It's been nearly 28 years since the 1979 incident that put the State Fair's Swiss Sky Ride out of action, killing one and injuring 17. Before that, the ride had been one of the Fair's top attractions, shuttling passengers back and forth across the Midway and providing a bird's-eye view of the neon-lit festivities. This year the fair will reopen a new version of the ride—renamed the Texas Skyway; the cable system of 34 gondolas comes complete with the latest and greatest safety features afforded by modern technology. It also marks the first permanent addition to the Midway since the opening of the Texas Star, and it's about time—we've been waiting more than 20 years for something else to challenge our fear of heights. So keep an eye out for us up there—we'll be the ones hyperventilating with our eyes closed.
We could hardly believe our eyes when we saw that Magnetic Field/Gothic Archie/indie-pop genius Stephin Merritt was accompanying one Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, on an October 2006 book tour promoting the final installment in the Snicket saga. And when we saw the tour was stopping not in Dallas proper, but in Frisco and Waxahachie, we were truly beside ourselves. Heartbroken. Despondent. How in the world could the young, lily-white suburbanites truly appreciate the man who brought us 69 Love Songs? But the little bastards really seem to like a ukulele tune, and that Snicket fella is damned entertaining. We could've done with a few more songs from Stephin, but seriously, we'd welcome back Handler anytime too. Hey, Harry Potter nerds, does your precious wizard hero have a sweet indie rock soundtrack? We didn't think so.
Contemporary Theatre of Dallas
When the curtain first went up at this church-turned-playhouse off Lower Greenville six years ago, some were quick to sneer that it was merely a vanity project for owner, founder and resident leading lady Sue Loncar. But it didn't take long for audiences and critics to start appreciating CTD for doing something other Dallas theaters don't: Making sure everybody, onstage and off, has a good time. Loncar still loses money on most of her shows, which rival WaterTower and Dallas Theater Center for dollars spent on talent, sets and costumes. But then she comes up with a mass appeal hit like Best Little Whorehouse or Last Night of Ballyhoo and proves once again that giving theatergoers what they want (including booze at intermish) isn't a bad way to do showbiz. Along the way, Loncar's also become a strong actress in her own right, earning her best notices for the title role in this season's poignant Preston Jones comedy, Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander. CTD's rep as an important regional theater is growing too, and for all of Loncar's devotion to soft-sell plays, she's not entirely immune to art. Along with an annual revival of Ballyhoo (one of Loncar's all-time favorites to star in), the 2007-'08 season will feature A Streetcar Named Desire.
Actors love working with him and die-hard theatergoers know that when René Moreno is directing, chances are the results will be intensely entertaining. Comedies, dramas, musicals—the guy has a deft touch with every genre. This past season saw him helming Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Addison's WaterTower Theatre and Preston Jones' Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas—two plays as different as caviar and banana puddin'. What's his secret for getting the best results from his casts? "He's not a one-size-fits-all type of director," says James Crawford, who starred in Moreno's production of Woolf. "He understands that not every play needs to be directed the same way. I trust his eye. Sometimes actors are afraid they'll look stupid when they do something onstage. But with René, you take more risks because you know he'll always make you look great." This season Moreno will take a big risk in his career, moving back to the acting arena to play the lead in Kitchen Dog's January production of Shakespeare's Richard III. Winter of our discontent theater-wise? Not with Moreno's penchant for perfection.
DFW International Airport
Why not make the best tourist attraction the first tourist attraction by creating an airport terminal as alluring as any strip mall the city has to offer? The distant traveler and welcome-home resident will find among their selections here top-notch eateries (Blue Mesa Taco Tequila Bar, Reata Grill and Cantina Laredo, for starters), sweet distractions (one of the few Ben & Jerry's you'll find in the area, a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory) and yer-kiddin'-me shops (a Brooks Brothers?). It's accessible to any DFW flier via the way-fun SkyLink "high speed" train (that self-proclaimed "high speed" is intended as ironic, surely) and as we were reminded last week during an early-morning flight Terminal D's Smoothie King bests any local Jamba Juice. (And if we'd wanted an Einstein's bagel, well, we could've gotten that too.) They say the terminal's icky-sterile and phony-fancy, what with the Nasheriffic sculptures. We say feh to that, because why not welcome and adios your tourist with what Dallas does best: a huge mall planted in the middle of nowhere?
Reading the news ain't easy. Just ask Katie Couric. Good thing the local CBS affiliate has the master news reader behind the desk, at least until July 2008 when Tracy Rowlett is due to retire. Unlike Couric, Rowlett can read a TelePrompTer without looking like a nervous hostage. He's more than an empty suit with a handsome mug, having earned more than 100 journalism awards, including two DuPont-Columbia awards (considered the Pulitzer Prize for broadcast journalism). Sure, he can get serious, but his delivery always comes across as warm and genuine. In short, he's the kind of guy you don't mind spending a half-hour with, even when he's giving us bad news. That's why we're going to miss him.
We've romanced other newscasts in the past. KTVT-Channel 11 has had some strong reporting in recent years. But we have to come back to News 8 at 10 for four reasons (in alphabetical order): Harris, Heinbaugh, Reaves and Shipp. Everybody in the market, news professionals and viewers alike, all need to bend a knee and say thank you to the otherwise cruel and butt-headed gods of media that somebody had the sense to keep four solid hands on the staff at 8 (actually, make that three, now that Heinbaugh has decamped for City Hall to work for Mayor Tom Leppert). Any given day, Channel 8 is way ahead of the city's only daily paper on local news, breaking or investigative. News 8 not only gives the lie to the notion that TV news is fluffier than print, but we also find it very interesting that 8, owned by the same company that owns the News, wriggles out from under the Death Star and tells the truth more often. A big reason for that is the presence of mature staff reporters. Of course, now that we have gone and blabbed about it, they're doomed.
Murray Street Coffee Shop
As we write this, we know some colleague is hunched over a laptop somewhere, pounding out words of deathless prose about the Best Coffee Shop in Dallas. We can only hope Murray Street Coffee has been chosen, but if it hasn't, the lovely little spot at Main and Murray streets needs at least a little cred for its mellow Wednesday night groove, complete with a DJ who rolls from experimental post-rock to deep reggae cuts—on vinyl, usually—whilst you sip your latte, Stella or mimosa. The sounds strike a perfect balance between background music and primary entertainment, as the mix snakes its way down the cute stairwell to the second floor, winding its way around your mod Plexiglas table and the pillows of the comfy vintage couch that holds your derriere. The owners of Murray Street are music heads, so there will always be something good on the sound system, but Wednesday nights are a special affair.
Want to show someone the Trinity River, up close and personal? Just take them over the bridge on Sylvan Avenue, where the river flows leisurely mere feet below the road (or sometimes a few feet above the road, as it did in July), the Dallas skyline looming clear and unobstructed before you. There's even a place to pull over so you can take in the view, watch a pick-up soccer game, marvel at the egrets and hawks as they fly overhead and have a serious talk about what a shame it would be to see it all mussed up with a goddamn toll road.
Galleries located on small-town squares usually aren't exactly on the cutting edge of the art world. But in Waxahachie there's a rare jewel that doesn't traffic in bluebonnet photos and Thomas Kinkade prints. Since 1987, the Webb Gallery has been a haven for killer oddball stuff, a fitting description for the outsider art and folk detritus that adorns every available space in the 10,000-square-foot building off the Waxahachie square. Whether it's old carnival banners, a collection of creepy Masonic masks or a cubist painting of a country singer, you're sure to find something that will catch your eye and remind you how wonderfully weird the people of Texas can be.

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