Flighty Friends, Pushy Drivers, Limited Diversity
I recently relocated back to Houston from Dallas. I was in Dallas for 18 months. I went there in September of 2017 as a result of Hurricane Harvey – it was where I chose to evacuate. My life in Houston had also gotten stale on a number of fronts, so I had serious hopes that Dallas could outdo Houston.
Guess what? It didn’t. What I learned about Dallas is that while it is another large city in Texas like Houston (and Austin and San Antonio) it is very different, and not in good ways. In summary, Dallas is too small, and not racially and culturally diverse enough for my liking.
First, though, some important disclaimers for others who have wandered onto this city’s page. I looked at reviews of places with names “Cedar Park”, “McKinney”, and what not. Those are NOT Dallas – those are in what is known collectively as the “Metroplex”, the cluster of over 30 cities and independent municipalities that make up the entire area. Dallas is the largest city in the Metroplex but it is not the only one. Some of the experiences that folks gave account for here would make sense for a small town or community surrounding Dallas, but not Dallas itself.
Second, I actually lived in Dallas for a year and a half. Someone who visited is going to have a different perspective because, frankly, they’re not staying. The city is effectively something to entertain them. But they’re not immersed in the day-in, day-out activities of having a life: getting a job, making friends, finding things to do in one’s free time outside the tourist attractions.
So, let’s dive in.
Let me start with the demographics. Yes, Dallas has some variety in its borders. I lived in Oak Lawn, the seat of the LGBT community in that town, and saw African-Americans, whites, and Hispanics. Interviewing for jobs I also saw Indians, Asians, and Mid-Easterners. But compared to Houston, Dallas struck me as considerably – how can I put this? - “whiter” city. It took me longer than I expected to find a decent Mexican restaurant.
I consider myself multicultural and had hoped to enjoy the same kind of diversity of people in Houston as I did in Dallas – that is, people you could have upbeat and spirited conversations with, go out for lunches or dinners with, and get to know more deeply. There really was only one person I got to that level with, and due to unfortunate personal circumstances in his life, he basically wound up running away.
That leads to another major complaint I have about Dallas – transcience. The city moves too fast. I met a bunch of cool people the first six months I was there. By the second six months they had all disappeared or moved on. That typically doesn’t happen in Houston, or at least, it has not been my experience. I have long-standing relationships in Houston that have lasted five years or more. And that’s not to say everyone disappeared like this, but this kind of disappearing act happened too often for my liking.
Dallas has a reputation for being snobby and I suppose that may well be the case in the wealthy suburbs, but I didn’t get much of that. What I got was a sort of phoniness instead. It seems that Dallas folks are fine laughing and smiling with you in person, but if you scratch deeper it’s not real. I remember making friends (as best I could) with a guy who worked in a retailer in the neighborhood. Neither of us were thrilled with our job situations and I visited him at his job to commiserate. Eventually both of us got better gigs but when I reached out to him suggesting we meet up to celebrate, he was nowhere to be found – texts and e-mails went unanswered. It was as if he had vanished. And this was someone I had helped look for his new gig, too.
Since returning from Dallas and reaching out to a few folks I knew when I was there, I have not received but one or two responses. It makes me wonder if the relations we had were real at all, all along. You may experience the same thing, especially if you’re a more sensitive or introspective type like me.
Turning to size – Dallas really isn’t that big of a place. Compared to Houston’s over 600 square miles, Dallas clocks in at about 375, or about half the size – and it shows. Its smaller size means there’s less room for alternate roads and highways, critical when there’s a massive accident on US 75/Central or any of the other major roadways around. I can find my way around Houston very easily if a freeway is shut down, but in Dallas you’ll likely be going through neighborhoods as alternates.
And on the subject of traffic, let’s talk about their drivers. I came to the conclusion that it takes three things to be able to drive in Dallas – nerves of steel, lightning reflexes, and a big middle finger. Dallas has been described as the Los Angeles of Texas – a car-oriented place where the motorists are pushy and aggressive. Dallas is the first place I’ve ever lived where I felt endangered driving to and from work – tailgaters and folks going 20-30 over the limit are pretty common. Amusingly enough, one of their major tollways, the Dallas North Tollway, has initials that could be pronounced “DENT”. I think the only thing that makes Dallas’ drivers not as deadly as they could be is they love their high-performance cars and SUVs and don’t want any damage to their sparkling chrome.
