Suzy Banks talks about the challenges of finding the offbeat in a straight-laced town.
texasmonthly.com: You had already written about your 25 favorite things to do in Houston when you were assigned this story. Was it more difficult to come up with ideas for Dallas or Houston?
Suzy Banks: It was easy to come up with ideas in general about Dallas, but much harder to come up with subjects that fit the editorial mandate to “be quirky.” Dallas is a town with a phenomenal art museum, popular tourist attractions like the Aquarium and the Sixth Floor Museum, and world-renown shopping malls, but it’s not a town that’s conducive to “quirky.” If something offbeat springs up, I think Dallasites trot over in their spike-heeled Manolo Blahniks and stomp it to death before it can procreate. I went to Dallas with a list of about 40 things I’d researched or that had been suggested by locals and still it was tough to come up with 25 things.
texasmonthly.com: In your introduction, you call Dallas a “much-maligned city.” In your opinion, why does Dallas always get such a bad rap?
SB: I’m not sure if it began with the Kennedy assassination, but that definitely didn’t help its reputation. And I think there’s something off-putting about its geography, of all things. If I believed in the American mutation of feng shui, I’d say it’s a city with bad feng shui. They need to hang some crystals over the bronze cattle in Pioneer Square or put some mirrors up in Deep Ellum or something. All I know is that when I told people I had to write 25 things to love about Houston, some would scoff, but at least a few would say, “Oh, I like Houston, blah, blah, blah.” But when I told folks I was writing 25 reasons to love Dallas, every single person reacted with shock and horror—even people from Dallas.
texasmonthly.com: What is your absolute favorite thing about Dallas?
SB: Leaving? No, really, one of the coolest things I ever did in Dallas was go to the Arboretum in spring when the tulips were in full bloom. Dallas is notorious for over-the-top style and when it comes to flowering bulbs, I’m all for the more-is-better approach. (I didn’t include the Arboretum in the 25 because it’s too well known.) I also really liked riding my bike through Fair Park one morning when I was almost alone. They have these giant swan paddleboats on this tiny lake that I was really enamored with. I think I took about fifty photos of those swan boats. (I didn’t include Fair Park because Anne Dingus covered the State Fair, which is held there.) I also really like simultaneously watching a foreign film and drinking a nice, cold American microbrew at the Magnolia theater.
texasmonthly.com: What do you dislike most about Dallas?
SB: There was one woman who was walking a Maltese dyed to match her pinkish outfit. The pup was looking at me and wagging its tail like crazy, so I bent down to pet it. This woman jerked the dog away, scooped it up in her arms, and shot me a look that singed my hair. Now, I pet nearly every dog I meet. I’ve petted high-society dogs in the streets of New York, for Pete’s sake, and no one has ever reacted like that. It put me in a funk for the rest of the day.
texasmonthly.com: Did anything funny happen to you while working on this story?
SB: Well, it’s not exactly funny, but an odd thing happened when I went to check out the bronze cattle in Pioneer Square. Two of Texas Monthly’s Dallas-based writers, Michael Ennis and Jim Atkinson, had such differing opinions on them (Michael thinks they’re a hideous cliche; Jim thinks they’re cool) that I figured I should check out this controversial sculpture. I rode over on my bike (don’t ride your bike in downtown Dallas), studied them awhile, and decided they’d make the cut, that I could write something pretty funny and telling about Dallas if I included them. But then I rode my bike around the corner and almost ran right into three men smoking a crack pipe (I think) in the shadows of one of the Longhorns.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most difficult aspect of working on this story? Why?
SB: I think it was being alone in Dallas for six days. It’s not the friendliest city in the world—I think it has a lot to do with a lack of self-confidence—and striking up casual conversations was difficult. Oddly enough, some of the friendliest people I met were the sales clerks at the downtown Neiman Marcus. It was pretty obvious I wasn’t a big spender, but each and every one of them was unfailingly gracious and, well, just nice. Dallas isn’t big on nice. I kept wondering about Skip Hollandsworth’s article about all the self-help books that are penned in that city and wondered if it wasn’t time for someone to write a book on how to be nice.
texasmonthly.com: Do you think Houston and Dallas are completely different?
SB: I think Houston has a better sense of humor, a comfort with self-deprecation that Dallas completely lacks.
texasmonthly.com: What surprised you about Dallas?
SB: I was surprised by how pretty it was around White Rock Lake. I was surprised by the number of people who drive 90 miles per hour on congested freeways. And I was surprised that early on a Wednesday night, with very few reservations written in the book and a ton of empty tables, that it would be a two-hour wait for a single diner to be seated at the Green Room.