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Memphis Flyer Beyond the Metroplex

There is a lot of beauty to Texas, but it's not to be found in the cities.

By Paul Gerald

JULY 12, 1999:  Dallas is best approached at night. The glitter shows up better that way, and the traffic, weaving through highway construction, is a little less hellish. Dallas' skyline is a lit-up monument to urban America, glowing in the prairie like a little touch of Las Vegas. There's a green building and a building with big X's on it, and the Hyatt hotel with a huge ball on top that offers an ever-changing arrangement of lights. Dallas screams out: "Look at us! We're happening!"

It's tough to decide which is the perfect symbol of Dallas: Is it the glowing downtown, ever hiding the fact that more than a third of its offices are empty?

Or is it the construction on Mockingbird Lane, where a luxury hotel and Kmart are replacing the old Dr Pepper headquarters, one of the most famous examples of Art Deco architecture?

Maybe it's South Fork (remember the show Dallas?), which it used to be a real ranch, but now it's surrounded by suburbia and is available for rental as a party site.

Maybe it's the West End "historic" district. Its history was railyards and warehouses and people who would be chased out of town today. Now the West End is all neon and nightclubs and overrated restaurants. This is how Dallas celebrates its history.

Probably the ultimate symbol of Dallas, though, is to be found in its sports stadiums. The Cotton Bowl is here, one of the grandest stadiums in the country, in the middle of the State Fairgrounds, a world-class monument to the Art Deco style which hosts the (naturally) "world's largest state fair." But the Cotton Bowl, "The House that Doak Walker Built," is now the house that Dallas has ignored into obscurity. It's falling down and apart, used only a few days a year and the object of scorn and ridicule, even fear, among the populace.

And then there's Texas Stadium, home of the Cowboys. It's glamorous, it's comfortable, it's got the famous cheerleaders and that hole in the roof ... and it's out in the middle of absolute nowhere, surrounded by parking lots and expressways. It's tough to imagine a lamer place to see a game.

What Dallas has going for it is a pile of good restaurants and bars plus a few pockets of hipness that are worth exploring. It's a good town to go out in, then get out of.

Unless it's shopping and dining you're after, the best thing to do in Texas is keep going west. There is some magnificent country out there, places like Big Bend National Park and the Hill Country west of Austin and the wide-open cattle country around Amarillo. Beyond is desert; turn right, and you're in the Rockies. The West keeps things in perspective nicely.

If you're starting west from Dallas, though, you'll first have to fight through the surreal world known as Arlington. Arlington is an island of goofiness in a sea of monotony called The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. All the Metroplex cities are the same. If you were beamed into Grapevine or Farmers Branch or Garland or Plano, you wouldn't be able to tell which one you were in. How are you supposed to distinguish among various outlets of Luby's and Domino's? The Metroplex is like southeast Memphis on a 30-year steroid binge.

But Arlington, at least from Interstate 30, is something else entirely. First you'll see a Wax Museum and a Ripley's Believe It or Not. Next up, on your left, is Six Flags Over Texas, an amusement park with such long waits that refreshment stands are set up in the lines. On your right is Hurricane Ridge, "the largest and most complete waterpark in the Southwest." Back on the left is The Ballpark at Arlington, home of baseball's Texas Rangers and another spectacular stadium in an anti-spectacular setting.

But to these eyes, the view gets better beyond the Metroplex. Past Arlington is Fort Worth, a mellower and cooler city than any other in the state. Past Fort Worth is The West. Take US 287 north toward Wichita Falls, and just beyond town you'll notice a slight climb in the road. Off to the left you'll see an actual distant view, which has been hidden since you got near Dallas. The city will disappear, and it won't be long before you'll see a train coming -- see the whole train at once, rumbling across the high prairie under a sky that keeps getting bigger.

You'll be in Texas then, and the Metroplex will seem like an out-of-place bit of silliness. Westward from here, it just gets higher and drier -- and better and more real, too.


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