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A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Robot Trucks Are Among Us

Micaih Thomas
Robot truck driving
Your Ikea sofa may have arrived via robot. James Steinberg

One day very soon, you’ll be driving down the highway and see an 80,000-pound big rig in your rearview mirror. It won’t have a human driver on board. Don’t worry, though. Its computer system saw you from four football fields away, and it won’t be angry with you for driving 10 mph under the speed limit because you were fiddling with your Whataburger.

Autonomous trucks make sense. They don’t get tired or distracted, and there’s a shortage of human drivers. And Dallas makes sense as a testing ground because we sit at one vertex of the Texas Triangle (including Houston and San Antonio), through which 15 percent of all the nation’s freight moves. Plus our weather is generally good, and state law allows vehicles without a “human operator.” Kodiak Robotics operates a hub in Lancaster and hauls for Ikea; Gatik transports for Kroger and Sam’s Club; and Aurora Innovation, with a market cap of nearly $4 billion, moves freight for pilot customers such as FedEx out of Palmer, Texas, just south of Dallas. The company calls Palmer the “first automatic truck hub on the planet.” Right now, Aurora’s trucks use onboard safety humans to back up the robot driver, but the company plans to go full auto later this year. 


You Need More Neighbors

Matt Goodman
Dallas City Planning
John Devolle

Joe Minicozzi is a Harvard-trained urban planner from Asheville, North Carolina. The readers of Planetizen, a respected outlet that covers planning, voted him one of the 100 most influential urbanists of all time, placing him at No. 33.  He’s clever and professorial, a slightly younger, hipper Paul Giamatti, with a full goatee and a bald head. Using data from local sources, he travels the country, trying to show cities how to avoid financial ruin. His PowerPoint presentations tend to galvanize some people and make others squirm. 

Minicozzi’s firm, Urban3, looks at the taxable value of land 1 acre at a time, showing how zoning and land use drive cities’ revenue. He explains it this way: you wouldn’t ask how many miles a car travels on a tank of gas. You want to know how far it can get on a gallon. Similarly, a Walmart might represent a lot of taxable value, but it also occupies a lot of land. In Dallas County, Minicozzi found that a Walmart represents, on average, just $600,000 in taxable value per acre. That’s because all those parking spaces aren’t worth much, and the building itself is designed to last only about 15 years. It’s a smart strategy to keep taxes low. Good for Walmart; bad for city coffers. 

In January, Minicozzi Zoomed into a committee meeting of the Dallas City Council to present some of the findings from a study he’d conducted on Dallas County. Council Member Cara Mendelsohn, who represents Far North Dallas, seemed to squirm the most. She didn’t like that Minicozzi was “denigrating a Walmart.” People like Walmarts, she said. “We should have the full array both of housing and retail and even density,” she said. “When a Walmart closes in Dallas, we get emails saying, ‘Where am I going to shop?’ ” 

“Don’t get in the way of information. You can interpret it any way you want, but let’s all look at it together.”

Joe Minicozzi

I called Minicozzi after his exchange with Mendelsohn. Her reaction, he says, isn’t uncommon; some people are naturally defensive of the status quo. His response is: “Don’t get in the way of information. You can interpret it any way you want, but let’s all look at it together. And then you can come to your conclusion.” He just wants cities to think about where the Walmart should go and weigh the opportunity costs of allowing so many similar big-box stores. By the same token, you can think of single-family lots as the Walmarts of housing.   

Right now in Dallas, there are some folks in single-family neighborhoods who are stoking anxiety over a possible change in zoning. Planners at City Hall are researching how to encourage more housing construction through a variety of methods, including allowing duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes in neighborhoods currently filled with only single-family homes. That possible change has some people scared, and they’re letting councilmembers—like Mendelsohn—know it.

So Minicozzi came to town at a good time, like an urbanist Paul Revere. Let’s consider what he found. 


How Lewisville Became the Bagel Capital of America

Brian Reinhart
Starship Bagel founder Oren Salomon
Starship Bagel founder Oren Salomon is driven. “I will keep trying to make this bagel better forever.” Elizabeth Lavin

The first time I meet Oren Salomon, he is teaching a class about bagels. That is not his job, and he is not in a classroom. But he knew I was coming, so he prepared a lesson plan.

