When it first came out, it seemed an unnecessary extravagance, something to keep rich North Dallas commuters from having to dig into their pockets, fiddle with their spare change and slow down. But with rush hour more than just a sequel, with the TollTag enabling you to live life in the fast lane by racing through the toll booth at 40 mph, with it providing a cheaper, more convenient (all major credit cards are accepted) way of travel, it's an extravagance worth having.

You all know what SMU stands for, don't you? Southern Money University. Well, even if you weren't one of the fortunate sons whose daddies footed the bill so you could attend this Park Cities institute of higher learning as a full-time student, there's still a place for you on campus. SMU offers you lazy proles out there a chance to make something of yourselves through its continuing education program, which offers nighttime courses at prices even leaf-blowers can afford. Never you mind that there is a course called something like "Art Museums of Paris" and aimed at, we can only assume, Highland Park housewives planning their spring vacations. There is a standard menu of more practical courses to be had, including our favorite, Spanish.

This is the kind of info Fox and Scully live for. Back in 1992 a fascinating and quizzical Dallas lady named Cheyenne Turner established the Eclectic Viewpoint lecture series that is going full steam ahead despite the fact she passed away in '98. Under her direction, lecturing experts in all manner of paranormal, psychic and spiritual fields have come to Dallas to share their thoughts on everything from the '47 Roswell UFO crash to conspiracy theories. There are six lectures on the schedule each year. The admission price for most lectures is in the $20-$25 range. And remember--the truth is out there.
When Centro-matic and Slobberbone perform at Gypsy Tea Room or Curtain Club in Dallas, or Dan's Bar or Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in Denton, they play to decent crowds, sometimes packed houses, but getting into one of their shows is usually not that big of a deal. When they travel to Austin or Houston, they might have a good show or they might pull in only 100 people. The rest of the country, well, let's just say it's hit-and-miss. And the same goes for most other local bands that have dared to get in the van and take their rock show on the road. In Europe, however, Centro-matic and Slobberbone are practically stars; if one of their shows doesn't sell out well in advance, it'll probably be sold out by the time they take the stage. And Amsterdam is the best place of all. They play to festival crowds over there, and they get police escorts so they can make it to the next venue in time. In short, it's the perfect world, home to the kind of audience we've always thought Centro-matic and Slobberbone and a ton of other local groups deserved. They get prime radio exposure in Amsterdam--VPRO Radio recorded one of Centro-matic's live shows for broadcast on the station and recently paid for the Nourallah Brothers to fly there and record as well--and a documentary crew came to Denton last year to film Centro-matic in its home environment. Maybe this sounds like the false promise of the "big in Japan" non-endorsement, but being big somewhere is much better than being unappreciated everywhere else.
Want to know how much your boss paid for that new house she bought last year or whether the money the government says your house is worth jibes with the value of your neighbor's house? Well, thanks to modern technology, you can get a pretty good idea without leaving the comfort of your home or office. Just get onto the Internet, type in www.dallascad.org, hit enter, and you're there. This Web site, which is remarkably easy to use, allows you to search for properties by the name of the owner or the address. It also allows you to search separately for residential or commercial properties. Besides lot and building values, you can also find out things such as how many baths are in a house, whether it has a wet bar and when the house was last sold. If you're looking to buy a new home, this is a tool that comes in particularly handy.

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center
For the chance to rub noses with a zebra (literally) and gaze into the vacant eyes of an ostrich, we choose Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose. It's not exactly a zoo. Few of the animals are in cages, and you drive safarilike to each zone of the 1,500-acre wildlife park, slowing down for elands and aoudads. Even the most jaded urchins are fascinated by it; you can open the windows or sun roof and let them immerse themselves in the animal kingdom. You won't get closer to the animals anywhere else in the region. Halfway through your self-guided excursion, which takes 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours (guided tours are also available for an additional fee), you'll find a café on a steep hill offering a lovely view of the park. It serves excellent charbroiled hamburgers, and beside it is a large, well-stocked gift shop. Fossil Rim has a few minor drawbacks. It's light on predators, since they can't exactly allow the cheetahs to roam among the wildebeest, and you won't see lesser life forms such as amphibians, reptiles and fish. But Fossil Rim's an easy pick over the popular Fort Worth Zoo, where every elephant turd has a corporate sponsor, and the Dallas Zoo, which gets demerit points for its policy of gassing the chicks in the petting zoo when they're not young and cute anymore. Fossil Rim's a 90-minute drive from downtown Dallas, but you'll be glad you took the time.
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
Courtesy Dallas Arboretum
The Dallas Arboretum may sound like an obvious and uninventive choice, but the 66 acres offer a variety of different ways to experience nature in a quick tour and without actually roughing it. There's a bamboo forest, mulched trails through trees and wild vines and flowers, a path lined with animal sculptures, the Camp Estate's aromatic herb garden, shaded gazebos with romantic views and a smorgasbord of roses and giant magnolia trees bearing platter-sized flowers that smell almost like lime. The scenery changes each season from spring's renowned azaleas to summer's plants hearty enough to tolerate the Texas sun. This fall offers a typical example: Autumn crocus, fall-blooming azaleas and African marigold are just a small sample of the life blooming in the Jonsson Color Garden. In the Paseo de Flores garden, Firebrush and Mexican bush sage rage among ornamental grasses and tropical bedding plants. Throughout the gardens visitors can inhale the pleasant sights and smells of canna, chrysanthemum and impatiens. Besides the changing plant life, there's the four-toad fountain and A Woman's Garden with its reflecting pools, bronze statues and view overlooking White Rock Lake, all of which was featured in Dr. T & the Women.
Yes, Fort Worth is a long way to go for an afternoon together, but the scenery at the Japanese Gardens is worth the trip. Gentle paths wind through a simply arrayed blend of trees, shrubs, and stones. There are soothing ponds, in which brightly colored koi dart to and fro. There are also rock and meditation gardens, which strip visitors of their daily stress. Conveniently arranged benches provide ample space for smooching.

Dallas World Aquarium
The Dallas World Aquarium (not to be confused with the Dallas Zoo's crappy aquarium) is one of the few places that is kid-friendly, air-conditioned and has something to offer beyond a mall or movie theater. The aquarium has exotic plants, animals and aquatic life. Kids will get a particularly big kick out of the colony of South American black-footed penguins and the Antillean manatees. Unlike some other aquariums that won't be named, the wildlife in the Dallas World Aquarium appears well cared for with clean fish tanks and other holding areas.
A few months ago, Gypsy Tea Room booked a gig by frat favorites Guster in its ballroom and a smaller, quieter show by singer-songwriter Richard Buckner in its smaller, quieter tea room on the same night. While the two stages were, at the time, separated by a hallway, a curtain and quite a bit of square footage, Guster's more raucous performance kept bleeding into Buckner's set, leading him to become visibly and audibly upset. He made several comments, and most of them made their way into a review of the show the next day in The Dallas Morning News. While Brandt Wood--one of the partners in The Entertainment Collaborative, which operates Gypsy Tea Room and Trees--said that they'd never had a complaint about the two-stage setup before, he acted on Buckner's criticisms immediately. In the next week or so, the club installed a soundproof door between the two sections of the venue, solving the problem simply and quickly. And that attention to detail, performers and customers is why Gypsy Tea Room is the best live music venue in town--not to mention its stellar bookings, including Guided by Voices, Spoon, Travis, Common, Black Eyed Peas, Alejandro Escovedo, The Roots, Mark Eitzel, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Low, and that's just naming a few. You are lucky, Dallas. Trust us.

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