Between various stories I'd heard from friends who'd spent time in east Texas and my driving hatred for the Cowboys, I'd assumed Dallas would be this sun-blasted, paved-over suburban hellscape in which we'd go see the Texas-Oklahoma game, spend the rest of the weekend pinballing between various chain restaurants and overpriced bars, and then fly home. We did end up sampling the delights of the northwest Dallas Olive Garden (this has become an official Crazy Rivalry Game Road Trip tradition for reasons to obscure to waste your time with here), but the rest of our time in the city was way more fun than I'd anticipated.
I got into Dallas on Thursday afternoon, met up with Kristen at Love Field, and we set about exploring the various nether-reaches of the Dallas metro area. This took us to Cafe Brazil in Deep Ellum for a late lunch and then out to Grand Prairie, about halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, where sheer morbid curiosity drew me to the new Cowboys Stadium. I still hate the Cowboys and have no use for Jerry Jones other than the possibility that he and Dan Snyder might one day end up in a broken elevator at an NFL owners' meeting and proceed to murder one another, but I will say this: Like Sarah Palin and those massive gymnastics demonstrations put on by the North Korean government, Cowboys Stadium is impressive to look at, even if it does go against everything I believe in. When we drove by the old Texas Stadium in Irving on our way to pick up the third member of our party at DFW, it looked downright puny by comparison.
I'm fairly certain that at least one type of storm trooper in "The Empire Strikes Back" wore helmets that looked a lot like this.
This picture is probably in at least the 95th percentile of pictures that have ever been taken of me, and I'm a little pissed that it's got Cowboys shit in the background.
From there we had drinks at the W Hotel bar downtown, followed by a jaunt over to a dive called Lee Harvey's on the other side of downtown where we guzzled Jack-and-Cokes while "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" played on the jukebox and I felt more like I was in a Tarantino film than I've probably ever felt in my life. The next morning, we went to pick up Mark at DFW, and it was while we were walking through the Delta terminal that something completely random and awesome happened.
My phone rang and a number with a 540 area code showed up in the caller ID. I was worried it'd either be a wayward junk-debt collector or freeloading semi-friend asking me for money, but I answered it anyway, and it turned out to be a member of the search committee at Virginia Tech charged with hiring a new editor for their alumni magazine. Apparently he'd e-mailed me earlier in the week and I didn't see it because I'd been spending so much time either on the road or in the air; he wanted to do a preliminary phone interview but had a full schedule the following week, so we agreed to talk later on that afternoon. We picked up Mark, paid a visit to the Sixth Floor Museum (named for its location in the Texas Book Depository in downtown Dallas), and then headed back to the hotel to recharge, at which point I chatted on the phone with the gentleman from VT for 30 or 40 minutes. It went pretty well, I think, and I'll keep y'all posted on where that goes.
The infamous "grassy knoll" at Dealey Plaza, which I am hoping will not end up serving as a metaphor for my employment prospects.
Speaking of the hotel: There was, as the comments on the Hotels.com review had warned us, a strip club more or less in the parking lot (next door, actually, but there was no difference in practical terms). The hotel was much nicer than such complaints would lead one to believe; the strip club, though, was . . . strange. It was huge, and had the fake-stucco-and-colored-mood-lighting exterior that, as Kristen pointed out, is exclusive to strip clubs and (ironically enough) southern Protestant megachurches, but it turned out to be B.Y.O. with respect to alcohol and the female talent on a Thursday night was -- well, I would charitably describe it as "disinterested." All the dancers looked like they'd just popped a couple quaaludes, and let's just say that not everything's bigger in Texas (I'm referring here to boobs, of course). Though we did have the unique experience of a stripper using racial/ethnic humor to try and close the deal on a lap dance, which was definitely a new one for me. I'm a little offended that she didn't stop for even a minute to consider that I might have African-American or Hispanic blood, but then again the lighting wasn't good in there so maybe I should just give her the benefit of the doubt. At any rate, we left the establishment feeling enlightened by a new experience, yet very much discomfited at the same time.
