This last weekend was one of those times when you could take just about any city in the world and keep it if you left me White Rock Lake. The weather was gorgeous. The lake was perfect. Everybody was out there.
When the lake is really hopping, you feel like a brutal fascist son of a bitch just for trying to drive your car in to a parking spot. The hornet-headed Lance Armstrongs are all flying by you from behind on their bicycles made of fused titanium dust; the wide slow walkers are in front of you ("I'm wide, and I'm walkin'"); very small children seem to play tag in and out of your tires; visibility is about zero through the barbecue smoke.
I escaped to the lake Sunday. I had been itching ever since the day before when a friend sent me a picture posted by Urban Fabric photo artist Justin Terveen of his kayak trip that day up White Rock Creek. I talked to Terveen later and established that he had made the picture somewhere up the first bend of the creek to the left just beyond the Mockingbird bridge, in the marshy area where nobody goes. Not only did he find an incredibly beautiful place, but isn't it amazing that you can still explore and find places within the city hardly anybody else knows about?
Clearly that's some of the magic of White Rock. It is a creature of neglect at least as much as it is of the conscious effort required to create and maintain it. White Rock is obviously much more popular and mainstream now than during its long period of decline, but the decline is why some of the cool things like lost corners of the creek are still there and not civilized to death.
I think it also accounts for some of the lake's eccentricity. One of my own favorite eccentric moments at White Rock -- I could watch it a million times and never lose delight -- is when the guy with the amphibious car drives into the water. I have seen it several times. His car is wonderful -- a vaguely Studebaker-looking convertible straight out of a 1950s edition of Popular Mechanics.
I hope I'm not going to muddle any facts here and get myself or somebody else in trouble. I have never spoken with the guy, because I've always been out in a boat watching him launch. I would describe him as a man of mature years but youthful appearance with a bon vivant air I might associate with his having been a bit of player in his time. And he always has at least three passengers with him, different ones every time I think, all of whom I would describe as mature chicks.
One thing is the same every time, though, to the tee. Every time he drives into the water, all of the women scream. He has a quiet smile.
Look, the screaming is a generational thing, OK? Just forget I mentioned it.
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I sailed down the lake looking for the old boathouse, which I could not find coming from the north. I had to get almost down to the power plant at the south end before I spotted it tucked into a bay on the western shore. I tacked in and made my way to within a couple yards of the gleaming white 1930 art deco structure. On my way back out into the lake, two old guys yelled at me angrily to watch their fishing lines. I shouted back, "Reel 'em in!" I always look and make sure people like that don't have a boat before I say stuff. It's why I love the open seas.
I got back to my luxurious 1-percenter yacht club, and an entire naval academy of servants in crisp white uniforms were waiting with gin and tonics on trays, ready to assist me in getting out of sailing togs and into shore clothes. Well, maybe not. It's a little more modest than that. OK, a lot more. White Rock encourages a touch of fantasy in us all.
I sat on the dock over a Dixie cup of water from the cooler and chatted with a woman whose young adult son was launching a homemade sailboat he had built himself over two years. She remarked that no one on either side of the family had ever had any connection with boats, so she didn't quite understand where this one came from. I thought I did, but I said nothing. The line of the bow, the rake of the mast, the high profile at the stern: obviously it was a pirate ship.
As I was driving out of the park to get on Mockingbird west, the guy with the African Queen-style steamboat was headed up the creek, tooting his whistle. I was tempted to roll down my window and shout, "Leeches!" But just ahead of him was a young woman standing on a paddleboard with paddle poised in air, staring into the trees ahead like a perfect blue heron. I left the lake behind in silent awe.