Molten Glass Christmas Tree

One of my favorite events of the Holiday Season is the Cedars Open Studios Tour. The Cedars is a neighborhood of Dallas south of downtown and is an up-and-coming area. It still has some relatively low cost space and a lot of artists use the neighborhood as studio space (we’ll see how long this lasts – gentrification is a bitch).

In November, the studios open up on one evening for the Cedars Open Studios TourFacebook Link. It’s a fun event and a great way to get some unique Christmas Presents. I always do the tour with some friends on a bicycle, but I guess it would be OK to drive a vehicle, park, and walk. Look for it next year.

The final stop is always Bowman Art Glass (a way-cool place). They have a tree-shaped armature out front. After sunset, they do a skit or two, then, in the dark, the workers bring ladles of hot glass out from the ovens inside and pour the molten liquid over the armature. This makes a glass Christmas Tree.

Glass Christmas Tree at Bowman Art Glass, The Cedars, Texas

Glass Christmas Tree at Bowman Art Glass, The Cedars, Texas

There is always some wood and paper in the armature so the hot glass starts fires.

The only problem is that is is almost impossible to take good photos – the darkness and the contrast of the bright hot glass, plus the large crowd gathered around. But it is a blast and fun to watch. Next year… bet there or be square.

Pouring molten glass onto the Christmas Tree

Pouring molten glass onto the Christmas Tree

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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.

Oswald Tour

Lee Harvey's

Lee Harvey’s

I’m not really sure why – it was a spur of the moment “that sounds like fun” kind of thing – but I bought tickets for Candy and I to go on a bus tour of Dallas spots that are associated with Lee Harvey Oswald‘s crime and last days.

The 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination is this November and Dallas is bracing for the event. When you live in Dallas, the assassination is an odd thing. It is the most famous historical event that has occurred here and it is what most people still think about when they think about Dallas. When the television show became wildly popular back in the day the people here were relieved because they figured that people would associate Dallas with J. R. Ewing, rather than the assassination. Same thing when the Cowboys are winning.

But those things have faded and with the half-century mark coming up, it’s time to live in infamy again. Dallas and most of the people that live here wish that the memory that horrible event occurred here – well, we wish that would be forgotten.

Everyone my age or older remembers where they were when they found out about the assassination. I was in third grade, in New York (state, a little up the Hudson from the city) and I remember going out to catch the bus home, and the bus was not there. I guess we were sent home from school early. We were waiting with our teacher with us and someone came up to talk to her, both women were very upset. We didn’t know what was going on and all I heard was “shot and killed.”

At that age, the world looks different. I put the phrase “shot and killed” together with our missing bus and assumed that our bus driver had been murdered. Later, when I found out it was the president, I was sort-of relieved. I knew my bus driver personally, after all.

At any rate, the tour was inexpensive and looked like fun – I am always up for learning about my city – so we signed up. It started, not surprisingly, at Lee Harvey’s – a beer garden/restaurant/live music spot/dive bar – in the Cedars. We met there, piled into an air-conditioned coach, and set off.

Our first stop was Dealey Plaza. There are always a lot of tourists there, and a lot of tours, guides and sellers of conspiracy theory books and materials. Our guide was really good. He was Jerry Dealey, the great grand-nephew of George Dealey – the guy that Dealey Plaza was named after. He said he was from the poor branch of the family.

Our tour in front of the Texas School Book Depository

Our tour in front of the Texas School Book Depository

Our tour in Dealey Plaza.

Our tour in Dealey Plaza.

What was nice was that he gave a “fair” tour – as far as all the conspiracy theories go. He said something that makes sense to me, “We will never know for certain exactly what happened, and anyone that thinks they know is wrong.” So he covered a lot of the more well-known theories… but also did point out those that are clearly completely impossible or flat out wrong (many having to do with Oliver Stone’s film).

For a rare moment, the area cleared. This is the spot of the fatal shot, marked by the X. Abraham Zapruder was standing on that white concrete pillar in the foreground when he made his famous film.

For a rare moment, the area cleared. This is the spot of the fatal shot, marked by the X. Abraham Zapruder was standing on that white concrete pillar in the foreground when he made his famous film.

I have, of course, been to Dealey Plaza many times – even went there before dawn to take photos of the sunrise.

I remember when I first moved to Dallas, I lived in Oak Cliff and worked downtown. My bus would go through Dealey Plaza twice a day – it was a month before I realized that was the assassination site.

The Texas School Book Depository from Dealey Plaza.

The Texas School Book Depository from Dealey Plaza.

Then we drove over to Oak Cliff to see where Oswald lived, then visited the site where Officer Tippit was murdered, and then on to the Texas Theater where Oswald was arrested (for shooting Tippit). That was surreal, because I spend so much time in Oak Cliff, especially on my bicycle, that I am very familiar with the streets and hadn’t really thought about the web of history that is overlain on such familiar turf. I have ridden my bike past Oswald’s rooming house, for example, a dozen times in the last few months, without knowing its infamy.

Then we headed out west, to Fort Worth to visit Oswald’s grave. It’s a fairly isolated spot, and hard to find (the cemetery will not give directions or help locating it). We parked the bus on a side street and then trudged over to the grave. It was more interesting than you would think… not because of Oswald per se. It’s especially interesting because of the mystery of NICK BEEF.