That also pretty much sums up our experience sampling the culinary delights at the Texas State Fair, which surrounds the Cotton Bowl stadium and for which the Texas-Oklahoma game is more or less the grand finale each October. As Kristen pointed out in her Facebook photo essay of our trip, "In Texas, the question is not should we fry this. But how can we fry this." I couldn't even begin to list all the food items we observed for sale in a fried, barbecued, or otherwise innovatively larded state; I'll simply run down the fried items I personally sampled, reviewing each one in order of preference from "that was awesome" to "I'm not sure what I just put in my mouth":
Other than the "mushy" graham-cracker section, reviewers had universal praise for this "sweet, gooey" confection, which "literally bursts with marshmallow fluff" and adds a "melty," "delicious" layer of chocolate to boot. The "crisp outer shell" adds another "layer of awesomeness" to this "brilliant" take on a beloved campfire treat.
Fried Green Tomatoes
Fried green tomatoes may no longer be exotic, but the crowd gathered at the Gina's Restaurant booth in the Coca-Cola Food Court waited for them "like teenaged girls waiting for the Beatles to get off the plane in New York in 1964." The food didn't disappoint: From the "thick," "crispy" breading to the "deliciously seasoned" tomatoes inside, Gina's offering "sets a new bar" for fried-tomato excellence.
Fried Nutter Butter
While the Nutter Butter inside was "rendered rather mushy" by the frying process, tasters praised the "crispy" shell and the way the deep-frying "didn't overpower" the "essential peanutty/chocolatey goodness." Be careful, though, as the goo inside may be "hot enough to melt your teeth."
"If you love the taste of pure butter, you'll love these," said our diners, who confessed to being "not exactly sure" how these "salty-sweet dough balls" were created but called the "unmistakable" blast of butter flavor "enough to make your hair stand on end." They were divided, however, on whether the "decadent" taste was worth the "feeling that your arteries are hardening" even as the butter-"saturated" dough "slides down your throat like a topless Spring Breaker on a K-Y slip 'n' slide."
If fried butter was a mystery, then fried Coca-Cola was "downright confounding," as the dish appeared to be nothing more than "mysteriously flavored dough balls" soaking in "Coke syrup" or "some other sugary liquid substance." Perhaps the "dough balls themselves are made with Coke syrup," one sampler posited, but either way, the overall taste is reminiscent of "when you'd be almost finished with lunch in elementary school" and would "mix your leftover food and beverages together" just to "experiment." One tester said she "devoured every bite"; another said he was "frankly terrified" of the "concoction."
In between our adventure deep in the gummy, wheezing, sclerotic heart of Texas, there was a football game, in which I noticed four things:
1. Texas is far from the best team in the country, if what we witnessed Saturday afternoon was accurate. Maybe it was the amped-up Oklahoma defense, maybe it was nervousness induced by the hype surrounding the game, but the Longhorn offense was just as likely to give up a sack or incur an exasperating penalty on a high-school-caliber mental error as they were to break a big play. Perhaps more likely, actually, as Colt McCoy averaged a measly 3.3 yards on 39 passing attempts. If the 'Horns' offense can rise to the level of their aggressive D, this is a national-title-caliber team; if they keep starting off slow like they did against OU (and several teams before that), they've got a loss waiting for them somewhere down the stretch this season. (Be that as it may, however, they easily established themselves as the superior trash-talkers in Dallas over the weekend.)
2. Oklahoma is even further away from the best team in the country, which might have been true even before a crushing sack re-aggravated the shoulder injury Sam Bradford suffered in the opener against BYU and knocked him out of the game. The Sooner defense is every bit Texas's equal, maybe even a little better, but their re-jiggered offensive line paved the way for a miserable -16 yards rushing and frequently left Landry Jones to run for his life in the backfield. The defense alone will keep the Sooners in every remaining game they play, but unless the offense grows up in a hurry and overcomes the losses of Bradford and star tight end Jermaine Gresham, they may not actually win enough of those games to earn a decent bowl bid -- or, potentially, any bowl bid at all.
