I Dream Of Dallas
There I was overlooking the marvelous Dallas skyline from my room on the 21st floor of the Hyatt Regency hotel as the sun kisses those sparkly, glittering structures made of glass and steel.
It’s an amazing sight.
It’s nowhere near as vast as the sprawling metropolis that is New York, Tokyo, or even my home city of London, but it’s nonetheless awe-inspiring.
Yes, London, where less than 24 hours ago prior to this amazing sight before me, I received a rather interesting message as I sat in front of the telly getting ready to watch the next installment of my favourite TV show.
I actually remember when I was little, having a strange and rather warped thought whilst watching the telly. I thought to myself, I hope that my favourite soap opera, Dallas, would end and be concluded before I died, so I would never miss an episode. I’m not quite sure how old I was at the time, but I was young. Yes, a silly thought. Shows rarely last too long anyway.
And of course when Dallas was actually taken off air, I was gutted.
I have always had an unusual relationship with TV shows. One that developed into pretty much avoiding them, because I knew that they would always come to an end one day, or I would miss an episode and be very upset about it.
I think that feeling started to manifest fully when I religiously watched ‘ALF’.
I am sure you all remember that show about the furry ‘Alien Life Form’ with his trademark witty, acerbic, wise-cracking sense of humour and an appetite for animals of the feline variety.
When I once missed an episode because it didn’t record properly (good ol’ VHS modern kids, you’ll never know the pleasure and the pain) and when it eventually ended, I was so uncontrollably and unreasonably upset I subconsciously vowed to myself that I would never fall into loving a TV show ever again.
However, when Dallas returned on Channel 5, it certainly sparked interest. But hey, it would probably be a low-budget follow-on with lame actors and weak storylines.
Did I want to watch it? Of course I did, but it started when I was on holiday in Spain after a long and tiring (but fun and successful, I might add) Edinburgh Fringe Festival, so probably best that I don’t worry about it for some of the aforementioned reasons. That and it would more than likely just trample on my memories of that most wonderful of shows that I adored in my childhood.
But alas! It was repeated on the Sunday, so I figured I’d give it a go.
OMG! Hooked! Again!
From the outset of that iconic music, I was drawn straight in. Fantastic new entrants in Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe as the now grown-up John Ross Jnr and Christopher, the return of Bobby (again), Sue Ellen and that fellow we all love to hate, in his ten-gallon hat and even bigger eyebrows, J R Ewing!
Add to that Lucy Ewing, Ray Krebbs, Cliff Barnes, a load of other interesting new characters, twists and turns, backstabbing, lying, deceiving and we are totally and awesomely back in business!
There I was in the living room playing around on Facebook, thinking about what dinner I should have and getting all cosy and getting ready for my beloved and favourite TV show – possibly of all time – Dallas to start, when the bizarre evening starts to unfold.
An old comedy friend and fellow fan of the show, James Holmes hits me up on chat to tell me that a chap needs a fan of the show to go to Dallas the next day to experience the sights, see the locations then do a write-up about it, and did I want to go?
Er, let me think about that for a second. Hell yes! The next thing I knew I was checking in and on a plane to Dallas / Forth Worth airport.
Now, to try to explain the feeling and at the risk of sounding very cheesy indeed, it was the closet thing I can imagine to being in a dream, or a fantastic story like Alice in Wonderland or something.
One minute there I was sitting in my living room waiting for Dallas to come on the telly , the next thing I know I am IN Dallas! Yes, THE Dallas. Dallas, TEXAS!
Lone Star of Texas
A little like the little girl in Poltergeist, who was sucked in through the gogglebox, although this, of course, was far from a ghostly supernatural kidnapping.
Because of my job taking me all over the world, I have been lucky enough to travel to some awesome and breath-taking places on this planet.
I have been 5 feet away from 18-foot crocodiles in Australia, watched dolphins and whales out in Auckland harbour, stood on the Great Wall of China, been inside the Taj Mahal, cycled through the foothills of The Himalayas, seen an elephant walking down a high street, and as far as places in Uncle Sam are concerned, that most fantasized of all places, Hollywood to do some stand-up comedy shows.
Does Dallas compare?
Well, that skyline from my beautiful hotel room at the Hyatt Regency was certainly a good start.
