Lubbock might ring a few bells for being the home of Big Bopper and Buddy Holly and more recently, Natalie Maines of Dixie Chicks fame or infamy, depending on how you look at her slight against G.W. For most, though, Lubbock probably doesn’t resonate. I can’t blame you too much, for I haven’t a good idea of what Lubbock looks like either, outside of being somewhere in the desert and vulnerable to dust storms. After my mom took me away from Texas, I haven’t spent a lot of time in the state, and have certainly never lived in it. This coming semester will be a first in my living memory: a life in Texas or is it Tejas? I’m not sure yet. Since leaving Texas as a child, my only connection to Texas was an almost nationalistic allegiance to the Houston Astros and the Dallas Cowboys. Now both suck and I have long since adopted teams that are from places where I grew up or went to school. The old connection to Texas is one never to be responded to just like the ones missed and put up on Craigslist.
My friend Andrew, a British ex-pat, who I knew from my time in the Crescent City took me to a place called the Velvet Taco, which, in spite of any racy subtext evoked from the name, served up tasty and imaginative tacos (Tikka Masala, anyone?) with fresh ingredients, the hipster’s ideal. Another day, when James, my friend who I was visiting, and I went out to grab some food, we stumbled upon a small Mexican restaurant run by an Indian guy. He told us that the food we would order was going to be authentic. Tempted to judge the place as a fake, I, in the end, gave it a chance and was rewarded by my choice. As before, I did enjoy the food, but, frankly, I miss the post-Katrina days of the taco truck in New Orleans where five bucks bought you four simple, but tasty, bursting tacos that easily became eight. I suppose that is the price you pay for “authenticity.”
Having never been to Dallas before, I wanted to see the center of town. Downtown Dallas does have its skyscrapers and its own second-rate – no, that’s being too generous – third-rate Elvis impersonator, but for a city of its size, I was startled at how uninviting the city’s center is. The downtown is beat. I’m not talking ugly; it looks fine. But you could almost shoot a zombie apocalypse movie there if it weren’t for the tourists who flock to Dealey Plaza to brave the oncoming traffic for photo-ops at the exact spots on that three lane road where the greatest Roman Catholic president in American history was shot by the guy who has a seat with his name on it at Le Bon Temp Roule on Magazine Street in NOLA.
Richardson (a suburb of Dallas), where I stayed for the few days as I sorted out the paperwork for the red pick-up and visited some friends, was a slice of suburbia. It is the place where the aptly named University of Texas, Dallas is located along with oodles of telecom businesses. At first glance, it was similar to the suburban/ mid-size town environments I had grown up in, but it had its unique qualities and quirks which I noticed while walking around.
The Southeast and East Asians of Richardson
There are phở restaurants in nearly half of the strip malls in Richardson. While phở is a delightful dish, it seemed that it was overly popular amongst the denizens of Richardson if all of those restaurants were to survive. The immigration services caught my eye. After all, I have been working on this topic for a little while now. But what I noticed about these services was not their presence, I was in Texas after all, but who they were targeting. Given all of the phở, I shouldn’t have been surprised that the target population is Vietnamese folks. Offices displayed big signs in Vietnamese, with English translations, offering assistance in gaining citizenship and legal status. These immigrants remain completely outside the imagery generated for immigrants to the US, and in a place like Texas, perhaps that is to their advantage.
One week before coming to Dallas I had been in frigid Chicago where two of the top ten donut shops in America, according to some national list, are located. Along with Nazr, an electrician friend of mine who was off from work due to the extreme cold, we took advantage of the weather not only to throw boiling water into the air and watch it crystalize but also to skip the usually insurmountable line at the Donut Vault. Big, soft and delicious, the donuts are certainly worth the effort. Remembering that amazing glazed glory, I decided to try the local donut shops for breakfast.
All of the donut shops in Richardson are run by East Asians and sell almost the same fare, certainly a far cry from the hipster-run joints in Chicago. The shapes and flavors are all identical, as are the prices. The only distinguishing feature I recognized was the addition of filling as you wait at the hilariously named Creamy Donuts. Though edible, these donuts certainly weren’t in the same league as the donut Mecca I had come from. A generous analogy might be if they were a soccer team playing in the bottom third of the UK’s Conference Premier League (the fifth league down, for the uninitiated): the games might be interesting, but you know they ain’t the big leagues.
At the house where James lives there is a friendly dog named Marshall. He is a medium size dog, whose owner likes to say is part wolf. A docile creature who rarely barks, Marshall loves to go on walks. So walk me he did. Marshall pulled me along, yanking the lead as if to try to dislocate my shoulder en route to freedom. We went through the neighboring areas which were remarkably more diverse than I had expected for Texas.
I think I liked Dallas more than Houston, though I doubt if I’d willing live in either. I had been to Houston about five years earlier to visit some family. Houston seemed to be a life-size projection of a doll house. Maybe that would be okay if you had different manufactures, but the suburb in Houston I had the pleasure of visiting looked as if Mattel had built the whole damn area up with a single design and a limited color pallet at their disposal.
The neighborhoods in Richardson seemed to range from firmly middle class dwellings to upper middle class homes. Nothing seemed terribly bizarre at first glance. Sure, lots of people sit inside their cars for some unknown reason. But that can be easily explained away … perhaps they are talking to their wives before they go in to visit their mistresses. What took me a little time to appreciate, as it only occurred to me once the sun had set, was the total lack of street lights.
You might be thinking, big deal! It’s a freaking street light. Well, maybe so, but where I come from, and in every place I have lived that I can remember, there has always been a lot of street lighting. Indeed, as I walked through the neighborhood, I noticed that there was enough light to walk around comfortably. That light, however, came primarily from floodlights that were placed to shine upwards against the facades of the houses. Neighborhood after neighborhood was the same, irrespective of its affluence: nearly no streetlights.
Why was Texas anti-street light? Maybe it’s because few people go for a walk at night. Feasibly it’s because the domestic floodlight lobby is particularly strong. I don’t know; it was a question I never managed to answer, partly because I was too lazy to look into it anymore, but it did show me that America, even with its cookie-cutter conformity where the same restaurant, automotive, and strip-club chains are omnipresent in every sizeable town, there are undoubtedly subtle differences to the urban environment which should not be discounted.
Before I knew it, my time to marvel at the lack of street light had come to an end. Through it all, I managed to avoid the pedantic Richardson police, who James told me were the policing equivalent to grammar Nazis, which put me in a reasonably indifferent mood for my long drive to El Paso.
Where are the lights is an excerpt from my field journal. For that reason, names have been changed.