Part Nine: Dallas
Everyone knows the shape of Texas, and seeing it appear on a roadside sign after over a week away was a special kind of comfort.
Part Nine Content Warning
Oklahoma City National Memorial
In memoriam of those lost in the Oklahoma City Bombing
Say Their Names Memorial
In memoriam of Black lives lost
As happy as I was to get back to Texas following my adventures "abroad," I didn't escape the Sooner State immediately. Like every morning, it was time for coffee, breakfast, and a little sightseeing before hopping on the highway to Dallas, my final stop before my home in Houston.
I made my morning ritual stop at Culture Coffee, a Black-owned shop near Oklahoma University in the Oklahoma City Innovation District. From a spotlight by Oklahoma Shirt Company, "Culture Coffee is located in an area that has been heavily influenced by the Black community from the 1930s . . . Inhabiting this neighborhood and being a part of telling its rich history, Tori [owner of Culture Coffee] felt it imperative for her space to remain diverse. She recruited artist Roland Givens to create art pieces of local civil rights activist Clara Luper and more prominent leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. At the end of the day, Tori is grateful that Oklahoma City is a growing community, and that her business has a chance to grow with it."
I stepped outside of my box of black coffee and ordered my cold brew with a splash of oat milk and the tiniest bit of vanilla. The wonderful barista knew just what my heart needed and slipped me the perfect concoction.
Here's a metaphor for you: You know how sometimes you gotta live paycheck-to-paycheck? Yeah, we've all been there at some point I think. I know I have. You know how the first week after you get paid, you're ballin'? But then that second week leading up to the next paycheck, you're rationing pennies for groceries? Yeah, so this is a roundabout way of saying that I was week-two rationing that whole iced coffee, it was so good.
My next stop was the Oklahoma City National Memorial. I was only a child on April 19, 1995, but I have spotty memory of the news reports and my grandmother's face while she watched. I was with my grandmother again the day that Timothy McVeigh was executed for the bombing. I first walked along the memorial fence, a chain link fence that was erected while the remainder of the Murrah Federal Building was demolished. It was quickly covered in memorials for the dead and when the rest of the fence was deconstructed upon completion of the demolition, this section remained as a permanent community-driven memorial on the perimeter of the national installation.
As I walked along the fence, a woman ahead of me touched a small teddy bear tied to the fence, then a ribbon, then a laminated photo. She openly wept while she scanned the mementos on the fence. I wondered to myself if she had been brought to tears by sheer emotion of the memorials, or if she'd known someone in the building that day. She was tall, brunette with shoulder-length hair, in a long beige dress with a white cardigan. She wrapped up her time with the mementos and crossed the street, walking away from the memorial grounds to the opposite street corner, where stands a statue of a weeping Christ.
The woman and Christ wept together.
I entered the memorial to find over a hundred empty chairs on the lawn, permanently installed there, representing those who were killed that day including nearly 20 children from a daycare that had been located inside the building. Senseless death at any age is horrifying and deeply saddening, but there is something poignantly demonic about McVeigh later testifying that he did, in fact, know that there was a daycare on the second floor, directly above where he parked the truck filled with ammonium nitrate.
Run through with emotion, I set off again. Oklahoma City faded into the rear view mirror like everything else had over the last few days. Open road, yet again. This time, my home state was ahead of me.
With podcasts and albums and cast recordings slowly racking up over time, the Oklahoma highway finally gave way to Texas sky. The familiar "Welcome to Texas" sign skirted by.
"Drive friendly - the Texas way"
I can't agree with that slogan, marketing team of Texas. Have you ever been to Houston? Or I-35 in Austin? If you're visiting Texas and you see that on our sign, just know that the person who put that on the sign played you.
When I arrived in Dallas, so did that Texas heat. The one thing I don't miss when I'm elsewhere. I fumbled with the lock box to get the key to my apartment while sweat ran rivers down my back.
Once inside though, I discovered that the toiling with the lock had been worth it. Though small, this apartment was the bomb. I was welcomed by a king-sized bed and a shower, which, hold for a minute while I get my bearings, was unlike any shower I'd ever had the pleasure of scrubbing in.
It was about the size of a large freight elevator with one big square shower head in the center of the ceiling directed down, and two circular heads on the wall above the doors (yes, two glass doors). There was a bench on either side, and lemme tell ya, when you turned that water on, it was like showering in a waterfall. I was only there one night, but I took two showers in that thang.
After unloading into the bedroom, it was time for dinner. Y'all ought to know by now that I'm a sucker for halal rice platters. Being that my apartment was located blocks from Deep Ellum, I was a mere five minute walk from Elm Street. I hopped on over to grab a platter to go from Big Guys.
Like in Oklahoma City, I had writing to finish up. After I ate, I ventured out once more to hit up the 7-Eleven on the corner. While searching for fruit, snacks, and coffee, it occurred to me that I've never been inside a 7-Eleven before.
As Deep Ellum began to awaken and masked millennials took to the streets in search of booze and food, I thought it best to vacate and return to my solitary lodging a few blocks over.
I wrote. I slept.
