By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"All the time, bike people go by here. Oh yeah, they wave and say hi," he says. Eventually, he started walking down to Bishop Arts with his sister to eat at Hunky's burger shop and Eno's Pizza Tavern. His buddies down the street, artists who paint wall murals, started getting work from local food and retail outlets. The last couple years, he says, "It's been real positive. It's better."
But Bolsa, though, that place kind of made him nervous. What used to be a garage with a food stand outside was remodeled into an upscale eatery. Practically next door to his house, too. Sanchez didn't think it would be the kind of place he could go. "I thought it would be a racial thing." But it's cool, he says. He's been over there, and there was no problem. In fact, he thinks it's probably going to be good for his business.
Jessica Jeffers, one of Bolsa restaurant's four co-owners, says that friendly neighborhood feeling is exactly what she intended when they opened her place.
"It's a restaurant in a garage," Jessica says with a laugh. She makes an effort to know her customers by name, and also to serve dishes for every price point. "If you want to spend money you can," she says, but if you don't, no problem. "It's any food, any lifestyle, any dress code." Bolsa's been a draw for what her husband and co-owner Chris Jeffers calls the "bridge and tunnel crowd"—those who come from north of the Trinity since the place opened two years ago. These bridge and tunnel folks, they're a moneyed crowd. But Claudio Sanchez doesn't mind.
"People with money coming in, that's good for me," says Sanchez, tired of being low-balled by folks who want a cheap car detailing just because he's an Oak Cliff guy. "They have nice cars, they have money to spend on them."
Sanchez says he expects property values—and taxes—probably will go up in the next few years. And that'll be hard. But he doesn't think he'll be forced to move his family. "It's just change," he says. "Things change. It's for the better."
It all sounds simplistic, even idealistic. Can positive change come from something as small as a smile and a wave from a neighbor? Jason Roberts thinks so. In fact, he says that to "think small" is the best way to spur large-scale change. It's not so much that riding a bike down a street is revolutionary—it's that doing it over and over again, and combining it with the people-friendly use of public space inspires folks to think of the entire city as their own. Commutes become more than a route from desk to door via highway, with the spaces between stops a blurry view out a car window, populated with anonymous faces.
"We're trying to get across the idea that Dallas is a place to live, and not just a place to be alive," Roberts says. He—and the rest of the bikos—express passionately that they do not want to shove out the neighborhood's diverse character and long-time residents. "We're this little group of folks, folks that are not threatening our community," he says. "We're saying, we want you guys to come along."
Curly-haired OB-GYN Heather Lytle's still working on the old house she and her husband Zac bought this summer off King's Highway. After a year away from Oak Cliff living in North Carolina, they've returned and have got the chicken coop up in the back. Heather's figured out where their "ladies" have been secretly laying eggs in a brush pile in the yard. But some things are new and mysterious—like how Heather can no longer tell which of her friends are hanging out at an Oak Cliff business just by the bikes parked outside.
"I used to be like, 'Oh, there's Mariana's bike!'" says Heather of bicycles she'd see parked outside Eno's or El Jordan in Bishop Arts. "Now there are some bikes that I don't even know who they belong to!"
Heather speaks about Oak Cliff in a kind of smiling half-exclamation, like she's crushing hard on a new boyfriend. But minus the year off in North Carolina, she and Zac have been in the area going on five years now. The infatuation just doesn't seem to wear off, because Heather can't stop thinking about the next project with which she'll get involved.
She's behind those "Bike Friendly" stickers you see in the windows of businesses that offer discounts to bike riders. She and Mariana have been talking about building a haunted house at the West Dallas Country Club for the fall, in that rogue biko way, and inviting the neighborhood kids over to check out the farm and get the pants scared off 'em, too. No one else is going to do it.
"If you want to make something happen," says Heather—and heaven knows bikos want to make things happen—"you gotta get out there and sweat a little and do it yourself." Once your idea is in place, chances are it's going to bleed over into the lives of other Oak Cliffers. That's what happened with the chickens, anyway. When the Lytles were packing up for North Carolina, they knew they couldn't just abandon their existing flock. So they called the Griggses, building a coop in their yard, and handed over their feathered friends. Mariana and Scott now have nine birds in all—including a turkey.