Monday, August 8, 2011

Cooling off in Dallas

(By James Kille)

Splashing in a swimming pool to cool off used to be easy. My apartment complex had three to choose from. That was years ago; now I own a house, and we forgot to put in a pool. During this record heat wave, having a pool would really help.

We saw a small listing in our newspaper about free outdoor movies, and one was Dive In at the Fairmont. The Fairmont Hotel sits in downtown Dallas and is pretty fancy. They show a free movie at their rooftop pool every Friday night during the summer. We decided to check it out since it was free.
After walking through the long, fancy lobby, we took the elevator to the Terrace level and found the pool. It wasn't crowded yet; just a few kids splashing and playing. We found the complimentary towel stand and picked out two empty lounge chairs. It actually felt cooler by the pool than the sizzling 105 degrees it was supposed to be, but we didn't want to spend all our time lounging in the sun. We pushed little kids out of the way as we jumped into the shallow end, and then took their inflatables to float on. Actually, no kids were in our way, and there were several abandoned floating devices in the pool. We splashed around and swam to the deep end, where we were all alone. You can't hear the downtown traffic, but you are surrounded by skyscrapers, so you can't really forget where you are. The biggest noise is when the huge A/C fans for the building close by start blasting. The first time I heard it I thought a helicopter was flying by.

We made sure to get there early so we could have lots of time in the pool, and of course claim some good seats. The tech guy wheeled out the DVD projector about 8 pm, and then it started getting crowded. Some people just wanted a table and something to eat. A couple next to us got a whole meal with drinks brought out. Sodas are 5 dollars, and drinks from the bar start at 10 dollars. Glad I brought my water bottle.

The guy was still taping down the power cord as more families showed up. Kids with floaties were everywhere. Squealing led to screaming. I took one last dip in the deep end to cool off and get away from the noise. As I dripped dry on the lounge chair, the movie began and people started sitting at the edge of the pool for a good seat. Linda and I had a perfect view from our lounge chairs. The movie was Top Gun, and it brought back lots of memories of when I had first seen it.The best part of the experience was the swimming. It's a very nice pool and all are welcome (not just hotel guests). We left the hotel that evening feeling like we had gone to a big pool party. It is definitely worth the drive to enjoy the atmosphere and cool water.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Gasland" event/screening at Texas Theater

All the news lately about hydraulic fracturing makes us wish some comedy show would do a parody of The Beverly Hillbillies in modern times. Until Saturday Night Live thinks of it, imagine this opening theme song...
Come and listen to a story 'bout a guy named Jed
He didn't strike oil, but he found some gas instead
He sold his mineral rights and got a little money
And now his tap water's actin' kinda funny.

(Cut to Jed, setting tap water on fire):

Jed: "Weeellll doggy!"
But seriously, folks, the frackers are coming to Dallas. They've already applied for permits to drill near residential neighborhoods and the usual "pro-business" types are ready to welcome them with open arms. It's time to get educated and ask some questions before they start drilling near you!

WHAT: Screening of Gasland followed by Q & A with film director Josh Fox (by Skype), Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Observer and local activists.

WHEN: Wednesday, June 29th, doors open at 7:00 with screening at 7:30.

WHERE: Texas Theater, 231 West Jefferson, Dallas

HOW MUCH $8.50/$7.50 senior. Enter to win free screening tickets at Dallas Observer event page

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Norma's Cafe Turns 55

This week in restaurant news, all the buzz surrounded the opening of a new In-N-Out Burger, the first one in Dallas. "In and Out" is an appropriate name for a restaurant in Dallas--most come and go faster than we can get out to try them. In fact, the location of In-N-Out at North Central and Caruth is the former home of another burger place, Steak 'n Shake, which opened to similar hype a few years ago. We actually got to go there a couple of times before it went "out." The burgers were great--but c'mon, really. How hard is it to make a good hamburger? A burger's a burger--all the rest is marketing.

Yesterday, we went out for lunch to a restaurant with real staying power, Norma's Cafe, which celebrated its 55th birthday by giving customers a good meal at 1956 prices. We went with friends, who suggested skipping breakfast and heading out to Norma's at 10:15. What a good idea that was! The place was already packed when we got there, so while we waited for a table we entertained ourselves by watching a news crew setting up to interview Ed Murphy, who's owned the restaurant since 1986.

