So we’ve been back home in Golden now for a few days… We’re into May now. I’m still unpacking, slowly, as is my custom, trying to find places for everything we’ve brought back and we’re back into our routines here for which I’m grateful. On this short, whirlwind trip, most of Sunday and Monday has been kind of a slow, mad rush to get outta here, stress-filled to the point where Tuesday’s long drive home – just slightly under 15 hours this time – feels (almost) like a piece of cake. Easy, in comparison.
Erin and I will both miss the Tex-Mex food… and hanging out at Drip coffeehouse on Lovers Lane in the mornings which, with its wi-fi, has been kind of a lifeline in staying connected to the rest of the world. If you live in the Park Cities area in Dallas, be sure and stop in here instead of Starbuck’s. Steve’s got everything Starbuck’s has only much better, plus a better ambience, and he’s a local business.
We leave very early Tuesday morning, just after 5:00, and it’s a “Six Feet Under” finale moment – “You can’t take a picture of this. It’s already gone…” – Nate’s ghost to Claire. Just last night it had been raining heavily for a while and I was concerned about what it would be like in the morning because we still had the paintings and a few other items to load into the truck, but it’s dry and we finish the load-out quickly. When we’re in the truck I see dad standing in the doorway in his white bathrobe; the lights in the cab of the truck are on so I wave to him and he waves back. And then we’re off. Once we’re past it I can’t see the house because the view is obstructed out the back and we only have side view mirrors. It kind of reminds me of the years I would visit at Christmas, living in Colorado, and mom would come to the small windows by the front door and I’d see her looking out as I drove away. This is the last time I’ll be leaving from here.
We turn right onto Hillcrest, another right onto Northwest Highway; I’ve got my extra-large coffee from 7-11 and when we come to the Dallas North Tollway I turn right, heading north, because I know it’s the only freeway I can count on not to have some kind of construction going on (you know, the concrete barriers, no right shoulder) as we get out of the giant amoeba, surging ever northwards, that the Dallas metro area has become.
We pass through Denton on U.S. 380, University Blvd. through town, and yes, the Waffle House is still there but we don’t stop at it and by the time we’re within a few miles of Decatur, the Dallas city vibes have dissipated, been left behind, and we’re free.
I can sum up the experience of Dallas, as it is now, in just two words, both this time and the last time Erin and I were here 2 1/2 years ago: Too. Big. As in too big for your britches. It may come as a surprise to those who have heard me bashing on this city since the mid-1990’s, but I really used to love this place when I was growing up here in the 1960’s and early 70’s. I really did. I loved Dallas and that was really the time to be here – it was a big city that didn’t feel overwhelming… like it does now. So many memories that are still fresh in my mind and too many to list here. They should go in a book.
Maybe a lot of this feeling comes from having lived in a small mountain town of 420 people for four years (Empire, CO), but I can think back to the late 1970’s when I was in Lubbock and the city I’d come back to over Christmas break and for the summer really started to change. It started to change even more in the early 80’s when I was doing singing telegrams here, playing in a couple of bands, the pace of life here always ever accelerating, but even back then it still seemed more-or-less manageable. I’d hang out in Lower Greenville or the Lakewood area (which we didn’t get over to on this trip) and those were the cool places to be… and then I moved away to Santa Fe.
Well, nothing about Dallas feels manageable anymore; it just appears to be go-go-go all the time, non-stop, and just try to keep up, even when visiting, and woe to the person who can’t or chooses not to. This is not your place. Erin pointed out that the traffic lanes on the roads we were driving seemed more narrow than what we’re used to – claustrophobic, and the parking lots wherever we went were always full, the spaces hard to pull into because they’re narrow too. Try to squeeze in as many people as you can – gotta make that extra buck. That’s Dallas. I noticed the same thing too and it wasn’t just because I was driving dad’s Buick. Getting around anywhere just produces a lot of stress that doesn’t need to be there. And this is inside LBJ Freeway (635) – Dallas proper. I’m not talking about the suburbs and outlying areas here. Another odd thing is that all the traffic lights at intersections seem interminably long… which only adds to the stress and frustration when you’re trying to get somewhere/anywhere.