I happen to be a big lover of the visual arts. I figured Dallas has major spaces and it does – the Dallas Museum of Art is their biggest space. The Dallas Contemporary is their largest modern space. But aside from that – and unlike Houston – Dallas itself doesn’t have many smaller, non-profit, independent spaces – for those you’ll have to go 45 miles west to Fort Worth (which has wonderful art spaces!).
Dallas has something called the Design District, but this is industrial art or art for collectors – in other words, largely commercial. And commercial art has a different feel than, say, the Contemporary Arts Museum, DiverseWorks, or The Menil Collection, all in Houston. I was an established artist in Houston – that is, I had a name there, and had actively exhibited in shows. Dallas is a harder market to get into, and the vibe isn’t nearly as friendly as that of Houston. The Design District is worth a visit, though.
And then let’s talk about coffee, a key thing for me. In Houston, you can find several independent (non-Starbucks) coffee nooks that close late – 10pm or later. In Dallas, many of the places are closed by 7pm and a handful stay open until 10pm. You can get flavored brew at the city’s Cafe Brazil chain, but that’s not a coffeehouse, it’s a diner. Arguably the city’s best coffee place, Crooked Tree, closes at 6pm weeknights/7pm weekend nights (as of this writing). When I moved there originally, they had 10pm weeknights/11pm weekend nights. This is in one of the busier residential/shopping districts in the city – this coffee place went the wrong way. Good for the owner, bad for patrons.
Since returning from Dallas, I am discovering anew the value of living near a major body of water. As I wrote this, I was sitting in Galveston, just 50 miles from downtown Houston, and a short drive any day. Galveston has a beautiful seawall walk, beaches, and a quaint entertainment district called The Strand. Dallas, by comparison, is landlocked. The biggest body of water I knew about was White Rock Lake (not sure if this was a man-made lake or not). It just doesn’t feel the same as the Gulf, and even more noteworthy, White Rock Lake Park is not illuminated. Seawall Blvd in Galveston, though, is nicely lit and charming - you can take a lovely stroll after dark. And White Rock is not a “district”.
Dallas’ downtown area is NOT based on a city grid (rows and columns) layout – it’s this weird spaghetti thing where streets meet each other at strange angles. Rush hour there is insane.
Even the city’s edgiest neighborhood, Deep Ellum, didn’t do it for me. They have a nice little comedy club (where you can take classes on doing standup!). They have a few small art spaces. But this community – at this point in time (2019) I could describe as six square blocks of hedonists and “N-word” rap. If you’re not a young 20-something, Deep Ellum is probably not for you – interesting because the area has been hit by gentrification and rents there are almost certainly out of the reach of most millennials.
Finally, the weather. No, you’re not gonna get hit with a hurricane in Dallas – the remnants, perhaps, but not a direct strike like Houston does. But you may get tornadoes, hail, or ice storms. Every first Wednesday of every month at 12 noon, they test their tornado sirens. I haven’t heard those things since living in central Illinois. And while the summer heat is of a drier variety, it is still HOT. Last summer was my first 115-degree summer, and I had the power bill to prove it.
But it was the colder months that shocked me the most. Relative humidity in my apartment got as low as 12 percent (that’s where just giving someone a dirty look can shock them) and even a humidifier I bought at Target couldn’t keep up. My power bill to stay warm in a one-bedroom exceeded $200 regularly. I never had that in Houston.
So, that is what I saw in 18 months of life in Dallas. I made a handful of smiling but tenuous friends, had one good one that suddenly dissipated, spent a lot of anxiety cycles behind the wheel, and had a soul hungering for real people who would invite me into their lives. I really, really wanted to like Dallas – I seriously did. But after depleting all the attractions I could think of that were appropriate to me, and wandering around the city mostly alone, I came to the conclusion that The Big D is a place that is better visited than lived in. Dallas is not as inclusive as it thinks it is.
Austin | Houston, TX