As we were seated, we watched the line grow outside the window. Not quite the traffic jam expected for In-n-Out, but this event wasn't widely publicized, either. You have to be "in the know" to get in on this good deal. We got pretty good service for a crowded day; the efficient wait staff was there to take our order within minutes of our being seated. James ordered the chicken and dressing plate, Linda decided on the meatloaf, and our friends both got Norma's famous chicken fried steak. To be honest, the meal wasn't the most incredible food we'd ever eaten, but it was good enough, especially at $1.79 a plate (which included generous portion of meat with 2 sides, and a huge basket of cornbread and rolls).

If you like good home cooked food at a restaurant that's here to stay, check out the original Norma's next time you're in the 'Cliff. (There are two other area locations, one in Farmer's Branch and one on Dallas Parkway in North Dallas). When you visit, be sure to get on the email list for an exclusive invitation to next year's birthday bash, as well as the celebrations of "National Pie Day" and other food related events throughout the year.

For a video of Norma's birthday bash, check out this report from TXA 21 News: Norma's Cafe on TXA 21.

UPDATE: For an eyewitness account of the traffic jam at In-N-Out, check out this story by reporter Michael Samples at Dallas Business Journal: Kicked out of line at the In-N-Out.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Big Money, Small Turnout Wins Another Election

We were hoping it would turn out differently this time, but at the end of the day big money won another Dallas election. The percentages look remarkably similar to other elections where big money was a factor, like the 2007 Trinity Toll Road vote. Big money candidate Mike Rawlings, who outspent David Kunkle 10-1, raising an estimated 2.2 million, won 55 percent of the vote to Kunkle's 44.

Part of the money, apparently, went toward putting up signs in every vacant lot in the city. Looks like that strategy worked.

Of the 543,458 registered voters in the city of Dallas, only 55,694 cast votes, just a little better than 10 percent. Compared to Dallas County, that's good news--at least we polled in double-digits. Countywide, there are 742,434 registered voters and only 71,981 voted, a voter turnout percentage of 9.70%.

We're always on the 44% end of the 55-44 split, so naturally we have a theory about it. We think 44 percent of voters get their news from Dallas Observer and actually think everything through about how certain issues and candidates will affect life in our city. The 55 percenters, in our opinion, are impressed by big shiny things, follow the recommendations of Dallas Morning News, and pretty much follow the crowd. Our theory was proved by comments about the candidates in this Dallas Morning News article (subscription required): Dallas voters list menu of reasons for favorites in mayoral runoff:
"Kunkle is largely responsible for Dallas being a safer city," said Karen Newton, a retiree who ate breakfast recently at Barbec's near White Rock Lake. "A safe city will attract businesses. There will be economic growth and people will want to live in Dallas..."

...Lynne Gauss, A DISD substitute teacher agreed...Gauss' son, Steven, who is also a teacher, agreed..."Kunkle wants to focus on the basics."
The Rawlings supporters mostly parroted what they'd read in Dallas Morning News about Rawlings being good for business, and were strangely personality-driven:
"He's a bright businessman, and that's what the city of Dallas needs right now," retired Lakewood resident Lyle Noah said. "He wants to put people back to work. If you put people back to work, you won't have the problems we're having in Dallas."
What th--? We've had a "bright businessman," Tom Leppert, in the mayor's office since 2007! Just about every mayor we've had was supported by the big business community. If we're having problems in Dallas, maybe it's time to go in a different direction, right? Nope. Not according to these folks. And, it seems, personal associations trump ideas, anyway:
Mike Hartnett, a salesman from Dallas, said Rawlings is not a politician..."Plus, he's supported by Roger Staubach."...Roger Hubbard [said] "I never liked Laura Miller. She helped us lose the Cowboys; now she supports Kunkle."
So we predict more of the same from our new mayor, a continuation of the Leppert years, big-business as usual.

We predict that within the next year, our mayor will be mentioned in the national news, but not in a good way and that he'll back off from supporting the Trinity Toll Road after finally finding the facts he's been looking for.

We really do wish him all the best, and we hope he'll make good on his campaign promise to support neighborhood projects as well as big-ticket items. We live here, after all, and it's no fun at all to see mayor after mayor make the same expensive mistakes while we stand by on the sidelines yelling, "We tried to warn y'all!"

And, we hope the first order of business for our mayor-elect is picking up all those damned signs!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dallas celebrates its winning team

We're not all that into sports--in fact, we were watching the Tony Awards on Sunday when the Dallas Mavericks beat the Miami Heat. But we had been tuning into the last few minutes of the playoff off games leading up to the winning game, and have to admit that it was fun to see a real Dallas team make it to the top.

