Stuffed Shirts vs Thin Skins

Over the weekend, folks at the Dallas Morning News had their knickers in a bunch thanks to a New York Times travel piece about this city.

Granted, author Luisita Lopez Torregrosa put together a couple of suspect statements (see today's Food For Thought for one example). Her belief that "there are still men's clubs, honky-tonks and jukebox joints in Dallas, but the city's night life has gotten decidedly sleeker and flashier, with velvet-roped discos and bottle-service lounges" seems four or five years late--and a curious assessment, as she recommended Purgatory in a similar 2005 story...without the snide 'jukebox joints' comment.

But hey, she's a New Yorker. Another from her city visited Dallas looking for supermarket wine for a 2004 Food & Wine article. "I'd never been to Dallas before," noted Lettie Teague, who asked around before her trip and learned "to expect men in cowboy hats and women with very tall hair." During a stop at Kroger on Mockingbird, she waited as the wine steward dealt with "a man in a cowboy hat with two jugs of Cavit Pinot Grigio and two bottles of Dr. Pepper."

Funny, through six years in Dallas, I've never bumped into shoppers, bar patrons or restaurant guests decked out Ewing-style. But that's just me. Presumably she found the only day laborer (the only locals who need and wear cowboy hats) in the city fond of chugging cheap Italian-style wine after work.

Really, though, it's not that easy to get the gist of any city in one visit. If you ask any Dallas resident to point out three or four 'must visit' venues there's no guarantee the suggestions would hit any closer to the mythical bullseye. In a 2005 brief for Esquire, Adam McGill of D Magazine urged subscribers to drop by Primo's and the Loon. "Meat eaters," he added, "get their fill at steak house III Forks."

Nothing wrong with McGill's suggestions; they were honest from his perspective--although one suspects sophisticates taking this advice would be struck by the mediocrity of Primo's and dingy gloom dominating the Loon, without catching on to whatever charm regulars find in both spaces. In addition, many locals would argue in favor of Bob's or Pappas Bros. over III Forks. My choices (and probably yours) would differ dramatically.

But that doesn't imply mine (or yours) would be more accurate for a diverse audience. At least the New York Times writer nailed some of the selections. The paper employs a stringer in Europe who--unbeknownst to the Times--is notorious for granting restaurants and clubs the favor of a mention in exchange for free meals, and that doesn't seem to be the case here.

Not sure there's a lesson in all this, but for McGill's three-plus year old observation that "Dallas is like a tagalong kid, trying to go stride for stride with New York, L.A. and Chicago."

Yes, travel writers should be held to greater standards of research and put together stories with a more subtle understanding of the local timeline. But why care what outsiders think about the state of this city?

The city supports great restaurants, modest ones and many that rank amongst the woeful--just like everywhere else.

Time to stop being defensive about our status as a city.

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