And, as if on cue, they pull up to the red carpet, the mouth of the beast. The throng parts to let them exit the car, but descends upon them the moment it pulls away. There is no security, and the velvet rope long ago fell to the ground. Now Howard looks dumbstruck. Delighted too.
Standing among the crowd are two men, Eric Engels and Serge Verlenda, sporting the worst-looking cowboy hats imaginable, the kind with adjustable neck cords. Turns out, they bought them this very afternoon—the kerchiefs around their necks too. The men, in their 40s, look like large children playing Halloween dress-up.
Both flew in from Belgium for this event. It was Engels' idea. He's the one who's been watching Dallas since it debuted in 1978. He was 17 and studying marketing at university in Antwerp, where, in his dorm room, he constantly blared the theme song from Dallas, which, 30 years later, is his cell phone's ring tone. Engels brought his friend "in case he faints," says Verlenda, only sort of joking.
"When I was young, I was so obsessed about it because of the scenes and the beautiful people," Engels says. "When I was in school, everyone talked about Dallas. I was so obsessed about it, and I don't know why. It was so exciting. I loved the scenes. It was rich people. My love went especially to Sue Ellen. She was a wonderful lady, how she could...oh, that J.R. And at the end of the series, she becomes owner of Ewing Oil. It's great."
Engels did not buy the $1,000 VIP package, so there will be no disappointments: His table's way in the back, he doesn't want to drink or take pictures with the cast, he doesn't need to hear the cast share anecdotes. He's simply happy to be on the property, to have his boots planted on the same Southfork soil as Hagman, Gray, Duffy and the others.
Every year, Engels hosts a "Ewing barbecue," as he calls it, where old friends from college bring their children, to whom he recounts the story of Dallas as though it were Greek mythology.
"Everyone is dressed up little bit like Texan with the cowboy hats," he says. "We've known each other long time. And the children say, 'Ewing? Dallas? What's that?' And I explain, because I was so obsessed about it."
The hours begin to pass, and the crowd begins to grow. It's hard to tell why, precisely—whether it's because of the interlopers, which Hardison insists were there and the Collin County Constable's Office dismisses, or whether it's because lax security has allowed the cheap-seat audience into the VIP sections. It's chaos, absolutely, but also thrilling for folks like Engels and hundreds of others who came to Southfork expecting a distant glimpse of their heroes but wound up smashed together with them and the other idol worshippers who'd come to the ranch for one last round-up.
There's a Q&A that lasts 30 minutes, which quickly degenerates into folks asking detailed questions about episodes—very William Shatner on Saturday Night Live, only no one barks, "Get a life!" A man proposes to his girlfriend, who gladly accepts, even though her boyfriend is "no Patrick Duffy." A woman in a wheelchair is brought to the front for a hug. And, according to the message boards, someone asked Hagman how much a new liver costs.
And though not everyone in the audience receives what they are promised, not by a long shot, the casts sticks around till well past midnight; Duffy, Hagman, Gray and Crosby even show for a sparsely attended press conference, which consists mainly of savvy fans who simply strolled into a separate conference room called Ewing II. "Don't you people have families to get home to?" asks Duffy, who, like the rest of his cast mates, remains oblivious to the chaos.
Of all the cast members, Duffy is perhaps the most thoughtful when it comes to the show's lasting success and influence. Maybe it's because he's a Buddhist—has been since the '70s, matter of fact. Dude likes to reflect. Because late into the night, while he's desperate to grab a quick bite of leftover barbecue and duck into the bathroom, Duffy's more than happy to stand still and consider, for as long as it takes, why Dallas mattered then and why, just maybe, it means something now.
"Well, interestingly enough, it means more to me on a night like this after the election we just went through," he says. "As controversial at the time as some of our story lines were, they allowed the international audience to become enamored of us in a positive way. They fell in love with the concept of Americana. It hasn't been so for the last few years, and I find it interesting that the one thing that has transcended the last eight years—oh, did I say the last eight years?—is people still love Dallas, so there is a germ of Americana that is still attractive to people. That's what I find refreshing: that we can go anywhere in the world, and no matter how negative the momentary opinion of our country might be by virtue of what we have done, they still react to the possibility of what this country could be even in something as trivial as a television show.