Archive for June, 2012

Sunshine and swimming pools. It sounds like a phrase from a brochure doesn’t it? For most travelers, this is the reality of dealing with Dallas. When it is as hot as it is here these days, the strategy is to stay cool and out of the direct sunlight during the peak hours of the day. Fortunately, the humidity is relatively low right now.

We’re enjoying what you can call a ‘dry heat’. I have been to the desert elsewhere and I would describe this ‘dry heat’ phenomena as a scirrocco, the kind that desiccates the bodies of any who fall prey to the heat  leaving nothing but a shriveled mummified husk poking out of the sand.

Getting around here would be a challenge for anyone who hasn’t rented a car. Dallas has been designed around the automobile. If you were to look at a map of the city you would see that the city is criss crossed with freeways and off ramps accessing the various districts.

To be fair this is a typical urban design that one finds throughout the United States. Because of the distances traveled between points in the city and it’s ubiquitous suburbs, the car is a necessity of life. Public transportation outside the downtown core can not be relied on to be a viable alternative.

The car is king in Dallas. Having said that, it is a very well laid out city and very easy to find your way around on the freeway system. Every address is punctuated by the freeway exit it has proximity to. Literally everything is either on one side of the freeway or the other. Looking beyond the politics of urban transport, the car culture is very much a  part of the Texan lifestyle, distances around the state are enormous.

Texans, like most Americans, are highly mobile. People in the United States think nothing of traveling from state to state for lifestyle and employment. I have rarely met people here who have put down roots where they were themselves born and remain there for life, that’s not the American way. That’s a nice thing about American culture is that they feel a sense of belonging to the entire country and not just some regional and social alliance. As a Canadian I can attest to the fact that in Canada it is entirely the opposite. In Canada the national enforcement of multiculturalism has created a tapestry of ethnic ghetto’s from which few newcomers escape inside their generation.

The Texan culture is strong. People are extremely proud to be from Texas. People are undeniably happy here, friendly and amicable, as if hospitality is at the root of the Texan social structure. I have seldom experienced a place where people are so genuinely and consistently open and honest with the social fashion of greetings. I have to say that the Texas style of overt direct politeness is refreshing. It’s the way I remember Canada was when I was a child in the 1950’s, sadly no more.

(to be cont’d)

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Nobody walks the sidewalks  during the day in Dallas. Yesterday I met another traveler in the lobby of my hotel who had just come in from the 105 degree heat that hounds the parking lot and streets outside. I noticed he was dressed for running, he was dripping sweat. At first I thought he had been jogging, he had the look of someone who’d just put in some serious physical effort. “Hot enough for you”, I asked?

The jogger chest-heaved his breathless answer at me as if he were a marathon runner at the end of his trail. “I started running that way”,  he pointed generally to the left exit from the hotel drive. “I only made it a block before I had to turn around”, he gasped. “Man”, he continued, “You don’t run during the day”. I wanted to say “No, Duh”, but he didn’t need my sarcasm.

We both knew he’d pulled a rookie mistake. Only ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ are found under the noon day sun. I am neither.Over the years I have learned to respect the tropic sun. I have paid my travel dues with the after effects of heat exposure long ago. Lesson one…’Don’t run in 40 degree temperature in the direct sunlight’….you can hurt yourself.

Dallas is a place where people are primarily ‘insiders’. Indoor activities are popular with the locals. Banquet halls, Shopping Malls, Office Buildings or any air conditioned exhibit are where you’ll find your average Texan.In this respect it is very much like Asia where people have developed a social culture around the modern institution of air-conditioning. And just like most of the tropical world people generally are not to be found in the open, neither for business or pleasure. The heat is unhealthy. It is normal to drive your vehicle everywhere here in Texas, even if the distance traveled is a single block.

Since I have been here I have not seen another jogger during the peak daylight hours aside from the one I’ve already described. Nor have I seen a single bicycler, roller skater, skate boarder or itinerant stroller come out until after 4 PM in the afternoon when the sun is cooled. Like a lot of hot climates Dallas is lively in the hours before sunrise and the hours after sunset.

