A Full Moon, Gravel, and S’mores

“Great artists make the roads; good teachers and good companions can point them out. But there ain’t no free rides, baby. No hitchhiking. And if you want to strike out in any new direction — you go alone. With a machete in your hand and the fear of God in your heart.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction

The moon rising over cyclists and the Dallas skyline. From the October Full Moon Ride. (click to enlarge)

Oblique Strategy: Assemble some of the elements in a group and treat the group

The moon rising over the Dallas skyline and the pond at Trammell Crow Park. From the October Full Moon Ride.

My Cannondale road bike at Trammell Crow Park. From an early part of the October Full Moon Ride.

There is a monthly bike ride held at dusk on the first day of each full moon. It starts in a park in Downtown Dallas and heads out into the wilds of the Trinity River Bottoms where we can watch the moon rise over the city.

I had a blast on the October ride and was looking forward to the next one. It was a little more ambitious. We would head out on the gravel roads that line the levees along the river. Because of the crushed rock, I wouldn’t be able to ride my vintage Cannondale and would have to use my heavy, fat-tired commuter/cargo bike.

My heavy Commuter Bike with Dallas skyline in the background

We would ride ten miles to an abandoned golf course where we would have a campfire and make s’mores before riding back. I was a bit concerned – twenty miles, much of it off-road, is a long way for me to ride on my heavy, thick tired repurposed mountain bike. Despite all my despirte fanfaronade I am the world’s slowest bicycle rider, especially on an inefficient vehicle. Even riding the best of bicycles – the engine is old and worn out.

I rode the DART train downtown, as the sun was setting, met up with about a dozen folks, and set out. The gravel wasn’t too bad, but it was jarring and a job to control the handlebars, especially in the dark. I have a good headlight on my bike and the world was reduced to a pool of small rocks moving toward me while all around was invisible, inky blackness. It was fun. I slowed to the back of the pack and realized that if I cut my speed a little bit the ride became smoother.

The gravel road in the Trinity River Bottoms
(click to enlarge)

So, I was slow, but not too much. There is a bridge about every mile through the river bottoms and we would stop so everyone could catch up. We made our destination on time, and the s’mores were delicious.

Roasting marshmallows for s’mores. (Photo from Bike Friendly Downtown Dallas)

The only hitch was that I didn’t get any photos. I had brought my camera, a small Gorillapod, and a remote shutter release. I spent too much time having fun, and had to rush setting up my camera. I put the tripod on an old air conditioning unit, and before I could shoot, the release fob slipped out of my hand and disappeared inside. I took that as an omen, and packed it all back up.

We rode concrete back – by then the traffic was light. Only when we neared the American Airlines Center (the Dallas Stars were playing hockey and the game let out at the same time we passed) did we run into angry, aggressive drivers.

So, now I’m looking forward to next month. I need to put my nighttime photographic, time exposure kit together and practice, so I’ll be ready.

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Best Banh Mi In A Garland Parking Lot

A while back, I read an article from the Dallas Observer called, “Two of Texas’ Best Vietnamese Sandwich Shops Share a Garland Parking Lot.” It told the story of Quoc Bao Bakery and Saigon Deli.

From the story:

Two of the best banh mi shops in the region — arguably two of the best banh mi shops in the United States — make their homes in Garland, where they stare each other down across a shared parking lot. Just one suburban stretch of asphalt apart, Quoc Bao Bakery and Saigon Deli compete for the title of best banh mi in metro Dallas.

But I wanted to know: Which one is better?

The answer is not so simple, of course. Quoc Bao and Saigon Deli are equally great but for different reasons, and any diner’s preference will depend on taste. It all boils down to the fundamental question which professors in Dijon-stained tweed jackets ask on the first day of Sandwich Philosophy 101: Which is more important to the sandwich, really great bread or really great filling?

A quick check of the map confirmed what I had already suspected – the aforementioned parking lot was at Jupiter and Walnut – three miles of residential streets including two miles of dedicated bike lanes. Perfect bicycle riding distance.

