By Verena Wolff
Bill Dewbre — or “Wild Bill” as he is known — is a self-made man, and proud of it. Cowboy boots have been the key to his success. His father made shoes, and he was expected to help out in the shop.
Dewbre junior learnt how to cut and sew the leather and glue the soles. He also learnt how to sell shoes, taking over a corner of his father’s shop and buying him out in cash a few years later on the basis of his success with boots.
The business in the heart of Dallas now stocks every imaginable type of cowboy boot — black, brown, red and multi-coloured, some glittering with bright decorations. They come made of cowhide or ostrich, crocodile or snakeskin.
The only type out of stock, says the greying owner with the carefully trimmed beard, are “cheap, poor-quality boots.” Cowboys wear genuine boots, and the points have a purpose in allowing the rider to slip his toes into the stirrups easily. “The shape is not merely coincidental,” Dewbre says.
He can make anything the customer wants — nothing is too bizarre. “It depends on the budget,” he says with a smile. The highest price ever paid for a pair of boots from his shop is a trade secret, but he has made boots for Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with other Hollywood stars, top musicians and sports legends.
Dewbre knows his business, and he also knows Dallas and its surrounds better than most. He has after all spent his life there. He is one of those friendly, charismatic, courteous men that have brought the traditional graces of the southern states into the big city.
The image still fits, but Dallas is nevertheless different — a city of migrants from the north who have come to avoid the cold winters and bad weather. “Here in Texas the houses are not that expensive, the schools are good and there is work,” says acting mayor Pauline Medrano.
Dallas has grown in stature in recent years. “We have frequently been written off,” Medrano says. The capital of the Lone Star State is Austin, and the largest city is Houston.
There are no mountains or lakes, the sea and beaches are miles away. Dallas is right in the middle — both coasts are just under three hours away by plane, and the time zone also falls in the middle.
Dallas has made good use of this central location, and the once sleepy town is now, in combination with neighbouring Fort Worth, one of the largest conurbations in the United States, behind only New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.
The Forbes list of most successful companies places the headquarters of 25 of them in Dallas — and many began life in the city.
“A Texan is very attached to home,” says Julia Cleary, 24, who grew up in Dallas, studied in Houston and has returned to Dallas to work. While this may not be typical of the US as a whole, it is common in Texas. Texans may leave home to study, but they do not stray far.
Dallas is proud to lay claim to its own achievements — and one of them is the invention of shopping, as locals say with a wink. Neiman Marcus, one of the oldest US department stores, was founded in Dallas, where it still has its headquarters.
Visitors look in vain for a main shopping street. The magic word here is mall, and Dallas has two in the middle of its upmarket residential areas. When it was opened in 1965, North Park Centre was the first planned mall in the whole of the US, and the first fully air-conditioned shopping centre in the world.
“Dallas people love shopping,” says Cleary. “It’s also exercise, as you have to walk a lot.” And there is a lot to see. North Park Centre’s owners are David J Haemisegger and Nancy A Nasher, art collectors on a grand scale, and their huge sculptures are on display in the centre.
Dallas is home to many wealthy art collectors and donors. As a result the museums are constantly growing, and an entire Arts District has been created over the past 20 years that can hold its own with any major US city, says Veletta Forsythe Lill, former head of the organising committee.
The Arts District sprawls over 19 blocks and is home to the opera house, a concert hall and several theatres, as well as the Dallas Museum of Art. One of the best known facilities is the Booker T Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts that caters to the artistically gifted. Among the better known past students are singers Norah Jones and Erykah Badu and actress Elizabeth Mitchell.
And then there is the television series that has made the city world famous. The Ewings may be fictional, but Southfork Ranch does exist — in Parker, some 50km outside the city limits.
Here the country really is flat and people live on large farms, “even if they do have only one or two horses, rather than real stud farms,” according to Sally Peavy.
She works at Southfork Ranch, today a tourist destination and conference centre — and the filming location for a sequel TV show about the Ewing family. Every now and then the actors and the production teams descend on the 40-year-old homestead. “The shooting outdoors was all done here, while the interior filming was done in California. Then and now,” Peavy says.
She knows the series inside out — all the twists and turns of the tortuous plot starring the matriarch Miss Ellie, and her sons JR and Bobby. “I followed it. I was in my late 20s when it started,” Peavy says. She is a true Texas lady, friendly, attentive, lively and with a strong voice.
Like many born-and-bred Texans she could not conceive of living elsewhere. The people, the food, the quality of life at an affordable price are all things that make her happy to call Dallas and its environs home.
And she highlights another major factor in being a Texan. “People have space here.” — DPA
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