Tuesday, June 6, 2023 Jun 6, 2023
83° F Dallas, TX
Good Reads

Dallas Summer Reading Series: The Field Trip

When you ask kids to write something, what you get often will surprise you.
By Sebastián H. Páramo |
Jason Janik

An October afternoon under Big Tex’s shadow is where high school English teacher Bobby Jimenez found himself. Boy, he thought to himself, he sure is tall: size 70 boots, a 95-gallon hat, and his booming voice—how long could Mr. Jimenez stand there waiting for his high school students? He was their chaperone for the Creative Arts exhibit field trip and it was hotter than blue blazes. Collecting Coke cans for half-price tickets, the class coordinated a field trip to the State Fair of Texas so they could capture context for their own projects. Did Mr. Jimenez ever dream they’d dedicate themselves to lessons on Dallas by deriving meaning from the denim Dickies Big Tex wore or did they ask what it means to depict downtown denizens alongside their own teenaged lives? Easy as pie was how Mr. Jimenez pitched the assignment to them and it became more of a question as the students couldn’t open their notebooks to begin essaying.

From A to Z, What Big Tex Means to Me, Mr. Jimenez saw one first-year student write and he thought fairs are fun; then he tried to fathom how this student could alphabetize the fairgrounds from the Texas State Ferris Wheel with the smell of Fletcher’s Corn Dogs feathering their fascination. Groups of teens began goofing off and goading by Big Tex’s boot where Jimenez stood glaring at them greasing their wagons; he told ’em they didn’t know git from guts here. Hell, he’d expected half of them would hate the heat—he wouldn’t hang a hat on these kids’ heads, but heck come hell or high water, they were worth it. Independent to a fault, they itched for infamy among their peers. Jimenez saw jubilant flames suddenly jolt fairgoers’ attention. Kind quick-thinking strangers pulled those in danger away and emergency services were called. Luckily, no one was hurt and the local news and investigators launched lengthy inquiries. Many couldn’t get the myth of Big Tex out of their minds—that sad image of him burning—he nearly looked like a devil manifesting bad omens; after time passed—murals of him on fire started to appear and decided Dallas manifested this. Now he’s never not on fire and for a while, nobody knew whether he’d return or forever nipped.

Quickly, folks went to work buttoning his jeans, and quality-checkers made sure to fireproof anything they could. Reeling back a bit, Jimenez saw resilient students write essays in response to the danger of the rampant flames. Son of a gun, if some weren’t rebellious, rousing responses that became rough metaphors for their divorcing parents and/or crumbling safety nets. Ten-gallon-mouthed students could talk the legs off a chair with their tall tales of heroism pointing to things they did or didn’t do. Unsettled, these students got away with their unusual essays until other first-year students caught on the following year. Various visitors later began wearing t-shirts saying, “I was there when Big Tex caught on fire!” and then very rapidly mugs and pens and hats with those words became more ordinary and vexing.

What Mr. Jimenez found while reading this year’s essays has been wild: someone’s father speculated Willie Nelson was singing inside Big Tex’s boot that tragic night and he accidentally set it on fire; while another essay argued it was the work of an official for a rival state fair. Xeroxed fliers on campus announced one final presentation from Committee X, a student committee formed to get to the bottom of what really happened the year before. Yawning teenagers and adults tuned into the live stream from TexYankee214’s from YouTube one early morning on the last day of May before the school year wrapped. Zero answers were revealed except there were zillions of snowy pixels andzippy tunes and someone from Committee X typed: stop these zany pranks, Zack! it was an accident and after that rumors slowed and Mr. Jimenez wondered if the next field trip should be for the Dallas Zoo.

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