Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dallas Recap: Haunted Hotels and Horror Movie Premieres

Oh it's good to be back coast-side. Nothing like travel to make you appreciate home, you know?

So, for those who work outside of the ever-exciting field of population demographics, April is generally the time of year that the Population Association of America holds its annual conference. This year, the conference took place in Dallas, Texas. And, yours truly was requested to attend for work.

Now, I've never actually been to Texas. I've driven through it, passing the world's largest crucifix, several chain gangs, and a handful of armadillos, but had yet to actually spend any significant amount of time in the state. Reports from friends about the area were, unfortunately, not very promising, and particular vitriol was saved especially for Dallas, so my expectations for the city were not too high by the time my plane touched down.

I'm happy to report that Dallas is not as tragic nor backwards as initial rumor indicated. Sure, the airport is far from convenient and the fundamental religious sect has no problem flaunting their crazy out in the open, but otherwise I had a pretty good time.

The conference hotel was booked before I could make a reservation, so I ended up staying at the Adolphus Downtown Hotel. It was cute! The hotel is pretty boutique-y (which I like), surprisingly affordable, serves high tea in the afternoon, and it was founded by Adolphus Busch of the Anheuser-Busch company (which I like even more). My room was a very nice suite with dining/lounge area, clean sheets and a well stocked minibar. Worked for me!

Unbeknownst to me, however, was the fact that the hotel seems to have some permanent guests. After chatting with a coworker who had roomed on a higher floor, I discovered that the Adolphus is apparently quite haunted. The epicenter of activity is the 19th floor, the previous location of the hotel ballroom. Guests often report hearing big band music or lots of chatter and movement in the halls, only to discover that there's nothing there. There's even a lady in white ghost (a bride who died after being jilted by her groom on their wedding day) who roams the building. My coworker complained that she heard voices outside her room, only to find an empty hallway upon closer inspection.

Now, I didn't experience any such thing. The oddest character I spotted
in the hotel was the bellhop who bore a more than passing resemblance to Elvis, and the only noise I heard was caused by a different type of unexplainable entity: a gaggle of teenage girls in town for national volleyball team tryouts. The horror...

But it wasn't all demography and ghosts. I did make it out to some of the surrounding Dallas neighborhoods. My boss and I headed to the West Village with a friend of her friends for dinner at Mi Cocina. When we got out of the taxi only to confront a huge group of photographers and a red carpet, we were a tad confused.

We made it into the restaurant and soon found out that the scene was part of a press junket for a movie premiere: Walking Distance. I still have no idea what the film is about, and we sat next to a pair of extras from it. We did find out that it's the first movie to feature Adrienne King (who played Alice in the original Friday the 13th), who hasn't been on screen in some 27 years as she was dealing with a particularly frightening stalker in real life.

But enough about horror movie fare: let's get back to the food! Mi Cocina is trendy, which is fine, but I'm more of a casual/neighborhood eats type diner. The margaritas were small, but potent, and the brisket tacos I ordered were pretty tasty, if a tad greasy. However, I was so hungry that I neglected to take a photo until I finally paused between bites and conversation.

It was good, trust me.

The next day I was mad-craving some southern-fried cuisine. I originally planned to head to South Dallas (per the recommendation of the baristas at Starbucks), but when I mentioned it to the concierge at the hotel, he looked concerned. Not the safest part of town, apparently. Instead, the non-Elvis resembling hotel staff directed me to a place called the Screen Door. The Screen Door specializes in nouveau southern cuisine. Whatever that means. I just wanted a hearty lunch.

Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed. Deciding to treat myself, I ordered the Fried Green Tomatoes for an appetizer. The dish came with a buttermilk chai sauce and the tomatoes also had bits of bacon/crispy ham sprinkled on top.

For my entree, I went for the big guns: Fried Chicken served with baked Macaroni & Cheese, gravy (on the side), a top of wilted greens. YAY!
The chicken was light and crispy, but a little dry - I still killed it. The mac n' cheese was heavy, but in the dessert-decadent kind of way. The gravy could have been a side dish. The greens I left alone, as they were way too salty to enjoy.

Afterwards, I rolled out of the restaurant and decided to walk a bit before heading back to the hotel. My original plan was to find a bookstore and browse a bit, but almost by accident I happened upon the quadrant of Dallas art museums. Sweet! I entered the Crow Collection of Asian Art, since it was the first building and entry is free. It's not the largest collection by any means, but still pretty impressive. There were several paintings by Yang Jin Long, a Chinese artist whose work looks like something Chagall would have created if he had really been into anime. The museum also houses a substantial exhibition of jade pieces from various parts of Asian landscape:
It's a 16th century back scratcher from India made from jade, gold, and precious jewels. Seriously.

I wish I had another night in town because the museum has some late night events, like sake tastings, that sound like a good time. Across the street from the Crow Collection is the Nasher Sculpture Center. Not free, unfortunately, but exceedingly affordable. Just $10 to see this museum - for an additional $6 you can also check out the Dallas Museum of Art.

Anywho, when you enter the Nasher you are immediately greeted by some interactive installation art by Jaume Plensa, who has a special exhibit (Genus and Species) currently showing. You have to walk through the first piece, Song of Songs III & IV, to move through the museum. The piece consists of metal letters, which spell out Allen Ginsberg's Howl (you know, the "I saw the best minds of my generation" piece), strung and hung vertically from the ceiling and hanging to the floor. The letters are actually chimes, so you inevitably make music as
you cross through.
I crossed through several times because, well, it was fun, and people didn't seem to mind. One of the security guards approached me as I returned from the sculpture garden (in the back of the building - also stunning) and instead of kicking me out as I feared, he noted that I should be in some photos rather than taking them and offered to take some of me as a kind gesture. Southern hospitality at it's best, let me tell ya!


I was quickly running out of time and did not, unfortunately, have the freedom of schedule to check out the Dallas Museum of Art. So I settled for taking a photo of east entrance of the building.

Yeah, I don't get it either. But it's pretty.

So that's Dallas in a nutshell. Hater stop hatin' - it's not nearly so bad. You just have to be willing to taxi out of the downtown area a bit.

On a separate note, Happy Earth Day to everyone! Have you hugged and/or recycled your tree today? :)

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