I was there for a work event in Plano, which ended on a Friday, so I had the organizers fly me back on the following Sunday and I booked myself into a Best Western just outside Fort Worth. I spent it tooling around town, visiting museums and eating loads of unhealthy food, and if I didn't exactly get under the skin of Texas, it was at least fun to get to know that area a little bit.
The Best Western was a bit of a shock to the system after my hotel in Tokyo, and my hotel the previous night in Plano, being a smidgen more basic than either, but in the event was fine - the bed was comfortable, the drapes blocked out all light and even though there were a bunch of guests in town for NASCAR, I didn't have any trouble with noise.
Before I flew out a friend of a friend recommended Sundance Square, so that's where I spent my first evening, stuffing myself with barbecue and trying to decide on a place to drink. My first indication that I wasn't in California anymore was the Cigar Lounge, which looked pretty inviting, in a smoky, Eisenhower-Republican sort of way. But just to indicate the times we live in, that cigar place (where, in case it wasn't clear, you could smoke inside) was right next door to an artisanal olive oil shop. Go figure.
The following day, I opted for Fort Worth's Cultural District, a triangle of land right next to the University of North Texas, where there are about five museums, including some galleries for science and technology and for modern and contemporary art. I went first to the Kimbell Museum, which specializes in European art (with some galleries set aside for Asia, Latin America and Africa), and then to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, which was just one enormous lawn over.
Both were pretty respectable - the Kimbell had some fine Renaissance and Dutch Masters, as well as nice Impressionist paintings, while the Carter made much of its Frederic Remington and Charles M Russell works, depicting scenes from the Old West like robberies and chases. At the Carter I took the opportunity to get a mini-guided tour by one of the docents, and as I happened to be the only taker I got the full experience, I'd say. Both are free, incidentally, which means you can spend more on food and drink.
Food-wise, I ate pretty damn well. Asked what my favorite food was that weekend, I had to say it was the chocolate pecan pie I ate at the Kimbell's cafe. It filled me up nicely after the soup and half sandwich, and was delightfully chocolatey (something I find important). And for dinner that night I had a pretty large platter of tacos, including the brisket tacos that are so popular in the area that even Dairy Queen sells them now (billed as street tacos).
To help make sense of it all I had Paul Theroux's latest travel book, Deep South, with me to read. In the early chapters, which are mostly in and around Alabama, he attends a gun show and a college football game, in between chatting with locals about their towns. I didn't quite get to either, though I saw a gun show advertised near my hotel, and I did visit Texas Christian University on Saturday afternoon, where I got to see how the locals in Fort Worth prepare for big games against rivals like the University of Texas.
Certainly the fairground atmosphere at TCU was light years away from my undergrad experience, where we didn't have a football team, but even if we'd had one, few people would have cared much. Here there were tents set up for sponsors' guest, like UBS, musical guests and a stand giving away free brisket tacos. Another stand sold signed memorabilia from TCU alumni who'd gone to play in the NFL.
Not everyone at TCU was a student, or parent of a student, but it was clearly the big social event, with a lot of the women all dolled up as if they were going out on the town. I don't get out to Stanford games much, but I have trouble seeing it as more than an afternoon out for people in my town, though in fairness I should probably go investigate (seems Stanford's playing Cal soon, so might check that out...).
I guess what's interesting, if not exactly original, is that sense of being in a different place, even if it is still America. Here in Palo Alto, if you ran around wearing a cowboy hat or cowboy boots, people would think you a little strange, but it's part of the culture there. Beyond superficial stuff like that, there is a sense of different rhythms, and of people enjoying different rituals than they do here - even of enjoying rituals at all, which I find hard to recall from growing up in Palo Alto.
It would have been nice to spend a little more time there, and potentially meet up with a college friend who lives there now, to get a local's sense of what Fort Worth is like. But I can at least say that in these days of political polarization and regional estrangement, it was good to spend some time out of my bubble and seeing some of what we have in common, instead of where we disagree.
Plus, I got to spend the weekend zooming around in this bitchin' ride:
|Upgraded from a compact, FYI|