As I say, not quite as vast as New York’s or London’s, but there before me is the old Ewing Oil building from those most unique and famous opening credits at the start of the show. That in itself surely must rival the Empire State Building or The Houses of Parliament?
Many buildings and most things here are extremely clean too. From our first port of call at the Galleria shopping precinct to the new art museums and opera house, everything seems to shine.
Even that infamous book depository looks way too pristine for the history it represents.
After a brief insight into how Dallas came to be, our first guide – the passionate and extremely knowledgeable Rebecca Koenigs of Discover Dallas Tours – walks us around the area where an event took place that many alive at the time say appeared to make the world stand still; The assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
An event that well and truly put Dallas on the world map.
Having seen the Zapruder film and heard all the stories I found myself awash with a myriad of feelings. It was exhilarating, interesting and haunting to follow the route of the motorcade, stand on ‘the grassy knoll’ and stare at the X’s in the road where the bullets struck home on that fateful day of 22 November 1963.
To lighten the talk of conspiracy theories and the like, Rebecca regales us with an amusing story from another ‘shooting’ that took place just up the road at the Omni hotel. The shooting of a scene from the show.
Spoiler alert: Those of you who haven’t seen the entire first season, look away now.
Those that have will remember the moment that (the fake) Marta Del Sol was thrown from a hotel window and lay, bloodied by her fall on the top of a car.
Rebecca – a friend of the hotel concierge – tell us that the hotel actually forgot to tell its arriving and departing guests that they were making TV that day, so they all thought poor Marta was a genuine murder victim!
Amusing for us, maybe not for them!
So, we are clearly heading to TV show territory now and a few hours later, I’m stood not on the knoll at the scene of a shocking historical nightmare, but instead floating around a place of fantasy.
I’m in the hot Texas sunshine gliding across lawn of what is quite possibly the 2nd most famous white house in America.
I am at Southfork Ranch!
As a life-long fan of the show that has seen every episode, it’s hard to believe that I am actually here. It’s like walking around a dream.
It’s so hard to contain my total excitement as we approach the house we can see hundreds of yards away and head up that famous driveway.
Complete with its curious little yellow and white striped awnings over the windows, this house is every bit as ethereal as I’d imagined it to be.
Joan, our host for the afternoon, gives us the warmest welcome you could hope for, is very enthusiastic and knows everything there is to know about the show and its characters.
She loves her job. In her words, it’s “the best in the world” and she can answer all your questions and tell you where the stars will be should you want to find them.
She has story or two as well. My favourite being how the real family that used to live here decided that enough was enough when they came home to find a fan swimming in their pool.
Flowers and cards at the door for its pretend family is one thing, but a stranger in the pool?
So many memories come rushing back as she stands with me as I stare, mesmerized by the family tree plastered across the wall of the museum in the visitor centre. We dissect who is related to who, who has slept with who and of course, who has shot who.
J R Ewing, another famous man who ended up getting gunned down Dallas.
People watched in their millions as it happened and to find out who did it. You can even see the very gun that fired the bullet, as well as all sorts of memorabilia that is a must-see for every fan.
We hop on little road train which takes us closer to the main attraction; the house itself! My hysteria is increasing.
Walking over the tarmac where the Ewing and guests cars all park up, we enter the back garden.
There I am stood right next to where Kristin Shepard (she was the one who shot J R, by the way) drowned all those years ago. Looking into the water, wishing I’d brought my togs. Like that fan I’d love to, but I doubt they’d let me, swim in that famous pool.
I sit at the table on the veranda where the matriarchal Miss Ellie presided over a family gathered round for the breakfast gossip and wander round the bedrooms complete with portraits of their famous ‘residents’. J R and Sue Ellen, Jock and Miss Ellie, Lucy, Bobby. They’re all present looking back at you in their painted glory.
In my mind – as a lover of the TV show, this house is a modern-day wonder of the world. Not quite as majestic as that other beautiful white building that I have had the good fortune to experience – India’s Taj Mahal – but it’s every bit as enchanting to be on its grounds.
The inside of the house is smaller than the interiors we see on the TV that are filmed on a much more expansive set and I am told the ranch itself is a more humble 36,000 acres, not the 100,000 as the show would have us believe.
