Mr. Sunshine

I see Dallas' glass as half-full in 2007, but what's in it?

My prediction.

A few days before Christmas I'm in the car at a light on Matilda at Mockingbird, and this sedan comes rolling around the corner at me with two guys, one at the wheel in his 40s maybe and the other guy riding shotgun probably in his 70s. As they roll by I see that they have to be father and son. No way they're not.

They have on matching goofy hats—little stingy-brim green fedoras with peaked crowns. Are these hats Alpine? Or Jewish? Maybe Bosnian. The only thing I know for sure is that the hats are extremely funky, and not in the good way. Obviously the younger guy at the wheel never wears a hat like this except when he is driving around town with his dad during the holidays.

Former airline executive Sam Coats is running for mayor. What if he or some other candidate turns out to be a good mayor? How great would that be?
Brian Harkin
Former airline executive Sam Coats is running for mayor. What if he or some other candidate turns out to be a good mayor? How great would that be?

I like the holidays, because the holidays are when sons and fathers drive around town in matching goofy hats. That's as deep as I go.

This is the one time of year when I allow myself to think optimistic thoughts. Every problem has a theoretical solution of some kind, and sooner or later people are more likely to find the solution than they are to just keep butting their heads into the wall.

My son, Will, is home from Austin. His buddy from birth, Elliot Kaiser, is back on leave from Tokyo where he's on a ship in the Navy. The three of us spent a wonderful evening at Gezellig, the jazz club on Lower Greenville.

I wore a tweed sport coat, and I suggested that Will wear one too. When Elliot showed up, he said, "What are you two so duded up for?" Will was silent, long-suffering. It didn't strike me until that moment that I had made us look like the hat guys.

Tough! It's the holidays. I have privileges.

I asked Will what he thought the difference was between Dallas and Austin. He lives in a loft over Sixth Street in the bar and music district. I wondered why Dallas seems to have all this law enforcement trouble in its entertainment districts, while Austin stays so mellow. He told me how they keep things mellow in the blocks right around his apartment.

"On the weekends, they have six to 10 cops lined up at every corner," he said. "They park paddy wagons at every intersection, and they just arrest people all night long. You walk down the street, and there's always someone getting arrested right in front of you."

Aha! The secret to serenity in 21st-century America. Continual mass arrests! I snapped to it right away. It's not that the problems in Deep Ellum and on Lower Greenville are insoluble. We just have to make up our minds that we are definitely going to solve them no matter what.

The next week I met with Dallas police Chief David Kunkle to talk about a story I have been working on for some months. When we were done, he took me over to the window of his conference room and showed me the view. He's on the top floor of the Jack Evans Police Headquarters Building at 1400 S. Lamar St., in an area that was a vast jungle of crack and prostitution not that many years ago.

Right outside the conference room window on an adjoining vacant lot, a new condo tower is slated for construction by Jack Matthews, who developed the South Side on Lamar apartments across the street from police headquarters. Matthews is calling it "The Beat."

That's a cool name. It's a reference, I guess, to the proximity of police headquarters, probably meant to be reassuring and at the same time a kind of brag about the edginess of the venue.

Chief Kunkle pointed out a landscape of cleared ground out beyond the Matthews property stretching almost to the edge of downtown. All kinds of big names are rumored to be holding those properties, ready to cash in when the area gets posh.

Amazing.

He had other news. A month earlier in a column I had made a prediction: "It looks like we're headed for a pretty bad spike in crime citywide this year" ("Going to the Dogs," November 23, 2006). And look, I've always said if you don't want something to happen, just get me to predict in print that it will. You're covered.

The chief showed me numbers indicating that we will have a solid citywide decline in murders this year of almost 6 percent, following a reduction in murders last year of 19 percent. That's pretty damned amazing.

Overall, violent crime looks like it will be down just more than 2 percent, which is less amazing but still good, and that's in spite of a fairly steep spike in sexual assaults. The big question is whether we will still look as bad as we have in recent years in comparison with other cities our size. We shall see.

But the big picture is that the crime numbers are moving in the right direction. Kunkle told me he thinks his "Operation Disruption" initiative has been a significant factor in bringing down the violent crime numbers. Operation Disruption is a program of random sweeps in which squads of police turn over every rock in an area looking for crime.

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