I just realized it’s more than a week since I went to the Texas State Fair with my dear Dallas buddies, Carol and Patsy. Over a week! Already!
Here’s the thing. If I don’t write about things soon after the experience, I may not write about it at all. I find myself bumbling along to the next thing and getting all excited about whatever happened most recently. Like yesterday morning. As I was grabbing my jacket from the locker room at the Y, I started talking with a nice lady who was getting ready to leave at the same time. As it turns out, she comes to the Y every morning at 7:30 to meet up with what she says is a friendly and funny informal group of other women for the Old Lady Free Swim (not the official name). They all laugh and chat and paddle around every morning before classes start. I was looking for a way to ease back into the pool and I think I’ll like that. Then I can do strength training or walk on the treadmill or whatever afterward. Sounds like fun, right? (I have to keep repeating that to my exercise-adverse self …)
Oh. And I had a great time on Sunday with Ginny and Vicki at the annual luncheon and fashion show of the Textile Arts Alliance of the Cleveland Museum of Art, too. Bought a very cool, funky scarf-like thing.
You see what I mean.
So back to Texas. I had not seen my Dallas friends in 24 years. Seriously. Time doesn’t just fly. It streaks by at warp speed. I flew in late Saturday and stayed with my buddy Carol, her dog Jazz, and cats Max and Stoli, in Frisco, which is a suburb kind of north and west of Dallas.
When I lived in Dallas 24 years ago, I think Frisco was a gas station and a shrub near Plano. And when I moved to Dallas several years before that, Plano was the new home to Frito Lay and JC Penney, a Baptist church, and a few McMansions popping up on scrubby lots.
Today, that whole area is a metropolis of office buildings and corporate headquarters, shopping centers, housing developments, megachurches, sprawling school complexes and busy freeways. The Dallas Cowboys are building their new home and training center in Frisco and Toyota is fixin’ to (speaking Texan, y’all) open its new US headquarters there, too. There’s a development in the planning stages just blocks from Carol’s gorgeous home that will be the Texas version of New York’s Central Park. It’s currently a huge field of dirt and scraggly brush, but don’t ever tell a Texan that a transformation sounds unlikely. They said Central Park, and it will most surely be Central Park and then some.
Coming from quiet Northeastern Ohio, the fast-paced, ever-expanding development north of Dallas was nothing short of amazing to me. It’s the 21st century version of the Wild West. They say everything is bigger and better in Texas, bless their hearts. But it’s a great place to visit and I hope to do a lot more of that now that I’ve so happily reconnected with my friends there.
On this first trip back, the girls suggested we visit the One and Only Texas State Fair. Yee haw! Count me in! So we strapped on our orthopedic walking sandals, slapped on some sunscreen, and took the DART train from Carrollton to the station right outside the gates of the fairground, Fair Park. The train system in Dallas is clean, fast and inexpensive – a great way to avoid the freeways crammed with rodeo daredevils in pickups trying to beat portfolio managers screaming down the center lane in their Beemers.
Now, Fair Park is busy all year – not just during the fair. It’s the home of Cotton Bowl stadium where college football is worshiped each fall, several performance venues like Music Hall, the African-American Museum and Texas Discovery Gardens, and much more. In fact, Fair Park boasts the world’s largest collection of 1930s Art Deco exposition buildings.
But one thing Fair Park has that is unique to Texas, and to the world, is Big Tex. Seeing Big Tex and eating fried food were my two primary reasons for wanting to visit the fair. Oh, and seeing an honest-to-goodness Texas longhorn steer.
I learned that Big Tex and I are close to the same age. He made his debut at the State Fair in 1952 and a year later, the big baby started talking and later moving his head and hands. He’s actually a little creepy, but Texans L-O-V-E him. When he burned up in an electrical fire in 2012, there was no question he’d get a facelift (just in time for his 60th birthday) and return bigger and better than ever.
He’s three inches taller now, too, at 55 feet tall. His outfit is from Lane Bryant, or maybe custom-made by the Williamson-Dickie Mfg. Co. in Fort Worth. I forget. One of the two. I was surprised to learn that he was wearing clothes at all, honestly. I didn’t realize this until after my visit when I started reading more about him. In person, he looks like he’s just painted in denim or something. But then, my vision sucks (I’m actually looking forward to cataract surgery when Medicare kicks in next spring).
