Sunday, October 30, 2022

Dinner in Texas


     The Uber app gives you several helpful pieces of information to facilitate your rendezvous with their driver: the driver's first name, the make, model and color of the vehicle they're arriving in, and a little map showing your ride, a little grain of rice, working its way toward you. A good thing, since one data point can lead you astray. 
     For instance, I was in Dallas Friday night to report on a story, standing expectantly in front of the  Sheraton Arlington Hotel, waiting for a black Chevy Silverado pickup. I checked the map, but also looked around at my Texan surroundings — the snapping Lone Star State flag, and guests coming and going, many wearing Bears regalia. 
     Odd, I thought, thickly. These Texans sure seem to like the Bears. It was only later, after noticing many, many more men in Bears regalia, that it dawned on me that the team is playing the Cowboys nearby on Sunday, and these were not transplants publically yearning for home, but current Chicagoans in town for the game. For a moment I wished I had known, perhaps I might even have stayed over an extra day to go to the game, since. I was there anyway. Then realized I never consider going at home, so why do so here?
     A big black Chevy Silverado pulled up to the curb, and I took a step forward and ducked my head to try to peer through the heavily smoked windows to check my driver. It was a heavily tricked-out truck, with some kind of neon in the wheel wells. But the passenger side had someone in it — not typical for Uber — and I hesitated, consulting the map on my phone. My Silverado was stil four minutes away. I stepped back. Thank you, multiple data points.
     At the appointed moment, another enormous black Silverado pulled up. Fancy wheels, four doors. A special "Texas Edition." It was so impressive I asked my driver if I could take a picture. He said go ahead. I stepped back to take the shot, realized it was so huge I wasn't far enough a way to frame it, stepped back so more, and still it defied complete capture. I gave up, went to get into the back seat, but suddenly that seemed regal, and I asked to ride in the front. He said go right ahead and I climbed aboard.
     One of the great things about Uber, in addition to it smoothly working in Chicago, Dallas, Rome or Santiago and its app's ample information dump, is the tendency of drivers to talk with the passenger, a dynamic I appreciate almost as much as being transported from Point A to Point B. I learned quite a bit about Jeremy, a young man with a shaved head and heavily tattooed arms: he was a cook, his wife worked in the front end of the same restaurant he did, his boy was in college, he had a friend who'd wrecked his life through drink. Riding in a pick-up truck in Dallas seemed an unexpected and welcome bit of authentic Texas, as if, to get to my room, the Sheraton had led me through the halls astride a steer. 
     The restaurant, by the way, was Roots Southern Table, in Farmers Branch, picked by my sister, who lives in Plano. The food, eye-crossingly wonderful. We started with southern greens — baby turnips, potlikker, smoked pork — and cast iron cornbread, which came drizzled with Steen's syrup and a little dish of sweet potato butter that arrived covered with a tiny glass dome filled with smoke, which the waiter dramatically lifted away, a bit of molecular gastronomy theater straight out of Alinea. (A moment captured last year by a photographer for the New York Times, which likened the dish to "a warm embrace" and included the restaurant in its list of 50 best new restaurants in the country.)  I'm not a food critic, so can't really describe my jerk lamb chops other than they were spicy and wonderful, as was the Hoppin' John served alongside. The room was airy, square and large. It's rare that a server's error works to a diner's favor, but we ordered the orange juice cake — how could you not? — and I was three bites into a splendid German chocolate cake when my sister observed that this wasn't what we ordered. Left to my own devices, I probably wouldn't have noticed something amiss until hours later, if ever. I suggested we just eat what we got, but that seemed timid, and we were curious as to what orange juice cake could possibly be, so notified the waiter, who said he misentered the order. I pushed the cake aside, and was a little disappointed when he whisked it away—I was hoping he'd urge us to enjoy it. Just as well. It was replaced with a jumbo rectangle, sitting in orange sauce, with a benediction of whipped cream. It was superlative, but we just couldn't finish it.  You know you've been well-fed when you can't finish half a slice of truly delicious cake.



  1. As an ex-cabdriver, I feel it’s incumbent upon me to object to all things Uber and Lyft, blaming them, rightly or wrongly, for destroying the taxi industry. But the cab companies still in business could adopt the gist of some of the technology you describe without harm. In fact, some companies did notify call-in customers of wait time and the identity of the driver or at least the number of the vehicle. Though on occasion such information was not precisely accurate, as it was not when coming from O’Hare, I called in as 10 minutes away from an order on Devon and Newgard, assuming Newgard was one of the many N streets that run from Austin to Oak Park Avenues. It took me about half an hour to work my way down to the proper location a few blocks East of Ashland. Not the first nor the last time I outsmarted myself.


    1. In my defense, I did take a cab from DFW airport to my hotel. I took Uber back to the airport when I saw that it was $11 cheaper. I also took American Taxi from O'Hare home because, as I told the driver, we need competitors to keep Uber from completely reaming us.

    2. Well, you're better than me. I have a lot of firm convictions about fairness and the dire future of the planet, but pretty much ignore them when let's say organic costs 50 cents more than the stuff drenched in pesticides or fair play coffee costs more than Folgers or when I was a cab driver, some woman would get in my cab several spots from the head of the line because she didn't trust another woman or a non-white cabbie to drive her. That was just about the time I was reading Moliere at Truman College.


  2. Only been in Dallas once. I was being driven through town on a broiling hot summer Sunday in 1968 and everything began to look very familiar, even though I'd never been in the city before. Suddenly I realized where I was...Dealey Plaza.

    There was the Book Depository. Here was the grassy knoll. Then we were whizzing through the triple underpass and the infamous site was gone. It was less than five years since That Day. The '68 Convention was two weeks away.

    I've been to quite a few historic sites, and I've often been amazed at how small some of them truly are. Especially after repeatedly seeing diagrams of them...or photographs...or "larger-than-life" images on-screen. Two of the most infamous were in Dallas and in Kent, Ohio. The distances in both places were so short that the intended targets of the shooters were sitting ducks.


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