Big City Tales

Dazzlin’ Dallas

January 3, 2013
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The distinctive and distinguished logo of the Dallas Cowboys.

The distinctive and distinguished logo of the Dallas Cowboys – you can’t miss the bright blue star!

All Hail to the Sacred Stomping Grounds of “America’s Team”

Growing up with a future sports broadcaster in the house, my sisters and I watched our fair share of football, hockey, baseball, basketball, and other assorted games on TV. While I certainly did not share my brother’s aptitude for citing team and player statistics off the top of my head, I did share his appetite for getting behind a winning team and being a boisterous, supportive fan.

In those days, the NFL was just starting to gain a serious viewing audience in Canada and the Dallas Cowboys were the team of choice for many national broadcasts. With a star-studded player’s bench and Super Bowl championships in tow, “America’s Team” marched straight into this Calgary girl’s heart.

It didn’t hurt that the silver, blue, and white uniforms were among the nicest in the league; not to mention the iconic star on their helmets, which was a fitting emblem for this up-and-coming franchise. Even the team’s original stadium in Irving, Texas had a special aura about it, with some players quipping that the partially enclosed roof was done intentionally so that “God could watch his favourite team play!”

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“America’s Team” in action on Thanksgiving Day 2012…the Cowboys offense looked REALLY good on the first drive. After that, NOT SO MUCH!

But the stylish uniforms and impressive stadium were really just the eye candy.  Beneath the surface was a team dripping with raw talent on both sides of the ball: offensive power coupled with defensive might made for a winning combination and legions of fans got on board.

“America’s Team” had me at the first snap of the ball and it’s been a football love affair ever since. Needless to say, when my sister and I were planning our trek to Texas, prime on the agenda was attending a Cowboys’ game. As luck would have it, we would be in Dallas during Thanksgiving and we very much looked forward to seeing the new stadium (a.k.a. “The house that Jerry [Jones] built!”), as well as the team’s latest crop of top players in action against the Washington Redskins.

The south-east entrance into Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The south-east entrance into the MASSIVE and AWE-INSPIRING Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Redskins Play Spoilers on Thanksgiving

Ann Wilson, lead singer of the rock band Heart, sang the national anthem; Kenny Chesney, super-star country crooner, performed at half-time; Former President George “W.” and First Lady Laura Bush were in the house. Welcome to the world of the Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones, the team’s charismatic, charming owner, and official number one cheerleader!

The family that cheers together stays together!  It also helps when everyone dresses the same - even grandma was clad head-to-toe in Cowboys colours!!

The family that cheers together stays together! It also helps when everyone dresses the same – even grandma was clad head-to-toe in Cowboys colours!!

While the fans heartily appreciated all of the special ‘bells and whistles’ that came with the annual Thanksgiving contest, the one thing they wanted most of all — a win by the home team — alluded the good guys in blue.  Yes, the Cowboys staged a valiant comeback effort in the second half, but in the end the Redskins’ defense held strong, sending disappointed fans home with a serious case of indigestion prior to their turkey meal!!

Kenny Chesney performs at Cowboys Stadium, marking the kick-off of the annual Salvation Army Kettle Campaign.

Kenny Chesney and a VERY large supporting cast perform at Cowboys Stadium, marking the kick-off of the annual Salvation Army Kettle Campaign.

Fort Worth – A ‘Worthwhile’ Trip to the Suburbs

Still reeling from the Cowboys’ loss at home, we hoped to salvage our stay in Dallas by checking out local hot spots, including a trip to the suburbs.

Located a short half-hour drive away along the I-30 West, the city of Fort Worth beckons students, foodies, farmers, tourists and the like to partake of its infinite bounty. Among its valuable treasures, the Trinity River flows through the heart of the city offering locals an extensive and impressive trail system with plenty of places to visit along the way.

The patio of Chef Tim Love’s restaurant, The Woodshed Smokehouse, overlooks the river and patrons can enjoy a true feast for all of their senses while they sample Chef Love’s unique and exotic BBQ cuisine.  A little bit of pit fat soaked up with fresh tortillas never hurt anyone, nor did a rack of goat ribs or other wild game!

The Woodshed Smokehouse in Fort Worth serves up some tasty and unique Texas-style BBQ!

The Woodshed Smokehouse in Fort Worth serves up some tasty and unique Texas-style BBQ!

In the city’s downtown core, Sundance Square attracts shoppers, art lovers, and history buffs eager to experience a quaint slice of the Texas good life. On this day, preparations for the annual Thanksgiving/Christmas Parade were well underway with patrons showing up hours in advance to stake their front-row seats awaiting some BIG Texas fun.