Now I am already a fan of banh mi and already have two go-to spots. One is the branch of Lee’s Sandwiches in Cali Saigon at Jupiter and Beltline – a half-mile from my house. The other is the Nammi Food truck (which now has a brick-n-mortar location in the Dallas Farmer’s Market). But hey, how am I going to turn down “The Best?”

So I rigged my folding bike for hot summer riding (the temperature was flirting with triple digits) which means I filled a half-gallon Nalgene bottle with ice and water, enclosed it in an insulated cooler that fit it tightly, and clipped it to the crossrack on the back of the bike.

Despite the heat, the ride down wasn’t unpleasant at all. I had been tracking all my rides with a phone app and keeping my average miles on a spreadsheet I devised. However, recently, I have been studying a short book The Bicycle Effect: Cycling as Meditation by Juan Carlos Kreimer. It has me thinking more and more of cycling as a mindfulness exercise as well as a means of transportation. I have embraced being the world’s slowest cyclist and putting aside goals of distance and speed – other than the obvious need to make sure it is possible to get where I want to go.

I chose Saigon Deli for my first visit, for no particular reason. Will have to go for the bread at Quoc Bao Bakery next time.

Banh Mi sandwich, Mango Smoothie, and Bicycle Helmet at Saigon Deli, Garland, Texas

Sandwich Menu at Saigon Deli, Garland, Texas

The store was bright, cheery, and clean. I ordered a #1 combination sandwich ($3.50) and a Mango Smoothie (also $3.50). It was very good. Best in the world? Best in Garland? Best in the parking lot?

We’ll see. It was worth the bike ride in the heat though, and that’s all that’s important.

Somebody Else’s Dream

“Life is too short to be living somebody else’s dream.”
― Hugh Hefner

Playboy Dallas Design District Dallas, Texas

Playboy Dallas
Design District
Dallas, Texas

Over the last year or so, the Dallas Design District has become one of my favorite destinations – especially for riding my bicycle.

Right off Riverfront, in the heart of the district, appeared a huge steel replica of the Playboy Bunny logo, alongside a black-painted muscle car on a tilted slab of concrete.

On group bike rides there was some snickering and snide snarky sermonizing about these incongruous objects. I, on the other hand, never really gave it much thought – except to get out my camera and take some snaps.

Today, I was surfing around this internet-thing, and stumbled across the story of the Playboy Marfa. The mystery was solved.

Marfa is this strangely cool West Texas town – half old-school West Texas ranchland, a throwback to the old wild west – and half postmodern hip art colony. A mix that doesn’t always agree – but somehow gets along to the betterment of both.

One thing that both groups don’t like at all is crass commercialism.

So when the Playboy Corporation rented some space and erected this faux-artistic giant steel advertisement the locals were appalled. They resented the use of their wilderness artistic tradition for advertisement. Everyone was up in arms, including the Texas Highway Overlords.

Playboy Marfa now moved to Big D Marfa, Texas

Playboy Marfa
now moved to Big D
Marfa, Texas

It didn’t take long for the site’s permit to get itself yanked – Playboy Marfa had to go. The locals were happy.

But, What is Art?

Luckily, there is Dallas. You see, Dallas doesn’t care about crass commercialism. The crasser, the better. As Dallas updates itself it is careful not to fully abandon its past – its history of tackiness, moneyed kitsch, and big everything. And I like it.

It is embodied in the phrase I’m starting to see – partially in response to the popular “Keep Austin Weird” campaign down I35 a few miles…
“Keep Dallas Pretentious”
…which is interesting on several levels – once you think about it and embrace it.

So Dallas gets a new sculpture – Playboy Marfa becomes Playboy Dallas (at least for as long as the exhibition lasts).

Good.