We’re sitting at a sidewalk table in front of the downtown Dallas location of his business, Starship Bagel. Salomon gestures at a tray of three bagels, all plain, one of them sliced. Next to those bagels is a variety of schmears in little sample cups: green olive, fermented jalapeño, parsley, honey and toasted almonds, garden veggie. But schmear is not taught on the first day. That’s later in the term.

“To me, any discussion about bagels has got to start off with the plain bagel,” Salomon begins. (It’s only the third sentence he’s said to me, after how-are-you and let’s-sit-down.) “The basic form tells you everything about the commitment to the craft, because if you’re relying on bells and whistles, or extra ingredients, or fusion, or things that are anything but the core product to stake your claim to quality, that’s going to be clear here. If anyone does put in effort to do a great product, it’s also going to be clear. I’m seeking the most basic form, the purest form of the thing.”

We each pick up a plain, unsliced bagel. “The first thing is, you’re gonna look at the crust,” Salomon says. “See all the little bubbles?” There are tiny, flat, white specks all around the bagel, like craters on a bready moon. “That’s evidence of the fermentation, that the air was trying to escape. Then you’ve got the cornmeal on the bottom, showing you that it was proofed on boards, that it was made by hand instead of by machine.” He picks up the sliced bagel, taking its halves apart like a cross-section diagram in a textbook. “You’ve got evidence of the high-gluten flour—small air pockets—but everything around them is tightly formed. A lot of times you’ll see ones that are more airy, but then the bubbles will be big throughout. That’s not good. That’s evidence of using either bread flour or all-purpose flour. It’s going to be way more like a baguette, and that’s not the point of this bread.”

An eruption of cheers stopped Silverman midword. Starship Bagel had trounced New York’s finest bakeries on their home turf.

Chew on that phrase for a moment: the point of this bread. It’s a sudden philosophical turn in a class that will go much deeper than baking technique. We don’t often think of food as having a point, and bagels certainly make one. They are a deeply Jewish food. They are a product of poverty and oppression, a symbol of resistance. They stand defiantly apart from other breads in shape, texture, and use. But bagels have also been stripped of their history and context and are now a foodstuff—like burritos or pizza—considered the property of everybody, to make as well or as poorly as they like, to use as traditionally or oddly as pleases them.

Salomon still remembers the point of a bagel, which is why his company makes a very good one. That’s not just my opinion. Last year, he and the Starship team flew east to attend New York BagelFest and prepare some samples for a panel of expert judges.

At the awards ceremony, Sam Silverman, founder of BagelFest and NYC Bagel Tours, introduced the judges’ verdicts with a speech: “It was super tight up through third place. Second, there was a bit of a gap, and first even more so. This shop ran away with the best bagel competition. It is not a shop from the local region. The best bagel at the 2023 BagelFest, from Dallas, T—”

An eruption of cheers stopped Silverman midword. Starship Bagel had trounced New York’s finest bakeries on their home turf.

If you pay attention during bagel class, you’ll understand why.

The Ultimate Guide to Dallas Hair

Alice Laussade
Elizabeth Lavin

We’re so weird about hair. When it’s attached to your head, people compliment you on it. They ask who combs it for you so they can get their hair combed the same way. They ask you if it’s real. Whether your answer is yes or no, excited follow-up questions abound. Your hairstyle can even be defined as “sexy.” Mmm. Protein filament. So sexual. 

When it’s no longer attached to your head and you find it in your food? Decidedly unsexy. Unsanitary, even. Come across a pile of hair separated from its owner, and you’re at least confused, at most disgusted. Even reading the phrase “pile of hair” may cause some to dry heave. 

And then, of course, there’s how you style your hair. There are bad haircuts; there are good haircuts. Smooth hair is good; frizzy hair is bad. Flyaways must be tamed. And gray hairs are to be avoided at great expense. 

We want our haircut to showcase how individual and unique we are, so we go to Instagram and search “unique, trendy haircut” and bring a photo to our hairstylist because we want to look precisely as individual as the rest of the internet. If the hairstylist doesn’t copy it exactly, or if they do copy it exactly and it looks terrible on us because our face is “bad for curtain bangs,” we cry. A lot.

In this rollicking package of Dallas hair stories, we blow it out with tales about a 90-minute scalp massage you didn’t know you needed, why Kameron Westcott’s hairstylist refused to let her go red, how braids can make a statement, the TV news anchor who shook the airwaves with her updo, a Cowboys Cheerleader who used an orange juice can to tame her locks, and Erykah Badu’s hairstylist taking on the Texas Lege—just to list a few.

