A few days in Dallas is no match for several days in Chicago and South Bend. But still not a bad way to spend a few days. I wrote about the South Bend/Chicago trip in a travelblog last week, which you can read here. Here is how I spent my four days in Dallas.
Remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry goes to rent a car and is told that, despite a reservation, there were no cars. And Jerry proceeds to tell the agent that while they appear to know how to take the reservation, they don’t know how to hold the reservation, which really is the most important part.
Trish the Dish and I rolled into the downtown Omni hotel at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Dish is a fundraiser for the OU college of engineering and was helping host the annual dinner for Dallas-area engineers Wednesday night. Dinner was at 7 p.m. Reception at 6:30 p.m. The dinner was at the City Club, at the Bank of America Plaza, a few blocks from the Omni. The Dish wanted to be there no later than 5:45 p.m. to make sure everything was set.
We got to the Omni, tried to check and were told that our room wasn’t ready. Interesting, I thought. It wasn’t 10 a.m. Or noon. Or even 2 p.m. It was 3:30. And if it was a matter of just having to get our solitary room ready, no big deal. But the lobby was full of people waiting for their rooms. Dozens of people.
The Omni was sold out the night before, we were told. And so? It wasn’t a hurricane that filled up the hotel. Some big convention of some kind. Plus a ton of OU-related rooms. The Omni had plenty of advice notice that it would be full on Tuesday night and again on Wednesday night. How could rooms not be ready at 3:30?
I’ve been traveling extensively for more than 20 years. I’ve never had to wait so late in the day for my room upon check-in. Nothing even close. My dad was in the hotel business for a quarter century. I sort of know how the business is supposed to work.
When rooms aren’t ready at 3:30 p.m., it’s a clear case of mismanagement. No different than the way I dog the management at Braum’s or Dairy Queen. Whoever’s in charge isn’t doing their job.
We sat for an hour, waiting on our room. Finally, at 4:30 p.m., an OU person who will remain anonymous but to whom we are eternally grateful, went to the front desk and laid down the law. We got our room, just in time for me to do my radio gig and the Dish to get ready for dinner.
The rooms themselves at the Omni are excellent. Spacious. Modern. The desk/work space area is not great, but I just moved to an easy chair with an ottoman and set up there. The rooms also come with a bathrobe and an extra blanket. A robe is not necessary; an extra blanket is, though you rarely find them in rooms.
One problem with the Omni is that it’s city-owned. I have no idea the politics behind the city of Dallas owning the hotel, though I guess the need for some kind of convention hotel downtown was high, and the city entered into some kind of compact to make sure the deal got done. I wish the city of Dallas had been that forward thinking when it came time for a new Dallas Cowboys stadium, which could have been built on the Texas State Fairgrounds instead of faraway Arlington.
The Omni is a first-rate hotel. It was OSU’s team hotel during the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and it was the site of the Big 12 Football Media Days in July.
But the rooms have to be ready before 4:30 p.m., or there’s something horribly wrong with the business.
A ROOM WITH A VIEW
Our dinner Wednesday night was on the 69th floor of the Bank of America Plaza. That’s the skyscraper — the tallest in Dallas — that is outlined in green lights. Very distinctive.
The City Club has full-glass views of at least three sides of Dallas. From the 69th floor, you see JerryWorld over in Arlington. You can see Fort Worth, 30 miles away. You can look down on all the cityscape. You can look down on Southwest Airlines flights for the longest time, before they rise above the level of the 69th floor.
I’ve been to the virtual top of the Devon Tower in Oklahoma City, and the Dallas City Club sits 19 stories higher than the top of Devon. It was high. So high, it required funky elevators. A set of elevators for odd-numbered floors and a set of elevators for even-numbered floors. Never heard of such a thing. Hope to never hear of it again. Quite a hassle if you don’t come in on the right floor.
The dinner itself was excellent. The engineers always are a delight. A bunch of interesting and successful people. Not a bad way to spend an evening. Everyone is fired up about the football game, of course, so for several years, they’ve had me speak and take questions at the end of the program.
I made a fool of myself this time. Told them it was fun to come to Dallas when you knew what was going to happen. That Texas couldn’t tackle and no way could OU lose. I hope everyone forgot what I said, but I assume they didn’t.
