Kevin Sharpe Creative Non-Fiction HUMA 6355-501 University of Texas, Dallas Professor Betty Wiesepape April

26, 2011 Going Places

In 2008, artist and musician David Byrne found himself on Highway 75 in Dallas which lead him to what he said “might be the mightiest and most awe-inspiring interchange I’ve ever seen.” Here in Dallas, we call that mighty interchange the “High Five,” where Interstate 635 crosses east and west as it intersects with north and southbound Highway 75. It was just two years after the overpass’s completion when Byrne saw it and said, “At least five levels of roads are stacked up, all swooping over, under and around each other as if they are in some mighty concrete mating dance. It’s a truly incredible work, graceful and of a scale so large that it is impossible to see the whole thing from any one vantage point.” While Paris has the Eiffel Tower and New York City has The Statue of Liberty, Dallas has the “High Five.” It’s a monument to what matters most in Dallas, and there isn’t a more appropriate symbol for the city. Even someone like me – who enjoys living in Dallas without a car – can’t help but be impressed. There are 720 bridge support pillars that resemble columns in a temple, where drivers can worship the mighty automobile. And just so you don’t forget you’re in Texas, each column is topped with a lone star. You’d expect that kind of homage in a city where the car is king, and Dallas is a place where the culture incorporates frontage roads, toll ways, garages and carports into daily rituals that drive the local lifestyle.

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Telling a Dallasite that I live here without a car causes a lot of confusion. Their eyes squint like they trying to calculate a complicated formula. Not only are they trying to figure out how it can be done, but also why anyone would want to be carless in the first place. It’s like they’re hearing me say I decided not to have two legs. When I notice that someone is having a really tough time processing why anyone chooses to be carless, I pull in close and whisper, “To tell you the truth, my license was suspended after my third DUI.” That’s when they stop struggling and give me that oh-now-I-understand look. It’s a lie, but I find Dallasites to be more forgiving when they think I’m a convicted drunk driver rather than someone who has rejected their car-centric culture. Living life in Dallas without a car would be impossible if it wasn’t for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system (DART.) When “High Five” construction started back in 2002, work was wrapping up on the extension of DART’s light rail line that ran parallel to Highway 75. This newly opened extension allowed Plano and Richardson residents who lived north of the “High Five” to commute into Downtown Dallas on DART’s Red Line. I live about a mile away from the “High Five,” but I live even closer to one of the Red Line’s newest stations that is only a block away from my home. Since I work downtown, riding the rail is easy for me. That’s why I don’t have a car and why I have immersed myself in a lifestyle that depends on public transportation to get to where I want to go. Economics is a motivating factor, but I also want to prove to myself that I’m not a slave to a car. It isn’t easy living in Dallas without a car, but it is empowering. I’m not paying for parking, so I have more money to spend on digital toys that entertain me on my commute from the suburbs into the city. Rather than focusing on the road and driving defensively, I am riding
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the rail and reading books or watching movies on my iPhone. The money I am not spending at the pump pays for European vacations and winter get-a-ways to Mexican resorts. It took three months to conquer Dallas without a car. I taught myself how to plan and coordinate routines as well as ways to navigate through parts of Dallas that I once took for granted or didn’t even noticed. By getting out of the car, I can see and experience Dallas in a different way that has turned a non-native Texan into a proud citizen of this growing city! Driving around Dallas, it’s easy to get the impression that the city is nothing but wall-towall concrete. However, hidden between highways that divide the city are trails that connect parks and link neighborhoods. I have to remind myself that I am in the middle of a major metropolitan city when I’m on these trails, regardless of whether I am biking or blading, walking or running. The trees and fields that surround the nearly one hundred miles of trails absorb the city noise and block scenes of traffic, service roads and strip malls. I didn’t have to be carless to discover these parts of Dallas, but it was hard to explore when I was more concerned about driving directions and looking for places to park. As a driver, I spent more time finding the fastest ways to get to Point B from Point A. As someone who depends on public transportation to travel around the city, I now spend more time finding things to do that are closer to where I am. I was a drive-by citizen when I was living in Dallas with a car. Only issues that dealt with street conditions motivated me to get involved with the community. “Fix these lights!” “Fill these potholes!” “Widen these roads!” “Arrest that maniac driver!” But living in Dallas without a car is keeping me personally connected to the city. I share rides with fellow citizens when I’m on DART. I meet tourists who look like they need help as they try to figure out which stop is
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theirs. I pay attention when I see new buildings going up or being remodeled, wondering whether or not that will bring more people back into the city and make Dallas’ urban core more viable and lively. I am more engaged and passionate about the parks, trails and development that will make living in Dallas without a car easy and affordable. I’m more disciplined and value time more now than I did when I had a car at my disposal. Before, I could just jump in my car at any moment and drive anywhere without giving it much thought. Since I have to figure out how to get things done without the convenience of a car, I have to prioritize between what I want to do versus what I need to do. Sometimes shopping or last-minute plans with friends requires coordination, collaboration and compromise. Sure I miss out on some spontaneous times when my friends are meeting up at places that DART doesn’t connect to, but it’s great when they offer to pick me up or change plans so we can meet at places that are easier to get to on DART. Fortunately, places like West Village and West End as well as Fair Park are great entertainment areas that are right on the DART line. Plus, American Airlines Center in Victory Park and the Arts District, as well as the clubs and restaurants around Deep Ellum, are also perfect meet-up places I can get to using DART. Taking my friends out for happy hour pub crawls using DART to travel from one part of Dallas to another makes me the life of the party. Not only is it a safe way to have fun and see the city, it also gives my friends the opportunity see for themselves that public transportation isn’t so bad. I’d be a liar if I said that Dallas’ public transportation is just as comfortable and convenient as driving a car. Nothing makes me think about buying a new car more than waiting for a train at a DART station on cold winter nights or hot, humid Dallas days during the summer. It takes perseverance and a lot of sacrifice, and on some days waiting for a train sure isn’t very
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pretty. I come across some questionable characters, but I expect that, when I give up my privacy to use public transportation. Challenging and awkward moments – like when a stranger asks for change or to use my cell phone – make me think that sitting alone in bumper-to-bumper traffic is better than standing shoulder-to-shoulder among strangers. However, being connected to other people is part of living, even if it’s connecting with friends or strangers. That’s something I can’t do on the “High Five.” When Byrne was describing his reaction to seeing the “High Five” while visiting Dallas, he mentioned the interchange’s large scale and how it was impossible to see the whole thing at once. As impressive as that sounds, it takes more than one hour to ride from one end of DART’s Red Line to the other. DART’s light rail system includes fifty-five stations that support three lines with more than seventy-two miles of rail that stretches across North Texas. Work is still underway on a fourth line that will run through Irving as it connects Downtown Dallas to DFW Airport. On an even grander scale, Dallas and Fort Worth have been linked by rail for over five years. Soon cities such as Denton, Highland Village and Lewisville will connect to the Metroplex through rail when the Denton County Transportation Authority links their A-Train system to DART. Plans are also underway to add another system within Downtown Dallas’ Central Business District and expand service using a trolley system designed to reach nearby neighborhoods such as Oak Cliff and Uptown. While it took four years to construct the “High Five,” it’s taken more than a generation to bring DART’s light rail system from development to production. I wonder if Byrne ever got the chance to ride DART when he’s visited Dallas. As impressive and mighty as the “High Five” is,

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I bet he would have been even more impressed with what this region has achieved over the last thirty years as it invested in building the nation’s largest light rail system. Of course, both DART’s light rail system and the “High Five” are monumental and obscenely over-reaching. Here in Dallas, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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