When in Dallas, a jaunt out to Fort Worth is time well spent!

The city of Dallas dazzles in the bright morning sun!

The city of Dallas dazzles in the bright morning sun!

Downtown Ghost Town

Notwithstanding the fact it was the Thanksgiving Day weekend, as we strolled around on a bright, sunny Saturday morning it was surprisingly quiet on the streets of downtown Dallas. Sure, there was a line-up to get into the Sixth Floor Museum and there was a crowd around the JKF Memorial, but aside from those paying homage to the presidential assassination the people traffic downtown was pretty much non-existent.  All the easier to get around one could argue and, yes, this was most certainly the case.

The Hyatt Regency Dallas and Reunion Tower.

The Hyatt Regency Dallas and Reunion Tower glitter in the morning sun – pretty as a postcard!

In short order, we managed to visit all of the major attractions situated in roughly a 10-block radius, including a stop at Neiman Marcus on Main Street, the store’s flagship location.  On the first floor of the ladies department, a spiralling tower of holiday pumps attracted our attention. In particular, one ornately jewelled pair on sale for a mere $1395.00 caught our eyes.  Very pretty, but oh so pricey – maybe next year!

X marks the approximate spot of where JFK was shot in downtown Dallas.

X marks the approximate spot of where JFK was shot in downtown Dallas.

Before our window-shopping side trip, we admired the view from Dealey Plaza and marvelled at the accomplishments of its namesake, George Dealey, as well as other fine citizens of Dallas who lobbied over the years to revitalize the city’s core.  Dealey Plaza is unfortunately also infamous for being the site of the JFK assassination. It thus attracts a fair share of eager tourists in search of the ‘grassy knoll’ and book depository building, now known as the Sixth Floor Museum.

The Old Red Courthouse is home of Red Museum, documenting the full history of the city of Dallas.

The Old Red Courthouse is home of Red Museum, documenting the full history of the city of Dallas.

Other points of interest in the downtown corridor include the Old Red Courthouse, the Main Street Garden, Pegasus Plaza, the JFK Memorial, and a highly original stone sculpture garden called Pioneer Plaza.  There’s nothing like coming across a group of rugged cowboys shown in action rounding up a rambling herd of longhorn cattle to make you stop and take notice! The plaza takes up a good couple of blocks and is a fitting piece of art work celebrating the reality of the rustic cowboy life.

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Cowboys round up a large herd of longhorn cattle at Pioneer Plaza, a VERY cool outdoor sculptural exhibit.

All told, three days in Dallas is a good introduction to the city but to really get to know the home of “America’s Team” more time is needed to explore every nook and cranny.  A return visit to this grand southern city is definitely in order and, who knows, maybe on our next visit the much beloved (and equally bemoaned!) Cowboys will be back to their winning ways!

Y'all come back now, ya hear!

“MOO!” Translation: Y’all come back now, ya hear!

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Happenin’ Houston

December 3, 2012
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A walkway in the Discovery Green area in downtown Houston, which also features an outdoor skating rink, a large playing field, and a great playground for kids.

Houston has it ALL, and then some!

After flying into Dallas, renting a car, and experiencing a wrong turn on the interstate (yup, we had a few of those moments!), my sister and I successfully made our way to the south side of Dallas en route to Houston via the I-45 South.

It was pretty much clear sailing on this stretch of highway and, despite what seemed like an inordinate amount of road kill, we enjoyed a leisurely and scenic drive.

Caught up in some clever billboard advertising, we made a couple of unplanned stops to check out the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, famous for its fruit cakes that are shipped across the country; and Buc-ees in Madisonville, a Texas souvenir haven!  These side trips were well worth the time lost, but with the sun beginning to set in the late afternoon sky, we had to get moseyin’ again.

Back on track, we admired the larger-than-life statue of Sam Houston (state founder and former Governor of Texas) located outside of Huntsville before getting bogged down in rush hour traffic as we entered the Houston suburbs, which is pretty much akin to being on the 401 in Toronto. The slow down allowed us to get a sense of our surroundings and we both agreed that there was a lot to explore on this side of the city, but it would have to wait as check-in and dinner downtown was a-callin’!

Getting into downtown off of the interstate proved to be fairly straightforward and, after we got a handle on which way the one-way streets were going, we rolled into the Hyatt Regency, unloaded our luggage, and headed out to explore the streets on foot.

While we had heard that San Antonio was known for its holiday light displays at this time of year (i.e. around American Thanksgiving in November), we quickly discovered that Houston (and, for that matter, all of the other cities we planned to visit) got into the spirit of things as well.

