99 Things About North Texas

September 16, 2014
Some Fun Stuff to Start
  1. People really are nice in Texas. Your “nodding and/or waving at a stranger” interactions will go up by a factor of 100.
  1. Fried pickles are pretty darn good.
    Fried Pickles! -- They're great.
  1. But then, there’s a lot of fried stuff here. And all fried stuff is pretty good.
  1. The lack of cowboy hats, at least in and around our office area, is a bit of a letdown. 
  1. But if you really want to see people in cowboy hats, you can head down to Fort Worth, where all your Texas fantasies will be fulfilled. (See No. 79)
  1. Apparently, a “great” summer in North Texas means that every day is 95 degrees and only five days have been over 100 so far.
  1. But KFAA meteorologist Pete Delkus swears it’s only that hot for about six weeks each summer.
Litter? No Way
  1. This place is super clean almost everywhere. There are pockets of basic urban grime, but for the most part, it looks like North Texas has just experienced a massive Swiffering.
  1. Frisco, west Plano and the northern suburbs are very new. Everything looks like it was built in 2008 or after. Roads are pristine. Everything is perfect.
  1. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Though you get used to the perfection, it can be jarring at first, like something out of the “Stepford Wives.” Call it creepy. Call it eerie.  It’s that.
  1. But a few trips about town, you become accustomed to it.
Pla-no or Pla-yes?
  1. If you think of Plano as a small town, think again. It’s huge: 71.6 square miles. It takes about 30 minutes to drive across it.
  1. Plano is a planned community, with the major surface streets laid out on a one-mile square grid.
  1. Plano has set aside 4,000 acres of parkland, including Arbor Hills Nature Preserve in the west and Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve in the east. But, unnaturally, the vast majority of the hiking paths are paved.
  1. U.S. Route 75 is the unofficial dividing line between east and west Plano. The town was originally centered to the east. Most of the new development is in the west.
  1. Downtown east Plano is a little run down.
  1. But east Plano still has normal homes in nice neighborhoods.  
  1. Plano residents can purchase an annual family pass to all of the city’s recreation centers for just $160. So you can lose weight and save money at the same time.
  1. Plano is home to a bunch of corporations.
  1. That’s good news for homeowners. Those companies pick up the tab on 50 percent of the city’s property tax revenue, helping to keep individual tax bills lower.
  1. And if you own property in Plano, your tax rate is frozen when you turn 65—for the rest of your life.
  1. See, it pays to be old(ish) in Plano.
  1. Residents of Asian descent make up 19 percent of Plano’s population. Perhaps that’s why Plano is also home to the 100,000-square-foot Jusgo Asian Supermarket.
Big D Itself
  1. Opposite traffic is actually a thing. Driving from Dallas to Plano in morning rush hour (or Plano to Dallas in the afternoon), you’ll run into much less traffic. The drive is about 30-40 minutes.
  1. History buffs will want to check out the Old Red Museum that tells the story of how Dallas came to be. It’s near the infamous Dealey Plaza.
    Dealey Plaza -- See where those people are standing in the street? That's the exact spot JFK was shot. 
  1. Dealey Plaza, of course, is where Kennedy was shot and it’s an incredible place. Check out the Sixth Floor Museum in the old Book Depository.
  1. Then go to Elm Street and notice that Oswald really wasn’t all that far away.
  1. Then go watch “JFK” again. You’ll want to.
  1. Stand in the vast entryway of the Dallas Art museum. It’s a giant brick patio with nothing around you for a few hundred feet. Despite the hustle and bustle around you, you’ll feel isolated from the rest of the city.
  1. Then go to across the street to Klyde Warren Park for lunch. It’s a 5.2-acre urban green space created by redirecting the Woodall Rodgers Freeway, that runs through the heart of the city, underground. It’s quickly become a magnet for city dwellers, since it features yoga classes on the grass and an amazing array of food trucks. Brilliant!
  1. Though it’s sometimes hard to tell, there’s a difference between redneck beards and hipster beards. Dallas has both.
  1. Over the past 10-15 years, Dallas has injected some $2 billion into revitalizing its downtown—and it shows. Block after block is clean, modern and culturally rich.
  1. Another downtown fixture is Booker T. Washington High School for the performing and visual arts. This year, five of its graduates were accepted by Julliard. Imagine their high school musical.
  1. One of Dallas’ downtown skyscrapers has a hole in the middle of it—by design.  Officially, it’s called the JPMorgan Chase Tower. But ask someone on the street, and they will likely refer it as the keyhole building.
