Dallas, Texas, USA

Dallas’s most notable cultural exports are a Carter-era television show about scheming millionaires and a football squad brashly christened “America’s Team.” The show Dallas has largely faded from active relevance — witness the mediocre cable TV revival earlier this decade that you already forgot about, if you even knew it existed — but the Cowboys persist, thanks to some arcane clause in NFL TV contracts that stipulates they must remain relevant enough to pique interest but bad enough for the millions of haters to cheer when they inevitably crash and burn.

Fittingly enough, neither Dallas’s Southfork Ranch nor the home of the Dallas Cowboys are actually in the city of Dallas. Southfork is a county away in the midst of what is now suburban sprawl, while AT&T Stadium is barely visible on a clear day from the fortieth floor of a downtown skyscraper if you know what to look for. On a similar note, folks from Plano or Grapevine will cheerily talk of growing up “in Dallas,” and at an office in Richardson or Southlake, you’ll hear “here in Dallas.” There is a sharp demarcation to this, however: Fort Worth will have you know they are proudly not Dallas, thank you very much.

The tendency of suburbanites to claim the nearest big city as their own is hardly unique to Dallas — and indeed, when meeting people from across the country or across the world, it’s the only logical and succinct answer to “Where are you from?” — but it’s fairly pronounced in its prevalence and shamelessness. I grew up in an exurb 20 miles from Atlanta and would of course claim the city as my hometown in most cases, but this tendency was tempered after a comedian at a New York bar told my three friends and me “you’re white, y’all ain’t from Atlanta, you from a town just north of it.” And of course he was right. In fairness, my dad is from Atlanta.

North Texas’s geography and the metroplex’s growth boost the blurring of lines. The only natural waterway of note is the Trinity River, a middling, flood-prone stream generally unnavigable to anything larger than a kayak. Elevated ground is hard to come by, and most native trees require decades to grow higher than a few meters. This has interesting side effects. Upon exiting a highway ramp in a new suburb like Frisco, the sprawl stretches to the sky without any trees or hills to impede the scenic vista of hundreds of oversized tract homes crammed into neat little rows. In Atlanta, the rolling piedmont and towering pines and oaks conceal the subdivisions with homes that are every bit as bland as those in greater Dallas but benefit from a landscape that obscures the conformity.

The starkest divides in Dallas are manmade. From Highland Park to Midway Hollow is only a few miles. The former is a tony enclave with its own armed, state-sponsored neighborhood watch, the Highland Park Police, while the latter is full of homes with leaking gas lines where explosions killed little girls, ignored by utility companies until too late. Highways neatly cordon off the central business district of downtown Dallas on all sides and cut their way through the land, one of many manmade divides. Interstate 30 is just the most physical barrier separating south Dallas from the wealthy neighborhoods and prosperous suburbs to the north, but it’s not the only barrier. The others aren’t immediately visible but persist after years: redlining, segregation, white flight, and so on.

Yet despite its shortcomings, Dallas is not without its charms. Architectural trends unfold before your eyes if you start in the right neighborhood and head north to see Tudor, craftsman, Greek revival, and other styles before giving way to the ubiquitous postwar ranch homes, although skyrocketing property value has led to visually offensive McMansions blistering throughout older neighborhoods. There are plenty of cultural offerings, from museums to concerts to independent bookstores, and the restaurant scene goes well beyond brisket, tacos, and brisket tacos. The skyrocketing cost of living is still leagues below coastal cities, and it’s hard to find a friendlier and more outgoing folk than Texans, for better or worse.

Development and migration has made the city more interesting and diverse, but exponential growth and accompanying sprawl has left the area with a worsening traffic situation, as you can only build so many tollways to accommodate it. Transit is anathema to Texas’s antigovernment sensibilities, or so they say, and it’s difficult to imagine that it could be practical at any rate, given that workplaces are nearly as spread out as the population is. The archetypical metroplex office is directly off of one of the highways and hosts workers with hour-long commutes.

Dallas is a sprawling mess of a city, but there’s an undeniable life to the city, whether it’s a street choked with Texas Edition pickups or luxury SUVs bought on credit or a crosswalk teeming with shoppers and bargoers. The world is at your fingertips in Dallas, although most of the time it’s at your fingertips if you have the money to grasp it. At the end of the day, though — a long summer day where the sun and asphalt conspire to bake cookies inside your car and give you heatstroke — there’s not much better than a frozen margarita on the right patio with the right company. And you can thank Dallas for inventing that frozen margarita.