A Daily Conversation About Dallas


The Highland Park Drug Ring

| 6 days ago

When the squad cars pulled up to the Townes of Highland Park before daybreak, most residents were still asleep. A damp fog hung over the private drive that runs through the gated community of $800,000 townhomes off Lomo Alto Drive. A small army of law enforcement personnel took position: Dallas Police officers, FBI agents, and DEA investigators in black jackets with yellow letters across the back. A U.S. Marshals team wearing tactical vests and helmets fell into a phalanx and made its way toward unit 4205.

Unit 4205 had been under surveillance for months. Its occupant was a 50-year-old man named Gary Collin Bussell, whom neighbors had begun to regard as a nuisance. He was aggressive at community meetings and threw loud parties in the common areas. They watched strange characters coming and going from his townhome at all hours, often carrying thick manila envelopes or brown paper bags. His guests monopolized the few visitor parking spots and had the access code for a back gate that led to the parking lot of an adjacent Whole Foods. A few months earlier, the DEA, FBI, and Dallas Police had executed a search warrant at Bussell’s townhome, hauling off two Glock handguns, a shotgun, and evidence that he used the residence to store tens of thousands of dollars in real and counterfeit cash and counterfeit prescription pills.

Investigators had come to believe that Bussell was the linchpin of a drug trafficking operation. Now, on October 30, 2019, U.S. Marshals moved in to make the arrest. They pounded on the front door, and Bussell calmly answered it. He had slicked-back blond hair and a thin goatee, wearing jeans and a hoodie that covered his tattooed arms. He already had his sneakers on, as if he had been waiting for the officers to arrive. Bussell’s girlfriend, Lisa Young, a 32-year-old blonde, also seemed ready for her arrest. Bussell politely invited the armed officers into his home. His teenage daughter looked on as the U.S. Marshals arrested her father and Young. Then, as investigators combed the townhome, Bussell’s daughter headed to class at Highland Park High School. One officer told me, “It was like she couldn’t have cared less.”

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Dallas History

How We Should Think About the Stories We Tell About Dallas

| 4 weeks ago

At the end of his 900-plus page Texas epic, author Stephen Harrigan comes to grips with the Lone Star State’s immensity. Writing a single-volume history of more than five centuries of Texas “was too much.” “Texas,” Harrigan relents, “was too large, too old.” Perhaps more charitable were the words of Georgia O’Keeffe—the inspiration for Harrigan’s title, Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas. Before becoming the exemplar of American modernist painting in the mid-twentieth century, O’Keeffe was the entirety of the art faculty at West Texas State Normal College (now West Texas A&M) in Canyon. Her time in the Panhandle left her convinced that Texas was “the same big wonderful thing that oceans and the highest mountains are.”

For Harrigan—novelist, long-time Texas Monthly contributor, and all-around Texas man of letters—that bigness is a theme. It’s not just the miles upon miles of space and centuries upon centuries of time that prove daunting to cover. It’s the people, too. From the well-known—Sam Houston, Barbara Jordan, and Selena—to the fascinatingly obscure—Isabelle Talon, Satanta, and Fred Carrasco—Harrigan eschews Anglo triumphalism for a more realistic rendering of the white, African American, Hispanic, and Native American communities that populate the state’s history.

But before all that, he starts with the biggest Texan of all.

Harrigan’s entree into 500 years of Texas history is an ordinary autumn morning in Dallas. As the sun rose on October 19, 2012, Big Tex presided over Fair Park just as he had for the previous six decades. By sundown, however, the plus-sized patriarch of Texas’s yearly celebration lay in smoldering ruins.

For Harrigan, when Big Tex met his end in that conflagration, so too did an era in Texas history. The 52-foot tall cowboy was “a symbol of a simpler time” belonging “to a different Texas.” When the new Big Tex took his commanding spot in Fair Park he was “sort of a joke” put up “simply for nostalgia’s sake.” From the beginning the new Big Tex could be little more than an ironic place holder since “it was no longer possible for a single image…to truly evoke the heaving twenty-first-century mix of cultural allegiances and colliding identities that Texas had become.”