Sunset is almost ritualistic. I watched as people began to come outdoors, tentative at first, as if testing the heat with their tongues. The event happens quickly, it’s the only time of the day when you can look at the sun without consequence.

to be cont’d

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“It’s going to be another hot one”, I heard the Dallas Texas weather announcer say. “Fantastic”, was the first thought that went through my head. Coming from Vancouver’s perpetual wet gloom just the day before I was excited to have escaped to a sunnier climate. I felt a buzz of expectation course through my veins as I jumped out of bed and threw the black-out curtains of my hotel room open.

Sure enough, at 6:30 A.M the morning sun was up and the cerulean sky over the East Texas desert was broken only by a few popcorn clouds far off in the distance. “The daily temperatures”, according to the announcer “were going to be ‘in the hundreds” , a map graphic of the enormous state showed a fiery range between 105 and 112 degrees Fahrenheit in red letters. “Nice”, I whispered in gratitude to the travel gods who’d pulled me south. Canadians or others from the northern latitudes may feel confronted by the heat of the day. Unless you can quickly acclimate to these temperatures it can be ‘Mad Dogs and Englishman Hot’ to the uninitiated.

Dallas, as  I’ve found in my short time here, is a place of preconceived notion and misconception for the newcomer ‘Texas Virgin’. I’ve always known that cities don’t create their own mythologies. That task is left for troubadours and story tellers to weave into the dreams of the people who live in these places. After that, certain attitudes and notions stick as people go about their business.

To begin with, Dallas was a place of  wild frontier, a place of primordial beauty and famous battles between opposing forces who fought for control of this complex country. Today the battle lines have shifted towards an economy of numerous industries and a demographic in reverse. The American Dream as it has been uniquely interpreted in Texas, was at first based on large scale cattle ranching, blue sky freedom and the discovery of oil, lots and lots of oil. It was ‘Cowboy Country’, famous for endless ranging plains, long horned Spanish cattle and sight of wooden oil rigs across the horizon, the ubiquitous architectural  Eiffel Towers of the west.

Today’s Dallas and it’s people have proudly retained much of their ‘Western Culture’, cowboy boots and wide white stetson hats are not uncommon.  The average person you’ll meet is direct and friendly. Coming from Vancouver Canada as I do,  it’s refreshing to have so many people concerned about whether I’m having a good day or not. There is a noticeable satisfied self assuredness to folks attitudes here, the waitresses and managers are no more or less confident. The stereotype of the ‘Tough Texan’ who ‘Stands Tall’ and ‘Talks Straight’ is tempered by the natural grace and easy smiles that come so naturally to these people.

Dallas Fort Worth is a massive airport hub for several of America’s largest airlines, United, US Air, Continental and South West. Flights are fed out of Dallas to regional routes and feeder lines like Charlotte North Carolina, Los Angelas and  Phoenix Arizona. Tourism in Texas comes primarily from the surrounding southern states. Canadians and others are rare birds this far south and east of the tourist hot spots of California and New Mexico.

People coming to Dallas are from Texas’ hinterlands and far flung rural and agrarian communities to enjoy the many available amenities such as the Dallas Zoo, Six Flags Over America Amusement Park and the many art galleries, theaters, the public and private museums that have grown into world class institutions on the rise of the growth of the petroleum industry.

Lets get one thing out of the way. JR, the fictitious oil magnate and the 1980’s hit daytime soap opera ‘Dallas’ are pure fantasy. It is a fact however that Dallas is the center of the petroleum industry universe and most of the worlds largest petro-industires are headquartered or have financial and historical interests of some description here. Long before there were Arabian billionaire sheiks there were roughneck Texan oilmen and entrepreneurial wildcatters who’d fanned out across the globe’s undiscovered places to seek new resources for the benefit of personal and national economies everywhere.

So, whats a Canadian traveler doing in this desert frying pan where so few Canadian travelers will ever willingly visit apart from being stranded here on a temporary stop over? Good question ! I have written in the past that make a point of traveling to places that are either ‘between the cracks’ or have ‘fallen between the cracks’ of mainstream tourism.

I consider myself a traveler, first and foremost, as such I feel compelled not to follow the touristic crowd. Seriously, once there was a $1000 dollar a night ‘zen retreat’ on the peak of Machu Pichu I would never consider going to any place that was so overrun with mainstream tourists…..ever again. Here in the crowded  ‘Heart of Texas’ and ‘Bosom of Southern Hospitality’ I can feel completely alone, without the usual banal accoutrements of the guide book tourist industry and immerse myself in the unique  local culture, strange isn’t it? Thats the beauty and the talent of finding these travel gems in the midst of where most people would never consider looking.

