Word on the Street

Personal essays from a young journalist in the Sunshine State.

Tag: Life in Dallas

Round-up of Weekend Road Trip

My roommate, Jessica, and I at the Alamo.

Me and my roommate, Jessica, at the Alamo.

I took a road trip with friends last weekend to San Antonio and Austin, where I experienced the Alamo, nightlife on Sixth Street, and the equivalent of a giant Mexican McDonald’s.

During our first night in San Antonio we went to Chachuo’s and Chalucci’s, a huge Mexican restaurant that’s open 24 hours a day. The restaurant even has a karaoke bar. If I hadn’t been so tired when we arrived at the restaurant at 12:30 a.m., I would have gotten behind the mic.

The next day we went to the Riverwalk and the Alamo. The Alamo is a lot smaller than I thought it would be, and it’s right in the middle of downtown. I expected it to be set back somewhere away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Before heading an hour north to Austin, we went to a barbecue restaurant called The Salt Lick. You have to drive on long, winding roads to get to the restaurant, which is in a little middle-of-nowhere town called Driftwood. I never expected to find such a huge restaurant hidden there among the hills.

I’m not a big fan of barbecue, so I mostly ate the pickles and warm bread that came with the main meal, along with some blueberry cobbler and vanilla ice cream for dessert. I enjoyed the atmosphere more than the food. You can bring your own coolers to the restaurant, and you can sit outside and listen to music or sit inside where you’re less likely to keel over from a heat stroke.

We headed to Austin after satisfying our barbecue cravings and then went out on Sixth Street, where young club-goers and bar hoppers come out to play. We gravitated toward the bars with live music and rooftop access. I loved walking along the street, which reminded me of Bourbon Street, but with fewer people. While in Austin, we also visited the University of Texas’ campus and toured the Capitol. I’d recommend both.

I went to Forth Worth last Friday for a story but still haven’t gotten to experience the downtown life there yet. I hear it’s more authentic than Dallas in terms of its Texas identity: think cowboys, the rodeo, etc.

Next on my list of cities to visit: Houston.

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Waking up for a Morning Run

Waking up is hard to do. It’s even harder when you’re not a morning person and you know you have to go for a run right after the alarm rings.

7:56 a.m. Four more minutes.

8 a.m. Snooze.

8:09 a.m. I pull back the curtain, hoping it’s raining outside so I’ll have an excuse not to run.

No such luck.

I’ve been a runner for years, mostly in the Northeast, and have grown accustomed to running outside in the early evening. Since moving to Dallas last month, though, I’ve found it’s too hot to run outside. I’m not willing to drop the money for a gym membership just yet, so I decided to try running in the morning. Doing so means changing how I live my day-to-day life. No more running after work. No more staying up until 2 or 3 a.m. No more sleeping in.

After four days of failed attempts to get up early and run, I crawled out of bed recently at 8:10 a.m., put in my contacts, quickly got dressed before I could change my mind, and stepped outside into the morning light.

Surprisingly, I felt strong when running and didn’t have to slow down, stretch, or “tie my shoelaces,” a.k.a. look for an excuse to stop running. Aside from barking dogs and the occasional car radio, the streets echoed a tale of silence. I turned my focus to the rhythm of my running and the beat of my feet. After about three miles, I made it home. Maybe waking up early and running isn’t so hard to do. We’ll just have to wait and see if I still feel the same way tomorrow.

Check out a related blog post I wrote for The Dallas Morning News’ fitness blog.

How do you motivate yourself to get up early and run?

Star-Struck in Dallas, Just Not By the Right Kind of Stars

Stars on the ceiling of Mi Tierra Cafe in San Antonio

Stars on the ceiling of Mi Tierra Cafe in San Antonio

I keep seeing stars. They’re everywhere in Dallas — on flags, ceilings, floors, doorknobs and door hinges.

But good luck finding one in the sky.

