A Japanese tourist is standing in the middle of the road, seemingly oblivious to the threat of oncoming traffic. He smiles as his girlfriend takes his picture from the safety of the pavement. Suddenly, a car horn blares and he sprints to the kerb with barely seconds to spare.
Watching this drama unfold, I'm prepared to dismiss it as just a simple act of pedestrian stupidity. Yet this strange game of vehicular chicken is repeated by others over the next 10 minutes. It's only when I spot the simple white X painted on the road and on which they have all been risking life and limb to stand do I understand the significance.
This is Main Street in Dallas and the cross marks the spot where one of the bullets struck John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Countless books, movies and theories have been produced about the assassination but no matter what your take on those tragic events, to stand there and imagine the scene as JFK drove down that street is haunting.
You can't help but look up to that sixth floor window of the former Texas School Book Depository and pontificate on angle, range and wind speed. To me, the X's on the road (there’s a white one and a yellow one) are a little ghoulish but it's clear the tourists think otherwise.
While Dallas will forever be remembered as being the scene of the crime, the city refuses to be defined by it. Sure, they commemorate the life and death of JFK with walking tours and memorials, while the excellent Sixth Floor Museum housed in the very building where Lee Harvey Oswald is ‘alleged’ to have fired the fatal shots puts the events of 51 years ago into context.
But the city is more than an eternal shrine to a fallen hero. Bold development plans are rejuvenating Dallas in a bid to get more people to move back into the city centre. The CBD is surprisingly small – more akin to Brisbane – but now it has a funky new arts district spanning 19 blocks, the largest urban facility of its kind in America.
Here, you’ll find the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre and the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, all within walking distance of each other. Even the buildings are remarkable, with four designed by Pritzker-prize winning architects.
A more recent addition to the city’s educational establishments is the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The former President and his First Lady took a very personal interest in the creation of this state-of-the-art facility and the results are impressive. The section devoted to the 9/11 attack is particularly emotional with pictures, exhibits and official documents from the time showing how President Bush coped with the unfolding drama.
But Dallas offers food for the body as well as the mind. The restaurant scene is buzzing with top-line chefs blending local cuisine with dishes from around the world. Author, philanthropist chef and owner, Stephan Pyles, is doing amazing things at his Stampede 66 restaurant (including canning his own chilli) which boasts the best ‘True Texas’ dining experience in the city, but no matter where you eat, you’ll never go hungry in Dallas!
Lying on my hotel bed, I can hear the distinctive sound of a train whistle somewhere in the distance. It evokes thoughts of the steam locomotives that brought pioneers to this part of Texas and on to new frontiers in the west. It was the era of the horse, the gun and the cowboy.
Fortunately, there are still places where this part of America’s history is celebrated and preserved. Just outside this vibrant and developing modern city are the Fort Worth Stockyards, where cowboys and cowgirls still roam the streets, there’s a cattle drive twice a day down the main street and the heady aroma of straw, beast and dung hangs in the air.
The buildings are old and authentic, the stores all sell western gear and there’s a rodeo in the Cowtown Coliseum every Friday and Saturday night. You can also try line-dancing at Billy Bob’s Texas, the world’s largest honky tonk, which is so big it has its own bull-riding arena.
I met a direct descendant of famed gambler and Wyatt Earp amigo Doc Holliday during my visit and as I listened to his stories, found myself transported back to a world where life was cheap and often ugly. Yet all of this is no faux culture show just for tourists: this is a way of keeping an important and integral part of America’s history alive and I just loved it.
While the Stockyards are all about Fort Worth’s past, the future is developing right in front of the city’s boot-scootin’ eyes. The multi-million dollar redevelopment of Sundance Square has rejuvenated the heart of the city, offering a plethora of restaurants, shops and entertainment.
When we visited, kids were splashing in and out of specially-designed water spouts and the whole area was buzzing with vitality and happy faces, a far cry from the days when it was called ‘Hell’s Half Acre’ and was a haunt for notorious outlaws like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
They also take their culture pretty seriously around these here parts, too, hence the marketing slogan currently being used to promote Fort Worth: ‘City of Cowboys and Culture’. The latter part of the equation comes from the cultural district, where an impressive collection of impressive collections is housed.
The Kimbell Art Museum, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth are all located here, providing a cultural nirvana for lovers of painting, sculpture and the like. Gourmands also have reason to visit the Modern Art Museum as it houses the Cafe Modern, one of the best places to chow down in the city, although there are many fine restaurants to choose from, including Ellerbe Fine Foods and Reata (check out the view from the roof).
Fort Worth is an intriguing and absorbing mix of the old and the new, offering something for everybody and a lot in between. The people are universally friendly and with ambitious plans for the city’s future, there’s no doubt y’all should mosey on down and check it out.
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