  1. Looking for Dallas’ high rollers? Odds are you’ll find them in stately mansions along Turtle Creek in Highland Park and University Park—Dallas’ answer to Los Angeles’ Beverly Hills. Here’s just one resident of note: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
  1. Also adjacent to Turtle Creek is the Robert E. Lee Park, replete with a statue of the Confederate Army general and a scaled down replica of Arlington, his home in Virginia. Interesting.
  1. Those seeking a higher calling might gravitate toward the Cathedral of Guadalupe, spiritual home to the largest Catholic congregation in America.
  1. Tex-Mex restaurant El Fenix, a downtown institution, claims it invented the frozen margarita. Cheers for that!
  1. The grand dame of Dallas’ accommodations is the Adolphus Hotel, opened for business in 1912 thanks to the deep pockets of St. Louis beer baron Adolphus Busch. Anglophile alert: They serve a proper British tea from 2-4 p.m. every Friday through Sunday.
  1. The Perot Museum of Nature and Science, opened in 2006, was built entirely with private donations including a big chunk of change from its namesake, billionaire Ross Perot.
  1. The Bank of America Plaza, at 72 floors, is the tallest building in downtown Dallas.
  1. Are you a foodie? Then follow your nose to the Bishop Arts District in the North Oak Cliff neighborhood. It’s home to more than 60 independent boutiques, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, theatres and art galleries.
  1. Dallas rents are high, and probably going upward as the area population explodes.
  1. The Dallas and Fort Worth area is called “The Metroplex,” which kind of makes it sound like a giant drive-in theater that can hold 6.5 million people.
  1. The upscale department store Neiman Marcus (in jest known as Needless Markup) was founded here, perhaps contributing to Dallas’ stereotype as a haven for the materially minded.
  1. Also downtown is the Majestic Theater, which opened its doors in 1921 at the height of the vaudeville era. Acts like Houdini, Mae West and Bob Hope graced its stage over the years. Its commitment to live performance continues to this day.
Allen’s Friday Night Heights
  1. If you make the move to Texas in search of wide open spaces, Allen probably won’t be your cup of tea. Its housing stock is already more than 90 percent built out.
  1. The Allen High School football team won the last two state championships in the state’s largest division. Last year, one postseason poll ranked them No. 2 in the nation.
  1. Yes, that’s the school with the $60 million, 18,000-seat stadium that isn’t in playable condition right now. It should be by the time we get there, though.
  1. And yes, talking to their coach, you’re reminded of “Friday Night Lights” (The TV show, not the movie).
  1. Allen also spent $60 million on its high school technical center and a 1,500-seat performing
    Study Hall -- This restaurant is actually a classroom at Allen High. It's run completely by students who rotate jobs throughout the school year. 
    arts center. The latter is sponsored by Cadillac. We might need to do something about that when we get there.
  1. Allen High School’s educational philosophy is, “For the students, by the students.” Abraham Lincoln would approve.
  1. Nearly 99 percent of Allen High School’s students graduate and about 86 percent go on to higher education. Slackers need not apply.
  1. Allen High School also offers its students more than 300 clubs devoted to a wide array of extracurricular interests. If you’re a teenager and can’t find your niche here, you’re just not trying.
The Skinny on McKinney
  1. McKinney is the county seat of Collin County.
  1. And no, that doesn’t mean that, at its center, you’ll find a really big sofa.
  1. McKinney’s official slogan is “Unique by Nature,” perhaps an attempt to counter the perception that North Dallas is nothing but cookie cutter subdivisions.
  1. You’ll find the Samaritan Inn in McKinney. It’s Collin County’s only homeless shelter. Mind boggling but true.
  1. McKinney sets aside 0.5 percent of its sales tax revenue to invest in what it calls “quality of life projects,” such as non-profit organizations and historical preservation. Enlightened.
  1. Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson set up Michael Johnson Performance in McKinney. It’s a world-class facility dedicated to helping athletes at all levels achieve their potential. Gold running shoes, Johnson’s trademark, are optional.
  1. Is it blazing hot in North Dallas in the summertime? Absolutely. But ice skating aficionados need not fear, thanks to the Dr. Pepper Starcenter rink.
  1. Only 30 percent of McKinney’s housing stock has been built out. As such, this city of 150,000 could eventually swell to 350,000. In 1989, the population was just 19,000.
  1. When McKinney builds a new school to keep pace with its growth, it has a policy of setting aside an adjacent park. So far, they’ve kept their word 33 times.
  1. McKinney has three high schools and has plans to add a fourth.
  1. So you came to North Dallas in search of…Croatia? Probably not, but you’ll find a Disneyesque facsimile of the Central European country in McKinney, thanks to an ambitious residential/retail/office development there called Adriatica.
    The Adriatica -- A bit of history and technology in McKinney. 
