Fowled Out

Does City Hall's rooster ban signal the end of old Oak Cliff? Rose Farley goes to the front lines of a cultural war that threatens to turn the 'hood into something truly heinous...North Dallas

But the way things sound on McAdams Street, this process won't be easy.
"They want my chickens?" Ruben asks, unaware that they're already an endangered species.

Vicky tries to explain the ordinance to the girl, who explains it to Ruben. He looks concerned. He says he hasn't done anything wrong, has broken no laws.

No, it's just a new rule, the girl explains. His visitors, she tells him, would like to know why he likes roosters, so they can tell the politicians.

"The people who don't like chickens are crazy," he says. Roosters may crow, but there are louder noises the city should deal with. "The people who drive in the street with music," he says, "and the dogs."

When asked why he has roosters, he seems baffled by the question. "You have chickens. They make eggs."

With that, Ruben walks over to his crooked hen houses and reaches inside one nest, removing two eggs. Compared with store-bought, his huevos taste better. "There is a difference," he says.

Which raises the question: Does one need a rooster to get good eggs--or, for that matter, any eggs at all? This is a subject of friendly debate between truckers Tommie and Charles, who are nursing a couple of coffees at the No.2 Pitt Grill on West Davis Street.

"You don't need a rooster for a hen to lay eggs," Tommie says.
Technically that's true, Charles says, but it's better to have a rooster. "A hen likes a rooster around. It's like all women," he says. "You might not like us, but you've got to have us around."

Roosters, after all, keep the population going, and without them all chickens would be doomed.

Sitting next to the jukebox, a large Hispanic man with two missing front teeth plays a video-poker game. After a while he takes a seat next to Bob, an elderly white guy dressed in a polyester polo shirt and beige slacks hiked high above his waist. Like nearly everyone else in here, they haven't heard about Miller's ordinance. Bob has heard the roosters near him go off at 4 a.m., so he supports the rooster ordinance. But mostly he supports Miller.

"I like Laura Miller. I worked on her campaign," he says. "She's always right to the point."

The toothless Latino disagrees. "Once we get rid of roosters, how long is it going to be before we get rid of dogs?" he says. "You get immune to them after a while. It's no different than living next to the airport, hearing those jets come in every 30 minutes. It seems to me they [the council members] have better things to do."

Roosters aside, the two regulars agree that there are more pressing matters in the neighborhood. Their discussion is evidence that Oak Cliff's experiment in tolerance factors in a certain amount of intolerance. Oak Cliff diversity doesn't necessarily mean that everyone is sitting around holding hands and singing "Ebony and Ivory." For some, it's more a matter of finding ways to live together without killing one another.

"I've got neighbors that wake up at 5 o'clock in the morning, and they start drinking beer and listening to that Mexican shit," the toothless guy says. "How do we expect these people to come to this country, and then we let them live like that?"

Bob says he'd move to North Dallas tomorrow if it weren't for his wife, an Oak Cliff native. She doesn't like to be around "outsiders." That isn't the case with Bob.

"Jefferson, it used to be its own thriving street, but every time a space opens they put a Mexican restaurant in it or some other degrading business. It's overcrowded with minorities," he says. "I'm not a prejudiced man, but the Spanish people are taking over. It used to be the blacks, now it's the Spanish."

At the other end of the counter, Tommie and Charles shake their heads at the comments drifting their way.

"Twenty years ago, Oak Cliff was considered to be one of the better neighborhoods in Dallas. You want to know why it's gone downhill?" Tommie asks. "Money and the city of Dallas itself has disassociated Oak Cliff from most of its planning. A lot of people view things in Oak Cliff this way: If you beat your head on the wall long enough, the wall will fall on you."

Things are better than they were, says former city Councilman Bob Stimson, Miller's predecessor at City Hall. By the time he took office in 1993, activist Cliffites had spent three years drafting action plans for ways to improve basic services in Oak Cliff. Their effort was part of a movement in which area residents, tired of being ignored by the city, gave officials an ultimatum: Spend more tax money in Oak Cliff or we'll secede from Dallas. The secession movement captured national headlines and, at its peak in 1990, caused some 2,000 irate residents to boo former Mayor Annette Strauss during a public meeting.

Their fury had been fueled when secessionists took a look at the city's financial records and discovered that since 1962, Oak Cliff had received only 20 percent of the city's bond projects, a statistic that bolstered arguments that Oak Cliff taxpayers were disproportionately footing the bill for the construction of North Dallas.

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