The marathon is coming to an end. This blog ends with us boarding the plane for home. Thanks for staying with me to the end.
The JFK experience had rather numbed our senses and it was well into the evening before we realised that we should get something to eat. It would be difficult to be as lucky as we had been in finding the Union Park on the previous night, so off we went to sample it again. This time the place was fairly busy. And the reason, tonight was the sixth and maybe final round of the NHL Stanley Cup. We got a table on a raised platform near the bar with a perfect view of four TV screens all showing the game. It quickly became apparent that the local clientèle were supporters of the Chicago Blackhawks. That made life easy for us. We ordered our drinks and two plates of melt-in-the-mouth fish and chips and settled back to watch. The match was on a knife edge with each side taking the lead and then losing it. It was only in the last two minutes after a lot of very hard play that the Blackhawks took the lead and held it to the end of the game. They had won the Stanley Cup for the second time and we had been there to witness their success on both occasions. Fantastic.
As I mentioned in the second blog covering this trip, Dallas is part of a massive area known as The Metroplex, sometimes called the Dallas Metroplex or to give it it’s longer name The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. There are two major centres, namely Downtown Dallas and Fort Worth, that are thirty miles apart. The central area of The Metroplex must be at least 50 miles from east to west and 30 miles north to south whilst it’s total area is not far short of 10,000 square miles with a population of about 6.5 m. It is a real distributed city which means that the car is king. There is the DART light rail system plus a bus network that provide public transport alternatives in the Dallas area but as a first time visitor it is hard to get to grips with the routes. One major by-product of the distributed city is that there are almost no shops in the Downtown area. It is basically a business area and very little thought seems to have been given to the needs of visitors.
We had now reached our last day and the car was due to be delivered back to the airport at 15.30. Once we had packed and checked out, we decided to head for a shopping mall to buy a few last-minute presents and look for bargains for ourselves. The nearest mall we could find that was also convenient for Dallas Fort Worth Airport (DFW), was Southlake Town Square. Getting there proved to be a bit more of a trial than we expected. Google Maps showed that we should be taking Texas 114, a major highway leading to the north west, and that the journey would be about 20 miles. I prefer to use maps and road signs for navigation rather then satnav but there is a time and place for the latter when you are in a complex metropolitan area. The satnav software on my Nokia Windows smartphone is excellent and got us easily onto the 114 and heading north west. As we approached the northern side of DFW Airport, we found ourselves on brand new, re-aligned roads with new slip roads, overpasses and underpasses. This is bad news for satnavs which find it hard to keep up to date with changes to the road infrastructure, especially when some of the changes were temporary. So all we could hear was “Recalculating Route” over and over again as the new road system sought to confuse the satnav system, which in response, sent us in all directions. After about 15 confused minutes we got back onto the “real” 114 heading in the right direction and in a few more minutes arrived at Southlake Town Square.
Whilst in Little Rock we had visited the “Promenade at Chenal”, an out of town shopping mall that, in appearance, looked like a genteel town centre. The shops, mostly bearing well known brand names, all had individual frontages, the side-walks (pavements) had grass and shrubs planted at the road side and, space permitting you could park right outside the shop you wanted to visit without any yellow line or parking meter. There were a number of eating places, a cinema and a few small offices. The only thing missing was any sign of a place where people lived – houses or apartments. This was a town without a population. Southlake Town Square was exactly the same. And, another thing, whilst the frontage of each shop was unique with many different styles employed, if you went to the rear areas which provided additional parking, it was all a sham. From the back, every shop was an identical, plain, rectangular, brick box – like a Hollywood backlot.
We did our shopping interspersed with a coffee at Starbucks and a light lunch at Barnes & Noble. It was just like a normal high street shopping experience and yet it had a sense of the surreal. It felt a bit as though we had entered the set of the 1960’s TV series “The Prisoner” starring Patrick McGoohan. In the series, once you’ve entered the “happy” village you can’t leave and your every move is monitored. But our plane awaited and we had to make a break for the outside world. Unlike Patrick, who was always caught by a gigantic bubble like device and returned to the village, we made it out onto the road system.
The drive to the airport was uneventful and we easily found the return car rentals depot. We got our luggage out of the car and headed into the rental terminal where shuttle buses run to each of the five main airport terminals. We were close to boarding our bus when the agent who had checked in our car came running through the terminal, waved at us, and handed me a memory stick that I had left in a pocket on the dashboard of the car. Thanks Thrifty for such good service!
Check in was straightforward, the security checks, which included a full-body scan, were uneventful and soon we were sitting in a bar with plenty of time to wait for our plane. There was time to consider our visit to Dallas, its pros and cons. On the pro side was the JFK experience, the Union Park Gastro Pub, the hotel location and, nothing to do with Dallas, the Blackhawks victory. On the con side was the lacklustre visitor welcome, the paucity of sightseeing opportunities in Downtown Dallas and the less than stunning architecture. Before leaving the UK our daughter Kirsten, who has been to Dallas on business, did question our faith in Dallas as a tourist destination. We should have listened more carefully. I guess if you are prepared to drive everywhere, then, in the distributed Metroplex, there are Art Museums, Gardens, Lakes, satellite towns, etc, etc, well worth visiting. As travellers who prefer to do our sightseeing by foot, Dallas was not the place for us.
Once on the plane, American Airlines gave us an extra 1½ hours, on the plane but still on the ground, for quiet contemplation whilst they “balanced the fuel tanks”. It was time to remember the real purpose of this trip, to spend time with our grandchildren and … their parents. We’d had a great time with them cycling by the river, exploring vast underground caverns, listening to country music over and over again, walking amongst tarantulas, reading stories in bed in the morning and playing challenging board games at night. Exactly the sort of things that every grandparent loves to do with their grandchildren. And then there was the roadtrip, seeing the Mississippi at close quarters, listening to so much good jazz in Frenchmen Street, the introduction to Southern food and seeing the bayou.
We found the people of the South – Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana – to be very warm, friendly and willing to spend time helping you. For those of us used to living in big, western cities where life can be non-stop, we had to learn to slow down and be as laid back as the natives. Of course, we will be coming back to the South time after time for as long as our family live there and I’m sure we will continue to love it.
Note about this blog
Normally I write my blogs contemporaneously with the events they describe. Occasionally there’s an overnight gap because something gets in the way. Unfortunately near the start of this trip I seriously damaged my wrist – it’s a lot better now but still can’t take a lot of strain – and lost a week of blogging. So for the past three weeks I’ve been playing catch-up. It is now Saturday night but the events described in today’s blog happened last Monday and Tuesday (24th/25th June). Must try better next time!!!