East Dallas residents like to describe their neighborhood as a cultural, racial and socioeconomic melting pot.

Given the attitude seemingly prevalent throughout the rest of Dallas these days, is that a correct assessment? Or are we just listening to a bunch of white liberals deluding themselves behind their electronic alarm systems and eight-foot-high security fences?

The Advocate decided to find out by spending 24 hours wandering through East Dallas and Lakewood, talking with the people rather than the politicians.

What did we find? A mix of white, black, brown and yellow working and living together.

Really.

Yes, there is crime. Yes, there is animosity. Yes, there is distrust.

But there also were three groups of people at White Rock Lake one overcast afternoon: a black woman and child fishing along the shore, within shouting distance of three white, native Texans, who were just a few dozen yards from a Jewish woman and her daughter feeding some ducks.

Sure, it’s corny. But that doesn’t make it any less positive.

And it beats spending the afternoon locked in the house with the curtains drawn, which is how the rest of the City seems to live.

6:05 a.m.
Swiss Avenue and Skillman Street

Frank Oliver has been awake more than 30 minutes, which means he has beaten the sun by almost an hour. But he is not alone, some solitary figure on a muggy, overcast morning.

Swiss Avenue in the 20 minutes or so before sunrise resembles nothing so much as a mall without shops but with plenty of customers.

This morning, two dozen people walk, run or ride bikes along the wide, tree-lined boulevard. Some amble along with dogs, while others power-walk, fists clenched, elbows pointing, arms pumping.

Oliver, who lives on Swiss Avenue, is halfway through his six-mile run. It’s a little more than a mile from his house to the post office at the corner of Swiss Avenue and LaVista Drive.

Each morning, he runs up and down Swiss Avenue three times before heading off to work.

11:05 a.m.
Garrett Park at Greenville and Henderson Avenues

After an on-and-off rain for more than four hours, Garrett Park is swamped with puddles.

One is particularly nasty, a deep and muddy mess waiting at the bottom of a slide on the park’s east side, across Greenville Avenue from the post office.

But the puddle doesn’t deter nine-year-old Moses Gutirrez.

Moses is playing with the five Neri brothers. Luis, the eldest, is at the bottom of the slide, straddling the puddle and catching the children as they swish down.

Luis, who is probably about 15, seems a little embarrassed about the antics. His brothers and Moses are having too much fun to care.

11:10 a.m.
Dallas Tortilla and Café, Greenville Avenue and Bryan Parkway

In 20 minutes, Jesse Leal Jr. will not have time to talk with two strangers standing outside his family’s Tex-Mex restaurant.

By then, the lunch rush will have begun. For the next two hours, Leal, 18, and four other employees will be too busy to do much more than serve enchiladas and tacos.

“We’re not a real big-time operation,” he says. “But we do our best.”

There are several tables on a makeshift patio outside the front door, while inside are a dining counter and several more tables. Hand-lettered, cardboard signs describe the daily specials, and the aroma of lunch drifts through the open door.

Before he goes inside, Leal points out the faces painted on the building’s side. They are the four Leal brothers who founded the restaurant in 1988: his uncles, Ruben, Eduardo and Matias, and his father, Jesus.

11:25 a.m.
Delmar and Ellsworth Avenues

D.L. Hill, wearing a pith helmet and shorts, looks as if he is dripping with paint from a Norman Rockwell original.

And when Hill walks up to a porch in the 5900 block of Ellsworth, and a mother and two children appear behind a screen door, it seems as if the artist is just around the corner, pipe and palette in hand.

Postman Hill delivers mail to 500 homes on five streets in an overwhelmingly residential area behind Stonewall Jackson Elementary School, south of Mockingbird Lane. The route, which takes almost six hours to walk, has been his for three years. Before that, he says: “I’ve done all of ‘em.” To prove his point, he recites the zip codes, from 75204 to 75216.

Hill walks like a Rockwell mailman: bag slung over his right shoulder, never missing a stride until he stops to pose for a picture. He does not, however, stop when answering a question. Any conversation must continue as he cuts across front yards.

12:15 p.m.
Hillside Village, Abrams Road and Mockingbird Lane

These days, when Mexican food is haute cuisine and restaurants charge as much as $12.95 for enchiladas, those with sophisticated palates must think a place such as Pancho’s Mexican Buffet is an anachronism.

Don’t tell that to Teresa Jo Whitner.

“They’re going to have lunch,” she says, pointing to her pregnant sister, Annette; her friend, Billie J. Casey, and four children climbing from a pickup truck in the Hillside Village parking lot.

“And I’m going to go stuff my face.”