(to be cont’d)

I have written about the continued abyss of foul weather creating an environment of rain soaked depression among the plebe’s who get stuck here for whatever reason. So what should a person think when ‘wet’ is a constant reality, isn’t this Wetcouver after all? Lets look at the facts…this is technically a rainforest…fed by the storms that build off the North Pacific Ocean……49 degree’s north as a matter of fact….the wettest spot on the planet is a mere twenty miles from where I sit…….we ‘enjoy’ the longest monsoon ( 11 months) on Earth.A lot of people try to ‘tough it out’ because they don’t have the financial ability to escape…..denial is rampant here…..and yes…poverty sucks.

What do able Canadians do ? We leave in huge numbers……you find Canadians almost everywhere else…..maybe only a tad fewer in number than the Brits ( who have their own weather issues)  I have tried to stay…but just can’t….six weeks here is enough. I’m off to Dallas Texas where it’s 92 degree’s and sunny every day….sorry Canada…….not my cup of tea. I join the Great Canadian diaspora to anywhere else.

 

It’s been a foul start to the year here in Aca Nada ( the original inscription on a Spanish navigation map that described Canada – it means ‘here is nothing’-meaning the Spaniards found nothing of interest when they first discovered Canada’s East Coast) and in spite of the hype around Canada meaning ‘village’ as posited in the politically correct circles of Ottawa and Vancouver being the ‘Best place on Earth’ , the country remains mired in self interested obscurity under a cold dense rain cloud of wet sub- arctic blah’.As I have often said “unless you’re an unfortunate escapee from some global shit hole…Canada is no paradise as a place to live”.

Bright sparks on the horizon is the convocation ceremony I will attend today for my sons graduation fro university. After 4 1/2 years of expense and endeavor we climb over that long fought hurdle. Travel opportunities have also come my way and I will be off again to sunny climes before the month is out. It will be heavenly to leave Vancouver and the miserable climate here. 6 weeks here has been quite enough…thank you.

I flew to the ‘wet coast’ of Canada, specifically Vancouver British Columbia, to attend my sons University graduation ceremony. True to form, it hasn’t stopped raining since I arrived. This isn’t the pleasant stop and go rain of Europe or the warm showers of tropical latitudes. Here in BC we have a freezing monsoon for eleven months of the year with rare respite. This is why so many Western Canadians are so deep in denial about where they live. The people here will fight to the death over the advertised slogans like ‘The best place on Earth’, but at the same time are the most active travelers in the country. It’s rare to meet anyone who isn’t either just planning to leave or just returning…from anywhere else…so funny.

When I come back here I rely on my bank of great memories to see me through all the dark days I have to weather before I can escape again. Thats why memories are such a great asset. When it is pounding down rain, as it is today, and far too cold to venture outside for more than it takes to pop in and out of the car, I have my memories of better days and higher states of mind. I can’t wait to get away again, but until then…I have my memories  aaaaaahhhhhhhhh !!!!!!! Now……back to work. My new book is going well…..I’m at the half way point….As a writer I get to exist in a fantasy world that allows me to set my mind into a place that does not remind me of how ugly and miserable  it is to live here for any length of time…..I set my writing desk to face away from the window so I don’t have to look outside….sometimes for days at a time….drapes closed……at least life here offers no distractions like lazy days by the swimming pool or ambling down the street to look for yummy street snacks…..there’s none of that here.

Still, people pour in here by the ton, primarily poor frightened immigrant hopefuls who are escaping desperate situations in their own countries. They overcome the drudgery of the non existent lifestyle by focusing their attention on the fact that no one is shooting at them or robbing them. The fact that a person can come to Canada and escape the horrors of China, Somalia etc etc is what allows most to overlook the absolutely rotten weather. Still, we see these same people walking through the rain like lost children, sad for the sun that never that never shines. Of all the reasons that people come to Canada , good weather is not one of them. If you’re not a miserable refugee escaping from religious, economic or political oppression…..this is no place to ‘live’.