COMMENTARY Tales from a Boomerang

To one former Texan who has finally returned, Dallas is better than ever.

I GUESS YOU COULD CALL ME A BOOM-erang-one of those boomers who moved away and came back. Although I’m not officially a newcomer, I’ve still had to adjust to Dallas. The city in the last five years has changed a lot in some ways, and in others,it hasn’t changed at all. Dallas still has wonderful people, the sense of entre-preneurship that is fueling its high-tech growth, and-of course-great Tex-Mex. (Once a Texan, do you ever lose the craving for an enchilada?)

Driving across the state line. I was greeted by a blanket of bluebonnets that instantly said “home.” I thought maybe Texas hospitality had outdone itself when I started seeing my name and middle initial on “George W.” bumper stickers everywhere, until 1 remembered that someone with (he same moniker is trying to leave Texas for Washington. D.C. 1 guess no one told him there is no Blue Bell up there. If he goes, he’ll be back.

Rediscovering Dallas has been its own adventure. First, they actually finished North Central Expressway. And although it’s not the Chicago eh the Dart train to downtown is up and running, while I still see ’’buses for one” pretending to be mass transit. And if 1 thought the speeds on Dallas’ autobahn, the Tollway. were fast before, 70 now seems slow, as people driving SUVs with one hand on the wheel and the other wrapped around a Starbucks latte are now cruising about 90 mph.

The Tollway is a handy thing when you have lots of newcomer errands to run. One errand recently took me to Piano, where I thought I had discovered either a new sports arena or the headquarters of the biggest dot.com that ever IPO’d. Guess again- it’s the new Prestonwood Baptist Church, proving again that if you build it, they will come. In fact, the more I drove around, the more new churches I saw-a good thing. because we need to pray for those soon-to-be- departed souls on the Toll way.

Of course, pari of the fun of relocation is dealing with the basics of getting gas, electric, phone, cable, and other necessities. Things have changed there, too. My real estate agent gave me a handy list of all the phone numbers I would need, so I started with getting the juice turned on-no problem. Then I tried the gas company-at least there was one when I left. 1 called the number on my list-no answer, I called directory assistance for another number. Still no answer. (How can that be in the middle of a normal business day?) So 1 called the electric company, hoping they would know. The conversation went something like this:

“Hello. 1 called a while ago for electric service and now I can’t seem to connect to the gas company. Do you have their number?”

“This is the gas company.”

“It is? I thought it was the electric company.”

“We merged. We are now TXU.”

“1 thought that was a university. Anyway, why didn’t someone offer to help me with gas when 1 called for my electric service to avoid all this confusion?”

“I’m sorry, sir. We’re not all cross-trained here.”

“Well, why don’t you at least put a recording on the old telephone number-the one directory service still gives out-and give people your new number?”

“I’m aware of that problem, sir, and while thai would be convenient, those decisions are made higher up.”

Resisting the temptation to explain crossmarketing and customer service. I sighed and placed my order. I had to move on and get cable service, so I reached out for TCI, only to find that AT&T had reached out for them and was now the cable operator. If I thought some voice mail menus had a lot of options, I was absolutely daunted by the channel options on cable, offering everything from basic to enhanced basic to something called. 1 think. “Digital Gold.” Feeling somewhat diminished by the fact 1 was not yet a member of the HDTV set, I went through my own version of a scene from Five Easy Pieces trying to customize my own package. I’m still not sure what they are coming to install or where, but I think 1 get a chicken salad sandwich with it.

With electric, gas. and cable complete. I tried to set up phone service (at least it’s still Southwestern Bell), but even this once-simple task is now as complicated as a Chinese menu. And I’m still trying to get used to 10-digit dialing. You know you’ve messed up when you get that annoying recording, “I’m sorry, you must first dial an area code.” I’m certain that one of these days, they’ll change the recording to, “You idiot, haven’t you learned?”

If there’s one thing a new or returning Dallasite will learn it’s that Dallas is one of the hottest home-building markets in the country, and whether you bought a new or existing home, sooner or later you’ll need a contractor or a repairman for something. Enjoy the wait, because they are busy, busy, busy. And the best are always busiest. If they can be there within a week, be wary.

One of the benefits of being a boomerang is that you can appreciate some of the things that make a great city even better. The area around White Rock Lake never looked so good. The symphony has really come into its own, and they play in one of the most intimate and acoustically wonderful halls you will ever hear. World-class medical facilities abound, with some of the best specialists in the country. The water here is now so good, some call it “tapier.” A great network of north-south and east-west arteries and expressways can zip you around town faster than any city this size. Empty-nesters, Gen-Xers, and dot.comers are moving back to downtown and revitalizing the entire fabric of the core city and the surrounding area, making it the “cool” place to be in a market that’s hot and getting hotter.

For a boomerang, Dallas is old and it’s new. And it’s better.

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