  1. At the heart of Adriatica is a distinctive Old World bell tower. But don’t be fooled. It’s actually a New World cell tower in disguise.
  1. Dog lover? Then you’ll like McKinney’s 250-acre Bonnie Wenk Park, which features a 2-acre dog park.
  1. McKinney certainly has its share of franchise restaurants. But Mayor Brian Loughmiller says his favorite local Tex-Mex eatery is San Miguel, just on the outskirts of the city’s historic town square.
  1. When McKinney revitalized its town square, it installed 20-foot-wide sidewalks to encourage restaurants to offer outdoor seating. If you squint, it looks just like Paris.
The Frisco Treat
  1. If you want to see a major league sport, check out FC Dallas, which plays in the well-named Toyota Stadium in Frisco.
  1. Frisco’s mayor drives a 2004 Prius, just like all other city employees with fleet cars.
  1. Frisco has a steak house called Randy’s Steakhouse that’s in a house that’s pretty much in a neighborhood. For a split second when you walk in, you feel like you’re robbing the place. But when you’re done, you don’t feel like they robbed you.
Texas Tales
  1. There aren’t nearly as many Toyotas on the road as in California. But that will probably change soon.
  1. There are tollways everywhere, but no toll booths. Get yourself a transponder, or they’ll send a bill right to your house.
  1. If you’re from Erlanger, traffic in Dallas is bad.
  1. If you’re from Torrance, traffic in Dallas is amazing.
  1. One thing North Texas will never have that Erlanger and LA do: natural scenery. No rolling hills, no mountains. No bluegrass. No oceans.
  1. It has a ton of lakes, though. Mostly man-made.
Fort Worth A Lot
  1. The Fort Worth Stockyards are the tourist trap edition of every Texas stereotype.
  1. Every day at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., they have a cattle drive at the Stockyards.
    A Little Texas in Fort Worth -- This is what you wanted, right? Up in that there stage coach is Bart Cinner. He and his horses Julius and Caesar give rides at the Fort Worth Stockyards. 
  1. What’s that? Well, they parade 17 longhorn cattle through the street. People watch. It’s eerie, in a cool way.
  1. Go to the Stockyards at least once.
  1. Because there’s a camel. His name is Camelot. He gives rides. 
  1. They also have a reindeer for the holidays. “He works about three weeks out of the year,” one Stockyards employee says. “We tell the kids Santa left one of his reindeer behind.”
  1. Fort Worth is home to Texas Christian University.
Playing DARTs
  1. You can buy a ticket for the DART (A day pass costs $5). But no one will ever ask to see it, and you don’t need to scan it before you get on a train.
  1. But, for the record, there are signs saying that’s illegal.
  1. Unlike their counterparts in McKinney, Allen and Frisco, Plano’s citizens approved a one-cent sales tax to help fund the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system. It has two stations, including one in the city’s old downtown. It's the last stop on the north-south Red Line. The Dallas city center is just 30 minutes away.
  1. Evidence that history repeats itself: The DART station is built on the former site of a railroad depot that opened for business in 1872, triggering Plano’s first population boom.
  1. If you’re going to a Cowboys game at AT&T stadium, the DART won’t take you.
Just Some Random Stuff at the End
  1. Whataburger is like a 12-car pileup made out of meat and cheese. We mean that in a good
    This is a Thing in the World - That's all you can say about this guy, who towers over the Deep Ellum DART station with a knowing smirk.
  1. One day, you’ll be driving around Dallas and you’ll notice the Southern Methodist University campus, and you’ll think to yourself “Ohh, so that’s the big school here.”
  1. Across from the DART station in Deep Ellum is a 32-foot statue of an aluminum robot. It is, in a word, freaking awesome.
  1. The Angelika movie theater – with locations in Plano and Dallas, not to mention a few in NYC and LA – has retro movie night. This week’s Dallas feature: “Hot Fuzz.”
  1. The Angelika also has mom days, weekday afternoon features in which mothers can bring their babies and toddlers and watch a movie without fear of being scolded for a crying child.
  1. Each May, Oak Point hosts the Suburbia Music Festival on its 1,500-capacity grass amphitheater.  Alabama Shakes, Third Blind Eye and Big Gigantic are just some of the many acts that have been in its lineup.
  1. Every August, the entire state of Texas has a back-to-school tax free weekend. So plan those bulk purchases of spiral-bound notebooks and No. 2 pencils appropriately.
  1. The Far East meets the South West at the Crow Collection of Asian Art, established in 1998.
  1. People from Dallas are called Dallasites.
If you made it this far, maybe you have some of your own “Things about North Texas” you’d like to share. Just email them to Driverseat@toyota.com and we’ll add them to the list for everyone to see!

--By Dan Nied and Dan Miller


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