Tag Archives: Dallas

Dallas vignettes: Post office edition

Last week, while at a U.S. Post Office, where I’d gone to mail a package I couldn’t mail from home, I overheard several statements that shocked me: I’ve never mailed anything in my life, I don’t know what I need to do, I don’t know how to fill out an envelope.

Incredulous, I turned my head as I wrote out the name of the addressee on my envelope, and saw that the person uttering these statements was a man who was about my age. He was befuddled and upset because (I later learned) he needed to get a check out to a finance concern, and he was very annoyed that he couldn’t make the payment online.

After the attendant patiently explained to him what his options were (Priority Mail, Priority Mail Express, first-class postage), the man walked over to the counter I was at to fill out the envelope he would use.

As he filled out his envelope, I asked him my first question: I’m sorry, but did I hear you say that you’ve never mailed anything in your life?

Yep, he said. He hadn’t filled out an envelope since middle school.


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The man, who patiently entertained my questions, was good natured and chatty.

He shared that his name was Edward and that he was 38 years old. Because he had lived in the same city near Dallas pretty much his entire life, and his family members lived within blocks from one another, he’d never had to mail letters or birthday cards or anything of the sort.

Still flabbergasted, I pressed him: So, you’ve never mailed a birthday card, a thank you card?

Nope.

My questions kept coming. You’ve never received a birthday card in the mail?

Yes, he said. From his investment company.

That, I told him, doesn’t count.

To know me is to know I love to mail things. Cards, bread, cookies, postcards. I once mailed the Vanity Fair Hollywood issue and Colombian flan mix to a friend stationed in Baghdad.

Before I left, I shared with him I had been mailing things for years, including to faraway places like Japan and Iraq; that you can buy shipping labels for packages going to Mexico on the U.S. Postal Service website; that some of the Postal Service packaging is free.

I also told Edward that I hoped that someday, he gets a birthday card in the mail— one that counts.

Voices of Dallas: Evan Montoya and Edan Montoya are still serving up carnitas and lengua tacos – for now.

Dallas brothers Evan Montoya and Edan Montoya run Taqueria Pedrito, the taco restaurant their father opened more than four decades ago. Their business is among  many that have taken a hit as authorities around the country restrict people’s day-to-day activities to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Montoyas said they haven’t let go any of their employees, but don’t know how much longer they can keep serving up their their signature Mexico City-style tacos. Last Saturday afternoon, they made time to chat with me at their eatery on Jefferson Boulevard, one of the few mom-and-pop businesses still open on that usually busy drag.

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Photography exhibits and printing photographs

Looking forward to seeing the exhibit of photographs of national and international celebrities taken by the late Dallas photographer Andy Hanson at SMU Fondren Library. For more on that exhibit, read Rick Brettell’s review in the The Dallas Morning News. I already know the picture of Michael Caine lighting a cigarette with a candle will me among my top ten.

There’s a line in the review that made me think of the Gordon Parks exhibit at Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Brettell says Hanson’s memorable photographs were a result of snapping key moments, his gift of composition, and “wizardry” in the darkroom.

Learning to print photographs well – to deepen the blacks, to give the photograph more depth (or not, I guess) – is hard. I’ve known for years that it’s not something I will do well, because I don’t have a natural understanding of light, have always been intimidated by enlargers and filters, and because I’ve never taken the time to learn to understand any of that.

Two exhibits at Amon Carter Museum of American Art have highlighted photographers that were master printers and in doing so, has given the process the recognition it deserves: the Dave Heath and the Gordon Parks exhibits. Personally, those exhibits, and Mark Birnbaum‘s keen eye and commentary, have made me appreciate the art of printing photographs in a way I had not.

https://www.dallasnews.com/arts-entertainment/visual-arts/2019/12/08/heres-how-the-rich-and-famous-did-dallas-the-way-one-photographer-saw-it/

 

 

Passports and my dad

When you walk through security at a federal courthouse, you can feel – you know- that what happens there is serious business. At the Dallas federal courthouse, where I go to for hearings and trials now and then, there’s no chit chat with people on the elevators; even the employees who know one another keep work-related exchanges to a minimum.

But there are moments that add some levity and joy to the elevator ride to the courtrooms, where what transpires is often dark, bad and sad. For me, those lighthearted and happy moments happen when I see children who are going to get their passport.