Now, I’m sure Dallas does have stars, but I didn’t see any tonight. While sitting on the stairs outside the house I’m staying in, I looked up and saw a black canvas painted across a starless city sky. I wanted to see a sky of glow-in-the-dark treasures, wanted to look up and gaze at them from my stoop. But blackness alone stared back at me.

Amidst all the glitz and glamour of cities, where movie stars come out to play, the most beautiful stars of all seep into secrecy. The city lights disguise them, and all you’re left with are the lights from an airplane, a skyscraper or a blinding billboard.

I suppose the lone, imitation stars I see in Dallas will have to do for now. In the meantime, I’ll keep gazing and hoping for a real star.

Day Trip to the Latino Cultural Center

I’ve always been fascinated by the Hispanic culture. It all started when at age 14 I got a job working at Market Basket, a grocery store in Framingham, Mass., that attracts predominantly Spanish-speaking customers and employees. My fascination grew in college when I majored in Spanish and then went on to study in Sevilla for seven weeks the summer before my junior year.

So when my editor asked where I wanted to go for a day trip as part of an “On the Town” feature for The Dallas Morning News, I told her I’d been wanting to check out the Latino Cultural Center here in Dallas. Now that I’ve been once, I want to go back again to admire the artwork, watch Spanish films that the center regularly shows, and practice speaking Spanish. You can find out more about my adventures at the center and at Monica’s Aca y Alla restaurant in this light feature I wrote for today’s paper:

Some places I visit beckon me to come back. The Latino Cultural Center is one of them. After visiting the center for the first time last week, I can’t help but want to return to the oasis of Hispanic culture, where art lives on the walls, on the ceilings and in the shadows.

The center, which was designed by architect Ricardo Legorreta and is approaching its fifth anniversary, features a tower, fountain, portico and plaza. Orange and purple hues dominate the building’s exterior. Inside, the people who work there seem just as personable as the building is colorful. The center’s office assistant, Nellie Ortez, sat by the entrance and greeted visitors with a smile and a cheerful hello. Even before finding out we were reporters, she handed my colleague and me packets about the center and offered to take us on a personal tour of the building.

Ms. Ortez showed us the various pieces of art in the center, including a fiberglass eagle crafted by Luis Jiménez. Behind the eagle, shadows fall. Every shadow has a story, Ms. Ortez says, pointing out that the architect intended for each of the center’s shadows to form a different shape depending on the time of day.

Just beyond the eagle lies a trove of artwork in the fifth annual “Hecho en Dallas/Made in Dallas” exhibit, which runs through Aug. 30.

[READ MORE …]

Writing reviews has been a good lesson in learning how to experiment with different types of writing. Normally, I like writing news stories about people, not about restaurants or shops. I found in writing this piece, though, that there are lots of ways to work people into reviews. I knew, for instance, that I couldn’t portray an accurate picture of the Latino Cultural Center without including a few lines about the center’s office assistant, Nellie Ortez. She told the story behind the place and therefore became part of the place’s story.

I’ve been working on a few other stories this week, so stay tuned for more links and for tips I learned during the reporting process.

Chilling with Ice Cube

Ice Cube was on fire Monday night at Myst, where he showed up shortly before midnight to promote his upcoming album, “Raw Footage,” set to be released Aug. 19.

My friend, who works for Quick, a Dallas Morning News publication, invited me and two other girls to join her for the event. As someone who likes old school rap, I couldn’t help but want to go to the club and have my picture taken with the 39-year-old hip-hop star.

Ice Cube had a fierce and bewildered look in his eyes, and I never once saw him smile when in the company of his paparazzi posse. I laughed, though, while taking my picture with him. There I was, still dressed in my not-so-fashionable work clothes at a trendy night club with Ice Cube for an event I had just heard about hours before. I couldn’t help but love the spontaneity.

Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone in Texas

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not real adventurous when it comes to trying new foods. But since moving to Dallas, I’ve tried being more open to change.

