Hey Flyover friends!

Yeah, Jenna and I are still out there exploring and loving the US of A. In fact, you can and should check in with Jenna’s epic cross-country adventure at Round-Trip America. I was able to join her for a few days in South Dakota and we had a grand time, simply grand. She’s doing tons of cool things, writing and posting gorgeous photos. Go see for yourself.

I also recently took a trip to Oregon, where I spent some time on the Oregon coast looking for storms. Big, exciting storms. Click here for a story about that trip. And Sophia in an Oregon Storm is a short video companion to the story, in which I am delightfully buffeted by the wind and rain. I love that kind of thing.

Just for fun. (Don’t yell at me if you don’t like your state’s stereotype. Yell at the guy who wrote the book.)

Can you visualize a business in this evocative space? Submit a proposal to the National Parks Service and it could be yours.

It’s not that we don’t love you anymore and it’s not that we’ve stopped traveling. It’s just that…oh hell, I have no excuse. I’m busy, yes, but am I really too busy to check in here now and then? Say hello? Tell you a little bit of this and that? I’m ashamed. And I miss our high-flyin’ Flyover America days. I know…you’ve heard it all before. We make promises we don’t keep… .

At any rate, among the trips I’ve taken recently was a jaunt to Hot Springs, Arkansas. The last time I was in Hot Springs, it was kind of, um, worn down. It’s a pretty part of the country, but the fabulous old bathhouses that comprise Hot Springs National Park (there’s Hot Springs the city and Hot Springs the park) sat mostly empty and dejected. You could peer in, but you couldn’t go in and they had nothing to offer but memories.

That’s changing, as the NPS is doing basic restoration on them (cleaning out the asbestos, fixing the wiring, adding heat and air-conditioning) and renting them out. I wrote all about it in a story for The Dallas Morning News. Maybe you’ve been dreaming about dropping out of the rat race and opening a business someplace lovely? This could be your opportunity. Just remember, though, that opening a business in a tourist town is its own sort of rat race….or maybe a country mouse race. Less vicious, perhaps, but no less exhausting.

I have used the faux word “meh” three times today. Can’t say I’ve accomplished much else. Hmmm. Must still be February. Luckily, in response to my late January anti-meh measuresChris Brown, the 2010 Flyover America Reader of the Year, sent some cool photos my way. The photos sharpened the edges of my meh a little–cause meh is just a blobular awful thing. I looked at that ice climber and thought…if he can make it up that sheet of ice, you can get through February. Yes you can! (And then I laughed because, clearly, I’ve gone insane.) Anyway, Chris caught this ice climber in action in Cheyenne Canyon, just outside of Colorado Springs, CO. Here’s hoping the photos give you a lift (if, indeed, you’re mid-meh yourself).

Doing well...

but a ways to go.

Sorry about this whole ice thing, Super Bowl visitors. Too bad they didn’t play the game last week, when temperatures were in the 70s.

But we know nothing will keep you away, once the airports are up and running again, so we’ll keep talking about the town. Well, at least my side of town. I live most of my life south of the Trinity River.

Here’s another nifty NY Times article about the Metroplex, this one about dining. I haven’t been all those places, but I’m a big fan of Bolsa (wish it weren’t so noisy, though). Fuel City’s tacos are excellent—although the little stand across the street from Bolsa, Taqueria El Si Hay, is also a favorite. For a little cultural excursion and take-out tacos and burritos as big as your head, Taqueria Chanos. (Or as the friend who introduced us to it calls it, “Goddam Fuckin’ Chano’s.” Because it’s that good.)

I’m not sure what to make of all the fuss about Babe’s Chicken Dinner House. I want to believe the one in Roanoke is better than the one in Cedar Hill, where I ate, because I found it kinda bland and unexciting. But I’m no foodie, perhaps I need a better palate to appreciate it. Call me crass, but I’d rather have Popeye’s.

Among my favorite places for inexpensive Tex-Mex is Gonzales, on Jefferson Blvd. (Jenna has been there and seemed to enjoy it.) Their flour tortillas are a meal in themselves, and I haven’t found a carne guisada I like as well anywhere else. We usually go there for Sunday breakfast. (By brunchtime it can be crowded.)

We’re ecstatic about Lockhart Smokehouse opening tomorrow (now today…and then we’ll call it Feb. 2, 2011) in the Bishop Arts District. You can get fancy-shmancy BBQ at Smoke, a restaurant of local acclaim—or you can do what we do, and go to the Belmont Bar next door (mentioned in my last post) and order a Smoke BBQ sandwich from the bar menu.