I lived in Dallas again during parts of the years from 2007-2011 but the energy here now just feels completely different even from that recently and even more alien. More scattered, frenetic… hyper is a good word to describe it, and oddly more generic (i.e., soulless). A lot of this can be seen in the McMansion monstrosities that are devouring the old, familiar neighborhoods in Preston Hollow, where my dad lives (for another month or so), and some, though less evident, in the Park Cities. Neighborhoods that once had character. Well, a lot of them still do, but what about Dallas screams ‘Tuscany’ that people and home builders feel compelled to put up Italian-style villas on these blocks, complete with palm trees?! Lose the freakin’ palm trees!! They’re not indigenous to North Texas! Ugh.
And it doesn’t have to be this way. As we drove around Preston Hollow, we saw plenty of ranch homes, the staple of this neighborhood for so many years, that had been updated along with mid-century modern homes that were beautiful with beautiful landscaping ’cause hey, you can grow anything here (reference the backyard picture from Pt. 1 of this series).
At one point Erin said that Dallas feels like Orange County, California. In other words, it’s all about appearances and keeping up with everybody else. Since I haven’t lived in the OC since late 1980 I’ll take her word on that.
The problem with all of what I’m seeing here is that people start to think (and get used to) all of this as being just “normal” and that the pace of life here is “normal”, and all it does is just produce nothing but stress from the competitiveness of it all, and really, there’s nothing “normal” about any of it. It’s just pathological.
That’s more of a rant than I’d intended, but it is sad to see as I have loved this city… and really, now it just pisses me off and I want to get outta here and get home.
The House Itself
With the house on the market now comes the realization that eventually and soon, it will sell, and when I pull up the address on Google Maps a year from now, most likely the house will be razed to the ground or there will already be a new house – another generic, McMansion monstrosity – in its place. I don’t have a problem with that so much because it’s inevitable given that the house now is a total tear-down, a scrape-off… but it will seem weird when I actually see it (via Google Maps).
Dad had it appraised recently and has listed the house at its appraised value and even I know you can’t do that with a tear-down. You’re only selling the land it sits on. He’s still under the illusion that someone will want to buy it, update it, and basically keep the house intact, but that’s just not going to happen given its current state. Why did he not update the house, cosmetically-speaking, over the years? Both inside and out. Why would you not do that when your home is arguably the most important investment, financially, you’ll ever make? The baby grand piano in its current state – needing the keys, hammers, and strings all to be restored – is a metaphor for the state of the house. Why, why, why did he not restore such a beautiful instrument like that? And him being a musician. I don’t get it, but this is where things stand.
A friend from high school who’s a realtor told me that he’s seen the house and the comps in the neighborhood, and thinks it should be listed for about $50k less than the price that dad is asking. I had been thinking the same thing – the current price is too high. After a month on the market, that’s why it’s not selling… but what can you say here? Some resistance to selling it going on perhaps?
As for the house itself… the wallpaper in the rooms where it’s been applied (from the early 1970’s) is peeling off and just looks supremely dated and tacky; most assuredly there is mold in them thar walls and nobody wants to deal with mitigation there, and the attic… after squirrels had made their way through the east side of the house to the attic, nobody ventured up there anymore. Total. Tear-down.
I had intended to be a bit more mindful of my time in the house, knowing that this was going to be the last time I would ever be in there, but by Sunday afternoon I’m ready to get on the road and mindfulness goes out the window. I am glad we took an extra day on Monday when we picked up the truck (and it doesn’t suck… only 11,000 miles on it, everything in good working order), because it allows me time to walk through all the rooms one last time and had we tried to leave Monday it would have been too hectic. By Monday night I’ve made my peace, I’ve said my goodbyes. And then there’s the Christmas tree…
The legendary Christmas tree in the den is still there – yes, I know it’s April – where it has been since sometime in the mid-90’s and it has its own special story. I visited Dallas one time in March, maybe 1996, and my parents still had the Christmas tree up. I said something about it and mom said that dad would get around to taking it up to the attic. I mentioned that maybe if it was still up in March, they should just go ahead and leave it up all year round. So they did. I plug the Christmas tree lights in one last time before I go to bed Monday night to see if they’re working – obviously they’ve been changed out since the mid-90’s – and they all light up.
