Posted by: emjb | December 21, 2006


My job is in the unfashionable part of town, the old industrial district, and I take a semi-abandoned highway to get there and back every day so I won’t have to face the interstate. My trip takes me past railroad tracks and through what’s left of a small town which lost its soul to the new big highways that sliced it in half, past the fragments of old farms, past motorcycle repair shops and carnacerias and kosher Middle Eastern butcher shops. As I get closer to the city the landscape segues into used semi-truck sales lots, garden statuary factories, print shops, and other odd out of the way businesses you never think about until you need them, interspersed with buildings that used to have a purpose but are now unwanted. The road is battered but it seldom gridlocks, though you never go over 40 miles an hour, and you are liable to get flattened by a double-trailer truck trying to turn a dicey corner.

I’m used to appraoching Dallas from the big highways, which frankly is where it looks the worst, hideous and wrapped in crumbling ribbons of gray concrete. But driving in on this stepchild road, you can see leftover bits that are still lovely–old bridges with Art Deco trim, houses that were once grand, what’s left of the Trinity River. And open space, which you never see in the newer rich neighborhoods, with their big aggressive overdone houses shoved up shoulder to shoulder, without yards or sidewalks or anything that might give them personality.

You also see lots of rusting barbed wire, hitchikers and homeless guys collecting trash, decaying fast food signs, pollution, and places where you know you don’t want to be stranded after dark. Despair and desolation and cold nights huddling in doorways for the ones who are stuck here.

But above all that is a wondrous view. The low buildings of the bad part of town leave lots of room for sky, and the sky in Texas is spectacular when you get to see it unobstructed, a gigantic theater arch for wind and moisture and sunlight to show what they can do in all their glorious random perfection. And right there in front of you, against that sunrise sky, are the gleaming glass towers of Dallas rising from the flat plain like Oz. Even the blunt green spear of the Fountain Place building or clumsy, outdated architecture of Reunion arena seem graceful in that light.

On the way home there are no cityscapes, but you drive into the sunset and get every last drop of it as it flickers away through the trees and drains from the roofs of the old houses and the factories. You feel that strange nostalgic feeling of a winter sunset, that glad sort of sadness, the shiver as the cold surges back, frost on the grass and the brave beauty of the decrepit farmhouse covered in dozens of strings of green and gold and white Christmas lights, crouched and defiant against the dark, long night.


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