Friday, January 27, 2023 Jan 27, 2023
44° F Dallas, TX

Cattle Baron’s Ball Saved My Life

Dallas' most self-caricaturing event helps an out-of-towner regain her bearings.
By Cristina Daglas |

Let’s start with a hypothetical. You’re a Midwesterner (work with me). You move cross-country, near the ocean, and decide to test the waters. This is gorgeous, you think. What a great decision I’ve made. You dip in your toes. Nice. Ankles, calves, knees—you’re acclimating. Then you’re all in, relishing the beauty, and—boom. Wave. Down for the count. The current’s got you by the bikini strings. Swimsuit gone. Hair a mess. Sand in places it should never go. That was me, metaphorically speaking, and Dallas was the wave. Welcome home. 

It began with a 14-plus-hour road trip from Milwaukee. As my fiancé and I drove through Denton in silence (There was an argument. Again.), he hit a massive, airborne piece of rubber from a semi tire. My car went from emitting that semisporty hum to sounding like a wheezing wind-up toy. A day later, my fiancé flew back to our life. I set up in a hotel and drove a rental Mini Cooper. I would have rather borrowed a 1987 Dodge Caravan. Puttering between pickups, I felt like I was driving a go-kart.

Rather than press submit on the invitation order, I canceled everything.

Then there was work, taking over the editorship of a magazine while the former editor sits directly behind me. (Well, not sits, technically—he has a stand-up desk because he believes everything he reads on the internet.) No pressure, lady. Make decisions, plan the book, lead meetings. About that: would you like to corral Tim Rogers and Zac Crain? You probably don’t know them, but the answer is no, no you would not. There are out-of-context jokes, bizarre hypotheticals, 4:30 pm man dates to The Old Monk. They discuss killing animals with bare hands. They shoot each other with imaginary guns. They argue like an old married couple. Only a crazy out-of-towner would take this on. Oh. Right. 

Greeks believe things happen in threes. I was up to two—car nonsense, work in disarray. Maybe that was it. Two fixable issues. No big deal. Screw superstition, right? Wrong. 

There was an argument. Again. 

“I’m done,” I said. “The wedding is off.”

Rather than press submit on the invitation order, I canceled everything—the cake, flowers, registries. I paid the deposits, informed the guests, apologized profusely, offered refunds on airfare like a customer-service rep.  

I was ready for a change; I wasn’t ready for this. It was too much at once. So I did what any logically thinking human would: I hid it. I’d put on a face at work, only to retreat to my hotel a wreck. The wave wouldn’t let me up for air. 

Until it did. I resurfaced, disheveled but intact. I took off the ring and began exploring Dallas, the city that was ruining my life. I went to dinners, found an apartment, made a few friends. Dallas was growing on me, but I needed more. I needed the Cattle Baron’s Ball.

It was described as a rite of passage, a cartoonish representation of Dallas. Rich folks in cowboy clothes. Sign me up. When invitations arrived with the venue—Southfork Ranch— excitement built. I’d be experiencing Dallas at the home of Dallas. It also meant no rain. Organizers had surely surveyed every meteorologist in the tristate area before okaying the outdoor event. 

I did my best to dress the part: new cowboy boots and a long-forgotten fur vest. I give my effort a (generous) 6.5. But there I was, surrounded by Texans, in a very Dallas display of nonextravagant extravagance. Everyone, as everyone has been, was incredibly kind. This was off to a good start.

Then, of course, it poured. Water flooded the tent. The ground turned to mud. Guests attacked dinner as if it were the Last Supper. A horse was brought inside. A horse. If this were a movie, it’d be the moment the heroine bottoms out, setting the stage for a comeback-trail montage set to a Shins song. 

But I didn’t bottom out. (Maybe I already had.) Instead, something clicked. My car was fixed. I was settling into a home. Even one of those impossible-to-corral staffers had joined me for Cattle Baron’s. It was a start. In the side tent, dancing where there was no dance floor, I got clarity. The sentimental kind. The kind I have a hard time saying, let alone writing. It came and it stuck, and Cattle Baron’s made that happen. So let’s get it out there. Let’s just get this over with. Here it goes. 

Dallas, you didn’t ruin my life. You saved it. Thank you.

But maybe learn how to read a weather forecast.