My occupation is an odd combination of intellectual dexterity, emotional intelligence, and reasonable taste. It was in the latter vein that I was dispatched to find gifts for an internal meeting next year of senior management from all over the United States and Latin America.
I don't really mind doing these things, as it's a break from my desk and the hundreds of emails that flood towards me all day and night, an aspect of working for a global organization that it took me a long while to manage. ("Just turn it off when you go to sleep," offered a partner in my early days. So much for that. When I wake at three-thirty for my regular worry session, I can't help but scan the Blackberry for urgent messages. And even if I slumber through the night, an increasingly rare thing, I look at the damn thing before I even get out of bed.)
At any rate, when I got marching orders to look at Texas-themed gifts, I went to what I consider the real thing: Fort Worth. When I moved here over a decade ago, I heard again and again that the FW of DFW was a completely different animal than the Big D. At Railhead, a Fort Worth barbeque place owned by a local who is also a state congressman, the shirts read, "Life is too short to live in Dallas." The lore I learned early on included the story, perhaps apocryphal though it feels true, that Amon Carter, the millionaire who started Fort Worth's Star-Telegram newspaper and who founded the first television station in the area, is said to have packed a lunch before visiting Dallas rather than spending his money there.
I didn't know or care a thing about Dallas until three years ago, when I started commuting in that direction. I've tried to be open-minded, as an aspiring urban soul who lived in Toronto for seven years. To be sure, there are some great places to shop and a few tightly-wound restaurants. I've worked with people who live there and gotten to even like a few, but I always feel like a tourist. Additionally, I've experienced quite sincere pity from my Cowtown friends. They don't understand my protests about "world class" and "global." Why can't I just stay home and make a ten-minute commute? Surely there is something I can do. Well, I have two kids and my opportunities lie outside the Gateway to the West.
Nevertheless, my loyalty in tact, I went to a fabulous store in Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth, and managed to find myself some pretty hot premium denim, and I coveted a pair of six hundred dollar boots. For the work task, I found some beautiful cufflinks, a silver money clip, a proper buckle for a leather strap, and some coffee table books. These, the Dallas partner (okay, he's actually from the Midwest, but he's been here as long as I have, so no excuses) pronounced "cowboy" and "hick." I agreed with the first characterization, because I've met more than a few cowboys who are worth a lot more than a Dallas lawyer--they might have manure on their boots, but money spews forth from their granddaddies' acreage, and they are Real Texas Men, which as my readers know is irresistable to me--but took exception to the second.
Several years ago, another Dallas lawyer explained his city to me: "Dallas is not like Fort Worth. We are aspirational. We want to be L.A." He seemed, inexplicably, to believe this was a good thing. As those in West Texas would say, Big hat, no cattle.
So I'll work in Dallas--because I don't have a granddaddy with an acreage and this is my gig and the deal that goes with it--but every weekday evening when I drive back across the Tarrant County line, I exhale. I love my town and its contradictions: rich yet unpretentious, conservative but live and let live, sleepy yet full of a fair number of scandalous open secrets, a big city that acts like a small town. Fort Worth grows and has ever more to offer, but it never forgets where it came from.