It helps that I live with one of The Dallas Morning News‘ Taste editors. She introduced me to tamales, dim sum and jellyfish this weekend. (The jellyfish was part of the dim sum.) As much as I like the Hispanic culture, I had never eaten tamales before, but I actually really liked them. Now I need to try eating at some of the local taquerias near the house where I’m staying. I hear that although they may not look great on the outside, inside you can find delicious Mexican treats.

Dim sum was better than I thought it would be, even though I didn’t use the chop sticks correctly while eating it. I don’t eat red meat or pork, so I prodded and poked at the chicken and shrimp-based dim sum and tried to pick it up as best I could. By the time the meal had ended, my hands hurt from using the chop sticks — probably not a good sign. And the jellyfish portion of the dim sum? I’ll describe it as being crunchy and drenched in sesame seed oil. One small, slimy bite was more than enough to satisfy my curiosity.

Later in the day I went to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, located in the heart of downtown Dallas. I went to Spanish Mass and loved seeing the filled pews. Sometimes, you go to a church and the attendance is weak. Not at Our Lady of Guadalupe. There’s a six-floor garage next to the church, which was nearly filled at the 1:30 p.m. Mass. Ushers needed to help people find room in the pews so that they wouldn’t have to stand in the back of the church. Children, couples and senior citizens all congregated together like one big family. Very cool sight to behold.

After church I drove to White Rock Lake Park and tried walking around until the heat beckoned me inside. Today was hot — I don’t mean Florida hot, I mean 107 degrees hot. Holy hades. One of the local disc jockeys said Friday that he was going to Florida to visit his parents and to “cool off.” Since when do you go to Florida to cool off? My Massachusetts roots make me yearn for an impossible summer snowfall, or at least a cool breeze.

In need of some air conditioning, I went grocery shopping and spent a lot of time in the frozen food aisle. The Hispanic grocery store, Carnival’s, had pinatas hanging from the front window, and the signs in the store were all in Spanish. I found most of what I was looking for, but no hummus or veggie burgers — two foods I eat almost daily. Maybe that’s a sign that I need to keep being adventurous with what I eat and not just stick to the norm. If I’m going to branch out and try new things, Texas is just as good a place as ever to do so.

Young, but Not That Young!

So today while on my first assignment I was mistaken for a high school student. I know I look relatively young, but I don’t look that young. I’m 23! The woman I was talking to felt bad when I told her I was a reporter because she said she had thought I was a high schooler. Her comment didn’t bother me, but it made me wonder how old I look to other people and how that affects the way people treat me while I’m on an assignment. Being a young and “cute” female reporter can work to your advantage because it can make you seem less intimidating, but it can also make it easier for people to manipulate you by mistaking your youth for naivete.

My friends don’t think I’m naive, but they do think I’m young. This isn’t the case with my friends from home or college, but most of my Floridian friends are older than I am, so I often get teased because I’m “so young” and might not be able to relate firsthand to every reference they make. I’m a prime target for teasing because I react to the jokes and always say, “I’m not that young!” It’s always more entertaining to joke with someone when you get a reaction from them, so I can see why people joke with me about my age.

For the most part, though, the age gap is not a problem. I hold my own, and I find I actually like spending time with people who are older than I am. Maybe it has something to do with me being an only child. As a kid, I was always surrounded by adults. My parents weren’t big on babysitters, so I usually went out with them. They let me watch shows that were placed on some of my friends’ “forbidden” lists — shows like “Melrose Place” and “Married with Children.” And they let me watch movies like “Die Hard 2,” even though I was only 5 years old when that movie came out. The hardships I experienced at a young age and all that my parents let me experience helped propel me into adult life faster, and so it makes sense that I feel comfortable with older people. But “older” is a vague term. Once you graduate college, age doesn’t matter as much. Your friends aren’t divided into freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior slots. They’re just “in their 20s” or “in their 30s.”