Trivia question for you out-of-town readers: how many nationally-recognized teams do we have in Dallas? The answer is two. The Dallas Stars (hockey) and the Dallas Mavericks.

If you guessed the Cowboys, you've been fooled by their name into thinking they play here. They don't. The DINO (Dallas-in-name-only) Cowboys play in Arlington, as do the Texas Rangers.

A lot of sports pundits have analyzed the Mavericks' win, pointing to teamwork and coaching to explain it, but we think plain old-fashioned karma had something to do with it, too. The Mavericks deserve to win because their owner, Mark Cuban, hasn't begged the taxpayers for corporate welfare like Cowboys' owners did in Irving and Arlington. Mark Cuban is even picking up the tab for today's parade saying
"I'll pay for it because I don't think it's right for the city to have to pay for it. And let's just have some fun."
No one who lived in Dallas in the 1990s will forget the disastrous parade celebrating the Cowboys' 1993 Super Bowl win. (A trivia question for you--in what city did the Dallas Cowboys play when they last won the Super Bowl? Answer: Irving.) Today's parade went smoothly, with fans staying well-behaved--for the most part. Three people were arrested, some citations were given for selling unofficial merchandise, and 145 were treated for heat exhaustion, but otherwise things went very smoothly. Even the trash was picked up in a timely manner, with city workers picking up trash as it fell instead of letting it accumulate. Well done!

We also appreciated Mark Cuban sharing the spotlight with former Mavs owner Don Carter. There's only one word for that--classy. Mark Cuban has shed his image as basketball's richest brat, keeping his mouth shut throughout the finals. We think he gets it--good karma leads to big wins.

Over a decade ago, it looked like the Mavericks were headed down the same "bad karma" road as the Cowboys, when Ross Perot, Jr. bought the team from Don Carter and started demanding corporate welfare for a new stadium. Reunion Arena wasn't good enough, he said, and he wanted a new one. Well, in true big-money Dallas fashion, when the billionaire made demands, the city poobahs fell all over each other to support it. The deal to put tax dollars into building a new arena had to be brought before voters, and the pro-arena boosters outspent the frugal anti-side (us) by 20-1. Our side argued that we already had a perfectly good arena which could be remodeled to keep up with whatever sports enthusiasts were demanding as far as seating and big screen TV displays. The deal passed, of course, but by only 1,600 votes. Still, the pro-arena side rubbed opposition noses in the dirt by calling the new project "Victory Park," a name that still rankles opponents of the deal.

Then, naming rights were sold to American Airlines, jumping on the goofy bandwagon of naming venues for products. (Reunion Arena was named for La RĂ©union, a community of 18th century French settlers).

Ross Perot, Jr. realized over time that he really didn't know that much about basketball and sold the team to Mark Cuban.

Mark Cuban was a breath of fresh air in sports ownership. Sure, he cussed, made inappropriate comments about players, yelled rude things during games, but what the heck? He's a sports enthusiast, and that's how they act. You wouldn't expect that kind of behavior at the DSO, but sports fans act like that, so why not the owner? Among a field usually dominated by old pasty-white good ol' boys with beer bellies and comb-overs, Mark Cuban was an immediate standout, which--in our opinion, anyway--was good publicity for our city.

Like we said, we're not sports fans, but it was cool seeing "our" team on David Letterman last night reading the Top Ten.

And we also enjoyed seeing our mayor riding in the parade today. Another quick trivia question for readers looking at this in years to come: Who was Mayor of Dallas when the Mavericks won the NBA Championship? Answer: Dwaine Caraway. Former Mayor Tom Leppert stepped down in February to pursue a run for the U.S. Senate, leaving the job to Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway. Caraway got off to a bumpy start to his interim term, with questions over why he gave a key to the city to Michael Vick and what exactly went on when he called the cops late one night. But now, with Election Day on the horizon, his term days away from being done, there was our mayor, Dwaine Caraway, riding in the Mavericks' victory parade, being quoted in national blogs.

Congratulations, Mayor Caraway, for finishing your last days on the job on a positive note.

All the TV news stations ran coverage of the parade non-stop, and they estimate that 200,000 fans lined the parade route. Wish we could get everybody this excited about voting.