Push back those bangs, and click through. It’s the cover story for our March issue.

Person of Interest

Nothing Bundt Cakes CEO Dolf Berle Sets a High Bar

Tim Rogers
Dolf Berle is a world-class athlete. And he likes sweets. Elizabeth Lavin

Last year, Dolf Berle stepped in as the CEO of Nothing Bundt Cakes; this year, he plans to add 150 stores to the Addison-based company, which already has about 550 franchise bakeries across the country. Berle isn’t your typical buttoned-up executive. He’s also a champion pole-vaulter.

Before working at Nothing Bundt Cakes, you worked at—to name a few—Lucky Strike Lanes, Dave & Buster’s, House of Blues, and Topgolf. Do you think you could ever run an accounting firm? I am dedicated to working in the joy business. That has many forms, and many companies fall into that category. Each one has been super exciting, and Nothing Bundt Cakes is a total blast to be part of because of the joy and the caring and the kindness that we can create in the world.

When you walk through the door at work, does it smell like cake? We are moving into new offices where there will be a test kitchen. So today it doesn’t smell like cake, but the spirit of cake is all around us.


How to Turn Your Front Yard Into an Urban Farm, Legally

Nathaniel Barrett
Urban farming in Dallas
This is a digital illustration of the author’s piece of fructifying paradise. Max Guther

I come from a family of fruit growers. My maternal grandfather, a minister raised in Texas but retired in California, kept an extensive garden where he grew guavas, plums, tomatoes, and dozens of other delights. My mother was quick to remind me how, when she was a child, she had to pick 500 weeds in her father’s garden every morning before school, so I should consider myself lucky to merely have to take out the trash. I also have fond memories of secretly picking apples and pears from my father’s small orchard at our country home. He often complained that the squirrels got his fruit no matter how he tried to thwart them, and he eventually gave up on the orchard. The purloined fruit, until it was discontinued, tasted far superior to supermarket produce.

I had the opportunity to continue the fruit-growing tradition of my forefathers when a mulberry tree in our front yard dropped several large limbs on our Old East Dallas house and had to be taken down. Where once nothing but the scrubbiest ground cover would grow in the near-constant shade, I now found myself with 1,500 square feet of sunny, newly reclaimed agricultural land. This being the early days of the pandemic, I had more free time than usual and set about converting our front yard into a full-fledged horticultural operation, tilling the earth and bringing in truckloads of freshly chipped arborist cuttings.

What started with a few apple trees planted in a tidy row along the front walk has grown (my wife would say metastasized) over time. Apples? Sure, they’re good, but Texas isn’t the best place for apples, what with the cotton root rot and the heat, so I really needed some peaches just in case the apples keeled over. Peaches? They’re fine, but peaches are kind of one-dimensional when you think about it, so I complemented them with some plums. But plums take so long to bear. I really had to add some quick wins like an elderberry bush, a fig, and a mulberry. Also, I’d dishonor the legacy of T.V. Munson if I didn’t plant at least a few grapevines, right? That means I had to build a grape trellis system, too. It turned out to be an ordeal to water all these plants, and we need to save water, so really it was just the responsible thing to do to install a drip irrigation system. By the way, did you know that jujubes, pomegranates, and persimmons can grow quite well in Texas? Now add grafting, espaliers, retaining walls, and pest control—I’ve got a lot of hobby to tackle.

Our February 2024 cover feature, “The Ultimate Dallas Bar Crawl,” continues a long tradition of liquid journalism at D Magazine. Yet, the first-ever roundup of bars to grace these glossy pages was not a guide to the “best” or even “very good” but in fact a feature titled “The Meanest Bars in Dallas,” for which one brave writer visited bars so dangerous that the establishment’s best quality might be its close proximity to Baylor hospital.

That was preceded by an April 1975 feature called “The Blind Truth: D’s First Annual Beer Tasting.” It illustrates just how far the local beer scene has come. The judges gave the first and second spots to Dos Equis and Pabst Blue Ribbon, respectively. Perhaps if the editors had had today’s almost 100 brewers on tap, that annual beer tasting might have endured more than just one year. 

The first true “best” booze story wasn’t published in D until February 1976, more than a year after the magazine’s debut—a surprising delay considering the editorial staff’s tendency to enjoy a wet lunch and then cap off the workday in a watering hole. In fact, one could argue that the original Chelsea Corner on McKinney was this magazine’s first office. 