3. There is a fine line between "gorgeous day for football" -- which, as you can see from the photo above, last Saturday definitely was -- and "skin cancer risk." I crossed this line to the point where even the TSA agents at Love Field on Sunday were going, "You must've been at the game yesterday, huh? Man, you got SCORCHED."
4. Barring some sort of hardship exemption or letter of recommendation from one's Congressperson, being brunette evidently disqualifies female applicants from admission to the University of Texas. The brunettes all go to Oklahoma -- where, if OU's RRS contingent was any indication, they are admitted almost as grudgingly -- or, as Dawgs Online informs me, to SMU. And there is evidently a human-genetics laboratory somewhere in the DFW metroplex (perhaps funded by UT?) that has succeeded in creating life-sized, human, walking, talking Barbie dolls, because everywhere we went Dallas was stacked to the rafters with tall, thin, tanned blondes packing suspiciously perky breasts. Upon finding that much of Dallas was in fact tree-lined and attractive, I found myself thinking, "I could probably even live here"; upon seeing the range of female talent on display, I found myself thinking, "There's no way I could ever live here, because there'd be no end to the trouble to which I could subject myself around these Fembots."
As it turned out, the Red River Shootout was not the last football game we got to see in person that day. Thursday evening, during our random exploration of Dallas proper, we'd taken a quick spin through the Southern Methodist campus and found the Navy football 18-wheeler parked by the football stadium -- the Midshipmen were in town to face the Mustangs. Kristen, who used to live in Annapolis, asked if we could go to that game as well, and after a short beer/burger fill-up at Snuffer's, we did. Entry to the game was every bit as cheap and simple as you'd expect for a program that's had only one winning season since getting the NCAA death penalty in the late '80s, but the overall futility of the program was not enough to keep the game from being blessed with a three-F/A-18 flyover before kickoff (the RRS only got two), nor did it scare off some very famous guests:
Yup, that's Bush 43 his ownself, who probably would've been perfectly content with a crisp evening of brush-cutting had his wife, an SMU alumna, not dragged him up to Big D. Crushing NCAA penalties notwithstanding, SMU still appears to be the prime drop-off spot for the children of conservative Texas bluebloods who make more money than you or I will ever see in our lifetimes; I have no doubt that every one of the smoking-hot (and, indeed, overwhelmingly brunette) coeds in attendance left the game in an expensive foreign car and will likely leave SMU with a husband who has a trust fund and a country-club membership.
We were treated to another close game, which, unlike the Red River Shootout, came as a surprise -- the Mustangs had some success early in corralling Navy's triple-option attack and went into the halftime break up 21-7, but Navy either adjusted at halftime or just wore SMU down physically, because they stormed back to take a lead before the Mustangs tied it with a late score and sent the game into overtime. SMU proceeded to execute about the saddest overtime series I've ever seen -- rush for 1-yard loss, incomplete pass, incomplete pass, miss a 43-yard field goal -- and Navy had little trouble kicking an FG on their possession and trotting off with a win. Still, I give Southern Meth credit for a) the female scenery and b) having Coke Zero at the concession stand, both of which put them a cut above most gameday experiences.
All in all, it was a great experience, and I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to the people of Dallas for showing us more generosity, courtesy, and good times than I could've ever expected from a bunch of fucking Cowboys fans. I tip my woefully undersized hat to you all and smear another dose of steroid cream onto my disgustingly sun-shriveled face in your name. And I look forward to your future advances in the fields of deep-frying and female-humanoid development -- both of which, as you know, are near and dear to my heart.
Hook'em, Big D.
And now please excuse me while I retire to the bathroom to peel the rest of my face off.