Research material used in this blog post:

Mavs Held Hostage, Robert Wilonsky, Dallas Observer, January 15, 1998.
Perot sells Mavs to Internet Mogul, Associated Press, January 21, 2000.
Mark Cuban's Millions in Fines, International Business Times, June 16, 2011.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Great minds think alike

In today's Dallas Morning News, we were surprised to see the words "Real Dallas" on the Viewpoints page. The writer, Ben Fountain, highlighted Oak Cliff in his article, featuring the newly remodeled Kessler Theater.

The Dallas Morning News has its article behind subscription firewall, and those with subscriptions can see the article at this link: Forget the Ewings — Kessler Theater is a real Dallas treasure (the headline in the print edition, which caught our attention, said "The Real Dallas").

If you don't have a subscription to Dallas Morning News, you can read the article in its entirety without a firewall at The New York Times: Not J.R.’s Kind of Town.

Thank you, Ben Fountain, for carrying the Real Dallas message to the world!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Nice guys finish last (and first)

Early voting starts today for the runoff election for the mayor's race, and voters have a choice between two nice guys, Mike Rawlings and David Kunkle (who has earned Real Dallas' endorsement). Over the weekend, Gromer Jeffers of Dallas Morning News wrote that the election was a "dud" because the candidates are so friendly to each other in debates, but we think the decorum of the debates is a model for the country. The two candidates have differences of opinion on the direction of the city, but they've been able to express those differences with intelligence and humor, without resorting to the ugliness we've seen at the national level.

At one point in a debate at Cathedral of Hope, for instance, the debate was about to turn nasty over an audience question to Mike Rawlings, asking why the gay community has issued a warning about his stand on civil rights. According to reports, Rawlings seemed "unbalanced" by the question. Most candidates we've seen at the national level would smell blood in the water and go in for the kill if an opponent faltered on such a question, but not David Kunkle:
At that point, Kunkle asked to respond and defended his opponent as a decent man.

"I've had the opportunity to be with Mr. Rawlings 60 to 70 times and one of the venues we went to was at the Stewpot. There wasn't single vote to be had in that room. We each did it because we thought it was the noble thing to do...I think Mr. Rawlings is a very noble, honorable man," he said.

The cathedral broke out in applause.

When it quieted down, Rawlings joked, "I'm voting for Kunkle."
That demonstrates one of the qualities we like about David Kunkle, his ability to smooth over differences and build a consensus among opposing sides.

Over the weekend, the two candidates worked the crowd at a "beer poll" designed to get younger voters interested in casting actual votes on Election Day. At Real Dallas, we don't think that kind of candidate interaction is dull, we find it as refreshing as a Blue Moon (Kunkle's favorite beer) on a hot summer day!

On Saturday, Linda's letter endorsing David Kunkle was published:
Whenever a mayoral candidate claims to be "pro-business," I think of all my friends who've started businesses in Dallas and have had to jump through hoops to follow the city's conflicting Certificate of Occupancy requirements, vague parking ordinances and rules that do not apply to their particular business.

A chocolatier in Oak Cliff, for instance, was told she would have to install a grease trap in her kitchen to make chocolate on site, even though no grease is produced in the process of making chocolate. She ended up renting an off-site commercial kitchen just to satisfy the city, even though her on-site kitchen is perfectly suitable.

David Kunkle gets my vote, because he's actually been a customer of many of Dallas' small businesses close to residential areas. Kunkle seems more likely than his opponent to be friendly to all of the city's businesses, not just the ones with the deepest pockets.
The business Linda referred to is Cocoandre on Davis Street; we talked to the owner shortly after the business opened and she told us all about commercial kitchens, grease traps, and the making of chocolate. The same night, we talked to the owner of From the Ends of the Earth about her problems getting the city to approve her move to a larger space two doors down from her first location. She had to go through the parking ordinance paperwork all over again, even though she was moving to a different location in the same strip shopping center!

Small businesses create jobs, when they're allowed to flourish, and we want a mayor who understands that and will take time to hear from everybody, not just the richest corporations wanting to relocate headquarters to Dallas.

In our opinion, David Kunkle is best suited for the job. But they're both nice guys, so whoever you like best, get out and cast your vote!

Early voting runs Monday, June 6 through Tuesday, June 14. For a list of early voting dates, times and locations, go to Dallas County Elections.

Election Day is Saturday, June 18. For a list of Election Day polling locations, go to this link: Dallas County Elections--Election Day polling locations.