“You have to understand something,” Tom Stephenson says. “Back in those days, everybody drank at lunch. Not just journalists but politicians, all the people we hung around with. Everybody. If you had an iced tea, you were weird.” 


Staying Out Late With DJ Sober

Zac Crain
DJ Sober, Will Rhoten
Sober gets things started at Ferris Wheelers in the Design District, kicking off our weekend adventure. Oscar Lozada

I have been trying to do a story on Will Rhoten, aka DJ Sober, for a number of years. The reason it didn’t happen until now is that I wasn’t pushing too hard. I don’t push too hard. Anyway, it was sort of an evergreen idea, because he’s always working. My position on these things is they happen when they’re supposed to happen. My feature on Sober that (finally) appears in our February issue is proof of that. We couldn’t have picked a better weekend to do what I planned: follow him around as he spun at various places to various people.

My original thought was to take on a full week. Two days turned out to be enough, probably because it was the weekend before Halloween. There wasn’t much that I left out from our time together, except for this very short encounter that happened Saturday night at LadyLove Lounge & Sound in Bishop Arts.

I was stationed against a wall, a vantage point where I could see the entire bar, but especially the DJ booth and the dance floor. At some point, I noticed that a guy who had, let’s say, partied a little too hard, had sidled up alongside me. Unfortunately, he noticed that I noticed and we made eye contact. He proceeded to ask me numerous times if I had any weed (I didn’t) and then demanded that Sober take a photo of the two of us together, for reasons that remain unclear to me.

You can read the rest of what happened over that Halloween weekend in my story. It’s online now.


10 Dallas ISD Programs or Schools You Should Know About That Aren’t Magnet Schools

Bethany Erickson
Dallas ISD STEM Environmental Center is one of many schools tailored to different interests and ambitions within the district. Dallas ISD

There are, at last count, 240 schools in the Dallas Independent School District, and a handful of them get a great deal of attention (and rightly so). But among those 240 schools are some gems that even longtime Dallasites may be unaware of. 

First, an explainer: Dallas ISD, as a rule, has an open enrollment policy and a focus on school choice, which means that if you live in Far North Dallas but work downtown, and there’s a great school on the way to work, you could enroll your child there, provided there’s space. 

But the district also has several different varieties of schools. There are magnet schools, where students take tests to qualify and the campuses offer specialized instruction in everything from leadership to arts education. There are single-gender schools and neighborhood schools. There are transformation schools that center around innovative approaches in STEAM education, arts, Montessori, project-based learning, dual language, and more. 

Dallas ISD magnet schools often get a lot of attention. Our mission today? Find 10 schools or programs you should know about, that aren’t magnet schools. (Bear in mind that this is not an exhaustive list–there are a lot of really great neighborhood schools and transformation schools throughout the district.)

Dallas History

From the Archives: Finding the Wild Things of Deep Ellum

S. Holland Murphy
d magazine march 1987
Matthew Bailey and Suzanne Boisvert were both suburban teens on the Deep Ellum scene in the 1980s.

By the generations still alive to argue the case, the years 1984 to 1988 are most often cited as Deep Ellum’s heyday, a time and a place where you might find a suburban 16-year-old checking IDs at the club door and ecstasy on every corner. It was a scene captured by a young Skip Hollandsworth for this magazine’s March 1987 cover story, whose subtitle read: “Underground in Deep Ellum: a generation of kids searches for identity. Are they part of a new counterculture? Or are they rebels without a cause?”

That outside-looking-in take was, at the time, a sore point for some on the inside. “With all the creative types in the scene—writers, poets, and songwriters—it seemed like D Magazine could have gotten somebody that was more in touch,“ says David Adriance 36 years later. He appeared in the story as a skateboard punk known on the streets as David Dude. “All these kids, even the wealthy ones, were considered black sheep and kind of lost themselves, and we all found unity with creativity.” 

Those creative connections would serve as David Dude’s ramp into many adventures. He rubbed elbows with rock stars around the world while working as the merch manager for Dallas’ Reverend Horton Heat. Once, while visiting his Starck Club-investor girlfriend in Paris, he met a pair of French artists who negotiated the sale of his orthopedic cast—which had been drawn on by graffiti-art legend Keith Haring. The proceeds funded a summer of European surfing. 

