I was walking Dallas’ streets at 6 a.m., having scored no sleep whatsoever. Once I’d skittled through Downtown to pay homage to its architecture, there appeared to be very little to see or do. Public parks were thin on the ground, as were museums, though there was a Museum of Art. A zoo, too. There was also a museum dedicated to John Fitzgerald Kennedy, located on the sixth floor of what touted itself as the seat of Dallas County Government, but what had once been a school book depository. Chillingly, it’s where JFK’s alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, had succumbed to Itchy Finger Syndrome.
Overlooking Dealy Plaza, across which JFK had been cruising in a processional motorcade when shot, the museum’s exhibits seemed uniformly reluctant to acknowledge innumerable conspiracy theories associated with the assassination. I was still all for believing that a second gunman, lolling on the grassy knoll, could have got away with murder. Come 1980, seventeen years after JFK’s assassination, another shooting occurred in the city. Although the murder consumed almost as many column inches, the victim was only J.R. in Dallas, rendering the playing of violins an unnecessary extravagance.
A block over from the plaza, off Commerce Street, stood a memorial to JFK. Bizarre in every respect, it comprehensively failed to do justice in representing the type of man he’d been… in his professional life as President, and in his personal life as a family man. I would have much preferred to look a life-size statue in the eye. At least the memorial was eye-catching enough to provoke reflection… in sharp contrast to Hull’s so-called “tribute” to Mick Ronson. Posthumously “awarded” nothing more than a lowly, overlooked stage in Queens Gardens, the guitarist had deserved more.
At the opposite end of Commerce Street, the Grand Hotel, once a luxurious place to stay, had a “Temporarily Closed” apology hampering its frontage. Peering through the lobby window, I reeled from the internal disarray, the Grand having clearly seen better days, threatening to remain permanently closed unless a major renovation could tease the imposing building back from the brink to a worthwhile life of purpose.
Swaggering around on the hottest side of midday, I could feel sunburn aggravating my forehead. All I needed was a swab of butter, for it was toasted. Had I harnessed a modicum of sense, I’d have bought a tube of sun-block when first confronted by sunshine at Daytona, but whenever I’d invested in a tube in the past, the sun had steamed into hiding the second I stepped out through the pharmacy doors. In any case, shops in Downtown Dallas were scarce, a high percentage of retail outlets populating edge-of-city malls.
Aspiring to indulge in an early lunch to slay boredom, I was pounced upon before I’d even poked both feet through Burger King’s main entrance. Admittedly, I had blatantly ignored the “No Backpacks!” sign. Rather than take heed, I’d taken my chances. Worryingly, the guard was operating a zero-tolerance policy, caring not about the pronounced concerns I aired about my trusted backpack’s welfare. ‘Perhaps we can forge a compromise,’ she exhaled, conscious that I hated the thought of being parted from my beloved partner-in-grime. ‘If you’re so worried that it’s going to get stolen in your absence, feel free to haul in any items of value or importance that you couldn’t bear to be without if worse came to worst,’ she half-shrugged. I listened intently and complied immediately, leaning my pack against the wall as I staggered inside, humping everything that had been crammed within the nylon vessel. Thus, in came my camera, my clothes, my diaries, a wad of travel and insurance documents as thick as War and Peace — even my toiletries. It was just a shame I couldn’t find a table inviting enough to support my immaculate mountain of belongings. The guard looked on in disbelief, surely wondering why she bothered, staring at me as if to say, ‘Really?’ Then she glanced at her watch, evidently praying for home-time.
Come noon, I leapt aboard a bus pointing north. Adequately settled for the five-hour ride, a man lumbered past. He subsequently stepped back, adopting the adjacent seat, deciding to keep me company, offering six immortal words: ‘Is this the way to Amarillo?’ I violently shook my head in response, terrified he might break into song, assuming he meant to ask if it was the bus to Amarillo. ‘Trust me; this is most definitely not the way or the bus, to Amarillo!’ I confirmed. Coming to terms with such a revelation, the man sprung off the seat and sprinted to the front, insisting to be let off, Oklahoma City the last place he wanted to go.
En-route, sweeping views beguilingly surveyed acre upon acre of alluring countryside, a designated Wilderness Area enveloping Arbuckle. It was purported to be a sensational place to go hiking… except in tornado season. Fully conscious of the risks, I’d stormed into Tornado Alley, a vast swathe of land extending north from Texas, through Oklahoma and Kansas, up into the Dakotas. Approximately seventy per cent of American tornadoes unleashed their violent wrath within such an “alley,” the Great Plains slung between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountain ranges proffering ideal conditions for the formation of twisters. Thankfully, the only thing I could see on the horizon was the horizon itself. Suffice to say, no storm-chasing lunatics harbouring death-wishes were likely to gun past anytime soon.
The comical female driver at the helm reminded me of the clutch-abuser who’d conveyed me to Ottawa, for we set off twenty minutes late, yet arrived into Oklahoma City a staggering twenty minutes early. Even more amazingly, she’d only been qualified as a driver for three weeks. I just hoped her career wasn’t destined to be truncated as a result of her racking up a stack of speeding fines.
Midway to OK City, we were treated to a ten-minute break at a non-descript truck-stop in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t believe my ears upon hearing the distinctive Irish brogue of an old hero drifting from the restrooms. Dashing in, I assumed a relaxing position as “I Don’t Like Mondays” ran its course, the number penned by The Boomtown Rats, sung by Bob Geldof. Hearing the song out to its final chord, much to the consternation of fellow Greyhounders attending to business, I trawled around the truck-stop’s shop, grabbing enough glazed donuts to keep my blood-sugar level maxed-out for the foreseeable future. The task of choosing something to drink proved infinitely more difficult, ten gigantic chillers priding themselves on stocking every drink under the ozone layer, spoiling everybody for choice. It was only when I overheard a trucker lust after his favourite soft drink that I realised what my taste-buds secretly craved. ‘Oh come to me one-litre bottle of Mountain Dew!’ he gurgled in anticipation, approaching a chiller at full clip. Like him, I was addicted to the molar-rotter, a sucker for its fizz. Before I knew it, I was skipping in his footsteps, plonking my own bottle in front of a multi-tasking cashier. Glumly swiping the bottle with one hand, he relayed a text message with the other, absent without leave.
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Copyright © 2015 Steve Rudd