We could have picked some country road where the traffic is slow and the scenery is beautiful. But this is Dallas and, well, call us sentimental, but nothing warms our hearts like progress. We had this same feeling when Central Expressway was under construction, and we have it again, watching the new merger of Central and LBJ crawl out of the starting blocks, trotting toward a finish line that will undoubtedly get farther away as the years go by. (Check www.dallashighfive.org for updates.) We longingly gaze at the concrete columns (because that's pretty much all you can do around there, given the stop-and-stop traffic situation), dreaming of the day when it's complete.

Best Short Road Trip to a Small Town that Isn't Really Anymore

McKinney

When we were a kid, last month, used to be a drive up Central Expressway to McKinney lasted a week; 75 was one lane north and south, and it wasn't so long ago. Now it takes 20 minutes, without much traffic, to head up to this Collin County town that's growing every day without losing much of its charm. In fact, it still looks like it did when Joe Camp shot his first Benji up there--giant old homes with rustic front porches, a town square anchored by an old courthouse. That it's slowly been populated by big-city folk in search of small-town charm hasn't harmed McKinney; they came not to speed up the city but to slow themselves down. So they opened quaint restaurants (from cheap diners to gourmet eateries), charming antique stores, homey clothing boutiques, inviting used bookstores and beckoning bed-and-breakfasts. It's a place Doc Hollywood would love, a town where it's Groundhog Day every day, and in the fall and winter we can be found here celebrating "A Dickens Christmas" (the weekend after Thanksgiving, locals dress up in Victorian garb to welcome visitors in the holiday spirit) or drinking hot cocoa in the old county jail that's now a hot dining destination. We hate gentrification as much as the next guy who can't afford it, but at least the yuppies live on the other side of Central, in El Dorado--ya know, where the Starbucks went in.

The space that once held Baby Routh now houses two sister restaurants, Arcodoro and Pomodoro, joined at the hip to form a faux Sardinian village. The patio is especially appealing in good weather and provides a kind of village square where the young cool people, usually from the Arcodoro side, may mingle with old rich people, who tend to hang on the tighter, tonier Pomodoro side. It's just one big Euro-bar community, brought together by great Italian food and credit cards.

Ship's Lounge

Because they have all that a good bar needs: a pool table, a jukebox worth your quarters and cheap beer. Because it's much more comfortable than sitting on the tailgate of your truck, and the cops come by far less often. Because it feels like home within five minutes, and you never wanna leave after 10. Because you'd buy this place if you had the money. Because just talking about Ship's is making us thirsty.

What they do is called "volkssport," taken from the long-standing German tradition of doing leisurely 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) walks through interesting and attractive venues. This is a family affair, not a competition, despite the fact all finishers receive custom-designed medals or patches for their efforts. The idea is to make the walk at your own pace, even stopping to picnic if you choose. Such events are scheduled year-round in the Dallas area and throughout the state. For a fee of just $12, you can join the group--but there's no rule that says you have to be a card-carrying member to participate in their events. You can even bring the dog along if you've got a leash.

Need a little illegal excitement that doesn't involve sex? This street is an ever-popular location for the city's mostly younger crowd to gather and ruin the tires and expensive souped-up engines they bought by waiting tables. On a typical summer night, you need only to show up at about 10 p.m. and wait around. Soon, the parking lots of nearby businesses will fill with youths who are either planning to watch the illegal drag races or those who will actually take part. Take a spot near the entrance of the road, sit on your hood and wait. It takes only about five minutes from the time the first racers arrive until the place is crowded with cars and people and the air is filled with the noise of screaming tires and exhaust smoke. Take care, though; it will only be going on for a little while before the Arlington police arrive and bust anybody they can catch.

Ginger Man

Went to a friend's birthday party here recently, and we were sorely disappointed. Not because the service wasn't friendly and efficient, because it was. Not because the outside deck wasn't shaded and comfortable, because it was. And not because the people-watching wasn't entertaining, because it was. ("Hey there. What school you go to?") It was upsetting because the table kept ordering one type of beer. One does not travel to the Ginger Man for a one-flavor experience. This pub with wood décor and many taps behind the bar boasts 70-some brands of brew coursing from said spigots, as well as about a hunnerd different types of bottled beverages. Next time, we're going to be responsible Ginger Man-goers and order at least 13 types of beer on our way to an evening of overbelching and yelling, "Beer ye, beer ye!" from some dark corner of this lovely establishment. And, sure, designated driver, we'll call a cab, yada yada.

Best Place to See a Piece of Dallas' Musical History and/or Contribute to the Local Homeless Economy

508 Park Ave.

At 508 Park Ave., there is a building that (on June 19 and 20 in 1937) housed a recording session by legendary Delta bluesman Robert Johnson, one of just two occasions he ever had his music recorded in his abbreviated career. At the moment, the building is abandoned, though it was once home to the Brunswick Records' warehouse, as well as the office of Don Law, who produced Johnson and many others during his storied career. Directly across the street from the building is The Stew Pot, a church-run kitchen for the homeless, and the main reason 508 Park doesn't have a plaque or anything that commemorates Johnson's stay there. Check it out before the entire block is razed to make room for lofts or something like that, but make sure you empty your pockets first. If you think it's hard getting away from 7-Eleven with some spare change, just try doing that here.

Take it from someone who has shot 21-under on Buckhorn: This is the best place in town to Tee it up. (For those who don't know, Golden Tee is the No. 1 bar game in the country; it's that arcade golf game with the big round ball you see guys smashing as hard as their beer-addled brains will allow.) Granted, some sports bars have more GT machines, but Golden Tee isn't about high numbers. It's about lowest score, best environment and assorted other criteria we just made up. The three GT machines at Frankie's are separated from the bar and most of the diners who would rather nosh on the tasty fare provided (including a top-notch club sandwich and the biggest-ass baked potato you've ever seen) than listen to people yell about misjudged A-1 shots. As well, the Golden Tee dorks can congregate away from normal people when they imitate the game's announcers. ("Get up, get up, get up, get there!") Now, maybe Frankie's will help us market the Golden Tee bumper sticker we want to produce: "My son is Golfer 3, and he has honors!"

Barley House

Great jukebox, even better shows, and if you want to talk to a local musician, just tap the guy next to you on the shoulder. OK, maybe it would be more accurate to call this the Best Roots Rock Bar, but let's not split hairs. Rock is rock is rock, and the Barley House has more than a quarry. Stop by on a Sunday night when Deathray Davies offshoot I Love Math is onstage and members of Slobberbone, Chomsky, the Old 97's, Slowride, Sorta, Sparrows and a dozen other bands are knocking back a few cold ones around the bar.

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