To know me is to know I love to engage with children. So yes, I start asking questions: is this your first passport (often it is), where are you going, are you excited (always yes).

The little boy I chatted up today was sweet and shy, though he did answer my questions. He was getting his passport to see his grandmother in Vancouver.

I love to see children excited about their passports, a document that is loaded with the promise of adventure, and who doesn’t love that?

I’ve had the privilege of traveling since I was a practically a newborn. Wasn’t even a month old – I was 23 days old, to be exact- when I was issued my first passport. And I know that because I have it!

My dad, with whom I was very close, kept every passport I had as a minor. I didn’t know that until after he died and noted he was the only parent who signed them. It may be that only one parent needed to sign them, but in my mind, it’s a reflection of the presence he had in our lives against the absence of my biological mother, and perhaps more broadly, an indication of the fractured marriage he had to my biological mother and our equally fractured family life.

Herewith, my favorite anecdote about passports and my dad.

We needed to get our passports renewed and, as usual, he was running late. The film processing shop in Guatemala City he liked to go to to get his passport photos taken only took and developed them till early afternoon and we weren’t going to make it that day. No worry!, he said. We’ll get them taken around the embassy.

Turned out that there were people who had set up makeshift photo studios and darkrooms in garages in houses surrounding the U.S. embassy. And it was in one of those convenience stores-makeshift photo studios where we went to get our picture taken.

I was horrified. These places, with their bed-sheet like curtains that separated the convenience store from the photo studio and lab, reeked of illegal activity. But they were, in fact, legitimate businesses.

What we were given were mug shots. In those photographs, we look like criminals. But not petty criminals. Bombers, cocaine traffickers. I was nineteen, but looked much older. (See picture lower right, above.)

No way we’re going to be able to travel with these pictures, I argued. We’re going to get stopped at the airport all the time. Let’s get our passports on another day.

But my father insisted the pictures were fine and off to the embassy we went. We got our passports and never once were we stopped at an airport for questioning. We should’ve been, because those photographs are awful.

I still have that passport – and the tale of at least one adventure to go with it.

 

 

Old buildings tell story of our heritage

One of the things that drives me crazy when I go home to Guatemala City, is seeing the signs of retailers that have English-language names. This has been true for years, but the proliferation of these names in the last decade has been impressive.

It is yet another indication, in my mind, that it’s largely a society ashamed of its heritage. The Spanish-language has plenty of words (and then some) to describe services, clothing, housewares. But English sounds more contemporary, cooler, hipper – but perhaps more important, it evokes a culture that is more desirable than the European or indigenous cultures that make up the fabric of that country.

I was reminded of this today while reading Robert Wilonsky’s recent column about endangered buildings in Dallas. Both cities share the same ethos, described succinctly by Mark Doty, the city’s historic preservation officer:

“We want it to be something else rather than appreciate it for what it is.”

I’ve made Dallas my home for almost 15 years and take joy in learning about the “the commonplace buildings” sprinkled all over the city. Because those office buildings, warehouses, gas stations and homes tell the story of people who left their mark in Dallas in big and small ways.

A few years ago, after selling our home in North Dallas, my husband and I moved into South Side on Lamar, known to many generations here as the old Sears building. We relish living in this grand, old warehouse that may be more solid (and is certainly more interesting) than the shiny luxury skyscrapers going up just north of us. One of my favorite things to do during our annual cookie party is taking the children around the building and telling them about its history.

Here’s to hoping Dallas will do what Guatemala City hasn’t done: honor its past and take pride in its heritage.

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Yesterday, I spent part of my day with the son of a friend learning about watercolor techniques at Oil and Cotton. My adopted nephew is so much fun, he’s a sweet and interesting child who also has a silly sense of humor.

During our car rides and over lunch, we talked about what he likes to read (fantasy, but not fairy tales), what video games he likes to play (still Minecraft), what he likes to eat (cheese pizzas, strawberries and corn, but not kale).

We also talked about what’s going on in school. He shared with me that students at his elementary school have found nails and hairs in their food, and he’s drafted a petition to get the school to make changes. So far, he’s collected 50 signatures and hopes to collect another 50.

So fun to be part of his life.

 

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