ANOTHER ROOM WITH A VIEW
The Dish went shopping Thursday, leaving me on the easy chair for a hard day of writing. Lots of work to get complete. The Omni had a bunch of movie channels, and I found a couple of good movies to have on as background noise — Goodfellas and Antwone Fisher. The guy who played Antwone Fisher looks a lot like Russell Westbrook, and the character has many of the same anger issues that Westbrook seems to have. I might have to trot out that likeness sometime.
When the Dish returned, we headed over to Las Colinas, where the College Football Playoff was staging an open house for its new headquarters. Bill Hancock, who oversaw the BCS, is doing the same with what I call the Football Four. He’s got a 10-person staff that is running the new playoff that will be implemented in 2014.
CFP moved into its new digs in August, and decided to show people around. The offices sit on the 10th floor of a beautiful 12-story building literally across Highway 114 from the Big 12 headquarters. Hancock’s corner office overlooks two directions; you can see a good chunk of trendy Las Colinas, plus downtown Dallas.
Hancock, as you know, is one of the all-time nice guys. His very presence with the BCS deflected a lot of vitriol from the much-maligned system. Hancock grew up in Hobart, went to OU, worked in the sports information office during the early wishbone days, eventually went to the Big Eight office and finally to the NCAA, where he ran the Final Four for years.
On Hancock’s table in his office is the book celebrating 100 years of the OU journalism school. Hancock is featured on one of the pages, which he showed us for his 1972 haircut, and on the opposite page was a photo of Paul Dannelly, a long-time OU public relations professor. Dannelly’s wife, Delane, was an editor at the Norman Transcript when I worked there in the 1980s. I got to know Paul Dannelly during those years; he would stop by and pick up his wife from work, and we’d talk all the time. Soon enough, Hancock was visited by Big 12 associate commissioner Tim Allen, who preceded me at the Transcript in, oh, 1977. Small world.
The Football Four will be a big hit. And Hancock will make it even more popular.
Most people who go to OU-Texas every year have their traditions. We certainly do. Dinner with the Dish’s cousin and her husband. Gary and Donetta Nelson are great people; Gary was the Ada High School quarterback in 1977. I saw him play basketball in the 1978 state tournament, before I ever met him.
Anyway, we meet for dinner every year. Did it on Thursday this year, since late Friday dinners and 11 a.m. Saturday kickoffs make for a short night. We typically go to Maggiano’s up in Plano and did so again.
We left Las Colinas and zipped up the George Bush Turnpike, during rush hour. If you’ve read the blog long, you know I love the Bush Turnpike. But it’s getting more and more traffic, so it’s not as convenient as it once was. Still, much better than, say, the LBJ.
The Dallas turnpikes are toll-boothless. You just drive right through at ever how fast you can do, and you are electronically billed. Last year, you know I blogged that despite several years of using the turnpikes, we hadn’t received a bill in the mail. That changed a few weeks ago. We got a bill for $40 or $50, something like that. Which I’m sure is accurate and I know is worth it.
We had a great dinner, a good time and were back in the Omni by 9 p.m. or so. The Omni is like most high-dollar hotels. The more upscale the hotel, the worse its cable. The Omni had a bunch of movie channels, like I said, but didn’t have Fox Sports1, which means no Southern Cal-Arizona for late-night viewing. But it did have the NFL Network (for Bears-Giants) and CBS Sports Network (for San Diego State-Air Force). Which was enough for me. I was dead-dog tired.
FORT WORTH CROSSES YOUR MIND
The OU Club of Fort Worth stages a Friday luncheon each year before OU-Texas. The Dish goes as one of OU’s representatives, and I’ve been part of the program for a few years. It’s held at the Fort Worth Petroleum Club, which is on the 40th floor of the Frost Financial skyscraper. Not quite the view from the 69th floor in Dallas, but impressive just the same.
Fort Worth is a cool city, able to maintain its independent identity even in the shadow of Dallas. Many of the same people come to the luncheon every year, and I’ve gotten to know several.
Every year, the OU Club of Fort Worth has a former Sooner to speak. Steve Davis one year. Uwe von Schamann. Dusty Dvoracek and Teddy Lehman. Some years, if no player is available, they improvise. I spoke one year. Toby Rowland spoke one year. Recently, they’ve had me interview some of the former Sooners.
Our guest this year: Charles Thompson. And CT was fantastic. Of course, he had plenty of material. OU-Texas memories as a Sooner quarterback. Now the father of an OU quarterback. Plus, I told the story of how Dan Gibbens, the late OU law professor and long-time faculty rep to the Big Eight Conference, called me one day to suggest a story. Gibbens found his grandson being coached in youth football by none other than Charles Thompson. Gibbens said that while he was skeptical at first, he was very impressed over a period of years at how Thompson conducted himself, especially with the kids. We did a big story on Thompson, which you can read here.