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In America, Thanksgiving is also the kick-off for the Christmas holiday season, and there were plenty of light displays to admire around downtown Houston.

We came across more than a few areas decked out for the season and appreciated the efforts to help cultivate a festive atmosphere, particularly along Main Street where the city’s transit line runs, and at the Houston Pavilions, a large indoor/outdoor shopping mall.

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The Houston Pavilions is a popular indoor/outdoor mall in the downtown core – quiet at night, busy by day.

Agreeing that Houston sure is perty at night, we looked forward to what the day time would reveal…it did not disappoint!

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A view of downtown Houston taken from Tranquility Park, a peaceful area commemorating all of the Apollo human flight space missions undertaken by NASA from 1961-1972.

The morning brought a bright blue, sun-filled sky. Yes, it was breezy at times, but the humidity was manageable and it made for perfect conditions for a power walk through the downtown core.

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These decorative towers feature various scenes depicting aspects of Houston’s local economy, entertainment scene, and numerous area attractions.

We discovered an eclectic mix of modern skyscrapers, historical sites and monuments, arts and cultural offerings, sporting facilities and green spaces, shopping venues, and — oddly enough — a large number of bail bonds companies, which literally seemed to be on every other corner! Notwithstanding our new-found curiosity about the city’s criminal element, we felt perfectly safe walking around and our complete loop of downtown was without incident.

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City Hall in downtown Houston.

The afternoon took us to Houston’s south side and a tour of the highly lauded Museum of Fine Arts with a collection that spreads over two buildings and features an exterior sculpture garden.

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This church is located in the Museum District, just south of downtown Houston.

Back downtown for the evening, we enjoyed a superior movie-watching experience at Sundance Cinemas in the historic arts district and turned in early to be ready to “tackle” the NCAA football experience Texas style the next day.

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The George Bush Library in College Station, Texas is located on the campus of Texas A & M.

Crazy College Station

Deep in the heart of Texas lies College Station, home of the Texas A & M Aggies, the George Bush Library and Museum, and the Corps of Cadets Marching Band, among other highlights. College Station is also the place where legions of football fans come from near and far to support their beloved Aggies at Kyle Field.

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The sea of maroon and white at Kyle Field. Most fans on this side of the stadium stand and scream from the opening kick-off to the final play of the game. Yes, it was really, REALLY loud!

Adding to the frenzy on this particular game day was the fact the Aggies were coming off an upset win of #1 Alabama the previous weekend, and it was also Military Appreciation Day. Veterans and active members from all branches of the military were in attendance, and the world-famous Corps of Cadets Marching Band wowed the crowd with their intricate and perfectly timed formations at half-time.

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It is a long-standing tradition for the Corps of Cadets, including the Marching Band, to form the Texas A & M symbolic “T” as part of Military Appreciation Day.

But I’ve jumped ahead…lest I forget the growing din of the crowd leading up to kick-off that basically never waned in intensity as the loyal Aggies fans belted out their traditional cheers and jeers. Here’s what we picked up:

  • When the Aggies are kicking off, the crowd roars AAAA and when the kicker makes contact, the chant continues with GG AGGIES GIG ‘EM!;
  • After a first down, the crowd yells WHOOP!;
  • After a touchdown, all couples exchange a kiss;
  • When the opposing team has a third down, the volume goes up a level (if that is even humanly possible) and the noise doesn’t die down until the play is done; and
  • At the end of the 3rd Quarter, the full stadium breaks out in song that involves linking arms and swaying back and forth in unison.

It was truly quite a scene and you just gotta love college football in Texas!

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Dusk begins to settle over Kyle Field at College Station marking another win for the home team.

Terrible Texas Traffic

OK, we all know the adage: Everything is BIGGER in Texas, but we did not expect this to apply to traffic!

Case in point, when driving from Houston to San Antonio on a Sunday night we experienced a traffic backlog of MEGA proportions. At times we were basically at a standstill, barely progressing a car’s length at a time, with no indication of what the delay was ahead as it was pitch black outside. Finally, an ambulance with sirens wailing whizzed by, so it was apparently an accident.

That said, given the sheer volume of vehicles travelling on both sides of the highway, it made us think that maybe this is status quo on the I-30 West and perhaps a lot of people commute back and forth between these two centres. If so, we could certainly empathize with those Texans who are frustrated about poor traffic flow in some areas of the state.

Little did we know that this was just the beginning of things to come on our intrepid road trip…for now, it was on to the Alamo, River Walk, and other San Antonio treasures.