Holiday Road – Part X

It was much like our second day on the tour – we had a full day, from wake to sleep, to spend in Dallas. So, with no packing or significant bus trip involved, you wouldn’t think I could be late for the third morning in a row, right? Wrong. We had an optional (at no cost) to get up and downstairs by 7:30am, hop on the bus, and take a tour of Texas Stadium. I was late in getting up (for some unknown reason, the alarm went off and I certainly wasn’t hung over), and rushed downstairs with my camera bag sans my still camera. It didn’t mind me becaus had my video camera which also has stills.

I had brought 2 cameras on this trip for a few reasons. One, my video camera goes to all those photogenic places, and I expected that the memory stick would get full very fast. I was right, and it would run out before the tour ended. Two, while I would like to take my video camera out at night, it’s way too valuable to be carried around by intoxicated me, so I packed my still camera which was cheaper (though still not cheap) but small enough to fit in my trouser pockets, so thus easy to manage. Three, my video camera requires a bag to carry it around for protection, as well as a spare battery and tapes (tapes still give you the best quality video), while the little still camera has a felt bag, and that’s enough. Four, and related to the last, The 18 Cup fits perfectly into the camera bag beside the camera, so it saves me having to carry around a trophy.

But it shouldn’t have mattered so early in the trip, right? I hadn’t filled my memory stick, and we would be back to the hotel before the night was out. So, I thought, as I climbed aboard the bus, it didn’t matter.

Just before we pulled into the car park, David thought to tell us that there are no video cameras allowed in. I was quite annoyed at that, and had no choice but to leave my camera bag, with the Cup, on the bus. Which meant no photos inside the stadium.

And to be honest with you, you’re not missing much. Unless you’re a die-hard NFL follower, it would be like walking around any other building. We walked through some private boxes, down into the change rooms, and out to the field. There were numerous stories attached to each place, and our tour guide for this (not David) was rather knowledgeable.

While I’m on the topic, I want to say a thing or two about the Texas Stadium tour guide. It might sound harsh, but honesty is the best policy, right? It was obvious that they guy had no sporting prowess or skill. We saw him throw a couple of balls, and women people on our tour who had never thrown an NFL ball in their life did a better job than him. I resolved in myself that this guy was born to a Dallas Cowboys fanatic father, who pushed him, always, towards sports. When he showed no skill, and in an effort to earn his father’s respect and love, he got a job as a tour guide of Texas Stadium. This guy knew his Cowboys’ facts, but I can’t imagine they hold up at dinner parties. Maybe BBQ cook-offs with the local suburbanites and Cowboys blue-collar fans, but nothing that would require you to wear a belt. Or socks.

Like I said, we had a few stories, some of which I can remember, but they will not interest a vast majority of readers here. Like the temperatures during games on the field, things about the roof, names and numbers placed around the field, and what the Heisman pose is. What I will tell you is that the field is synthetic grass. Maybe you already knew that. That reason alone makes the SCG is better than it.

The tour was good. I’m glad I didn’t pay for it, and it occupied my time. And anyway, it meant I was up earlier than if I had left myself to sleep in, and that meant more of the day to spend on serious things.

We bused back to the hotel, and after a little dabbling around, Father and I went out to our first stop: The Cowboy outfitter store just down the road. He wanted cowboy stuff because, well, he had a use for it all. I wanted cowboy stuff because, well, I’m a showboat. Ended up, I walked out with a new cowboy hat (white, to contrast my black Akubra), a bolotie and a belt buckle (both distinctly from Texas). I lost Father in the store, so headed to our next stop.

The 6th Floor Museum is, with out a doubt, themost fascinating thing you can do in Dallas. Maybe even the whole of Texas. The entire floor from where JFK was shot has been turned into a walking tour, where you wear a headset and following dozens of scripted panels around (the headset plays a commentary which differs to the panels, so you have a double dose of information). It details the context of JFK’s ascension to the presidency, his election, the foreign situation, then the his term as president, right up to the day he was killed. There, it details the whole day in detail, then the race to capture Oswald, then his near trial and murder. This is followed by an extensive segment about his funeral. And then it goes into the conspiracy theories, the various commissions to establish the ‘real story’, and then the fall-out from the assassination. Finally, it leaves you walking out on a reflective note, after an extremely touching and moving movie, and some emotional panels.

I drank this all in withwide eyes and keen ears. This was something I was extremely glad to see. I didn’t know what they had in ways of museums to JFK, but I thought that if this was it, it would be enough. A lot of the display was seeped in politics, dripped with policy, and oozed Congressional knowledge that a lot of it would have been foreign to other Contiki members, maybe even some of the American visitors that were there too. But it wasn’t so dense that you couldn’t understand it. If you are a cluey person who can put information and facts together without getting a headache, then it’s at your level.