Hanging out with “older” people in their late 20s or early 30s has led some people to believe I’m older than I actually am. The joking about my age usually starts when I tell people I’m “only” 23. Some think I’m as old 27, while others like the woman I met today think I’m younger, dare I say still in high school. Senior citizens often think I’m younger than I am, but that’s only because anyone under 55 seems “young” to them. Ten years from now, I suppose, I’ll feel more grateful for my youthful spirit and looks. Until then, I plan to keep staying young at heart.

Colorful Cubicles? Yes, Please

I have to get used to working in a cubicle again. I’ve never had an actual office, but at Poynter my work area was right near the entranceway to Poynter Online, so people often stopped and waved, or leaned over the partition near my desk to talk to me. In high school, when I interned at The MetroWest Daily News, I used to call myself the newsroom nomad. I didn’t always have a set cubicle, so I wandered around and sat at whatever cubby was available.

Now, at The Dallas Morning News, I have my own set cubicle, with my own phone, my own e-mail address, and my own desk chair. But the walls of my cubicle — they’re so bare. Their emptiness echoes the eerie reality of industry-wide buyouts and layoffs. That said, I’m going to have to find some creative decorations to keep my cubby comfy and colorful.

Tonight, I found some inspiration in a CNN article called “Cubicle Land — How to Stand Out.” Check out the different ways the cubicles are decorated. I like the “Hulking Out” one. Got any cool cubicle decorating ideas?

First Day Exploring a New City

Today I explored downtown Dallas with my dad and got to see the arts district and Deep Ellum. I thought Deep Ellum would be more lively, but it may have just seemed quieter than I expected because we were there so early in the morning. We ate at a little bakery in the West End and went to a tourist trap shop, where we tried on cowboy/cowgirl hats and stared wide-eyed at the rows and rows of cowboy/cowgirl boots. I couldn’t help but try on a hat to mark my first day in Dallas. Cowgirl hats don’t quite measure up to the Red Sox hat that’s hanging over my bed, but they are comfy and cute nonetheless.

My dad left this afternoon to head back to Boston. We had some quality father-daughter bonding time, and now that he came, he can visualize where I’m working, where I’m living and what the city of Dallas is like. He would have enjoyed the place I ate at tonight. The name of the restaurant has slipped my mind, but it was a relatively new eatery near the Hampton Hills part of Dallas. My roommate and I ordered raspberry sangria and pizza topped with grapes and goat cheese. Sounds a little strange, but it was actually really tasty.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) is my first day on the features desk at The Dallas Morning News. It’s public knowledge that The Dallas Morning News just announced a round of buyouts, so I’m starting off my internship at an interesting time. But I come to the newsroom with a sense of optimism, knowing that this experience will be what I make it out to be. I’m ready and eager to tell stories in a new city and to explore the heck out of this place. I’ll keep you posted on what I find.

(Note: The dateline for this blog should be July 28, not 29. If I post after 6 p.m., my temperamental blog puts the following day’s date on the post. I won’t post this note every time this happens, but I will occasionally as a reminder.)

A Little Inn in New Orleans

Canopy bed … I want one for my own room!

I’m writing this blog post from a cute little inn in New Orleans. My dad and I arrived here around 10 p.m. Saturday night. A friend had recommended a nearby inn to me, but it was full for the night, so the owner told me to look into the Sunburst Inn. I’m glad we did. The tiny inn, which has a sunburst flag hanging next to the entrance, is nestled in a neighborhood that’s about six blocks from the French Quarter. I visited New Orleans last November, so the area is still fresh in my mind. My dad has never been to Louisiana, though, so he has loved seeing the clusters of small houses complete with balconies and hanging plants.

The Sunroof Inn sure beats a Motel 6 or some other chain hotel. I’ve always loved old houses, so this inn is just my style with all of its history, character and canopy beds. Glenn, the guy who runs the inn, said we could use his bikes in the morning to ride to the French Quarter. We’re meeting up with one of my friends in the Quarter, where I hope to introduce my dad to the gloriousness that is beignets. A trip to Cafe Du Monde, perhaps?

Next big stop after New Orleans = Dallas.