I asked Thompson about his road back from disgrace, from the drug-trafficking arrest that landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and he was very candid with the crowd. I think Thompson won a lot of respect from the good people of Fort Worth.
After Fort Worth, I dropped off the Dish in Southlake so she could shop the cool Town Square, then I sped over to Las Colinas and checked us into the Courtyard by Marriott. That’s OPUBCO’s traditional headquarters during OU-Texas, because we get a great weekend rate; $79 a night and it’s a great location. Away from the crazy OU-Texas revelry, but easy to get most anywhere.
I love Courtyards. But the Las Colinas Courtyard is a funky-built hotel. It sits on a hill, of sorts, which I know doesn’t sound right for Greater Dallas but is indeed truth. It’s sort of a split-level hotel. The front desk is at street level. That same floor on the far end of the hotel is two above street level. I don’t know how else to explain it.
But it’s full of people you might know. Saturday morning, I walked down to the front desk to check out. Going and coming, I ran into people I know. Going, I saw Don Schneberger, who coached Washington, Lindsay and Rush Springs high schools back in the day and now is Purcell High School’s principal. Coming, I ran into Max Olson of espn.com.
I like Courtyards because they are spacious and nice and affordable and have good internet. And you can get into your room when you arrive at 3:30 p.m.
For dinner Friday night, a group of us from The Oklahoman drove over to Dallas’ Uptown area, just north of downtown and ate at Cremona, a low-key Italian place that we discovered this summer. The Uptown area is full of restaurants; I don’t know how anyone can get to them all.
We found Cremona when an OU grad, oil man Michael Turner, took the Dish and I to lunch there. It was excellent, so we went back. Great service, especially for a table of 11. I had seafood pasta — no surprise there — and it was good. The thin-crust pizza was superb. Good salad, with a cool tomato basil dressing. Wonderful decor and atmosphere.
The only downer was that late in the dinner, a television in the bar that we could easily see suddenly switched from the Cardinal-Dodger game to some soccer match. Nobody seemed to be watching it, and nobody seemed ready to accept responsibility. If it had been football that was lost from the screen, we would have had to take some action.
The ballgame, you know all about. The fair, you know mostly about. I don’t have anything to add other than wondering just how people can afford to pay $2.50 for five coupons that will allow you to view the world’s smallest horse or some alligator/crocodile combination.
The best thing about the fair — of which there are many — is all the people you run into. Just walking over to the Sports Animal setup on the other side of the Midway, I ran into Clay Bennett and his wife, Louise. While we chatted, retired Gen. Jerry Holmes said hello. General Holmes and his wife, Nina, are delightful that we’ve gotten to know over the years.
While I was on the radio stage, I saw several people I knew, and after my segment, I saw a batch of old friends. Even ran into people who I’ve met only at various games over the years. Including one OU fan who remembered me from the 1999 NCAA Midwest Regional in St. Louis (the Eduardo Najera/Mateen Cleaves game). The fan said he sat by my girlfriend at the game. I assured him that who he sat by was not my girlfriend; I haven’t had one of those since 1979. He sat by the Dish, who then was my wife of almost 19 years and now is my wife of 33 years.
An 11 a.m. kickoff gives you the chance to get home on Saturday night, if you wish. Which I did. We left the Cotton Bowl somewhere around 7 p.m., took a bunch of our crew back to the Courtyard and then headed north. We stopped in Lewisville at an El Fenix for dinner, then headed on home.
Jenni Carlson rode with the Dish and I to Lewisville, then we swapped passengers with sports editor Mike Sherman, who had Mike Brooks. Brooks is an old friend of mine who is the leading historian on OU football statistics. Brooks rode home to Norman with us, and we listened alternately to the Red Sox-Tigers and Texas A&M-Ole Miss.
Brooks is an old baseball fan himself, just like me, and we lamented our lack of baseball knowledge these days. But I lamented more losing the Ole Miss-A&M broadcast after we got to the Arbuckles. I had to follow the rest of the game on my iPhone, with internet reports. I could have used some satellite radio.
We got home a little before midnight. Too late for Ole Miss-A&M, but early enough to catch the end of Oregon State-Washington State and Cal-UCLA. It was a solid four days.
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