When I went to Europe in 1981, Americans were no more popular there than they are now. As soon as I opened my mouth, hotel clerks and waiters would scowl at me and ask me where I was from. If I said, "America," I might not get a room or a meal. But if I said, "Texas," they would break out in a big smile, say, "Bang, bang! Who shot J.R.?" and we would be the best of buddies. So I learned to love Dallas because it probably saved my hide more than once during that journey. As for Dallas, I'd hardly ever been there at the time, and from all reports, I wasn't missing much. But during numerous visits over the next two decades, I discovered many reasons to love the actual, much-maligned city, reasons that have nothing to do with its well-known tourist attractions (the Sixth Floor Museum, the Dallas World Aquarium, the flagship Neiman's downtown, Pioneer Plaza's herd of bronze Longhorns), its 80 billion restaurants, or even a prime-time soap opera. Don't believe me? Keep reading.
1. I thought about claiming that the DOWNTOWN SKYLINE is best viewed from your car as you cross the Trinity River via Houston Street. But since Houston runs one-way here—out of town—the cityscape would be in your rearview mirror. Hmmm. Okay, head back into town via Jefferson (also one-way) for a commanding view of what Norman Mailer once charmingly described as "a collection of Kleenex boxes standing on end": Reunion Tower, which blossoms like a giant onion, on your left; the Bank of America Plaza, Dallas' tallest building, outlined in argon tubing that lights up the night with the color of money; and reassuringly, in the midst of it all, the familiar red horse still flying atop the Magnolia Building. I was proud of myself for discovering this particular view—until I learned it was the one shown during the opening sequence of Dallas.
2. Confronted with towering pyramids of melons, tomatoes, peppers, squash, peaches, eggplant, and on and on, shoppers at the DALLAS FARMERS MARKET must figure it's better to eat their veggies than be crushed by them. But awesome as this cornucopia was, I was even more impressed with the offerings at Texas' Own Texas Grown, the sole booth in the market's sun-drenched Cesar Chavez Plaza. Here, on the Saturday morning I visited, Jackie King served up the market's only certified organic produce, grown by a handful of the state's farmers: perfect squash blossoms, the cutest bunches of carrots I've ever seen, Sweet Heart watermelons, black-eyed peas, chocolate mint, and leeks so lovely I thought they were ceramic. Downtown between Harwood and Central Expressway just north of I-30 West, 214-939-2808, dallasfarmersmarket.org. Open daily.
4. Of all the plazas, memorial squares, and grassy knolls in downtown Dallas, the two-acre water garden a FOUNTAIN PLACE is my favorite escape from the city in the city. Surrounding a green-glass tower designed by I. M. Pei and Partners are stair-stepped walkways, tiered pools complete with waterfalls and 172 bubbling fountains, and a battalion of bald cypress trees. In a central plaza, 360 computer-programmed high-pressure geysers spurt from holes in the concrete. In all, some 35,000 gallons of water circulate through ten miles of pipe every minute—one engineering feat that actually has a calming effect. 1445 Ross Avenue, fountainplace.com.
3. "Sensory overload" is the theme four nights a week a DON CARTER'S ALL-STAR LANES DALLAS WEST . You've got your throbbing music, courtesy of video jockey George Crenshaw. Big screens hang over the lanes so you won't miss a move by Justin Timberlake or Sean Paul as you try for that impossible spare. The place is as dark as a disco, the better to see the tiny runway lights that race up and down the sides of the lanes. Bowlers dance up to the line. And best of all, beneath the oh-so-seventies black light, the fluorescent pink, orange, or green bowling balls glow like spheres of nuclear waste. My gutter balls never looked so dangerous. 10920 Composite Drive, 214-358-1382, doncarterbowling.com/dallas_west.html. Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday till 3 a.m.; from $1.29-$2.99 a game per person to $27 an hour per lane; shoes $3.75 .
5. As Deep Ellum continues to morph from fringe to mainstream, its edgier factions are migrating a wee bit east to EXPOSITION PARK , where straight-shooting industrial buildings have been transformed into art studios for both working and living. Quaint thirties storefronts—some shaded by trees, others with grand views of monumental Fair Park—house a smattering of businesses: cafes, clubs, art galleries, a vintage-clothing store. But this is not some New Age slackerville. In fact, multitasking seems the norm. New Amsterdam Coffeehaus, for instance, doubles as a homey bar with Sierra Nevada on tap and Nina Simone on the juke box. And at Bar of Soap, a watering hole cum washateria, you can sip some suds while you spin your duds. At the intersection of Exposition and Parry avenues.
6. The 9.3-mile WHITE ROCK LAKE BIKE TRAIL was so flat and smooth that I wanted to ride forever. (And the next day, my rear end insisted I had.) I found lots of stuff to gawk at as I pedaled around the lake: the 1929 deco bathhouse, built back when swimming in the lake was allowed and now reborn as a cultural center; H. L. Hunt's replica of Mount Vernon, also dating from 1929, which sits on a vast St. Augustine lawn right out of a sod salesman's fantasies; the faraway towers of downtown, ghostly through the smog; the spillway where egrets fish; and picnic areas shaded by enormous pecan trees and sprinkled with rustic structures built in the thirties by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Maps available at the Dallas Parks Office, 830 E. Lawther Drive (214-670-8281), and at whiterocklake.org.
7. Am I hip? I sure felt like it during my afternoon at the MCKINNEY AVENUE CONTEMPORARY ,or the MAC, an art and performance