Thursday, June 10

Underground Dallas

There's something about rain that makes me go underground. When I explored Inner Space Cavern (a cave complex near Austin) last year, it was pouring. Yesterday wasn't as rainy, but I decided to keep my promise to myself, and explore Underground Dallas [UD] when it rained.

UD is the de facto community of office dwellers which developed as a result of tunnels below the city streets, connecting many downtown skyscrapers. Recently, Dallas Mayor Laura Miller suggested that the UD shops move to the street level, so as to make downtown more vibrant. Here, I have to agree with The Barking Dog : the mayor has become completely out of touch with reality. Instead of condemning Underground Dallas, she should embrace it as a unique differentiator.

UD is more than the "food court in the basement" and includes florists; banks; car rental; office supplies; art studios; jewelers; sunglass merchants and even a Cookie Bouquet! In the past 5 years, there have been two articles in the Dallas Managed News [DMN] about UD; as my guide, I used a map they provided a few weeks ago.

But first, I had to get there, and I decided to try the train light rail (part of DART). I drove to the station, found the one remaining parking space (this should have clued me into the fact that, even in midday, the train would be busy), took the elevator to the boarding level, and bought a day ticket for $2.50 using the automated ticket machine (getting a Sacagawea dollar coin in change).

The trains are quick (it felt like 55mph on some stretches) and on time (they run every 20 minutes, I think). My train contained 6 cars; I understand this varies depending on the time of day. Each car appeared to seat 25 people.

Heeding the "keep away from rail" signs, I only waited about 5 minutes before it arrived. I took a seat (facing backward) and relaxed to watch the trees and greenbelt along the route. At some stations, the doors on the left opened. At others, they opened on the right. There were many elevation changes, and I passed about 7 stations (one underground, at Cityplace) before arriving at my stop (on the Red Line), and then I walked a block to the nearest tall building, and took the escalator down .. to Underground Dallas .. and began exploring.

Most of the people appeared fit and healthy (this could be due to the lack of traditional fast food; I spotted a Blimpies and a Quiznos - both sub shops - but nary a KFC, McDonalds or Taco Bell). There were many non-chain places to eat. There were many people walking rapidly in pairs, taking in an aerobic workout in UD, where there were no diesel fumes to breathe, no traffic signals to obey, no homeless drunks begging for change, like there are Up Above.

Signs advise that the tunnels are open from 6a-6p daily. I never felt threatened. Most tunnels are wide and carpeted; others are narrow and tiled.

There was lots of activity: food courts, ATMs, shopping ... but I needed a compass underground! Getting lost in the labyrinth was easy, even with a map. I only resorted to asking directions once, and I sheepishly had to go aboveground once when I couldn't find the tunnel connecting 2 buildings. Once I found the other side, I figured out my mistake, and moved on. I explored the Renaissance Tower, Bank of America, the Elm Street Mall, the Metropolitan Mall (1310 Elm), Thanks Giving Square (aboveground) and others.

I concluded that, alongside the racks with free copies of Quick and The Observer, there should be maps of UD. The convenience stores could package a map and a compass!

After exploring, I was ready to return, but not before making some mistakes. The Blue Line train had left (en route Garland), and the jackhammers and car alarms were apparent, so rather than sit downwind of the outdoor smokers (ah, life in the city!) I grabbed a quick bite to eat. I'd noticed that the trains sit for 30-60 seconds to allow boarding, and figured I could mosey over and board when it arrived.

After finishing lunch at the Original Italian Cafe (a big slice of pizza and water was only $2.70), I walked between the north- and south-bound trains, in the middle of Bryan Street. That's not a good practice. Then, the "push to open" button didn't work, so I had to wait 20 minutes for the next train. The time wasn't wasted; I corrected the Graffiti for this blog!

Since I had a day pass to the train, I was tempted to exit at Mockingbird Station and take in a movie at The Angelika, but I hadn't done my homework and didn't know what was playing. I spotted Jack's Pub & Volleyball Club (there's a combo!), and an ad on the news marquee (sponsored by Baylor Health Care) for LaughingPlace.com. The message board also conveyed the news that GWB wants to increase the number of troops in Iraq to 145,000 troops because he now thinks giving up power will require more troops (there's gotta be logic there somewhere)

Random musings: yes, there is a human driver, who announces the stops. I couldn't understand the announcements for the inbound trip, but the outbound was much better. Beware of sleeping passengers; a woman next to me was soundly asleep when I left. She may still be riding the train, as far as I know. For a few moments, I watched a 14-year old air guitarist with a stud in his lip, MP3 player at his side. The only DART policeman took a seat amongst the rest of us, never challenging us to "show our tickets". I noticed that many of those exiting the train with me didn't go to the parking lot; rather, they went down to street level to connect with a DART bus. Hmm.

I returned home, where Beta the Wonder Dog was ready with her impression of Dino.

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