On the 6th floor is an exact (as best could be made) replication of the corner that Oswald supposedly shot JFK from. The boxes have been rearranged perfectly so that someone could resume his seat and look straight down into Dealey Plaza. The boxes they used are recreated from the 60’s. You aren’t allowed to take photos in the whole museum – so of course, I snuck a few photos of the assassin’s corner.

The floor above is a movie room that has, looped, every bit of video relating to the day and the assassination, recorded by citizens watching the motorcade. The Zapruder film, the most well known video, is there along side some 10 or more others, though none recording the assassination in as horrific and violent images as Zapruder. Downstairs, in the museum, they show an edited version of it – where you don’t see the final bullet hit Kennedy. Chances are that you’ve seen this on T.V.. Unless you’ve watched the film JFK or sought out/came upon the unedited version, then you might not actually know how vivid the film actually is.

Going downstairs, there’s a gift shop. And, next to Vegas, this was the next place I could have blown all my money. Dozens of political books, hundreds of historical pieces, and clothing,  , knick-knacks and paddy-wagons coming out your ears. I wandered around like a kid in a candy store. I ended up walking out with a poignant JFK shirt – it has his face on it, along with the quote “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind” – some key chains, a general politics book (light reading for the rest of the trip at 606 pages, The Handy U.S. Politics Answer Book. Worryingly, it weighed in at 2.8 pounds, or 1.3kgs, and I would have to find a place for it in my suitcase or carry bag on my flights home), a replica copy of the New York times on the day of the assassination, some postcards, and a copy of the U.S. Constitution. This was a relatively cheap buy, all coming to around US$100 (and, the day of the exchange rate, the dollar was trading at 97 cents, so effectively 1 to 1). Really, for what I got, and the significance that all this meant to me (and the use I would get from it all), $100 is a steal.

It was time to leave and walk to perhaps the second most traumatic place for U.S. history – DealeyPlaza. It surprised me, for some reason, that it’s still a working road. Cars travel over X’s on the road, and the uneducated driver must wonder what it is. Someone (the government perhaps?) has marked the road withX’s for each place that Kennedy was struck with a bullet. The area is a lot steeper than I had imagined, especially at the top of the road. And it’s less straight and appears more curvy when you’re standing down on the curb. I walked along the road, then up to the Grassy Knoll.

Up top of the Knoll, to the left, there’s a platform, with a white concrete wall (about thigh-high), which is in front of a picket fence. It’s purported (which I believe) that the second shooter was behind and leaning on the picket fence. Behind the fence, a car park. Up on the platform these days is a guy, drawing a crowd, shilling his book for … wait for it … $135! That much for a conspiracy book when you could go online and getmore information for free. The guy has signs and a table withmerchandise, and posters of Kennedy getting shot that he repeatedly points to with gusto as he rambles on about the whole thing.

I wandered around, not thinking the moment right to be listening to a hawker of books. This, for me, was a reflective, almost solemn moment. Obviously, I’m not an American, nor was I immediately affected by the event, or even borning within an echo of it. But as a studier of U.S. politics, the JFK assassination comes up frequently. And in doing so, you read more about that man. And he isn’t, to me, a political figure of the past. He’s a man. And that man was murdered (as much as I use the word assassination, murdered is the truth) for doing his job. An innocent man, whatever his shortcomings were (in terms of vices), was struck down for trying to do good in the world. He did not deserve to die, and certainly not like he did.

The grandeur and majestythat the U.S. had in my mind when I had walked the rim of the Grand Canyon, for much of the day afterwards, disappeared, and was replaced with the stark reality that this country does indeed have bloodied and dirty history.

I walked away, reflecting on the whole experience, and up to the only JFK memorial that’s in the city. It’s a white stone cube (one gap on one side, and another opposite), with no top, and the ground serving as the bottom, with a black stone slab in the centre which simply reads: John Fitzgerald Kennedy. We were told that it’s so plain because the designer didn’t want people to be distracted from reflecting on the man or the event. I walked through it, and then away …

Before going back to get 18 Cup photos! In all my thinking and pondering, I had forgotten to get photos of the Cup in some of the most important places I would get to. I’ll get to uploading the photos eventually, but I expect people will like them.