Design District, Dallas, Texas

Design District, Dallas, Texas

Design District Dallas, Texas

Design District
Dallas, Texas

Design District Dallas, Texas

Design District
Dallas, Texas

Legions Of These Myrmidons

“One day when I went out to my wood-pile, or rather my pile of stumps, I observed two large ants, the one red, the other much larger, nearly half an inch long, and black, fiercely contending with one another. Having once got hold they never let go, but struggled and wrestled and rolled on the chips incessantly. Looking farther, I was surprised to find that the chips were covered with such combatants, that it was not a duellum, but a bellum, a war between two races of ants, the red always pitted against the black, and frequently two red ones to one black. The legions of these Myrmidons covered all the hills and vales in my wood-yard, and the ground was already strewn with the dead and dying, both red and black. It was the only battle which I have ever witnessed, the only battle-field I ever trod while the battle was raging; internecine war; the red republicans on the one hand, and the black imperialists on the other. On every side they were engaged in deadly combat, yet without any noise that I could hear, and human soldiers never fought so resolutely.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I was out moving around the city with my bicycle and a DART pass. I had my tablet in a backpack and decided to head downtown and see if there was anything interesting on my Love Lock USB Dead Drop. The water in the Trinity was up, but I didn’t know how high it was on that day – so I thought I’d at least give it a shot.

Crossing the river on the DART train I looked out and saw the Santa Fe Trestle trail snaking its way across and a few inches above the water – so it looked like I could make the crossing. I started to ride down from the Corinth train station and soon I was on a narrow strip of concrete with water all around.

Finally, though, I reached a spot where the water was coursing over the pavement. I’m not an idiot, I knew it was time to head back. I did get off my bike and fished out my camera for some flood shots.

Concentrating on the water and my camera I didn’t notice one important fact. All the fire ants from across the vast river bottom plain had been forced up onto the narrow strip of trail. At my feet they were boiling in a thick red mass.

If you know anything about Texas – you know that fire ants will swarm you and then when one bites, they all do. Nasty, nasty things.

It hurt, but not too bad. I did the fire and dance, sweeping them off as fast as I could.

Then it was out of there, as fast as I could pedal.

The Santa Fe Trestle Trail snaking its way through the flooded Trinity River Bottoms. Dallas, Texas.

The Santa Fe Trestle Trail snaking its way through the flooded Trinity River Bottoms.
Dallas, Texas.

The view across the Flooded Trinity, Dallas, Texas

The view across the Flooded Trinity, Dallas, Texas

As the water moved from one side of the trail to the other, through drowned drainage pipes, it left a maelstrom in it s wake. Trinity River Bottoms, Dallas, Texas

As the water moved from one side of the trail to the other, through drowned drainage pipes, it left a maelstrom in its wake.
Trinity River Bottoms, Dallas, Texas

Finally, the water overtakes the trail. Dallas, Texas

Finally, the water overtakes the trail.
Dallas, Texas

Is There Any Tea On This Spaceship?

“Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he realized what it was.

“Is there any tea on this spaceship?” he asked.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Photographs from the teacup races at Turner House in Oak Cliff, during the 2014 Tweed Ride festivities.

teacup3

“There are those who love to get dirty and fix things. They drink coffee at dawn, beer after work. And those who stay clean, just appreciate things. At breakfast they have milk and juice at night. There are those who do both, they drink tea.”
― Gary Snyder

teacup4

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”
― C.S. Lewis

teacup2

“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

teacup1

“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.”
“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”
“Nobody asked your opinion,” said Alice.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

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.

I Venture a Long Long Way For a Waffle

Unless you live in North Texas – you have no idea how horrifically big the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is. The entire complex of cities is seventy miles across… side to side or top to bottom… from Rockwall to Benbrook, or McKinney to Cleburn, or Denton to Waxahachie.

That’s a lot of territory. Miles and miles of Texas. That’s almost five thousand square miles of urban landscape.

That’s too much city to cross by bicycle. Or at least by bicycle alone. So, as always, I combined the bike with mass transit – specifically the web of train tracks that once took cattle back to the eastern slaughterhouses… but now shuttle city denizens around the concrete vastness.