Annette and her two children live in East Dallas. Billie and Teresa Jo (one child each) are visiting for the weekend. None of them, mothers or kids, believe Pancho’s $4.95, all-you-can-eat menu is passé.

Says Teresa: “Why would we be here if we didn’t like it?”

12:30 p.m.
Lyre Lane and Bob O Link Drive

For almost 12 hours and two days, Robert Johnson has been squatting in a hole in an alley off Lyre Lane on the west side of White Rock Lake.

His mission: Repair a leaking gas line.

He’s not having much luck.

“This is going to take us the rest of the day,” says a disgusted Ron McDowell, one of four men in Johnson’s Lone Star Gas Co. crew.

“We thought we could finish this yesterday, but we had to leave the hole open overnight and block off the alley.”

McDowell walks to a nearby service truck and pulls out a map book detailing gas lines. Johnson climbs from the hole and begins leafing through another map book.

Neither looks happy.

1:15 p.m.
West Lawther Drive and Northwest Highway

In less than a day, Richard Quiroga will be in San Antonio, competing in the United States Cycling Federation’s District 33 road race. The state championship race is one of the year’s biggest amateur cycling events.

Even though he will be racing more than 60 miles tomorrow, Quiroga is leaving nothing to chance today.

“I’m getting in some last-minute training,” he says as he pedals around White Rock Lake.

Quiroga, who rides for Jack Johnson’s Team Johnti (based at Garland Road near the lake’s spillway), is a Category 3 cyclist, meaning he is more talented than a beginner, but not good enough to compete with national-class riders.

But as he rides north on Lawther Drive, cruising at more than 25 miles per hour, who can tell?

2:30 p.m.
Shook Avenue and West Shore Drive

The morning rain didn’t dampen Tracy Cunniff’s garage sale.

Already, she has taken in $380. Plenty of merchandise remains, and many customers continue to wander through her backyard.

The loss-leader is baby clothing – lots and lots of baby clothing. Cunniff, who says she is finished having children, scans the scene.

“You know, I was a little worried, because I wasn’t sure anyone would be able to find me here,” she says of her home, located on a winding side street off Gaston Avenue.

“When I lived over on Belmont, we always had a lot of people. So here, I put out 20 signs (Big Garage Sale!) and hoped for the best.”

The best turned out to be good enough. The sale didn’t start until 8 a.m., and people were lining up at 7:30.

4:15 p.m.
Aw Shucks, Greenville Avenue and McCommas Boulebard

That their beer is served in plastic cups on a wooden picnic table, which is baking outdoors on a sunny, muggy afternoon, doesn’t bother Jennifer Gann, Toyia Leslie and Donna Pearce one bit.

Their workday has ended, and it’s Friday.

Leslie and Gann are roommates who wait tables across the street at Snuffer’s; Pearce is a friend who has joined them to plan the evening.

They haven’t decided their next move. The beer is cold, and that’s good enough right now.

“We like working at Snuffer’s,” Leslie says. “The music is great, and the customers are great. But we also like it when we don’t have to work.”

9:45 p.m.
Arcadia Theater, Greenville Avenue and Sears Street

Tom Tisdale and Cindi Crook are holed up in the ticket booth at the Arcadia, looking like an animated, overgrown Punch and Judy.

They are managers for Rainbow TicketMaster, and tonight’s assignment is a performance by Dallas folk singer Sara Hickman.

“This is a pretty laid-back crowd,” Tisdale says. In fact, tonight will be easy duty for the duo, who have worked countless concerts at countless Dallas sites.

Hickman’s audience is an advertising executive’s – and a policeman’s – dream: young, upscale, middle-class couples. Inside the theater, there’s even a table promoting the Society for Texas Animal Rights.

So much for the decadent rock ‘n’ roll crowd.

11:30 p.m.
Dan’s Lakewood Café, Abrams Road and Richmond Avenue

The 24-hour diner, an American tradition, is nearly extinct.

The most recent demise in Dallas was Lucas B&B in Oak Lawn, flattened to make way for a trendy Cajun restaurant.

But the bulldozers will have to get past Billie Jo Guthrie to tear down Dan’s.

For 17 years, she has worked the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, wedging between 15 Formica booths to serve diner coffee, eggs and, of course, chicken fried steaks.

“We’re an historic institution,” says Guthrie, whose blonde, bouffant hair would shame Gov. Ann Richards.

“We get people in here who tell us this is their home, that this is where their parents brought them.”

Guthrie does not have much time to reflect on this sociological observation, nor does she worry much about the race or political preference of her customers.

Instead, she goes about her job: waiting on customers returning from Deep Ellum clubs or late-night movies or all-night work shifts, winding down from one day and getting ready for the next.


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