Destination Dallas: Big Doin’s in Big “D”

Think you need a pickup truck, a Stetson hat and a pair of snake-and-ostrich-skin cowboy boots to have big time in Big D? AVweb's own Liz Swaine says it probably wouldn't hurt but don't come to Dallas thinking you're going to meet Hoss Cartwright. Nowadays, you'll be just as likely to be sitting next to an investment banker as a cowboy as you're digging into a plate of ribs at a Dallas BBQ joint. Big D is big fun, though, and well worth a trip or ten. Liz lives just up V566 in Shreveport, La., and has made quite a few Dallas excursions. She reports even those people who reside in Dallas will never be able to experience all that this incredible city on the Texas plains has to offer.


Let’s get one thing straight right off. Texas is a big state. Big. The state motto is “Everything Is Bigger in Texas” and folks there are dead serious when they say it. Another motto is “Don’t Mess With Texas.” They mean that, too. I spent the longest two years of my life one day driving across Texas from Marshall to El Paso. Every radio station from Dallas west seemed to be playing twangy old-style country and western music. Patsy Cline was going crazy and I was, too.

Once you get west of Fort Worth, your only choice for bathrooms or food is one of the ubiquitous Dairy Queens that dot the flat Texas landscape. I believe it to be a physical impossibility to go into a DQ to use the restroom and not buy a chocolate-dipped cone or Dilly Bar. (Note to self: Answer for Alex Trebek. “This many Hunger-Buster Meals can be eaten before a butt measures 40 inches across.”) Texas is a state tailor-made for flying. It’s easier on both your backside and your waistline.

Getting There

DFW If you’re planning on flying to Dallas, know that the city is big, too … even when you’re a few thousand feet overhead. The Dallas-Fort Worth area is Class B airspace, and within that airspace is something like 87 airports. All right, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but it’s all right. Texas (it’s big, remember?) screams for large statements. If you pull out your sectional and peruse the Class B, you will count more than 20 airports of the whopping huge, just big, and this-would-be-big-in-any-other-state-but-Texas variety.

Your first job will be to decide where in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex you want to stay and what you want to do when you get there. That will help you narrow down which airport you’ll want to fly into. If you’re looking to take in the car races at the Texas Motor Speedway, Alliance might be the airport for you. If it’s shopping, head for Addison. To be right in the middle of everything, you’ll love Love Field.

Bravo! VFR…

DFW runways Don’t let the Class B airspace scare you. Controllers won’t sop you in salsa and eat you for lunch, and in only one case have they been known to “boot” the tire of a hardheaded pilot’s airplane. What they will expect of you is some prior planning. If you decide to fly in VFR, make sure to mark your sectional so you know where the Class B starts, or pay dang close attention to your GPS. You won’t be able to legally enter the Class B until you’ve established contact, knocked on the door, and been invited in. They do not look kindly on accidental incursions, and the phone call you might have to make won’t be pleasant, pardner. VFR flight following isn’t a magic bullet, either, as your controller will drop you a few miles outside of the Class B, give you a frequency to contact and tell you to squawk 1200.

Getting in is generally hassle-free, though. You contact the controller, tell him who and where you are and where you want to go, and you’re given a transponder code and a heading. Only once during a particularly busy day did a controller tell me “unable,” so I just flew a couple of 360s and tried again, successfully. If the thought of talking to a Class B controller still makes your knickers ride up, you can always fly in under the Class B and land at one of the outlying airports. I did that once for some odd reason and I wouldn’t do it again. The folks at the airport were nice as all get out, but the hassle in procuring a rental car and getting to and from didn’t justify avoiding the controllers.

…And IFR

The smooth way to get into the Class B is to fly in IFR. You’ll be routed to one of the four “cornerposts” that form a box around the airspace, told to fly a radial to an intersection with a name like ‘Howdy,’ and welcomed in. Whether you are flying IFR or VFR, with GPS or without, once inside the airspace your challenge will be the same: to spot your destination airport amid the area’s thousands of roads, highways, shopping malls and industrial parks. Don’t be bashful about telling the controller you haven’t seen the airport. The worst he can do is talk real slooow so all the other pilots on the frequency know that you’re dumber than dirt.

As stupid as you feel, your situation will likely not compare to the pilot with a tenuous grasp of English who was hopelessly lost over Dallas a few years ago but didn’t seem to realize it. After trying repeatedly to get the pilot to land at an airport, any airport, the exasperated controller asked him, “What are your intentions?” to which the pilot replied in heavily accented English, ‘To be … a commercial airline pilot.’

To D Or Not To D: That Is The Question

Actually, it isn’t. The better question is, “What is there to do in D?” That, of course, will depend on how much time, money, and patience you have, and what you like to do. My last trip over was to take in the Casino Magic 500 Indy Car Race at the brand spankin’ new Texas Motor Speedway (TMS). Let me tell you how impressed I was. Not so much with TMS … it’s just another multimillion-dollar facility in which up to 200,000 screaming fans can stand while watching drivers hurtle themselves at 200 mph around a notoriously tricky track. No, count me impressed with the fine array of delectable eats. Never before have I been to a place that offered beer, bar-b-que pork, beer, foot-long corn dogs, beer, chili cheese dogs, beer and My Favorite Beef Jerky. Color me smitten. Did I mention one could buy beer there?