Last week, I was surfing the web, checking out facebook, when I was confronted by a photo of a restaurant menu. The restaurant was Brewed – a craft beer/coffee/gastropub in Fort Worth – and they were offering a Temptress-Topped Waffle, paired with a special keg of French Quarter Temptress Stout.

Tempress is a milk stout produced by the Lakewood Brewing Company, located only a couple miles south of my house. I consider Temptress to be one of the best things on earth. Not beers… Things.

So on Saturday I set up my Xootr Swift Folding bicycle and set off for Fort Worth. That is too far for me to ride, so I would combine the bicycle with the local trains. My departure was delayed for an hour after I discovered a thorn in a tire – but I set off nevertheless for the nearest DART station and took the Red line to downtown Dallas. There I boarded the TRE Line for distant Fort Worth.

The only problem was that they were doing some bridge maintenance west of the airport, so the train stopped, everybody piled off and onto a brace of waiting buses, and rode to the next stop where we reboarded another train. The bus had a bike rack on the front; I had never used one of those before. It worked fine, but I felt a nervous jolt in my stomach every time the bus bounced over some pothole or ditch. I could imagine my bike bouncing off, crushed under the wheels.

Of course, the people that designed and built the rack knew much more than me and the trip was fine. Still, the unboarding, boarding, moving, and reboarding took a lot of time and it seemed like forever before I left the train at the T&P station in Fort Worth.

I used Google Maps bicycling directions to find a route to Brewed, locked my bike up outside, and found a seat at the bar.

My Xootr Swift locked up outside Brewed, Fort Worth, Texas

My Xootr Swift locked up outside Brewed, Fort Worth, Texas

Lakewood Brewing Company, French Quarter Temptress, Special Glass, Brewed, Fort Worth, Texas

Lakewood Brewing Company, French Quarter Temptress, Special Glass, Brewed, Fort Worth, Texas

Temptress-Topped Waffle, Brewed, Fort Worth, Texas

Temptress-Topped Waffle, Brewed, Fort Worth, Texas

The French Quarter Temptress was excellent – the waffle with Temptress laced syrup and whipped cream was even better. I really like Brewed – coffee, craft beer, and good food – what can be better than that? The restaurant has a fun, eclectic décor (including a “Seventies Room”) and would be a regular place for me, for sure, if it wasn’t so darned far away. I sat at the bar, chatting with the staff and customers for a lot longer than I intended, but it was fun.

We talked about local beer, about coffee, about New Orleans, and about the asymmetrical rivalry between Dallas and Fort Worth.

I left the restaurant later than I had planned, but still wanted to get a few miles of bike riding in before I headed home. The French Quarter Temptress came in a special souvenir glass – I carefully wrapped it up so I could get it all the way back unbroken. Again, using Google Maps I wound my way to the west, past the Fort Worth Zoo, and along the trails along the river back into downtown.

I wanted to visit the Water Gardens and get some photographs but I felt the pavement grow ragged under me and I realized I had another flat (another thorn) and had to take the time to fix the leak. As I sat on a bench and worked the tire irons and portable pump I kept glancing across the street at something on the sidewalk. It looked like a photorealistic sculpture of a homeless man standing there, holding his shoes, staring into the distance.

During the entire time, maybe twenty minutes, I worked on my tire, the thing never moved, not a fraction of an inch. It must be a sculpture, I thought, I even kept an eye on one little stray lock of hair – which never budged. Testing out my new tire, I rode across the street, and the sculpture turned and looked at me. It was a real homeless person, semi-catatonic, standing stock still until something moved near him.

That shook me a bit – and it was time for a train, so I rode into the T&P station. The trip back included the same train-bus-train dance. So it was TRE train-bus-TRE train-DART Red Line Train-three mile bike ride to get back to my house. I was well after dark when I reached home.

A fun day – but a long way to go for some waffles.