And for vegetarians and vegans and even carnivores like me who don’t mind a change, Spiral Diner is in Dallas and Fort Worth and I like it lots. Plus, on Fridays from noon until 3, my friend Laura Huebner gives chair massages at the Dallas Spiral and she is really really really good. And we’re supposed to get above freezing on Friday.

Mmm. Now I’m hungry. Let’s go to Gonzales. As soon as the ice melts.

Dare you to find this view. The skyline is considerably larger since this old postcard was published. But you still won't find a body of water like that. Even when it's not just a dry bed, the Trinity River never looks like this.

We’re all atwitter here about the Super Bowl coming to town. It’s always odd/interesting to see one’s own home through others’ eyes–kind of like seeing a photo of yourself and realizing you don’t really look like you imagine. Or hearing your own voice…the less said about that, the better.

I have to shill my book, The Yankee Chick’s Survival Guide to Texas as Yankees descend on us. But I feel compelled to discuss my hometown, too. So many misperceptions out there…

Firstly, the game will not be played in Dallas. It will be in Arlington, which is among the “mid-cities” between Dallas and Fort Worth. (I heard one NFL announcer describing Arlington as being “crammed in” between Dallas and Fort Worth.)

Arlington is peeved that everyone is talking about the Super Bowl in Dallas. They are trying to get everyone to use the term “North Texas.” We also call this the “Metroplex,” a term invented by an ad whiz back in the 1970s.

Of course, the new stadium—we call it Jerryworld—is practically a city in itself. A very expensive city, and it’s gonna be even more expensive for the game. According a story in the The Dallas Morning News, people will pay “$10 for a 16-ounce Miller Lite beer, compared to $8.50 at a regular Cowboys game; $7 for a 32-ounce soda in a souvenir cup, vs. $6; $10 for a Southwest barbecue chicken sandwich, vs. $8.50; $6 for a hot dog, vs. $5.50…”

People also paid $200 to stand in the parking lot and watch the game on big screens, which sounds loony to me. I hope the weather is pleasant for them. We’re expecting temperature in the teens this week. Betcha didn’t know that happened here, did you?

ESPN  is broadcasting from Fort Worth’s Sundance Square in front of a mural of a cattle drive. Fort Worth comes by its cowboy reputation honestly—it was on the Chisolm Trail and its Stockyards entertainment district is in an actual former stockyards. I love both Sundance Square and the Stockyards. Nothing wrong with them. But Dallas’ popular cattle drive sculpture on Pioneer Plaza is disingenuous. Dallas has always been banking and wheeler-dealering. The sculpture was controversial when it was commissioned in the early ’90s, but powerful developer Trammel Crow wanted it, so there it is. Dallas is more W Hotel than home on the range. It’s more Prada than Wranglers. It’s a little bit J.R. Ewing, but it’s Erykah Badu as well.

People who skim the surface of the Metroplex often come away with a crazy impression of it as either 1) all cowboys (because that’s what they look for) or 2) nothing but highways or 3) devoid of culture beyond bluebonnet paintings and twanging guitars. And titty bars, of course. We have a lot of those. Blech.

But really, with a little effort, you can find cool. The New York Times ventured into a couple of areas that are coming into their own, coolness-wise: the Bishop Arts District in Dallas and West 7th Street in Fort Worth.

I’ll toss out two insider tips for visitors: my  favorite places to meet friends for cocktails are the snazzy retro Belmont Hotel, near Bishop Arts, for a dazzling  view of the Dallas skyline; and  Tradewinds Social Club a friendly dive you would never find if you didn’t know it was there. I’ll share a few more suggestions through the week and am happy to take questions as well. Just post ’em here.

(BTW, A couple of years ago, I visited Door County, Wis., which necessitated flying into Green Bay. I flew over Lambeau Field during a game and was dazzled by the crowd. It was my introduction to that hometown passion, and for that reason alone, I am rooting for Green Bay. Otherwise, I couldn’t care less. Actually, I’m leaving town Super Bowl Sunday…)

Don't Cry!

Though the year’s dreariest month is about to visit, distractions abound. Here, some photos I snapped of bright or enjoyable or, even, flat-out happy moments from around the U.S. Have any you want to add to the pile? Share links in the comments or feel free to send a jpg my way at jenna@jennaschnuer.com and I’ll post some of them here.

A night out at the Carter Family Fold.

A wall in Los Angeles. Twenty-three percent of all buildings should be painted aqua.

Mac (the curmudgeonly bunny), the finest of all the animals that spin round Chattanooga's Coolidge Park Carousel.

The Iditarod is just over a month away.

When all else fails, there's always shave ice at Matsumoto's.