In the romantic-comedy of your life, you'd look to the camera during your DVD commentary interview and say, "It's a story about finding love in unexpected places." And then you'd say something like, "Really, the third character is the city. It's about the places we run into each other."
But cliches are generally founded on some implicit truth. Dallas personified is the welcome tagalong on your Valentine's Day -- on all your days, really. I won't bore you with all of the options available for romantics and singletons alike on this Friday-landing holiday, but there is food and there are hotels with Champagne turndowns. There is delicious candy and office deliveries of singing telegrams.
But do your most beloved memories ever really begin, "Well, it all started with a prix fixe menu; I could choose seafood or steak"? Or does this city have something more enchanting to offer?
My first kiss was underneath the Body Flumes at the Garland Wet 'n Wild. The boy was called Chris, because all the boys seemed to be called Chris. He had a blue pager and a skateboard and insisted he was the only person who didn't like Green Day. This should have been a red flag. I have never preferred a snob. Under those slides, there was a collection of tables and potted trees, like a weird, dark, tween forest hidden within the park. The kids who smoked cigarettes would hang out close to the fence so they could toss them outside the perimeter of the park if a security guard strolled through. The kids who just watched the kids smoke would collect on and around the tables. These skateboarders were the only ones in the park who were fully dressed and I guess we didn't find that odd. Water dripped down from the slide on us, his skateboard kicked around at our ankles, we stopped and he skated off. That forest isn't there anymore, but other hidden places remain and invite us into new explorations.
West of the Dallas skyline, I did some time in Fort Worth. There was a very particular parking garage I was fond of parking at. The levels are named for animals and there are adorable illustrations to help you remember your location. But if you kept going up, all the way to the top, there was an alcove and a beautiful view of the city and security never bothered you about loitering for some reason. I found it by accident, but often I would find myself up there when I needed to relax or get away in this landlocked place. Some college milestone had brought all of my childhood best friends out to visit me and we ended up on that roof, until very late if memory serves. And drinking cheap Champagne and bad wine straight from the bottle, I am sure. The starkest part of the memory is how windy it was, how our blanket kept flipping up. I remember how it felt like despite knowing each other so well, we still had a million things to discuss and a million jokes to laugh at. I have a photo of the four of us on the top of that garage, holding hands. It took us a long time to take it -- only one of us knew how to use the self-timer.
Back in Dallas, barely of legal drinking age, a close friend was the first of us to get a loft apartment. We had all seen enough movies to know this is how we knew we'd made it. Or how Ray had made it, anyway. So many parties. So many nooks and corners of the Southside on Lamar building to find trouble and strangers and friends. Leaning out of windows, we'd yell to neighbors the apartment number of our festivities. Crushes were admitted on rooftops, frequently accidentally. Gallery shows were taken over. It was the kind of setting where you'd discover you had mutual friends. Your groups would intersect. You'd form new groups. We were all sort of forming, I guess. Unlatching and attaching to new people places.
Years later after all that forming, I would have a bad day. That became a bad month and then a year. I didn't recognize the city as a person around me anymore and I couldn't afford to escape with weekend vacations or road trips. But I could go to the Belmont Hotel and I didn't even have to tell anyone. And I could eat dinner alone in the bar and stare at the skyline of the city as a person I still loved but from a safe distance. And while I tried to figure it all out I could sip bourbon and play loud music and swim in the giant teacup of a bathtub in a Belmont hotel room.
And the city would keep delivering new places to find people I already loved and new people to love and new places to run into each other.
A few thousand BYOB Mediterranean dinners at G&G's have created the kind of muscle memory that means you are smiling even as you walk in the door. The sound of the locked bar door closing, the bringing out of contraband and cigarettes and drinks with the staff, always feels illicit and exciting. The living rooms filled with late-night tacos always comfort. Holiday parties, meant for people-watching, not people-meeting, reveal a handsome one in a caftan with whom you must take a picture, thanks to your friend. "So many unexpected places," you write in a love letter to Dallas.
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I hate that part of the movie where they call the city the third character in the romance, but I know what they mean. I don't think there is a single thing wrong with your office flower deliveries or your prix fixe dinners but if on Valentine's Day we must think about love in this town, then let's really do it.
Whether it's a city, person or passion not yet pursued, think about what you love and ask it to be yours. Dallas is waiting at your doorstep. With flowers, even.