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Does FW Ever Cross Your Mind

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#1 seurto


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Posted 18 September 2006 - 03:00 PM

Received this from my bro-in-law; thought it was a very good essay. Slightly dated, but then again, it's amazing the changes just from 2001.

Sorry, I know it's long and, John, if you need to edit or delete at some point, feel free.

Literary Fort Worth
edited by Judy Alter and James Ward Lee
An Argumentative Introduction: Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?
by James Ward Lee

Unrelenting snobs and unrelieved sophisticates from Dallas or San Antonio or Houston or up-to-date Austin or some other foreign part might may scoff at the idea of a book entitled Literary Fort Worth, arguing that Fort Worth is a backwater with no literature to speak of. Wrong! For over a century, Fort Worth writers have written and written well about this city so often dismissed as a semi-rural cowtown. No question about it; it is a cowtown, but it is a great deal more. Its writers have celebrated its world of cattle and oil, but many have seen the other sides of Fort Worth--the country club set, the literati, the artists and artisans, the musicians, the intellectuals, and the whole minority sub-culture that has given a cosmopolitan tone to this Queen City of the Prairies. Outsiders make fun of the old days of "Hell's Half Acre," the tenderloin of Fort Worth; or the country music Bob Wills played at Panther Hall; or the fame of what was once rightly called "the Fat Stock Show"; or the extravaganza that Amon Carter mounted in 1936 as an antidote to Dallas's culture-driven Centennial Exposition. But before Fort Worth is derided for its more sordid or extravagant past and present, remember that Dallas had its Deep Ellum and Houston its Second Ward. San Antonio had its Westside. And, as Molly Ivins has pointed out, everybody in South Austin is called Bubba. Panther Hall had its equivalent in Dallas's Longhorn Ballroom or Austin's Broken Spoke or San Antonio's Farmer's Daughter. So don't talk to me about Fort Worth's cultural depravity.

And don't tell me that other cities have great centers of literary culture missing from Fort Worth. Don't ask me how writing from Fort Worth could possibly be called "literary." I think I know what people mean when they say writing is "literary": in a word they mean highbrow. Proust comes to mind. Or Katherine Anne Porter. Or Virginia Wolfe. All right, at this point I have to admit that Fort Worth has no Conrad, no Faulkner, no Andre Gide. Does Dallas or Houston or San Antonio? I don't think so. What Fort Worth has can be found in these pages, and what is here reflects the nature and soul of Fort Worth.

And what is here proves to me that Fort Worth is the typical Texas city and that the writers represented in this volume capture its flavor. No other city in Texas is really typical. Not the way Fort Worth is. Houston is too big and scattered and swampy. Dallas longs to live "up East." San Antonio is turning into a theme park, and El Paso is in New Mexico--or maybe Old Mexico--and besides, to borrow a line from Elmer Kelton, "It is too far from here ever to amount to anything."

And Austin, once everybody's favorite Texas big town/small city has gone California. There is even a bar on the lake where they applaud the sunset. And lately the Balcones ledges outside Austin are being called "the Silicon Hills." By the way, there is a difference between silicon and silicone, but they are both often found in Austin.

So it all turns on Fort Worth. It is all here in what writer Leonard Sanders calls "the Texasmost city." We have the tuxedo crowd who dance at River Crest or Shady Oaks on Saturday nights, the hundreds who throng the Bass Hall for the Cliburn competitions, the citizens who form long lines to see what is new at the Kimbell or the Amon Carter or the Museum of Modern Art. There are the mink-and-manure ladies who appear at the Stock Show, and the ten-gallon-hatters who congregate at Big Balls of Cowtown or the White Elephant Saloon of a Saturday night. Or some who go as far away as Hoot's Honky Tonk on the Rendon Road.

I am serious: Fort Worth has it all. Think about it. Fort Worth has kept the best of old-time Texas and has integrated the new without "going Dallas on us." Even the Neiman-Marcus store out at Ridgemar--for all its tone--doesn't reek of uptown the way Dallas's downtown emporium does or Houston's Galleria Neiman's. (I am always intimidated in those two stores because the clerks act as if they are of a higher social class than I am and stand aloof in model poses with feet at forty-five degree angles. Even the men. And recently I saw a shirt at one of the N-Ms for $185.00. Maybe they are of a higher social class!)

Fort Worth has Joe T. Garcia's Mexican Dishes (the old name is still preserved on the arrow-pointing sign on Main), the Paris Coffee Shop, Massey's (home to the soul food of Texas, the chicken fried steak), the Star Café in the Stockyards where my co-worker moonlights, and the Italian Inn down in the Bat Cave off Camp Bowie. Not to mention the celebrated Cattleman's. And Angelo's. And Kincaid's. And Edelweiss. And Carshon's. And the best barbecue north of Llano at Cousin's in a strip mall on McCart--and new one on the exploding Cityview area along Bryant Irving. And if a person can't be nourished with baked and fried and kosher and kraut and meats and Mexican groceries, there is always radicchio and sprouts and seared mahi-mahi at places like Cafe Aspen and Angeluna and Bistro Louise. Or the Old World charm of The Balcony and St. Emilion. Or the New World glitz of Reflections and Del Frisco's. Hedary's and Byblos offer Middle Eastern, and Moctezuma's offers both Tex-Mex and Mexico City style. Eating your way through the Texasmost city will take longer than I have left to live. But I am trying--though some of my friends say the Tommy's hamburgers and the Tex-Mex at La Familia may be the death of me yet.

There is the TCU crowd and the Methodists of Texas Wesleyan and the Baptists of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the high-toned youth of Country Day and Trinity Valley and All Saints Episcopal, scions and debs of the upwardly mobile.

And the sidewalks of the Stockyards teem (there is no other word for it) when the ropers from Jacksboro and Pilot Point and Chico hit town on Saturday night. Sometimes Merle Haggard himself graces the stage at Billy Bob's. Or George Strait. Or Willie. And once in awhile Old Possum George Jones drive his Lexus wagon up from Beaumont or down from Nashville and gives meaning to "real country." (Oops, Old Possum got drunk and broke his Lexus!) Until just the other day, Bill Mack played country to midnight truckers all across the land. The Funchess Brothers make music at The Stagecoach from Wednesday through Sunday, and Carl Vaughn alternates between Hoot's and Big River--and sometimes ventures as far afield as Mingus or Strawn.

Sad to say, Panther Hall on the East Side is gone, but the Oui Lounge still anchors Bluebonnet Circle and Rick's on the Bricks imparts a bar flavor to the Camp Bowie scene. (A personal note: I once saw Bob Wills at Panther Hall. He was fiddling to the over-forty set. Another time Willie was there, and the marijuana clouds made London's famous fog seem like a light haze. Needless to say, AARP members were snug in their beds by the time Willie came on at 10:00 P.M.) You might say that Fort Worth embraces multitudes. And tolerates eccentricities. And celebrates anomalies.

The rich, the famous, and the notorious grace the pages of Fort Worth history. From Amon Carter, Sr., once the uncrowned king of Fort Worth, to J. Frank Norris, the preacher who shot and killed a man and got away with it. He kept the soft-shelled Baptists in an uproar for decades. (Fort Worth may bring out the theological in people--there are at least two seminaries to prove it.) Fort Worth has claimed the citizenship--permanent or temporary--of Van Cliburn, T. Cullen Davis, Electra Waggoner, Bob Wills, the several Brothers Bass (heirs and assigns of Sid Richardson), Ben Hogan, Sammy Baugh, W. Lee O'Daniel, Charles Tandy, the Moncriefs, and Katherine Ann Porter (for a short time in the twenties, though she later denied that she had ever worked for the Star-Telegram).

Fort Worth has never had a president, nor even the presidential son of one, though George Junior got as close as Arlington while he was getting rich on the Rangers). All the presidents came here, and John F. Kennedy spent his last night in the Queen City of the Prairies. More than fifty years before that, William Howard Taft (three-hundred pounds of pure Republican) came and fished in the Trinity--in a suit. Lacking a president, the city did bask in the glory of Jim Wright, who rose to be Speaker of the United States House of Representatives (and third in line for the presidency) until Newt took it into his head to sink him over a minor slip. All this, of course, was before Newt himself was disgraced and forced out. Way back, W. Lee O'Daniel from Burrus Mills got elected governor and then senator. It was not that he did either one of them well that distinguished him; it was that he had come to fame with the line "pass the biscuits, Pappy" when Burrus Mills was sponsoring the Light Crust Doughboys. O'Daniel drove Bob Wills off from the Doughboys and made him the toast (hmmm!) of Tulsa and semi-star in a handful of western movies.

Fort Worth is home to pro golf's Colonial National Invitational Tournament (now named after a credit card), the Chisholm Trail Roundup, and the world famous Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show. You may notice that the word "Fat" disappeared about the time skinny people started giving grease a bad name. So while the stock is still fat, the ugly word was excised from the name of this longtime institution.

By the 1880s Fort Worth was being billed as "The Queen City of the Prairie." The name didn't quite stick, but "Hell's Half Acre," a term describing the tenderloin district south of present-day downtown, did. And while the area is gone today, the name still resonates along with other sections that have a life and culture of their own--"North Main," "East Rosedale," "Ryan Place," "the Jacksboro Highway," "Hemphill," "the Hospital District," "the West Side," "Como," "Poly," "Arlington Heights," and "West Berry." Some wag in the Fort Worth Weekly once referred to the clientele of some Cityview fern bar as "West-Side trust-fund trash." The famous names of "Hell's Half Acre" appear in books, movies, and folktales of the city. People like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Longhair Jim Courtwright, Luke Short, and the famous Etta Place--famous at least after the Butch and Sundance movie came out.

Fort Worth has Camp Bowie Boulevard with its famous (and now controversial) bricks and boutiques--well, maybe the boutiques are not controversial. Roy Pope's Grocery is just off the Boulevard, and the embarrassing Jackalope plant and pot place is just on it (lately, they have announced going out of business, but we have all heard that before about various emporia). North Main is alive with western-wear stores, Mexican restaurants, steak places, old-timey saloons (or what passes for them today). Hulen Street caters to the up-scalers and becomes a parking lot at 5:00 P.M. The Mixmaster and the West Freeway, both of which have been under construction for all of modern memory, still define one of Fort Worth's cultures. Gone, or lapsed into to ruin, are the military Camp Bowie and Carswell AFB (now reduced to being a reserve base even though the big jet engines still whine), the T & P Railway Station, and Leonard's Department Store. The Leonard Brothers built the subway from the Trinity River bottoms to their store; and while the store is long gone, the subway still runs to Tandy Center and is still haunted by the ghost of Leonards. Cox and Stripling and Monnigs are gone from downtown. The Fair and Ellingtons are no longer with us. The huge Montgomery Ward, which served a hunk of the nation, is an empty shell. Now we are all Dillard's and Foley's and Neiman-Marcus. Not to mention Super-Targets and Super Wal-Marts and Monster Sam's and Upstart Costco.

The Texas League's Fort Worth Cats once spat and clawed at LeGrave Field on the North Side and frequently represented the league in the Dixie Series. Jeff Guinn and Bobby Bragan told the story of the old cats in a book from TCU Press. The Cats are now reborn, and everybody hopes some civic benefactor will rebuild LaGrave Field. A list of Fort Worth athletes would fill two full columns. Suffice it to mention Davy O'Brien, Slingin' Sammy Baugh, Bob Lilly--all of whom starred at TCU. Golf's Ben Hogan was a fixture of Fort Worth life until his death late in the nineties. And Byron Nelson, who lives on the fringes, lent his name to the game for decades and decades. Coaches like Dutch Meyer and Abe Martin wrote their names large in TCU history. The old Fort Worth Press gang of sportswriters like Blackie Sherrod, Bud Shrake, Dan Jenkins, and Gary Cartwright all went on to spread the sporting word far and wide. Shrake and Jenkins became novelists. Shrake's novel But Not for Love gives a glimpse of what it was like in Bohemian Fort Worth in the late fifties, and Jenkins's humorous Baja Oklahoma is one of many of his novels about sports, Cowtown, and life itsownself. James Atlee Philips's The Inheritors is a sharp portrait of the country club set in Fort Worth in the thirties. And don't forget Judy's Alter's A Ballad for Sallie and Leonard Sanders's Fort Worth. One of the famous Van Zandts (writing as Tom Pendleton) wrote a novel almost set in Fort Worth, and another Van Zandt (the late Townes) became a cult figure in the world of country music. And not everybody remembers that Patricia Highsmith, the crime novelist, was born in Fort Worth. Her novel Strangers on a Train is a real chiller and was made into a movie starring Robert Walker and Farley Granger as the killers. Her The Talented Mr. Ripley starred heartthrob Matt Damon and made a splash just as the new millennium began.

Sundance Square revitalized downtown, and Bass Hall with its trumpeting angels gives a touch of class to the arts scene, as if the Kimbell and the Amon and the Mod didn't already offer a dose of culture to the town of cows. Many of the graceful Art Deco buildings still survive and are memorialized in a book by Judith Singer Cohen called Cowtown Moderne, and another glimpse of Fort Worth art can been seen in the paintings of Sweetie Ladd as reprinted in a book edited by long-time newspaper columnist Cissie Stewart Lale.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram is still the paper of record for West Texas, and when the Stock Show opens, Anson and Snyder and Roscoe and Albany are emptied as the ranchers and fellow travelers head for the Queen City of the Prairies. Old-time writers like George Dolan and Boyce House and the recently deceased Jerry Flemmons sustained the citizens of West Texas in column after column. Nowadays, Bud Kennedy and Bob Ray Sanders take up the slack left by those legends. And Joyce Gibson Roach, the creator of Horned Toad, Texas, recreates the folklore of the plains for those Worthies and West Texans who are Webliterate.

You might ask what I like about the Queen City? Well, even if you don't ask, I will tell you. As the song says, "Here are a few of my favorite things": Fort Worth Magazine before they got rid of C. C. Risenhoover, The Fort Worth Weekly before they sold out to the big "underground" conglomerate, the feeling the bricks make under my tires as I roll down Camp Bowie, the inside and out of the Bass Hall, Jeff Guinn's book page, Bill Fairley's "Neighborhood" columns, the way the moon shines like silver on the river, the crowds pouring into Billy Bob's when Merle or Ray Price or Willie are in town, the Margarita Bar at the Blue Mesa Grill during Happy Hour, the pastries at the Bavarian Bakery (hidden in an industrial strip at I20 and Wichita Street) and the Black Forest cakes from the Swiss Pastry Shop out on Vickery, the way the sun comes up over the white and red crape myrtles in my back yard, the graceful curves of all the streets in my neighborhood. I like Summit and North Main and Forest Park. I like the zoo and the Kimbell and the Amon. I love Sundance Square when the crowds are out and the policemen are on bicycles two by two. And the mounted police in the Stockyards. I like the public library and the hamburgers at Fred's Texas and Tommy's and Kincaids and the Star Cafe. I like Cathy Mancuso and the wondrous Capuccino pie she makes. I like TCU and the cry of the Frogs on fall Saturdays. I like the PepsiCo Hall and the gloriously ugly mauve leather chair TCU Press lets me use. I like Leddy's and Ryon's and Peters Hat Shop. And I can't wait for the Cats to get back in full swing.

When I started writing this essay--if meandering, maundering impressionism can be called an essay--I lived in Denton. The more I wrote, the more Fort Worth crossed my mind. So I moved here and am living happily ever after in a no-man's-land between South Hills and Wedgewood on a street whose name I can't pronounce. I live a few blocks from the place where the maniac shot up the Wedgewood Baptist Church, but none of that can be blamed on Fort Worth. The killer was an unleashed phenomenon like a tornado, or like the storm that Yeats says comes out of "the murderous innocence of the sea." The killings were close by me, but I never faltered in my love for the Queen City of the Prairies, and if I put bumper stickers on my pickup--and I don't--I would have two: "Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?" and "Foat Wuth, Ah Luv Yew."

Literary Fort Worth--yew damn right!

James Ward Lee
June 2001

Excerpt from Literary Fort Worth Copyright © 2002 by Judy Alter and James Ward Lee. No portion of this excerpt may be used or reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher, Texas Christian University Press.

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#2 renamerusk


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Posted 18 September 2006 - 11:44 PM

Exactly what I meant when I referred to Fort Worth in another thread as being the "Icon of Texas".

Keep Fort Worth folksy!

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