Monday, November 22, 2010

Department Store Time Machine

Neiman Marcus
Photo by Elliott Muñoz

All good time travel stories need a time machine. H.G. Wells used a Victorian sled. For us, light rail provided the vehicle.

Waiting at the Richardson DART station was a couple wearing Dallas Stars' jerseys. It wasn't hard to guess where they were headed. Also waiting was a young couple with two children, aged about 4 and 2. I think I know where this family was headed, too, and it wasn't to a hockey game. The boy was excited by the adventure by train, asking questions only a four year old can ask. "What are we waiting for?" The simple answer, a train, wasn't what he really wanted to know. "Why is this a train station?" Syntactically fine, yet impossible to know exactly what he meant or how to answer. Across the tracks was a billboard for a 4G cell phone service that promised "Waiting for the train was never this entertaining." I had to agree, but not because of the video streaming offered by my mobile phone provider.

After the jump, our train ride to a younger America.

We got off the train at the West End station. We made our way up the Dallas Historic District, which more and more conjures up memories not of warehouses and train stations, but its faded glory days as Dallas' original restored entertainment district. We walk past The Corner Bakery (dark and sad), Bryan's Smokehouse (diners on the patio even in late November), Hoffbrau Steaks, Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse and RJ Mexican Cuisine (whose name is a little too generic for me), and stop at the Spaghetti Warehouse (dining room was full, seating still available at a table in the bar), which was about the last lighted building on the street. All in all, the Historic District is still somewhat lively, if not thriving, at least on a warm Saturday night when the Stars are in town.

After dinner, we strolled back to Main Street. The streets became much less lively as soon as we left that three block stretch of restaurants along Market Street. The west end of Main Street was dead (there's no doubt that El Centro College is a commuter college). Skyscrapers are always forbidding looking; the Bank of America tower is no exception. That architects don't build amenities along the street on the ground floor is criminal. A row of shops - a deli, a newsstand, a flower shop, a convenience store and a bar - would soften the cold front that these monolithic fortresses use to shut out the life on the street. If you wonder why downtown is dead, look no farther than the faces of these towers at street level.

As we approached the corner of Main and Ervay, street life returned. The intersection itself was blocked off and people of all ages thronged the street in front of Neiman Marcus, spilling over onto side streets. Fireworks were launched from the roof of the store, the Christmas lights covering the outside of the store were lit and Santa rappelled down from the roof to the street to the delight of all. A countdown by the crowd led to the unveiling of the decorations in the store windows. The crowd surged forward. It was like a scene out of a 1930s movie, in an age when department store windows were the highly anticipated source of spectacle and special effects and blockbuster entertainment.

Continuing our stroll up Main Street, we came to the new (to us) Main Street Garden. It's huge. Most of it is open lawn. I can imagine it being the site for large civic celebrations, say, or a free concert by a pop star or maybe a political rally. The Dallas Christmas tree was already lit, its 60-foot height contained easily by the size of the park. At the other end of the park, so far away as to be almost a separate event on a separate site, was a live concert, its drumbeats echoing off the buildings surrounding the park. The music, the crowds of all ages, the warm evening air, the full moon, the night life in downtown Dallas, all together made Dallas seem like a real city, like something out of Dallas' past.

Then it was a short walk back to the Pearl Street DART station and the ride back to Richardson. Ironically, the only panhandler we encountered all night was at the DART station ... in Richardson. Downtown Dallas itself was alive and friendly and filled with people enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. I made a mental promise not to let so much time go by before our next trip downtown. As the young boy on the train platform said, "What are we waiting for?"

By the way, Richardson's own tree lighting and opening of Santa's Village is scheduled for December 4 at the Civic Center. It too takes you back in time, but whereas downtown Dallas' celebration is "Miracle on 34th Street," Richardson's is "It's a Wonderful Life". One is big city, the other small town. Make room on your calendar for both.

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

Even more evidence that downtown Dallas might be undergoing a Lazarus experience can be found here.