It was in that very spot, Harrigan tells us, that some seven decades earlier a group of elite Texans—headed by future Dallas Citizens Council founder R. L. Thornton—attempted to fashion such an image of cohesion amid diversity. Thornton and his coterie of rich and powerful Dallasites brought the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition to Fair Park—never mind the fact that Dallas hadn’t even existed a century hence when Anglo invaders and their Tejano allies wrested the state from Mexico.

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Dallas Is Still Dreaming of Selena

| 1 month ago

On the afternoon of the day of his daughter’s death, March 31, 1995, Abraham Quintanilla sat inside Q Productions, the music studio he built in Corpus Christi. His daughter had had a 10 a.m. appointment to record there. She never arrived at the studio that was tangible proof of how far the family had come.

Abraham had once dreamed of making his living from music. With his group, Los Dinos, he sang doo-wop in the 1950s and ’60s, back when, because he was Mexican, he and his group faced overt discrimination. On tours, they had to sit at the back of the bus; they couldn’t rent hotel rooms. The dream eventually died. He settled with his young family in Lake Jackson, three hours up the coast from Corpus Christi, near Houston.

In Lake Jackson, Abraham worked at a chemical plant. One evening after work, while waiting for dinner, Abraham passed the time doing what he always did. He strummed his guitar and sang. On that night, his youngest child—a 6-year-old girl—began singing along. “I was amazed at her ability,” Abraham would say.

With time, he saved enough money and quit his job at the chemical plant. He opened a Mexican restaurant where his youngest child, then 8 years old, would sing.

Oil prices dropped. The Quintanillas’ restaurant shuttered. In 1982, as the oil crisis began, Abraham moved the family back to Corpus Christi, to live in an unused room at a family member’s house. That was 13 years before his youngest child was shot and killed.

And on the day his daughter died, inside that music studio, Abraham played her music. He cried. And although she, Selena, was 23 years old when killed, all he could think of was her singing as a little girl.

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Arts & Entertainment

Chris Lewellyn and His Print Shop Reflect Deep Ellum, the Scars and All

| 1 month ago

Chris Lewellyn wants me to talk to everyone but him. The tall, meek print shop owner walks through the building on Elm Street where he and his coworkers design and print merch for their clients. Most of them are artists of some variety. Half are from Deep Ellum.

Lewellyn’s Print Shop occupies a nondescript building in that eclectic, divisive, progressively gentrified neighborhood, and inside, the employees of its namesake scramble about paint-splattered confines, often juggling several projects at once. They create everything from business cards to hats and posters. But they are best known for the vibrant shirts they have designed for everyone from Hank Williams III to teenage comic Saffron Herndon. The shirts are often brightly colored tees with vividly realized cartoon characters and block lettering. Most of the shop’s shirts are evocative of the murals for which Deep Ellum is known.

“You definitely have to talk to the kids,” Lewellyn says. “They’re the ones doing all of this cool stuff.”

Lewellyn, 44, hired these “kids” as designers. There’s artist Hunter Moehring, who is also a member of the Dallas punk band Sealion. Nathena Hampton is a digital artist and longtime Lewellyn collaborator. In total, there are at least 10 part- or full-time employees. None are actual kids, though in the past Lewellyn has hired people as young as 15.

“My motivation is to give people a chance to do what they love,” he says.

It’s a strategy that has taken a toll on his mental and physical wellbeing. But he sees that as the cost of maintaining a print shop that is a business in, by, and for Deep Ellum. There are a few other print shops still around, namely Bullzerk, Doppelganger, and Anchor Screen Printing. Those businesses rely on their Dallas-themed merch to survive. Lewellyn and his print shop has remained in the increasingly expensive Deep Ellum by building relationships with the neighborhood and local artists. The shop is an island in the city’s largest historic neighborhood, but the glass towers are encroaching. Lewellyn is the tireless patriarch.

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Another Day in Dallas

| 2 months ago

Last year, A Day in Dallas brought together people who otherwise may have not stepped foot in the same room, much less talked to one another. We gave them all disposable cameras and had them document a day in their lives. And then we framed their photos and invited them and their loved ones to a celebration of their creations. This year, we thought about having our participants go into other neighborhoods, maybe switch things around a bit. But we were overthinking it. This was about building on an idea: how do we get both sides of Central Expressway together? How do we introduce the Highland Park mom to the South Oak Cliff resident? This year, we asked our participants to tell us about themselves and their lives, and we put their answers on the poster board with their images. The whole purpose is to create a room of diverse Dallasites. We did that, and now it’s time share it with you, here. We hope it helps you learn more about your community. This is, for the second year, A Day in Dallas. — Hance Taplin, founder of the fashion label By Way of Dallas, as told to Matt Goodman.

