Terri Muldoon

Summer Fiction

Your 2020 Summer Reading List: David Hopkins’ ‘Since U Been Gone’

Kelly Clarkson's 2004 earworm pop hit becomes inspiration for a different sort of tour of Dallas.

We waited outside the Fairmount Hotel, next to the school bus. The bus had a thin coat of blue paint with the words “True Dallas” airbrushed on the side, written in a curlicue, accented with sparkles. I thought my mom would enjoy a tour of the city. We arrived at the scheduled time. The bus was there. The door was open. The guide was nowhere to be seen.

“I’m cold.”

“I’m sorry, Mom. Do you want to wait inside the bus?”

“No, I’m fine. I’m just—”

“But you said, ‘I’m cold.’”

“—stating a fact. I’m fine.”

Her smile said she wanted to leave, but because I was her son, there was no amount of suffering she wouldn’t endure. I shrugged, hoping it said: can we wait five more minutes? But I fear it came across as, I’m indifferent to your pain.

This is our relationship. We communicate through halting phrases and slight gestures.

The guide walked around from behind the bus. A familiar woman accompanied him.

Our guide was skinny, all bones and sharp angles. His tanned, wrinkled features, in combination with patchy facial hair and missing teeth, hinted at a difficult life. He wore a jumpsuit and a retro Dallas Mavericks ball cap. The woman next to him—

“Isn’t that the American Idol—”

Mom waved her hand to hush me.

We got on the bus. The woman who looked like a certain pop star sat behind the wheel, started the bus, and off we went.

Our guide grabbed the mic. We could hear him fine without it. But the mic gave him purpose. Otherwise, he was just a man ranting on a bus. And even though we were his only passengers, he spoke with the crazed determination of Captain Ahab addressing a vast crew.

“I’m gonna share the true Dallas. Alright?” He ended every sentence with an “alright” or “m’kay” or a “you know,” but I won’t subject you to that tedious verbal tick. “Dallas is part of the simulation. The people in the city are continually reliving the same nine months of 2019. Roman magistrates, known as the Praetorian, implanted all memories before then. If you think the year is 2020, the simulation is broken. Order must be restored.”

This didn’t sound true.

“The city was founded in the year 20 by John Neely Bryan, his dog, and a Cherokee named Ned. The city was named after Bryan’s lover, Walter Dallas. However, if you ask Bryan about the relationship, he will say, ‘It’s complicated,’ and leave it at that.”

The subject made our guide choke up. The almost pop star nodded her head, relating to the struggle.

“If you look to your left you will see the place where people believe the Meridian Room existed. However, there has never been a Meridian Room. The Meridian Room is a lie. Stop thinking about the Meridian Room.”

We also learned that apparently nothing exists past Loop 12. If you drive past Loop 12, your consciousness will be obliterated. Anyone who says they are from Fort Worth is lying. They are Secret Romans.

I now know the art deco architecture at Fair Park was designed by a fifth grader who won a contest at school. Several lewd acts are portrayed on Centennial Hall’s bas reliefs.

Other revelations as we navigated the city:

A hatch at the bottom of White Rock Lake opens up to the infinite void of space. But technically, the sky above opens to the same void.

A nameless woman walks Greenville Avenue. Her job is to maintain the parade-that-shall-not-end.

Reunion Tower does not rotate. The city rotates around the tower. It’s a common mistake.

If you see an X painted on the street, this marks where treasure is buried. But if you stand on the X or take a picture of the X, the pirates will come after you—as they should.

When Blind Lemon Jefferson strums his guitar, the three neon Pegasus will be summoned. The Traveling Man will walk again—accompanied by his bird friends. And, lo, they will wage the final battle against Big Tex and the giraffe behemoth from the Dallas Zoo. This is how the world will end.

Uptown. Uptown has many nice restaurants, bars, private art galleries, and entertainment venues. For my safety and yours, the guide has nothing more to add about Uptown.

The Trinity River is three rivers that flow alongside other each. Approximately five electric scooters are in the middle river at any given time. If you pull one out, another appears in its place.

In his spare time, Walter Dallas writes hit songs. All of them are about John Neely Bryan.

I looked over to my mom. She was on her phone, playing some game. Our guide was a madman who quite possibly commandeered a tour bus, and Mom was bored.

“Mom?”

“I’m OK.” She looked up from her phone. “I’ve never been to Fort Worth. Isn’t that odd?”

“No one has been to Fort Worth. Nothing exists past Loop 12.”

She nodded, inexplicably, not getting the reference.

We sat a while longer. I listened to our tour guide, now ranting about the farmers market. My mom played her game. We were content in our bus, our bubble, our perpetual 2019.


David Hopkins this year released his debut novel, Wear Chainmail to the Apocalypse. Now he’s working on his next 10 books. Updates are available on thatdavidhopkins.com.

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