Asphalt Barriers

Recently there appeared on the pages of dallasfood.org a discussion of the city's confined culinary geography. Some people, as you all know, rarely deign to travel outside the loop because enough exists within the circular strip of asphalt to satisfy their needs. Quite a few, however, go a little further, condemning the space outside the loop as a soulless wasteland.

We've all probably encountered this. Years ago a man sitting beside me at The Old Monk bemoaned the absence of a true British-style pub in Dallas. "There's The Londoner," I told him.

"That's north of 635," he complained.

"Yeah, a 15-minute drive," I said.

Fifteen minutes is nothing. Traffic uncertainties aside, it takes the same amount of time to traverse Uptown, to drive from The Old Monk, say, to The Idle Rich. Yet he refused to make that effort, even for the one thing he most wanted--pub-wise at least.

It's an interesting phenomenon, but not an unusual one. Urban provincialism exists in just about every city around the world. Self-defined boundaries build around entertainment hot spots, the assembly of a homogeneous group of people--similar wealth binds Highland Park residents, for instance--or some other local feature. Eventually, those on the inside of such bounds deem everything outside undesirable in one way or another.

Presumably there's a part of human nature that must denigrate others to feel good about itself. So we yell "we're number one" when those we identify with win the Big Dance or invade small countries or something. In the same manner, people scoff at suburban life under the assumption that their patch of Uptown real estate is artsy, independent, free-thinking or whatever--and therefore better by comparison.

The suburbs, after all, are just a haven of dull sameness, right? Back in the 80s, some college students--particularly those in the east--rebelled against the supposed yuppie homogeneity of Reagan-era campus life and began to assert their individualism...by all wearing black. Several years ago, just about every guy left his shirttail to dangle before entering Uptown bars. Fashion coordination helped identify you as part of the right crowd, after all.

And as a unique individual--unlike those sycophants in business 101 or those dullards in Plano.

Now, many of these very same people who scorn anything outside their narrow spit of land understand that travel expands world view. Think about what people on either coast say about America's "flyover states," for example. Shortly after the Democratic convention, a woman from San Francisco told me "Middle America" would never elect Obama. Where the hell did she think he came from? San Jose? While the liberal, open-minded white folk of Boston fought against the busing of minority students into their schools way back when, they crowed about racism in the south. Expanding world view should probably begin on a local level.

I'm not going to delineate the features, good and bad, of any part of DFW. My work forces me to bounce from Garland to Uptown to Addison to One Arts Plaza to wherever. I don't have a choice in the matter. And I see dull strips everywhere, as well as cool little venues.

Provincialism is, however, a form of ignorance...and of vanity, for that matter. There is a section of Prague known as Vinohrady where many expats cluster in flats constructed, oh, long about the 1890s. Quite a bit younger than many midwestern town squares, in other words. The same dynamic works over there: all those British and American residents of Vinohrady feel they are living a true Prague experience by huddling together, unlike people residing in the older part of town--the one also crowded with tourists (and you have to say the word "tourist" with a tone of complete and utter disdain).

Of course, many of the best restaurants and most interesting pubs are outside of Vinohrady. But there's enough in that part of town to take care of every necessity, so...

Dallasfood.org is one of the few venues where people launch into lengthy, interesting tirades on such subjects. I'm glad someone brought it up. Gave me a bit of inspiration for my own Monday rant, at least.

There's a valid reason for those inside the loop (and inside the bubble) to steer clear of suburban haunts, and it has to do with the availability of bars and restaurants and whatever else one needs. If there's a suitable option close by, why drive elsewhere after a busy day?

But to refuse because, in one's own mind, there's nothing unique or worthwhile out there in "Oklahoma"? Well, that's provincialism at its finest.

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