Thursday, February 17, 2011
I’ve never been to Texas. Despite having traveled to almost 75 countries, I have only been to around 25 U.S. states. It’s a little embarrassing. So when I booked my trip to Chile in November I decided to choose flights that would give me a couple of long layovers in a city and state I had never been to: Dallas, Texas.
Dallas had always conjured up several images in my mind: big cowboy hats, big hair, and big oil. Sure, they were stereotypes, but there was just something so uniquely Texan about Dallas that it almost felt like a foreign country.
In fact, everyone I had ever met from Dallas had been so fiercely proud of their state that many of them identified as Texan more than American. I was excited to travel to a place that inspired so much pride in its people.
I didn’t know much about Dallas when I booked my flights. I asked several friends who were from there what the best way to get from the airport to the downtown was. They all responded with the same answer: rent a car.
I abhor driving, so I decided to skip the car idea. Instead I found a convenient—if not quite seamless—way of getting into Dallas. Two airport shuttles later, I arrived at the Trinity Railway Express. The train would take me right into downtown Dallas in less than 30 minutes. There I could connect to an extensive light rail system. This would all cost less than $7. Not bad for someone that doesn’t like driving.
As my train sped through the suburbs and made its way towards the skyscrapers in the distance, I was a bit surprised that—despite being back in my own country—Dallas didn’t remind me much of home.
I’m not sure if it was the prominence of the Texas flag or my fellow passengers’ copious use of the word y’all, but something about Texas felt different. Maybe instead of checking it off my list of states to visit, I should have checked it off my list of countries to visit. Texans are always (jokingly?) threatening to secede from the union after all.
I arrived at Union Station in downtown Dallas and knew exactly what I wanted to do. With only a few hours in the city, my goals were threefold: buy a pair of flip flops to replace the ones that wore out on my trip to Sri Lanka, get a book to read on the plane, and eat good Mexican food.
I took the recommendation of a friend and headed up to West Village, an outdoor shopping center with the requisite anchor tenants of The GAP, Banana Republic, and Borders. Also present were some clothing boutiques, bars, and most importantly, Tex Mex restaurants. It was exactly what I needed.
Upon arrival, I window shopped and looked for my needed footwear, which I found on sale at The GAP. Afterwards I helped myself to the free Wi-Fi at Borders while I perused the selection of books. One that the store had chosen to highlight was an autobiography of George W. Bush. I may have been in America, but it certainly wasn’t a book that would have been on the best seller shelf in San Francisco. It really did feel like I was in foreign territory.
After moving on to the non-political books, I eventually I settled on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, and took it with me to my final destination in the shopping center: Taco Diner.
There were several Tex Mex restaurants to choose from, but Taco Diner’s name had me convinced that it most closely represented what I wanted to eat: tacos al pastor. I settled into an outdoor table, grateful for the warm February sun, and ordered myself some food.
After eating an entire basket of chips and salsa, I dove into my chicken-and-pineapple tacos al pastor and my frozen margarita. They had a slightly different flavor from the ones I was used to from home, and again I felt like I was visiting a new country as opposed to a new state. Once I finished my meal, I lingered in the sunshine for as long as my layover would permit me to, listening to the happy hour crowd chat away with the foreign accent that was also known as the Texas drawl.
After paying the bill, I hopped on the light rail and made my way back to DFW. Once there, I cleared security and walked over to the Admiral’s Club lounge. Dallas being a hub for American Airlines, I was excited to see what the flagship lounge had to offer.
Among the food, beverages, televisions, comfy chairs, and other amenities, I was relieved to find that there were showers. I took advantage of the opportunity to wash the 10 hour flight and 8 hour layover off my skin, then settled in for a drink and some free Wi-Fi as I waited for my flight to Santiago.
As I sat in the lounge, I overheard proud Texans talking about the Texan businesses that were sending them all over the world. Friendly to a fault, they were giving advice to their fellow passengers about what to do and where to go when they arrived at their destinations. I can’t remember the last time I saw complete strangers being so friendly. It was very Texan.
When my flight took off, I looked out the window over the sprawling Dallas suburbs. Once again I saw the Texas flags waving in the distance, and had a renewed feeling of foreign familiarity. I suppose I will have to count Texas as a state for official purposes, but in my head I will count it as a country. I don’t think the Lone Star State will mind.