At the time of the article, though, David Dude was living at the Theatre Gallery, a warehouse-turned-illegal event space that many young bohemians called home over the years. The Theatre Gallery’s founder, Russell David Hobbs, was more or less Deep Ellum’s master of ceremonies, presiding over a three-ring circus of visual, theatrical, and musical artists who were given free rein inside the space. “At that moment, it was really about real, convicted artists, painting and spilling their guts out onstage through theater and live music,” Hobbs says, “and the street scene was an exploration into art and reality and social experience. We were all trying to break on through to the other side.”


Here’s How We Got Erykah Badu on Our Cover

Tim Rogers
Young Eryka Badu
Elizabeth Lavin’s shot of Badu out on a limb, from 2014. Elizabeth Lavin

On a Tuesday in early December, I wrote these words for the print edition of D Magazine:

It remains unclear whether Erykah Badu will materialize for a photo shoot that is scheduled for tomorrow, one day before our printer deadline for this issue. She has just returned from an engagement in Germany. One of her people has relayed to us that she is exhausted. This is all totally understandable and even more totally appropriate. Germany is a long way from Dallas. And when you decide to publish a story about, among other things, another magazine’s arduous photo shoot with Badu, it is to be expected that your own photo shoot with Erykah Badu will produce uncertainty. Badu is like an electron. We would be naive to think we could pin down both her speed and location. That’s not how her universe works. 

“With every shoot I’ve done with her, I feel like right before the shoot I’m about to go insane because you don’t know if it’s going to happen.” That’s what Elizabeth Lavin, our staff photographer, said when I called her minutes ago to check in. “It’s like doing ayahuasca,” Elizabeth said. “First you throw up, and then you have your trip. Everything becomes clear.”

Elizabeth has shot Badu at least a dozen times, including once for Burberry. The first time was a decade ago, for D Magazine’s 40th anniversary issue (September 2014). At the last minute, because we’d misjudged either Badu’s speed or location, Elizabeth had to fly to Los Angeles for the shoot. When she got there, she told Badu, “I had a dream where I photographed you in a tree.” Badu saw that as a good omen. She climbed a tree, and the shot Elizabeth got is my second-favorite of Badu, eclipsed only by the shot Elizabeth took of Badu in her own personal kitchen, standing in front of her open refrigerator, for a story written by senior editor Zac Crain (“The Elusive Erykah Badu,” February 2017). I am admittedly biased.

Which brings me back to this month’s cover story about Badu, written by Casey Gerald. If you read his profile of Leon Bridges in Texas Monthly (August 2021), or if you’ve seen one of his TED Talks, or if you’ve read his memoir about growing up in South Oak Cliff before heading off to Yale (There Will Be No Miracles Here, 2018), then you can guess how pleased I am to publish his work in the pages of D Magazine for the first time.

I am going to manifest some outcomes right here, on this Tuesday. The photo shoot with Badu tomorrow will be a splendid trip for Elizabeth, and she will not barf. Also, the SOC Bears, where Casey played defensive back and which beat Lovejoy 42-0 just days ago, will win the UIL 5A Division II title.

Heisenberg uncertainty principle be damned; this feels certain. 

I am now writing these words on January 10, 2024: the photo shoot was indeed splendid. Elizabeth did not barf. But the SOC Golden Bears did not repeat as state champs. Alas.

Casey’s profile went online today. And we did a podcast with him that you’ll enjoy.


At the Perot Museum, a Feathered T. rex Comes of Age

Tim Rogers
Ronald Tykoski
Tykoski explains that the image of the T. rex as we know it today is evolving—and today, there is discussion around whether or not the creature has lips. Elizabeth Lavin

Ronald S. Tykoski is the vice president of science and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, where he has worked since 2005 (when it was called the Dallas Museum of Natural History). The museum’s latest exhibition, on loan from the American Museum of Natural History, is titled “T. rex: The Ultimate Predator.” It runs through September 22.

The American Museum of Natural History first staged a T. rex exhibit in 1915. Its pose was determined by the physical space of the museum, and it changed over the years. So what did they send you, and how does it reflect our current understanding? When that mount was revealed, it reflected a mindset of these animals as big lizards. It had this tripod kangaroo-like pose, but it was also a constraint of the engineering of mounting this big, heavy skeleton, so they needed to brace it. But in the decades that followed, we started revising our picture of what these animals were like. The exhibit that is now here at the Perot shows Tyrannosaurus rex in a modern light, with the horizontal spine, head out in front, the tail out behind, beautifully balanced on huge back legs.