “Lawrence, Kansas.” I asked the waitress about that and she said one of the owners went to Kansas University, my alma mater.

“And he likes to talk about it,” she said.

So when he came out of the back I asked him about KU and the waitress was right – he liked to talk about it. He seemed a little sheepish about the brick. “They weren’t supposed to put it right there in the middle.” I’m not sure I believed him.

We talked about Lawrence and the Kansas winters. When I would look around, the waitress and bartender would roll their eyes.

I think they had heard it all before – many times before.

Paving brick in front of the Cold Beer Company Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Paving brick in front of the Cold Beer Company
Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Patio in front of the Cold Beer Company, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Patio in front of the Cold Beer Company,
Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

My Xootr Swift folding bike in the cool bike rack in front of the Cold Beer Company Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

My Xootr Swift folding bike in the cool bike rack in front of the Cold Beer Company
Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Beauty Is In The Eye

Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder.
—-Kinky Friedman

Deep Ellum, then and now.

I am old enough and have lived in Dallas long enough to have seen Deep Ellum rise, fall, and now rise again. When I first moved here in 1981 it was an urban industrial wasteland – known only for cheap space for marginal businesses.

Yet, even then, the neighborhood had a long and famous history. The music from the 1920’s, lead by Blind Lemon Jefferson, Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter, Texas Bill Day and Bessie Smith paved the way for modern jazz, blues, and rock and roll as much as any other place. But in 1969 a giant elevated freeway choked off the urban oxygen and the vibrant area fell into decay.

Then in the 1980’s fueled by cheap funky space and the punk revolution in music Deep Ellum regained its reputation as a spawning ground for music and nightlife. I was there for that – and it was something.

But again, the city zoning laws, rising crime, and the fact that the wealthy edge of the city was vomiting out over the cotton fields over an hour north threw Deep Ellum back into disrespect and disrepair.

Now, though, the population is moving back in and Deep Ellum is coming back with a vengeance. This time it is different, the rebirth is fueled by people actually living in and around the area. This time it feels like it might last.

The last Friday of the month is Dallas Critical Mass. I always enjoy these, a lot, even though it took all my will power to get my stuff together and catch a train downtown – work wore me out so much, the siren song of the couch was almost irresistible. This is a rare sweet spot in Dallas weather – and a big group showed up in the park for the ride. One of the fun things about the Critical Mass Ride is that nobody knows where it is going. This month we wound around downtown, then headed out Main Street through Deep Ellum.

When we crossed Exposition the bicyclists were clumping up in a big group right in the middle of the street, and I realized we had reached our destination. It was the Cold Beer Company – a new bar/restaurant/place to hang out on the edge of Deep Ellum.

I realized that I had seen this little building before, and had even photographed it and posted a blog entry. It was once the rundown and abandoned spot that used to hold Vern’s Kitchen until it closed in 2009. I liked the place, even with the broken windows and graffiti, but didn’t think that Deep Ellum would grow enough to resurrect a business on such a wayward spot.

I was wrong. We stayed at the Cold Beer Company for a couple of cold beers (Peticolas Velvet Hammer to be exact) and I pronounce the location to be back and back for the better. The room is small, but they have done a great job with their patio and garden areas. They even have a cool custom bike rack out in front.

The building that would become The Cold Beer Company, in March of 2013

The building that would become The Cold Beer Company, in March of 2013

The Cold Beer Company today... from about the same angle.

The Cold Beer Company today… from about the same angle.

Dallas Segway Tour

Today was Candy’s birthday and, along with some friends that have done it before, we decided to celebrate with a Segway tour in downtown Dallas.

My first impression of the idea was a little iffy. I would rather have ridden my bike around downtown (as I am wont to do) than stand there lazily on two electric-powered wheels. Plus, I’ve seen these groups of touristy-looking folks, wearing helmets and standing stiffly on the slow-moving vehicles, moving in a line along the downtown sidewalks. It looked rather silly to me.

Well, I thought about it and realized that, as usual, I was full of shit. Let’s face it, everyone wants to at least try out a Segway and see how it is. I remember the crazy hype back in 2001 when the thing (code name “Ginger”) was introduced and, although it could never live up to its promotion, it still made an impression. All in all, it had to be fun.

There are a couple companies that offer Segway tours, and we chose one based on… well, we had a Groupon.

Candy and I had gone to our third Dallas Savor Wine Tour yesterday and then gone to Lee Harvey’s for a Naked Lunch concert last night and stayed out too late. When I crawled out of bed – too early for a Saturday – I didn’t feel too well. I’m getting too old. But I gutted it out and we drove downtown to the Segway place – in a cool old brick building.

