Sunday 1 June 2014

Driving to dinner

Margarita at H3, Forth Worth
So I'm sure my many readers (hi Mum!) have been wondering about the name of my blog. It stems from a simple desire - to be able to walk from my hotel to dinner and back again. This isn't some socio-political stance, I'm not some sandal wearing, card carrying member of an anti-car lobby group. It's simply because I like a drink (or two) with my dinner, and it's safer for everyone concerned if I walk home afterwards.

I guess it's not something I'd thought about before I visited America. When I travel around the UK and Europe, I'll get myself a hotel near the city centre so I can go for a walk before dinner, maybe try a few pubs, then eat with a few glasses of wine. How European! How naive to think it would be that simple in the USA ...

The first year we went to Texas, we stayed in Allen, on the north-east of Dallas, because it was convenient for Summer Camp the next day. I'd already checked out the Hampton Inn on Google maps and seen there was a nearby shopping mall with a choice of restaurants - perfect!

So after a day's travelling and a terrifying drive through Dallas (oh my god, the flyovers over flyovers over flyovers), we arrived in need of a very large and cold and alcoholic drink (something, surprisingly, the hotel couldn't sell us). No problem, there's restaurants just across the road, says I, and we set off into the oppressive heat of Texas in mid-July.

The first challenge is that the pavement (sorry, sidewalk) ends at the boundary of the hotel's land, so we're now walking, single file, along the edge of the access road. The second challenge is considerably greater. The road that the restaurants are 'just across' is, of course, US-75, The North Central Expressway into Dallas. Between us and the restaurants is the Dallas equivalent of the M25. And no, it doesn't have a pelican crossing.

A little further down there's a road tunnel under the 75 - still not exactly pedestrian friendly, but certainly safer than playing a game of Frogger with my family's life across the speeding expressway. We negotiate another access road, and cross acres of deserted parking lots before arriving, hot, sweaty and very much in need of a drink at the restaurant. Of course, at the end of the night, we had to do the process in reverse - and this time with added difficulty of a lack of street lighting too.

So this was our baptism of fire - our introduction to American car culture and the fact that in Texas certainly no one thinks twice about driving to dinner. Also, the start of my stubborn desire to continue my English traditions - to have take my evening constitutional before dinner, to explore a town and soak up some atmosphere before I eat there. Often this has meant compromises - either less than perfect accommodation or restaurants because of my perverse desire to walk. Sometimes it's meant long and slightly scary walks. It's meant nights in deserted, ghostly downtowns because I refuse to use the chain hotels just off the interstate. It's almost always resulted in bemusement - and occasional looks of horror - when I tell my fellow diners I walked here.

And I promise you, it's going to result in a number of rants on this blog very soon.

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