Fowled Out

If Oak Cliff were its own state, the rooster might be its state bird. That, or the finger, extended with pride and pointed north across the Trinity River, where like-minded creatures phone one another on Nokias as they tear across a concrete landscape in their Lexus RX 300s.

At least that's the vision of North Dallas being served up inside the Oak Cliff Coffee House, where, contrary to popular belief, cappuccino, latte, and other froufrou bean drinks are readily available to Oak Cliff residents--proles though they may be. The specialty there is the Race Horse, five shots of espresso in a 16-ounce cup.

The coffeehouse is situated between Amanda's beauty salon and a law office, at the intersection of Bishop and Davis streets in North Oak Cliff. Across the road, old men hawk Selena tapes and Tommy Hilfiger shirts in front of Bob's Market, which used to be a Piggly Wiggly back in the old days.

Inside the coffeehouse, psychedelic paintings hang on the walls--compelling evidence of the neighborhood's unpublicized reputation as a haven for artists. On this Tuesday afternoon, four regulars, including the owner, are bellied up to the coffee bar; their eyes are locked on a television that depicts the unimaginable: Pipe bombs are exploding while high school kids run for their lives in suburban Colorado. "And people think the inner city is dangerous," someone mumbles.

The irony of the live footage isn't lost on these Cliff Dwellers, who view the Denver disaster as proof that the mandatory orderliness of suburban living breeds neurosis. Which is why, of course, they choose to live in Oak Cliff, and which is also why they are strong defenders of the rooster--an old neighbor who, as far as they know, has never been the subject of much controversy.

Until now.
All resident roosters, except those being held in scientific labs or in meat-packing plants, have until midnight on August 1, 1999, to get out of town under a new city ordinance created by Dallas City Councilwoman Laura Miller and approved by her colleagues late last month. These politicians determined that the rooster is a farm animal that doesn't belong in the city and that its constant crowing is a public nuisance. But the rooster is valued differently in many parts of Oak Cliff. To many Cliff Dwellers, the rooster is a proud symbol of their continuing resistance to the occupation of Oak Cliff by their neighbors to the north.

"What's she planning on doing with all these roosters anyway?" asks Morris, a permanent fixture at the coffee bar who is cracking wise about his 'hood.

"They're going to make some rooster concentration camps," says Adam, a chain-smoking Buddhist who works there.

Dalton, a local attorney, thinks the whole thing smacks of cultural elitism. "The problem," he says, "is the rooster is standing in front of houses that look like shit. You put that same rooster in front of a million-dollar house, and he looks great. Hell, I'd look great in front of a million-dollar house."

Dalton laughs at his joke, and in a second the whole place is howling. The laughter quickly subsides, though, as the image of a cock-free Oak Cliff forms in their minds.

Their reaction to the rooster ban, now being repeated by many in diners and over fences throughout Oak Cliff, goes something like this: confusion followed by sarcasm, which segues into oral pondering about whether the councilwoman hasn't anything better to do, and ends with a windy condemnation of City Hall employees who either meddle with Oak Cliff or ignore it altogether.

To the patrons of the coffeehouse, the rooster exile clearly constitutes meddling and spawns new fears that Oak Cliff is about to become another dangerously homogeneous area that's all too typical of Dallas' northern suburbs. What Cliffites love to crow about is their community's wacky diversity, a heritage of individuality stemming from its Utopian beginnings as a colony of socialists. Of course there are those who blame this same diversity for all the neighborhood's ills: crime, lax code enforcement, gross neglect by the city's business community and power structure.

But at least to this coffee crowd, Plano and other cookie-cutter 'burbs are considered a purgatory of tract mansions where paranoid gringos hole up behind locked gates while their kids pass the time snorting silver spoonfuls of chiva.

"None of our roosters," Morris notes, "have OD'd on heroin."
Controversy over the rooster is by no means a new phenomenon in Dallas, where some residents have complained for years that the fowl's incessant crowing keeps them awake and destroys their quality of life. The bird has survived previous calls for its banishment; it wasn't until Miller pushed the issue to the top of her political agenda that its urban fate was finally sealed.