Now that we’ve been back for a few days and I’ve had some time to reflect on a few things, it seems that the strangest thing about last weekend: the incongruity between the fact that everything is about to change (radically) and that inside the house everything looks the same as it ever has, same as it ever was, even after we took out everything we did, and it’s just business as usual, and that it could go on that way forever.
Shmoopy Takes the Wheel…
At Trinidad, just inside the Colorado state line. It’s 4:30 in the afternoon. The original plan had us arriving here at around 2:00 for lunch, but we had breakfast at IHOP in Wichita Falls and driving into a headwind we made Amarillo around 12:45 and ate lunch at McDonald’s. McDonald’s… we never eat at freakin’ McDonald’s. The Big Mac I order tastes good except there’s too much thousand island dressing on the two all-beef patties and it gets all over my hand. But the fries are great! Except for the stretch between Amarillo and Dumas, I’ve driven the whole way – the boring part of the drive. The prairie and farmlands. I have a high tolerance for boredom. Erin (Shmoopy) does not and coming into Trinidad she tells me that she just wants to get home and she’ll drive us the rest of the way. We’ve been in the truck for 12 hours at this point and I’m like, “Go for it.”
We’ve had various classic rock stations on the radio in the truck because the truck is old school with AM/FM radio – no CD player, no iPod connection. Not even a cassette deck. The most memorable of the radio stations has been The Big Dog FM, coming to you out of Altus, Oklahoma and we’ve been hearing a lot of Stones, ZZ Top, and Rush. It’s two-fer-Tuesday! We’ve crossed the Red River just above Estelline and there was actually water in it for the first time in ages… and the water was, appropriately, red, and I’m listening and a lyric from Rush’s “Freewill” gets lodged in my mind:
“You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice.”
And now that it’s Sunday I’m still hearing this. After we watched “Whiplash” at home last night. Neil Peart, the drummer for Rush, wrote these lyrics and as we were driving through West Texas I thought about books that he’s written – I’ve read both “Ghost Rider” and “Traveling Music” and both are excellent. I highly recommend them; Neil is an excellent writer and I enjoyed these books immensely.
It also makes me think about the possibility that this could be the last time I drive this particular route between Dallas and the Denver area. Over the years, certain music has been designated for certain stretches of the trip – Alice Cooper’s Killer for the stretch between Childress and Memphis, Ziggy Marley’s two albums, Conscious Party and One Bright Day between Amarillo and Dalhart; The Cars’ 1st album between Walsenburg and Pueblo, Colorado.
By the time we get to Trinidad, Shmoopy notices I’m tired so she takes the wheel. We stop in at the liquor store on Santa Fe Trail and I pick up a few shot bottles of things that sound enticing, try a couple of them in the truck now that she’s driving and try to nod off in the passenger seat. Of course this is not going to work ’cause I can’t sleep in a moving vehicle and like looking out at the scenery too much, even if there isn’t any, but we’re back in Colorado now and that won’t be a problem. The Big Dog morphs into 107.9 FM out of Colorado Springs… more Stones… “Gimme Shelter”.
And Erin becomes a “woman on a mission”… We get home before 8:00 and before it gets dark. And then we start unloading the truck…
Despite the challenges and the frustrations, this was a good, memorable trip for all the right reasons, even if it was born from necessity. We had to go, but it was the right time.
Moving forward: the house will sell, certainly within the next couple of months, and had I known about it beforehand, that he was going to do this, dad could have come up here to live with us. We could’ve moved into a bigger house, in the mountains, Evergreen probably, and the baby grand could have been saved, but the invitation is always open. I don’t know right now where we’re going to be spending Christmas this year, whether he’ll fly up here and join us at our house or if Erin and I will be flying down there, in which case we’ll be getting a hotel room and a rental car. I suspect it will be the latter. I do know this: the Christmas tree in the house on Northwood will finally come down after a successful 19-year run or thereabouts. This year.
The new 4-song EP, “Santos“, will be coming in a couple of months, mid-to-late June.