Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Back home

Friends: Yesterday was the 42nd anniversary of the assassination of JFK and it wasn't overlooked in Dallas. An organization was hosting a program entitled "JFK--The Assassination Remembered," featuring three of the particulars from that day--one of the neurosurgeons who treated Kennedy, a former Secret Service agent who protected Oswald's family in the days after the assassination and the man who was handcuffed to Oswald when Ruby shot him. Unfortunately, I was aboard Amtrak speeding home and missed it.

My final hours in Dallas were spent eating a picnic lunch on the grassy knoll, just four blocks from the Amtrak station, watching the many tourists, mostly families with children, coming for a look, taking photos either with the sixth floor book depository window in the background or the white X painted on Elm Street where Kennedy was shot. There were several assassination aficionados hanging out acting as freelance tour guides, some with placards that had diagrams and newspaper stories.

When I visited the site the day before on a quiet Sunday morning I initially had the place to myself. It took a few minutes to orient myself. At first I didn't think there was anything there to commemorate the spot other than that eerie white X in the middle of the road way. It is in a small park on the fringe of the downtown dedicated to the first settler in Dallas. Kennedy was shot where the first house in Dallas once stood. After some exploration I discovered a plaque acknowledging the assassination. There was also a map indicating a memorial three blocks away designed by New York architect Philip Johnson, who also designed the 190 S. LaSalle Building in Chicago, one of my favorites. Its lobby was featured in the Costa Gravas movie "Music Box." There is also a museum at the book depository devoted to the assassination. It includes a free exhibit in the lobby chockful of extraneous details. It reveals Jackie cadged a cigarette at the hospital she and the President were taken to. For $10 one can go up to the sixth floor and gaze out the window Oswald shot from.

For a city of one million, downtown Dallas was surprisingly sedate for a work day. It boasts a handful of 50-story buildings, but I saw no bike messengers and no hubbub of traffic. I could peaceably bike its streets as if it were a Sunday morning. There were parking lots with all-day parking for four dollars, barely enough to pay for half an hour in Chicago. There was a pleasant mix of the old and the new, glitzy skyscraper and old west.

I was searching for a loaf of bread to finish off the last of my peanut butter and honey. Someone at the Amtrak station told me a grocery store had just opened up in the downtown. It was significant enough news to have been featured on TV recently. That gave me a nice little exploratory mission and the opportunity to have a few last conversations with the locals. The friendliness and openness that had been the hallmark of rural Texas held true in the urban. I was in no rush, as my train didn't depart for several hours. Whoever I stopped to ask about the whereabouts of the grocery store was happy to engage in a little extra conversation, offering a tidbit of two about their city. Not a one was abrupt or in a hurry to be on their way or wary at all of being approached by a stranger. It was a good final dose of what made Texas such a pleasure and will have me eager to return.

Though my friends Mike and Jill, who moved down six months ago, naturally miss aspects of Chicago, they are finding plenty of things to like about Dallas. The dollar buys a lot more down here than in Chicago. Their mini-mansion with a swimming pool cost them less than a one bedroom condo in Chicago. I had arrived in time to be able to enjoy it and their company for a couple of nights. They were the last of my eight sets of friends I visited along the way. All welcomed me with such great warmth and hospitality, it hardly seemed as if I'd been away.

Later, George

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