Ah, the magic of telly.
They host all sorts of corporate events and shows, sometimes those attending reach into the tens of thousands for events that take place here, so as you can imagine, it’s huge and impressive nonetheless.
They have a lovely little gazebo, where they do weddings here too. It’s sweet, it’s dreamy and makes the perfect backdrop for a bride and groom tying the knot. My girlfriend also loves the show and would adore this place, so I might not tell her that part. Not just yet anyway.
For those that want souvenirs, Southfork has two shops.
As a fan who still can’t quite come to terms with actually being here, I am like a child in a sweetshop buying up all sorts of goodies displaying logos and quotes from the show. From the other shop that sells more regular clothing I just had to purchase a big black cowboy hat.
How could I not?
I don my new item of headwear and saunter out of the shop. If only there were swing doors and a spittoon.
It’s time to leave this place that has been in my dreams for so long. This saddens me slightly, but that emotion is far outweighed by the joy of having visited this brilliant house that shimmers in the sunshine.
That evening, we are off to the Texas State Fair. Munching on a huge turkey leg and drinking a beer served from a bar in the back of a glittering juggernaut with my Stetson on, I start to feel like a bit of a cowboy. We’re greeted by a dazzling light show, which is accompanied by a car and truck exhibition, livestock shows and a funfair as country music plays from a main stage over yonder.
We do not get to see the State Fairs’ famous mascot. A 52-foot talking cowboy called ‘Big Tex’. Due to an electrical fault, Tex was sadly engulfed by flames earlier in the day after a 60 year reign.
Speaking of cowboys and impressive buildings, not many rival that of another place we visit that is featured in the show; the Dallas Cowboys Stadium.
Looking like a spaceship where American football just happens to be played, this awesome $1 billion construction can accommodate 105,000 spectators on match days.
A true marvel of modern-day sports stadia, the mind boggles as to what future archaeologists will make of this avant-garde gladiatorial arena, should they ever dig it up.
A Miami Dolphins man myself, I can’t buy any of the fabulous merchandise this time, but I can certainly try on a giant sponge cowboy hat and pointy glove.
Until I visit Florida and get my dolphin suit on, I’ll just have to make do with running around and scoring a touchdown as a Dallas Cowboy.
But, I hear you say, “You speak of cowboys and pretending to be one, but where are the actual cowboys? Didn’t you see them in Dallas?”
No, actually, I didn’t. Dallas is magnificent and modern with a great history, but for the cowboys and all that goes with them, one must travel 30 miles west to the delightful city of Fort Worth. This is where you get a bit more ‘traditional’ Texas.
With its Modern Art Museums and the Kimbell (where you can see what is believed to be Michelangelo’s first ever painting), there is plenty for the art-lover to appreciate. It’s also home to the National Cowgirl Museum which is a bit more fun and has a serious amount of nostalgia to boot.
It’s at the historic Stockyards district, where you can experience the more traditional Stetson-wearing, rodeo-riding, lassoing, country music-playing, cattle-driving life of a cowboy.
The Championship Rodeo at the Cowtown Coliseum (managed by Hub Baker who sports a matching pink goatee and Stetson on my visit in support of breast cancer awareness) and Billy Bob’s Honky Tonk are two must visit places. Both, as you would expect in Texas, are large and full of fun and cowboy shenanigans.
The food is great too. J T Garcia’s Mexican fajita restaurant and Reata’s are two of the best. I won’t tell you just how amazing they were. You’ll just have to go and find out for yourself.
All I’ll advise when ordering at Reata’s restaurant is do not be ‘tricked’, as I was, into trying a very ‘special’ appetiser.
Let’s just say there’s at least one bull in Fort Worth who won’t be getting his family allowance this year!
Dallas and Fort Worth come highly recommended.
A Texan will have no qualms about telling you which is the biggest, best state in the USA. Texans are very proud of being Texans and with its rich history and unmistakable cultural identity, it’s easy to see why.
Maybe after seeing a few more places in the United States and around the world I’ll revisit in my cowboy hat. But in the meantime, I’ll make do with my beloved TV series. Or until season 2 starts, I guess I’ll have to watch the recently-released DVD.
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