Maybe most impressive, sartorially speaking, are his Lucchese cowboy boots. If you are not a cowboy (or cowgirl) you may not know that Lucchese are the Cadillac of boots. Sicilian shoemakers Salvatore and Joseph Lucchese emigrated to the U.S. via Galveston and set up their first boot-making shop in San Antonio around 1883. They started out making boots for the United States Cavalry School at Fort Sam Houston and went on to become, eventually, THE name for Western style boots. Big Tex, of course, deserves nothing less.
Fortuitously placed just adjacent to Big Tex is Ground Zero for fried foods at the Texas State Fair: Fletcher’s Corny Dog tent. There may be other corny dog sellers (aka just corn dogs where I come from) at the fair, but people are happy to stand in line for the best. We were lucky to be there on a quieter day and didn’t have to wait long for ours. Best damn corn dog I ever ate.
But wait. We’ve seen Big Tex. Do you remember what is next on our “must do” list? That’s right: fried foods. The Fletcher’s Corny Dog kicked off a foray into all things fried, most of which we did not actually sample, but it was great fun seeing what was available.
After our Corny Dog, we shared a funnel cake. This has always been one of my favorite treats at the Ohio county fairs I’ve visited, so I was happy to see it in Texas, too. As we were sharing the fried, sugar-dusted dough, a lady sat next to us with a great example of how everything-can-be-fried, Fried Carrot Cake. It came with a caramel dipping sauce and a white sauce that may have been cream cheese or whipped cream or icing of some sort, but it wasn’t holding up well to the heat (did I tell you it was freaking 90 degrees that day? In October? WTF, Dallas?). She gave it a thumbs up and seemed an honest sort, so I’ll recommend it to you. Looked yummy.
I had promised myself (and my son) that I would only actually buy and eat one outrageous fried treat. But here’s a short list of a few of the more interesting options at the fair:
- Chicken-fried lobster tail
- Fried pickles
- Chicken-fried bacon
- Fried butter
- Fried Snickers bar
- Fried dulce con leche
- Fried bread cone filled with steak and peppers
- Fried stuffed olives
However, the one that made me pull out the last of my tickets and pay for a serving was the Fried S’More.
Oh, mama. Pull apart the sweet fried dough, and inside you’ll find ooey-gooey melted chocolate and marshmallow and a hint of graham cracker that sort of melded into the fried dough. Can I tell you how happy I was to have held out for this sinful dessert? Worth every sugar-busting calorie. Trust me on this.
And finally, as we waddled back to the DART station (well, I waddled, anyway), we did come across Tex’s Pride, Big Tex’s very own longhorn steer. Unlike his fiberglass master, Tex’s Pride was a real bull with a ring in his nose and an expanse of horn at 60” that’s only two inches less than I am tall. Tex’s Pride eats 40 lbs. of feed and drinks 30 gallons of water a day. He spends about seven hours a day chewing cud. He also frowns on people who want to play with him and I was more than happy to “respect his space,” as advised by the sign.
Texas is big and hot and there’s too much traffic and not enough trees. People go to church a lot and take the whole Christian thing fairly seriously and I suspect there are more folks packing guns than I dare to imagine.
But you know what? It’s a heck of a lot of fun to be there. Especially if you’re lucky enough to have friends like mine. I can hardly wait to go back and explore the Pearl Arts District in downtown Dallas and visit the Texas Book Depository to learn more about the tragic Kennedy assassination there. I’d like to see what’s new on trendy Lower Greenville and sample the area’s fabulous barbecue and Tex-Mex cooking. We enjoyed a short visit for lunch and shopping in charming Granbury, and I’d like to do more of the same in Grapevine and historic McKinney.
And guys – that’s just around DALLAS! I know I mostly write about Europe and love every moment I am able to explore there, but I could spend a month tooling around Texas and never be bored. If the girls will have me, I’ll be checking on cheap flights to go back for another visit soon.
Go to Texas, y’all!