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A Car Club That Lives the Cowboys Life

| 3 months ago

The scene repeats itself throughout the early day and into late afternoon, as fans, mostly of the Dallas Cowboys but a few of the visiting Minnesota Vikings, begin to converge on AT&T Stadium. Among the cacophony of competing stereos and smell of grilled meats, they see the group of cars, so close to the stadium that surrounding lots charge $100 to park. But it’s not proximity that sets them apart. “Look at that!” someone will say, and then, almost instinctively, they and their traveling party will walk toward the custom-designed cars, pulling phones from their pockets.

Some ask for permission. “Take as many pictures as you want,” the owners of the cars answer. Others don’t. They just take them—selfies, taking turns posing, parents telling children to stand there and smile. A few, as if they realize it’s futile to try to capture the small details of each car in one snap, instead record videos, walking with baby steps around these rolling monuments to the Cowboys.

They capture the candy-colored paint job that sparkles in the sun. The murals on the cars of past and present players and coaches. The interiors lined with so many blue and silver stars that it feels impossible to count them all. The blue chrome 28-inch rims that, at the center, have the logo and name of their car club, CowboysLife—one word added so as not to infringe on trademarks.

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Local News

The Case For Grocery Stores In Dallas’ Many Food Deserts

| 4 months ago

Anga Sanders didn’t understand why it required a nonprofit to make fresh food available in her underserved neighborhood of South Oak Cliff. She’d consider the question while assembling a salad at the Uptown Albertson’s. Where were all the salad bars on Kiest?

The introverted human resources CEO is the founder of Feed Oak Cliff, a nonprofit that does what its name suggests: it offers fresh produce and healthy options to a neighborhood that needs it. Sanders, who was one of the first black students at SMU, isn’t blind to how the deep divides between northern and southern Dallas play out in terms of nutrition. She was willing to drive 12 miles each way to Uptown because, while there were other grocers in between, the variety of fresh produce and extensive salad bar couldn’t be found near her house.

She thinks the lack of fresh groceries in southern Dallas is about more than profit. “We have a lot of isms in this country: racism, classism, but this is place-ism,” she says. “[People in southern Dallas] eat chips, Cheetos, and honey buns, but why? Because that is what they have access to.”

Other areas of town have the opposite problem. Drive from the Snider Plaza Tom Thumb in Highland Park toward Mockingbird Station, a distance of just under two miles. There is a Kroger grocery store at Mockingbird and Greenville. Now, drive less than a mile down Mockingbird and you’ll find another Tom Thumb. A left on Greenville is just a mile away from yet another Tom Thumb and a Central Market, which is just across Lovers Lane.

In the wealthier and whiter segments of Dallas, residents drive past big box grocery stores full of fresh produce and affordable food so that they can get to another big box grocery store that they prefer. But in large swaths of Dallas, this is not the case. In 2018 the Department of Agriculture identified 88 separate food deserts in Dallas County. Over half of them were in three southern portions of Dallas. In these areas, the best option for food is often a corner or dollar store, which are both more expensive and less nutritious than the grocery stores that are on every other block in North and East Dallas.

Access to nutritious food is part of a larger problem around those areas’ social determinants of health, which include education, transportation, housing and healthcare deficits. A study by the University of Texas system found that residents in a South Dallas ZIP code had a life expectancy of 26 years fewer than those who lived in East Dallas. Those ZIP codes are just two miles apart.

“When your ZIP code can literally determine your life span, that’s a problem,” Sanders says.

High crime, low income, and a lack of other retailers are often cited as reasons for grocery stores avoiding food deserts. But soon-to-be-published research from University of North Texas professor Dr. Chetan Tiwari and market research expert Ed Rincón is dismantling pre-conceived notions about how these communities spend their money. Their report provides objective evidence that grocery stores are missing an opportunity to make money and improve the health of a city along the way.

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