Oswald and NICK BEEF

Oswald and NICK BEEF

Lee Harvey Oswald’s original tombstone was stolen and replaced with a simple marker that says, “Oswald.” Then, in 1997, right next to his grave appeared a mysterious stone, the same size and type that said, simply, “NICK BEEF.”

Of course, that mysterious stone supplied fodder for all sorts of wild stories. It wasn’t until this year that the New York Times finally was able to run it to ground. No wild conspiracy, simply an eccentric New Yorker – nonperforming performance artist with a morbid artistic sensibility – that as a child saw Kennedy at Carswell Air Force Base the day before he died. It left a lifelong impression and when he found out that nobody wanted to buy the plot next to Oswald… well, NICK BEEF was, umm born.

We headed back to Dallas to see some spots related to Jack Ruby and his killing of Oswald. Then we returned to Lee Harvey’s for a couple beers and hamburgers.

It was a fun day. They are going to do some more tours – a Haunted Dallas tour around Halloween, a “Dirty Dallas” about the history of the city’s seamy side, and (the one that I am really interested in) a Bonnie and Clyde tour.

Sounds like a plan.

There was a famous person on our tour. They announced that the music artist/rapper MC 900 Ft Jesus was a member of the company. They wouldn’t say which person he was, but… after a bit of looking and thinking, I figured it out.

Dallashenge from the triple underpass in Dealey Plaza. This is an HDR image - three shots taken at different exposures and combined with software.

Dallashenge from the triple underpass in Dealey Plaza. This is an HDR image – three shots taken at different exposures and combined with software.

Dallas Blonde

As I work on what my future is going to be like, I had, for all practical purposes, quit drinking. I simply don’t have the time or the calories to spare. The one exception is that if there is an interesting something… I’d give it a go.

Lately, around town, I had been stumbling into events that served beer from the Deep Ellum Brewing Company. If you live in Dallas, you know what Deep Ellum is. If you don’t – it’s a historic district, just east of downtown, that has seen a roller coaster of ups and downs over the last hundred years or so and is, arguably, the heart of the city – from the days of Leadbelly and Blind Lemon Jefferson, to the heyday of the 80’s, and beyond.

Deep Ellum has been struggling for a few years now, but it still has industrial space and is a magnet for the young, hip… and the notso young and hip – anyone looking for something different.

So it is where you would expect a quality craft brewery to sprout up.

Their manifesto:

Beerfesto

  • To you, the beer drinker, Deep Ellum Brewing Company pleges:
  • To never waste your time with gimmicks
  • To let our beer do the talking
  • To never live or work in a dry county
  • To remember our roots
  • To never serve a single glass of bad beer

And, from their website – more of their philosophy:

  • The Founders of Deep Ellum Brewing Company Have Had Enough
  • Enough of watching beer’s good name being tarnished.
  • Enough of watching big, corporate breweries pumping out the same old dull, watered-down stuff, Slapping a different label on it and telling you that you have choices.
  • ENOUGH OF BAD BEER
  • To show their dissatisfaction with the status quo, the four founders of Deep Ellum Brewing Company have set up shop in Dallas’ most nefarious neighborhood, and between their big personalities and bigger beers, they plan to show Big D what it’s been missing.

I had some of their Farmhouse Wit at The Foundry and some Stout at the Cedars Food Truck Park (served up by the folks from Lee Harvey’s). It was very, very good. I’m not an expert on the brewing world or a properly educated beer snob, but I know good things when I swallow them… and this was good.

Trying to find something to do on the weekend, and looking at the Brewery’s Web Site, I found that they offered tours. At noon Saturday (and Thursday’s at six) you can pay ten dollars, get a glass, samples, and a tour. That sounded like a plan.

I had to go to work really early on Saturday, but that meant I finished early and had time to get in a bike ride (and a flat tire) and still make it down to Deep Ellum by noon. I changed clothes in my car and was hot, hungry, and thirsty – but hot and thirsty is the best and only way to tour a brewery.

It was a blast. They have a little beer garden down there with live music (the guy was good and I have no idea who he was) [PS – I think the guy was Jes Spires) and a great crowd. A food truck showed up (I needed to get some food in me) and the taps were going strong. I am definitely planning on going back. Thursday evening sounds like a plan.

And the beer was so, so good. I tried their newest brew – Dallas Blonde, then moved on to the Deep Ellum IPA and finished with the Double Brown Stout. I can honestly say every Deep Ellum Brewery beer I’ve tried I’ve liked better than the one before. For example, I’m not that big of an IPA fan – but that stuff blew me away. It’s pretty rare that I think “Wow” to myself when I first sip a new brew – but I did with each of those.

So now I have to modify what I say. Instead of “I don’t drink anymore” I have to say, “I don’t always drink beer – but when I do, it has to be from the Deep Ellum Brewing Company.”

Music in the Deep Ellum Brewing Company Beer Garden

There was a big crowd for the brewery tour.

Zach talks about hops.

A hearty cheer – for good beer.

The taps were going.

Where the magic happens.

Some of the limited production beer is aged in wine casks.

Finished Product