The Year of Living Boringly

Let's do this. Let's not talk about all the big things that happened at City Hall in 2002. To be honest, there weren't any. Nothing happened. As usual. So what about this? Why don't we talk about what should have happened?

Let's say, for example, that a strange green gas settled over the city one late night in January 2002, and the following morning the green mists dissipated and Dallas woke up suddenly extremely cool. The people who run downtown got on the phone right away: "Now that we are cool, we can see that everything we have been doing in Dallas has been so uncool and so boring that we have been strangling the life out of the city. We've got to completely change directions."

The first thing on the agenda was to call off the campaign to move the homeless people out of downtown and instead devote major energy and resources to banning families with young children. Dressed in his new loose-fitting, all-black, shaved-head sexy-beast look, Robert Decherd, CEO of the Belo Corp., explained his vision for downtown: "It is a well-known fact that young children from age zero to 12 are extremely boring to everyone but their parents. These small people cause what sociologists call a Collateral Boring Effect. Wherever young children are present, adults are not free to behave as adults but must behave instead as if guests on a religion-oriented children's television program.

"It's because of this emphasis on making Dallas a PG-13 city that nobody wants to come here. We see the error of our ways, and we believe a radical change of course is urgently needed.

"Therefore with great pride we are announcing a new promotional campaign at Belo that we will call 'Family Last.' Like our old campaign, 'Family First,' this new effort will be aimed at sucking up to our audience, but in a much less patronizing way. Over the months ahead, Belo staffers at Channel 8 and The Dallas Morning News will offer tips and advice on how to ditch your family once in a while and have some real fun for a change.

"We will cover everything from stashing clothes in a health club locker to stashing cash in a secret account--everything you need to know in order to put fun first and family last! Eventually we hope to make Dallas the sort of city of which the mere mention will arouse lurid impulses from Bozeman, Montana, to Detroit, Michigan."

All right, throw a cold bucket of water on me, will somebody? That was never going to happen. I know that. But I think you catch my drift here. Dallas keeps trying to become cool, and it is cool in certain venues--Deep Ellum and Uptown, definitely Lower Greenville, possibly Bishop Arts if they ever get serious booze, McKinney Avenue if you pick and choose, other pockets I'm not thinking of. But the heart and core of the city--downtown--is cryogenically frozen because it is in the clutches of the blue-suit roll-up-the-sidewalks family-values types. If something great had happened in 2002, it would have had to do with changing that basic fact.

Take this whole deal with David Whitney, president of the convention center, and Chris Luna, chairman of the convention center board of directors. They both took pretty ferocious drubbings at the end of the year when it was revealed that the convention center has close ties to the city's naked bars.

I mean no disrespect whatsoever for the fine reporting done by WFAA-Channel 8 on various contracting and expense-account peccadilloes at the convention center. I speak as a licensed peccadillo hunter myself. In season--especially during sweeps week or shortly before a major circulation audit--any peccadillo is fair game for a clean shoot.

But if something really cool had happened to Dallas last year, Whitney and Luna, after they'd cleared up their contracting issues, would have been awarded the municipal equivalent of the Legion of Honor for their determined efforts to help Dallas shed its image as a Baptist concentration camp.

What do we think people think about when they're thinking about where to hold their conventions? "Ah yes, Dallas. Sure, we could hold our annual hardware wholesalers association convention there. On the other hand, we could just as easily offer a week-long retreat at Bob Jones University. We could call it 'Hardware Promise Keepers.' It just depends on how huge a failure we want our annual event to be."

People go to conventions, especially people older than 25, to get away from their families. They flee out the door wiping baby goo from their lapels, dreaming of whiskey, loud music and peccadilloes. That's the point. Can you imagine what kind of challenge those guys at the convention center must have persuading potential clients that Dallas can be a fun place? They've got to come up with a different naked bar for each subset--the men, the women, the straights, the gays, the seniors--because what else have we got?

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze