The legacy of November 22nd

If you were alive at the time, it’s accepted convention that you know exactly where you were on this date 51 years ago, when news broke that JFK had been assassinated. I was not alive, but I do remember exactly where I was on 21 years ago, on the 30th anniversary of the event – in bed, with the flu, listening to a Radio 4 documentary about the assassination. [I was 12, I’m pretty sure Radio 4 wasn’t my choice.]

It stuck in my mind for a few of reasons:
1. I was 12, and I’m pretty sure this would have almost been the first time that I was properly aware of the events of 1963.
2. In the same documentary, I discovered that C.S. Lewis had died the same day – a death that was completely overshadowed by events in Dallas. To my 12 year old, Narnia-loving mind, this was a travesty.
3. Being ill had meant that I missed out on my best friend’s 13th birthday party. [12 year old priorities…]

Over the years, obviously, I heard more and more about the disputed and theorised events of November 22nd, 1963. It became pretty much the only thing I knew about Dallas. In fact, in 2008 when my Dad visited the city, he sent me a postcard with this famous photograph on it, and a note on the back that “this is still the only thing that Dallas is famous for…”.


To be honest, he was right! I’m too young to remember Dallas and quite honestly, didn’t know the city for any other reason than the terrible events on Dealey Plaza. When the trip to Dallas appeared on the horizon, I figured I’d make a pilgrimage to the spot at some point – because I like my history and US Politics – I did not expect to be looking out upon it for day after day…

I was in Dallas because it’s recently become the US hub for Matryoshka Haus (the missional community/social enterprise incubator I’m a part of). An element of that ‘hub’ is a desk at The Grove, a collaborative co-working space in downtown Dallas that’s situated on the corner of Elm and North Houston, just across the street from Dealey Plaza. About a month before I visited, a fellow Matryoshka Hausien was among the first to visit the desk, and tweeted about the view from its window:

Rachel & the grassy knoll

And the view?

Dealey Plaza

I really was not expecting to come face-to-face with a site of history – or at least, not quite so frequently. For several days I sat either at our desk or one near by, overlooking a site that many would argue changed the course of world history. [What would the world look like if Kennedy had lived? Would he have won a second term? What would have happened in Vietnam? In Cuba? To civil rights in the US? To his brother? Endless questions…] On my final day at the office, this was my view:

Texas School Book Depository

This is what used to be the Texas School Book Depository Building. The window on the far left, second floor down, is the corner in which Lee Harvey Oswald stood (or did he??), with the gun pointed out of the window looking out of the front of the building. The 6th floor is now a museum dedicated to the events of 51 years ago, complete with a large quantity of conspiracy theorising. You can’t get away from the theories…

Heritage sign, Texas School Book DepositoryThe heritage sign outside the museum – note the underlining of ‘allegedly’.

To be honest, I’m not a great one for theorising. The fact remains that JFK was killed and the world had to find a way to move on from that point. But, it turns out that pretty much everyone you talk to has a different theory on why he was killed  – and these range from possibly illogical, to virtually insane. No one will ever know the reasons behind the assassination, but that doesn’t mean that people will stop trying to find out! The museum is worth a visit – I was surprised at how anxious I became as the chronology moved towards the shooting. But I got bored with the long section at the end about the various Commissions and rehashing of evidence. It’s also very protective of the windows in question, you’re not allowed to take photos at all on the 6th floor, which of course only fuels speculation further. I had a much better view from over the road!

X Marks the SpotX marks the spot on the route of the motorcade.

I’ve returned home with a pile of fridge magnets and postcards, all showing the same view of the Texas School Book Depository building, and the plaza:

TSBD & GroveNot because I feel the need to be reminded of the events of 22nd November 1963 every day – but because in the photo, you can see the window that the Matroyshka Haus desk is next to. The building across the street from the book depository is unchanged, save for the loss of a fire escape, and if you count four floors up (where ground = 1) on the side adjacent to the depository, you find ‘our’ window.

DARTing around Dallas

As a professed London Transport nerd, I do take a peculiar joy in experiencing public transportation elsewhere in the world. Thus far in my Texan adventures (across 2012 and this most recent trip) I’d yet to encounter any public transport at all – but this changed in Dallas.

So, how does the DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) compare to good old London Transport? Well…

1. Some of it is free! In London, nothing’s free – aside from the odd journey when an Oyster reader isn’t working. Dallas possesses at least two free transportation options – the delightful McKinney Trolley line, using antique trolley buses from around the world and the D-link bus which is only really notable for its bright pink colour and its free-ness. (And the fact that it links the city with the Bishop Arts neighbourhood which is well-worth visiting.)

McKinney Trolley

McKinney TrolleyMy only experience of the McKinney trolley was on Matilda – who formerly graced the streets of Melbourne.

2. The main DART network is easy enough to navigate and is good value at $2.50 for a two-hour ticket or $5 for an all-day one. Plus, you can download an app on your phone that you can use instead of a paper ticket and use to buy monthly tickets. There are no ticket barriers, but inspectors are frequent – I was checked on at least half my journeys.

DART Inspectors A flurry of DART inspectors all in one carriage. 

3. The DART is effectively a glorified trolley service, running along streets in the Downtown area of Dallas. [Liz’s irrational fear #453: that while crossing a trolley-bus dedicated street, a trolley-bus will appear as soon as she steps onto the tarmac, mowing her down.] This means that it’s very easy to see where you are; where to get off; and how to find the train – none of this wandering around underground tunnels and navigating staircases.

4. I was pleasantly surprised that the family with whom I was staying were within easy reach of a DART station – and used it. Admittedly, the pleasant 1 mile walk from their house to the station had a minimal quantity of sidewalk, but it did pass through some glorious countryside. The line took me straight into the city and took under 20 minutes. Beautiful.

DART en route

5. But, just because some people I knew used the DART, like most of my experiences of American public transport (NYC excluded) the vast majority of passengers were those who could not afford cars, and used public transit out of necessity not choice. I used it one evening and wasn’t entirely sure that I should have – in fact a rather lovely female ticket inspector spent a long time chatting to me in what appeared to be an effort to make the only white woman in the carriage feel safe. [I didn’t feel unsafe – just aware that I was conspicuous, something that in London can be unsafe.] In fact, I came across the same woman the next morning – she’s the white haired one in the above photo of the many inspectors on one train.

6. My illogical fear of crossing the DART lines was exacerbated by the fact that it was the main way of reaching the correct platform. I had no desire to become strawberry jam on the tracks of a suburban station!

DART Crossing

 6. Just because there are DART stations, doesn’t mean that they’re easy to find! None of this illuminated logo business that you find in London, Paris and New York – just the occasional sign like this:

DART SignIf the DART ever visited London, I think it would feel hard done by.

7. They need to come up with some more creative names for stations and lines. I’ll admit that naming the station after the road its on is logical, but it would be nice to know what else it’s near. For example, Mockingbird station is also the local station to Southern Methodist University (home to the George W. Bush Presidential Library – more on that one anon) – yet you’d never know it was, unless you looked it up on a map. The lines are simply colours – “the next Red Line train will arrive in 5 minutes”…

Mockingbird Station

Ultimately though, the DART really is not to be sniffed at. Public transport is rare in a state where the car is king (and the jeep is emperor), so finding a system that works is somewhat miraculous. As of this August, it also now goes out to the airport (I know, they took their time!), which is exceptionally useful. It helped me be almost as self-sufficient as I like to be in London and that means a lot on a trip that lasted two full weeks and might otherwise have driven an introvert to distraction!