I returned to the hotel, and milled around for a little. Father came in not long after and we chatted. He was rather bored with the museum – I had anticipated as much, being the man that he is. I ducked downstairs to make a phonecall – to home of all places. My mother had tried to call me previously in the trip, but it had been an absolute failure. I was on the bus at the time, and the delay was atrocious. We both gave up in frustration. Then I thought to call earlier in the day – and totally forgot about the time difference. After a ring, I hung up, afraid I had woken up my father at 5am on a work day, knowing he would be in that bad position where he had to decide if he would go back to sleep for an hour or get up. I waited, and to pass more time, so I asked that attractive lady behind the counter where I might buy some stamps. She said any corner store. She also offered to send my postcards too, when I had stamped them.

I walked out the hotel, wearing my Akubra of course, and wandered around looking for a corner store. And then I realised my folly: It was Sunday. I wouldn’t find a post office open, much less a corner store. I abandoned my search early, and headed back. I hadn’t walked 2 steps before a giant black SUV pulled up to the curb. I thought that all my death-defying days were over. I was in a seedy part of town, had noticably not seen another white person for an hour, and here I was, as white as rice, wearing my Akubra hat (which says more about you in the South than any other clothing item), wandering alone. I did not want to know who was in the car.

The window rolled down and a grandmother of about 80 stuck her head out and enquired how she could direct her husband to the I-somenumber. Obviously, being lost, she pulled over to the person who most looked like a local! I laughed and said “Sorry, I’m Australian.” She laughed, apologised, and we were both on our way. I was quick to remind myself to not play to stereotypes anymore.

I arrived back at the hotel, and called home once more. I got through, and my mother sounded moderately pleased to hear from me. The house had been woken by my earlier call, and they knew it was me. I said sorry. We exchanged some news, and that was it. No more than 10 minutes. I didn’t mind – it was enough of a fix from my household to sustain me for some time (the rest of the holiday it would turn out). I went back to my room to rest up from my walk and talk with Father some more.

Finally, time for tea came, and we bustled down stairs with the rest of the mob, and congregated in the lobby once more, waiting for David. Then, once he arrived, we walked to the restaurant we had a booking at. It’s called Dick’s Last Resort, and it’s quite an experience.

The place has a gimmick. That gimmick is that you would only come to this restaurant as a last resort. The waiters are intentionally rude to you. For example, there’s no please or thanks, just “You! What do you want?” When it’s time to order, they throw (literally) a pen at you and tell you to circle what you want in the menu. Don’t ask for a knife or fork – while you will get one, it’s dramatised to the n’th degree. As the night wears on, and you’ve had your meals, you’re allowed to, encouraged even, to throw your napkins at each other. The waiters give you piles of them. Imagine ~50 people from Contiki taking part in this napkin throwing. It was chaos. My tactic, however, wasn’t to throw pathetic little balls at people. I first grabbed a handful of napkins, and created a golf ball size one, and then added to it whenever a napkin came near me. Subsequently, by the time people started noticing that there weren’t many balls left to throw, I produced one the size of my head! A few people cowered, a couple of the boys were impressed, and David, the guy who had started it all and had the most amount of fun throwing dozens of balls at everyone, looked a little worried. Eventually, I lobbed it (because throwing it was impossible) at David, made an impact, and then it was a fight for the giant ball.

Of course, we were all warned about this (and more) by David, as he didn’t fancy leaving to to surprise. No doubt some people would have picked a fight had they been treated like they were and thought they were serious.

My meal here was babyback ribs. I thought that seeings I had had a steak already, I had to have the next most obvious meal of ribs. They were extremely good – though served in a bucket (I suppose to go along with the gimmick). I guess nothing really compared to having a steak or ribs in Texas – just like drinking Moët et Chandon in a winery in France, eating gelato on the banks of the Grand Canal in Venice, or eating Toblerone in the shore of Lake Como in Switzerland. The context makes the meal.

Another thing that the restaurant does is make you these hats out of giant sheets of paper and write rude things on them for you to wear. I didn’t note any of them in my diary, but they were all laugh out loud funny, even if some were rather rude. Also, the waiters drew on some people who looked like they might enjoy it.

It was one of the tour person’s birthday that night. They were dragged up on stage, along with me and the girl sitting beside her. She had to dance to a birthday tune, and the two of us were to do something to her (I can’t remember what it was) if she stopped. Thankfully, she didn’t stop.

The evening was quite good. Again, we were all pointed the way to the nearest bar. Again, I opted out of a drinking night – eager to get home to repack my suitcase. You might, by now, think it my excuse for not socialising. I actually think repacking your suitcase is a wise thing to do often. You can manage your room and you can get a feel for your weight – both of these having an influence on what else you buy for the rest of the trip. It also means you can race out the hotel door if you’re running late again, and not be even more late.

Father also wanted an early night. He had been out for a few nights on the trot and wanted a decent sleep. I didn’t object, and early, the lights were out, as I listened to my MP3 player before zonking out.

Thomas.

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