We had a few minutes of lessons, a quick pep talk, then off we went.

That might be the most amazing thing about the Segway – how easy it is to learn. After all, this is a completely unique and new transportation form. It has no controls at all – only a platform to stand on and a stick with a handle. There is no seat or restraint – you just stand there. Still, after only a minute of practice, we were off along the streets and sidewalks of a big city. We had to maneuver along narrow twisting paths, through curb cuts, and over precarious routes along concrete dropoffs.

It was a piece of cake. The only difficulty I had was that, at first, I stood too stiffly and my feet and ankles were painful and cramping. After a bit I was able to relax and flex better and it became comfortable.

I was surprised at how far the tour went. We started out on the edge of the West End area (near the bus station) and headed out to the famous bronze steer sculpture and City Hall, then north clear through the heart of downtown. We visited the Arts District and then on to Klyde Warren where we took a break. Finally we rode west to visit Dealey Plaza before heading back.

That’s a complete tour of downtown.

The Segway is a great way to tour an area. You cover a lot more distance than you can walking, of course. You see so much more than in a bus or car tour. I’ll give it a nod even over a bicycle because you are able to keep your head up and look around while you ride.

The last leg of the tour was a blast. By then I was very comfortable on the machine and was able to enjoy myself – doing a bit of slalom between landscape trees along a stretch of sidewalk, swinging around in close spaces, or simply picking up the speed (a little bit). It’s an odd experience – the key to comfortably riding a Segway is to forget you are on one and let your instincts take over. I really can’t tell you how to go forward or backward, how to stop or turn – you just do.

Most of the people in the tour were not from Dallas and I asked them if they thought the Segway Tour was a good way to see a new city and they all were enthusiastic.

So, the next time you visit someplace or even revisit the place where you live – check out and see if a Segway Tour is available. Do it if you can. It doesn’t look as silly when you are in the bowels of the thing than it does from outside looking in.

Candy getting her Segway Lesson.

Candy getting her Segway Lesson.

The tour stops at the Dallas Eye.

The tour stops at the Dallas Eye.

Segways lined up at Dealey Plaza. The Texas School Book Depository in the background.

Segways lined up at Dealey Plaza. The Texas School Book Depository in the background.

Riding around at the Old Red Courthouse.

Riding around at the Old Red Courthouse.

Riding up to the JFK Memorial.

Riding up to the JFK Memorial.

Inside the JFK Cenotaph.

Inside the JFK Cenotaph.

JFK Memorial

Rolling down the sidewalk and across the street.

Rolling down the sidewalk and across the street.

Snøhetta Pavilion

As I was working my way through South Dallas on my bicycle exploring three of the Nasher XChange sites – between Flock in Space and Black & Blue: A Cultural Oasis in the Hills – I took a look at the GPS on my phone to make sure I wasn’t lost. I realized that I wasn’t far from something I wanted to visit. Even though I was behind schedule and getting tired I would be passing close enough to make a side trip.

So I did.

I turned off of Bonnie View Road into a neighborhood until I reached College Park. Past some guys playing basketball I found what I was looking for – a new park pavilion designed by the Oslo-New York firm Snøhetta. A review of the structure had shown up in the Dallas paper and aroundgathering some architectural praise.

It looked pretty interesting, enough for me to visit.

Snøhetta Pavillion, College Park, Dallas, Texas (click to enlarge)

Snøhetta Pavillion, College Park, Dallas, Texas
(click to enlarge)

Picnic Tables and Grills, Snøhetta Pavillion, Dallas, Texas (click to enlarge)

Picnic Tables and Grills, Snøhetta Pavillion, Dallas, Texas
(click to enlarge)

I couldn’t stay long, but it was pretty cool in person. An ingenious design – unusual, yet in harmony with the site. Striking, yet useful. It seems to have been economical to build and designed to last a long time.

The picnic tables and outdoor grills were an unexpected treat – I loved the design of these. I didn’t think there was much you could do with public picnic tables – but these were unique and cool.

Later, at home, I did some web research and found a publication that extolls the virtues of the Pavilions in Dallas parks – listing a whole slew of them.

Now that I’ve finished with the Nasher XChange, maybe that’s something I can cycle through town and look at. Picnic Pavilions are pretty pedestrian objects and I have to say I haven’t noticed them for a long time.

But isn’t that the point? To try and ride around my own city and notice things that everyone usually ignores?

Maybe so.