Wednesday 16 July 2003

Dringy does Dallas

Spat out from the Peru flight into the sticky heat of Dallas Fort Worth airport at 9am on a Saturday morning, with seven hours to kill before my next flight, I decided to play intrepid traveller and see what attractions downtown Dallas had to offer.

The US's famous car culture is not particularly welcoming to those without wheels and I'd neglected to pack my SUV in my hand luggage. Naoka, the friendly Terminal A voluntary airport ambassador (what's all that about? my kindly Aunt Sylvia used to be a Friend of the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, but the American transport infrastructure does not strike me as a particularly worthy recipient of volunteers' time) suggested a $40 cab ride to the town centre, or better still a $20 cab ride to the nearest swanky mall. Schooled by Dervala's minimal spending habits over the previous weeks I balked at the expense and struck off to uncover public transport.

Three dollars, one shuttle bus, one half hour wait, one train - a big, shiny, two-storey train to excite the not particularly well-hidden trainspotter in me - and one replacement bus ride I stood, satisfied, in downtown Dallas.


Not alone in the no friends sense, although I was, but alone in the sense that there was no-one else there.

It's difficult to pick up social cues in an alien country, even an alien country with so much that is disconcertingly familiar from its numerous cultural exports, but empty, sweaty block after empty, sweaty block populated only by drunks and thrift stores did not indicate a thriving neighbourhood to me. I walked a mile up, I walked a mile across, and still there was nothing to do.

At first I searched hard for indications of life or commerce so that I could buy the cheap electronic ephemera I craved after Peru, or some cheap jeans, or even a can of Coke. I was excited by the spinning Budweiser sign in the restaurant, but the grubby metal shutters prevented entry. Perhaps just around the corner there was somewhere I could spend my imported dollars on something other than shabby seven buck shoes, instead there were more closed shops and empty sidewalks. After half an hour in the heat I changed the focus of my hunt and flagged down the first cab I saw.

Cyril, the chatty cabby, once over the amusement at the way my English accent contrasted with my apparently Germanic features, had known I was a foreigner as soon as he'd seen me as none of the locals would be walking around those streets in such heat. Dallas gets more interesting in the afternoon he explained, and the West End was the place to go he said as he waved vaguely at an urban area the size of Hampshire. I was relieved to get back to the air-conditioned comfort of Terminal A, and relieved of the $40 I'd tried hard to keep earlier.

Dallas probably does have a vibrant heart, a pulsing cultural scene of arguing coffee-house writers and edgy, raw underground clubs, it's probably even got electronic discount stores. I managed to miss the lot.

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