EVERY FEW YEARS I LIKE TO TAKE ONE OF those guided tours of Dallas so I can look at the city through the eyes of visitors. Because we’ve been preparing D Magazines CityGuide to Dallas/Fort Worth, a monthly visitors’ guide that debuts in this issue, it seemed like a good time to play tourist again. So on a bluster}’ March morning I joined 24 guests from Japan, the Philippines, France, and a half-dozen American cities for a three-hour tour of Dealey Plaza, the Farmer’s Market, Old City Park, Fair Park, and other points of interest. Along the way, I heard plenty that I hadn’t known before. Did you know, for instance…
that during the summers, the Shakespeare Festival performs at the Fair Park band shell?
that nobody lives in downtown Dallas?
that Dallas still draws some of its drinking water from White Rock Lake?
Don’t worry if you didn’t know these things, because they’re not true. As we bounced along, I was probably the only one on the bus who knew that, forsooth, the Shakespeare Festival departed Fair Park for its Samuell-Grand home back in 1989; that people have been living happily in the Manor House on Commerce since 1965, to say nothing of the many loft-dwelling pioneers who now perch downtown; and that Dallas drew its last sip of drinking water from White Rock back in the drought-plagued ’50s.
Now, I don’t want to nit-pick. Few non-historians know that Dallas County (but not the city) was named after George Mifflin ( not “Laughlin”} Dallas, vice-president of the United States under President James K. Polk, and I wouldn’t know it either if I hadn’t worked on a PBS documentary about Dallas and Fort Worth a couple of years ago. Our tour guide-who sported a Stetson, a huge, engraved belt buckle, and shiny boots like all of us wear here in Big Ol’ D-was a nice guy with a genuine enthusiasm for telling us what his supervisors had told him. Still, if his spiel is par for the course, I couldn’t help but wonder how many visitors have taken a flawed history back home with them.
Two more points: Having now played tourist three times in eight years, I have yet to hear a tour guide mention a Dallas mayor or explain how highways like R.L. Thornton and Woodall Rogers got their names. The guides usually point out the J. Erik Jonsson Library downtown, but never tell why Jonsson so richly deserved to have a major building named after him. Even when we chugged by the Meyerson Symphony Center, our driver said nothing about Dallas’ once (and future?) presidential candidate Ross Perot, who gave millions to get the project rolling on the condition that it be named after his friend and colleague, Mort Meyerson. It’s enough to make you think politicians are not very important.
Finally, home-grown skeptics will continue to debate the historical authenticity of Pioneer Plaza, but out-of-towners love it. Nouthing we saw on the tour-not even the Highland Park mansion where (did you know?) Tom Cruise lives when he’s in Dallas-caused the gasps and grins evoked by the Herd on the Street. As two Filipino boys struck rodeo poses atop one of the long-horns, their smiles said this was the Real Dallas for them.
YOU SEE A LOT IN THIS BUSINESS, BUT THE Joseph Chavis story is enough to make you blink and realize you haven’t seen it all. Why does a bright, young attorney on the fast track, the pride of his family, rob a bank down the street from the very law school that sent him forth to conquer the world? Senior editor Glenna Whitley landed the first interview with Chavis-beating out “60 Minutes” and The New
York Times-and talked with him about race, ambition, and guilt. Longtime readers will recall Whitley’s stories on Sandra (The Black Widow) Bridewell, the swindling of artist Dmitri Vail, and the strange murder of psychiatrist Jill Bounds, among many others. “The Lawyer Who Robbed a Bank ” starts on page 40.