My husband Steve and I actually had time to check out all the jerky flavors as the race was cancelled because of rain. Imagine my dismay when I found out the drivers wouldn’t even pull their cars onto a wet track. How safety conscious can you be when you make your living driving just inches off the bumper of a car careening through turns at 180 mph? Though our tickets were free, I was indignant, and told Steve the whole safety thing has become way overblown. The only vehicles that ventured onto the track were the trucks equipped with jet engines that blow water off the track to dry it, to no avail. (Note to self: Find out if the TBO on those engines is measured in hours or laps.)

All too soon, we had to bid My Favorite Beef Jerky adieu and go in search of other food. I have shaped the mistake we made at this point into advice that could save your current or future relationship, your money and your sanity. It is very simple, but very important: Know where you want to eat before you get on a major highway and just start to “drive.” Despite the fact that the city of Addison, which abuts Dallas to the north, claims a close to one-to-one restaurant-to-resident ratio, you will not find a nice restaurant (e.g., more upscale than Popeye’s) there or anywhere else if you didn’t plan to find it. Though Dallas has every sort of dining experience you can imagine – I’ve had great Mediterranean, Greek, Vietnamese, Indian, even Ethiopian cuisine in the area – if you aren’t heading for a specific address, you will see only IHOPS, Denny’s, and dollar burritos at Circle K. We ate at a new Dallas restaurant called House of Swill and Vermin. I would not recommend it.

Plan B From Outer Addison

Since we had unexpected time on our hands, Steve and I decided to have a little adventure. We had spotted a Laser Tag location earlier in the day, and returned, determined that it was our destiny to rule the Laser Tag universe. I was not at all embarrassed that Steve and I were older than anyone by 20 years. I was not ashamed when one mother with 12 seven-year-olds asked if we were there chaperoning another group. I was not red-faced when I told the teenaged attendant that I wanted my “player” name to be “Hannibal” because once the game started, I was going to eat some of the seven-year-olds with fava beans and a nice chianti. I was embarrassed when the action began and I morphed from a woman with a fairly pronounced dislike of guns and violence into Arnold Schwarzenegger on double testosterone with an attitude. It was my goal to kill every single person in the place, as many times as possible, with steely determination. I would have made it, too, if not for seven-year-old “Pokemon Boy.” Perhaps I went too far when I turned to Pokemon Boy and said, “If you shoot me one more time, I am going to beat you to death.” It must have been the cold, hard way I was looking at him. I could see fear in his eyes as he turned on his heel, shot me again, and starting laughing. Thankfully for him, play ended, and everyone moved to a screen to wait on the point totals. I was devastated when I saw how many more points Steve had scored than I. Later he told me how. HE had been the one following me around, shooting me over and over. It got cold that night in Dallas.

To Fly High And Touch The Sky

We were speaking again the next day, and decided to take a break from Laser Tag. We had our choice of 10 aviation museums in the area, a vintage aviation store, an aviation art gallery, and a space shuttle ride at Six Flags Over Texas guaranteed to leave your stomach on terra firma while taking your body into space, or vice versa. We decided on the museums and started with the Frontiers of Flight at Love Field. We knew we had arrived when we saw the full-scale Sopwith Pup hanging from the ceiling of the terminal. The museum doesn’t have enough space to display airplanes, but it does have a lot of smaller items, such as china from the Hindenburg and Glenn Curtiss’ original pilot’s license. My favorite display was the groovy “stewardess” outfits from the 60s and 70s. Austin Powers would be proud – they were most shagadelic.

Since we wanted to see some full-size airplanes, we went north to Claire Chennault road at the Addison Airport, home to the Cavanaugh Flight Museum. You can spend all the time you want poring over the beautiful Fokker D-VII while listening to the museum guides talk about the history behind the original and replica aircraft. Move to the second hangar, and admire the 45,000-hour restoration job done on a B-25J nicknamed How ‘Boot That? During the restoration Jack Kowalik, who painted the original nose art in December of 1944, came to the museum to leave his mark once more – this time in July of 1995.

There are so many things to do in the greater DFW area that I can sadly just scratch the surface. I would encourage a trip to Medieval Times, where serving wenches bring you food, but no silverware, and knights joust 10 feet away as you down your Middle Ages Diet Pepsi. The people at Medieval Times will snap your picture as you are waiting to take your seat and offer to sell it to you later. Buy it! You will look so ridiculous in the paper hat they put on your head that if anyone else gets hold of the picture, life for you in polite society will end. Go to the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum in Grand Prairie and marvel at the hairs on Elvis’ head, inserted one at a time by their master model maker … Believe It Or Not!

And always keep your eyes open for the humorous moments. It has been a long-standing joke in Texas that Dallas women have bigger hair than anyone else on the planet. It has even given life to a description: Dallas Hair. As my Dallas hairdresser once put it, “Girl, that hair was just jacked up to Jesus.”

So go. Have fun. Eat and drink and buy you some boots and dance at a honky-tonk until dawn. Have a bet riding on who spots the biggest hair first. But just you remember one important point. Everything else from here on out won’t quite match up, ’cause hair or otherwise, it don’t git no bigger than Texas.

Texas Travel Tips

If you’re looking for a good overview of Texas, check out this excellent site on traveling in the state.

For specific information on Dallas and Fort Worth, go to the Dallas Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Web site or this site covering Fort Worth.

Interested in buying some of My Favorite Beef Jerky of your own? Go to the Texas Motor Speedway Web site find out the dates of the next races.