Normally, I'd cut the blog off here at bedtime.
Not today. Surprise.
The following morning, I packed my things and took that much-loved second shower I mentioned. I was out the door before 10, en route to a soulful cup of black coffee from Opening Bell, a coffee shop and small music venue. Located downstairs from street level in what was once a flagship Sears Roebuck building (and is now loft apartments).
I have family in "Dallas," but not in Dallas proper. Visiting this family over the years typically took us to Euless, Hurst, or Bedford - small suburbs between Dallas and Fort Worth. This, I realized, would be my first time exploring downtown Dallas.
I parked off Main Street with a list of sights to see.
To begin, I looked at my map and decided what order I would like to see them, so that the last location would be closest to my car for an easy drive-off. I committed to memory their locations as best I could, then slipped my phone into my pocket with only their general directions in mind.
For me, part of the adventure in a new city is the exploration. I know vaguely where I want to go, and there's the thrill of getting lost - even if that thrill is feigned; nothing more than a placebo. After all, my phone, fully charged, is still in my pocket with a functioning map should I need it.
Rather than stare at my maps while I walk though, I lean back against my car and make sure I'm correctly oriented by the streets and landmarks around me. All that's left then is put the phone away and make strides in a new place.
I promptly got lost.
While looking for Fair Park, which one application said was located downtown, I realized I was inching toward City Hall with no shade to take cover under. Upon inspection of the map again, I realized Fair Park is actually a few minutes' drive away, rather than a trip I should be taking on foot.
Off to a great start.
Instead, I cut my losses with Fair Park and made my way west a few blocks to Union Station. I'm something of a nut for public transportation and city infrastructure. I like to joke that if I were any good at math and science, that I would have grown to become an engineer in this field.
Instead, I'm horrible at math, so here I am writing to you.
Dallas has a gorgeous downtown transit station where their city train and Amtrak meet. How much I would love to see Houston move away from our awful Amtrak station to something like this, especially considering how Houston used to have this gem of a "Grand Central Station" years ago (the Southern Pacific Passenger Station). Houston's notorious for not preserving our history, but the loss of this one isn't actually our fault: It was the federal government and Southern Pacific themselves who decided to raze Houston's station in favor of a post office.
Due to the pandemic, Dallas' Union Station wasn't open to the public. It was passengers only, so I took in the beautiful architecture from the outside and made my way back into the center of downtown to see Thanks-Giving Square.
Known for its waterworks and its cathedral-like stained glass ceiling in the chapel, I was more drawn to the makeshift memorial at the entrance. The community has erected the "Say Their Names Memorial" there, featuring dozens of photos of Black people murdered by white supremacy in its many iterations. Among the photos are recent victims such as Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Alongside them are also assassination victims Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Emmett Till's photograph also appears. At the end of the memorial is a rectangle drawn onto the background, the same size as all of the other photos. Written inside the rectangle is, "For the missing faces."
Flowers adorn the memorial all throughout.
Side note: Check out this link to a piece in The Strategist that lists over 140 organizations you can donate to in support of Black communities and communities of color. This site is fighting for justice for Breonna Taylor. This petition is advocating that Breonna Taylor's murderers be charged and arrested.
I spent my time with the memorial before crossing over to my next sight. The chapel was closed, anyway.
To round out the adventure, I walked over to view one of the more curious installations in Dallas, the Giant Eyeball.
Though the grounds were closed, the opportunity for a selfie remained. From the other side of the gate, I was able to snap a photo with my fellow blue-eyed friend (though their eye is much bluer).
Their eye? Them, completely? They're just an eye.
It was barely after 1PM when I began my drive back to Houston. The street I was parked on extended through downtown and merged directly onto Interstate 45, which was convenient.
From there, it was a straight four-hour shot home.
One part remains, and in it is a treat that I made special for you. Stay tuned for Part Ten, the final installment. Thanks for sticking with it, everyone.
- NOTICE -
COVID-19 TRAVEL PRECAUTIONS I IMPLEMENTED
Though this blog is written with a carefree, fun, and exploratory nature, please know that I took every precaution behind the scenes.
I tested negative for COVID-19 prior to taking this trip.
I avoided other people at all times.
If person-to-person contact was unavoidable (such as my accommodations in Part Six of this series), I was wearing a mask. That being said, person-to-person contact was a very rare occurrence.
I only booked accommodations where I could have the whole place to myself with no spaces shared with other people (except for Part Six).
I only booked accommodations where I could check myself in. Again: No person-to-person contact (except for Part Six).
I took sanitizing wipes with me and gave every accommodation a good wipe-down.
Though I talk about food and coffee here, I also brought a lot of non-perishable food with me which I ate in the car while driving. Any and all food that I did purchase was done so over the phone and picked up to-go.
Photos posted to this blog and my Instagram featuring me without a mask were only possible outdoors, distanced from other people - and the mask only came off for the photo.
If you are choosing to travel during this time, please be aware of all of the precautionary work that you must put into your trip to ensure that you do not contract the virus and do not spread it to other people.
If you cannot guarantee that, do not travel.