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Adventures in Dallas (and how we saved money there)

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This past week, I took my first trip to Texas. I was kind of excited and kind of nervous as I didn't know what to really expect. I have known only a couple of people from Texas. They wore shirts with slogans on them, like "There are two kinds of people... those who are from Texas and those who wish they were." They had other shirts that stated that Texas should just move off and be its own country. I had never been a fan of country music (with the exception of Kenny Rogers' Coward of the County) and have long theorized that the Country Music Television breaks millions of mute buttons on television remotes a year (the guys out there know what I'm talking about).

However, I have to say that I loved my trip to Texas. My fears of being outcast as an outsider were completely unfounded. Spending most of my life in New England, I had forgotten to account for one basic thing: southern hospitality. They say that everything is bigger in Texas. That saying has never been more true than when describing that hospitality. My wife and I just had to drop our jaws at the level of politeness.

For spending just a few days, we got a lot of "touristing" done. We were in the Dallas area for the most part, but drove up to Longview for a wedding. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Thanks to PT Money - I have to thank Phil Taylor for his article on frugal things to do in Dallas. It's a very helpful list. I even sent him some e-mail about specific questions I had and he was happy to answer. The lesson here is that Phil rocks.
  • Fort Worth Stock Yards - This area is very much cut out of any Western that you've seen. What's there to do there and how much does it cost? I'm glad you asked:
    • Cattle Drives - They have two cattle drives a day. We were fortunate to catch the first one at 11:30 as we did want to stay until the 4PM one. It was very cool and you can't beat the price of free.
    • Riscky's BBQ - A lot of people mentioned this as a great place for BBQ. It was decent, but didn't knock my socks off. It certainly was not as good as Everett and Jones. However, $9 all-you-can-eat ribs is a great deal.
    • White Elephant Saloon - It's a very authentic looking saloon, because that's pretty much what it is. While it's biggest claim to fame might be that Wyatt Earp drank there, younger folks might recognize it as the exterior of C.D.'s Bar and Grill from the television show Walker, Texas Ranger. The price of a pint of Bud Light there? A frugal $2.
    • Drink Dublin Dr. Pepper - Dr. Pepper is huge in Texas - because it was invented there. There's an original formula using Imperial Pure Cane Sugar made in small qualities and still distributed locally. You can get an old school bottle of Dublin Dr. Pepper at a few shops around the Stock Yards for $1.50.
    • Much More - There are more things to do there, but we just didn't fit it in. There's a rodeo on Friday night, but we had to move on to Longview for a wedding on Thursday. There was a maze featured on the fifth season of The Amazing Race that you could go through, but I think it was $8 and we just didn't feel up to it. There were some museums that were interesting to stroll through, but nothing that knocked my socks off like...
  • The Sixth Floor Museum - Peter King mentioned this a couple of weeks ago in his very popular football column. I didn't think that I'd be that impressed, but I never wanted to leave. For those who don't know, this is the site of John F. Kennedy's assassination. It's turned into a museum not just of that horrific tragedy, but of Kennedy's life. If you don't openly cry, you have no humanity left in your soul. Interestingly one of most amazing things I saw was pretty well hidden on one of the walls. It was a quote by Kennedy the morning of his death:

    You know, if anyone wanted to kill the President, it wouldn't be so difficult. All one would need was a high-powered rifle, a tall building, and wait for the opportune moment.

    Oddly, I could only find mention of this on this one Facebook page. How is it possible that only me and this one other person are the only people to mention it on the Internet?

    If you do nothing else in Dallas this would be my recommendation. It was well worth the $13.50 (or $11.50 with our military discount).

    In case you are wondering Las Vegas has the odds at about 85% that the Secret Service will be visiting my home in the next 30 minutes. Searching Google for all forms of "high-powered rifle" and "kill the President" will do that.

  • Restaurants to Eat at: - We stopped at quite a few places to eat along the way. I thought I'd write a little about each of the significant ones:
    • Wolfgang Puck's Five Sixty - This is the signature restaurant in the Dallas Reunion Tower. (The Reunion Tower looks like a bigger version of New Year's Ball in Times Square suspended on a smaller version of the Seattle Space Needle.) It rotates so you get a good view of the city while you eat. My wife says it must be 560ft high, because otherwise Mr. Puck failed his geometry class. We can't figure out why else he would name it the 560 instead of the 360. The dinner there is quite expensive... the sushi appetizers were $18 for example. Most entrees were $40+. However, they have a happy hour at the bar from 5-7 where you can several drinks and appetizers for $5.60. We got out there with two drinks and three very small (but extremely good) Kobe beef sliders for around $20. The best part? You can time happy hour with the sunset and it's fantastically romantic enough that you forget that you are being frugal.
    • Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse - A lot of people mentioned that I had to try this place out. I liked it better than Riscky's, but it was still no Everett and Jones. It was about the same price as Riscky's.
    • Whataburger - The aptly named fast-food restaurant is all around Texas. As a commenter mentioned we should try this place as well, we did. I was a little surprised by the pricey $7.14 combo meal for a double burger (the single burger looked small and I was really hungry. I was more surprised when this burger didn't come with cheese. $7.14 for your signature burger and it doesn't come with cheese? For a dollar or two more, I might as well go to Friday's or Outback and sit down. Fortunately, the burger was extremely good. I liked my bite of my wife's chicken sandwich as well. Still fast-food drive through for two people shouldn't be over $15.
    • Gator's Croc & Roc - When we got of the plane this was the first place we went to. Coming from California it was still 9PM for us and a good time for dinner. It was 11PM there and we were grateful to find an open place. I went for their "Ultimate Texas Grande Belt Buster Burger." I love a challenge, I was hungry, and it was less than $10. It was a much better value than Whataburger. It was so big, I just focused on the meat an tossed the bread aside... no-need for filler.

      The most fun of the night though came when an off-duty (fairly attractive) waitress was hitting on a guy at the bar. They had obviously known each other from before the way she greeted him. I noticed her free up both hands by finishing up both of her drinks almost like Popeye would down two cans of spinach. I realized this could get interesting when I noticed the restaurant had grain alcohol on the menu. She went into a game of, "Let me show you my tattoos" with the gentleman. Somewhere along the line my wife heard her mention something about her boyfriend. Wouldn't you know it, the boyfriend shows up not ten minutes later and it's just the 7 of us at the bar (me, my wife, the bar tender, the cook, and the love triangle). Everyone took it outside, except my wife and I stayed there to eat. Somehow no punches were thrown. I figure the boyfriend realized that his girl was the instigator. Anyway, it was good drama at the start of our trip.

  • Hampton Inn Longview - Lastly, if you ever find yourself in Longview, TX (and I don't know why you would), you can do a lot worse than stay at the new Hampton Inn on North Eastman Rd. As we checked in on Thursday, the people at the front desk were kind enough to inform us that celebrate guest appreciation with free beer, wine, and appetizers on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 7:30 in the lobby. The wine was boxed Franzia and the beer was your choice of Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coor's Light in a can, but it was worth every penny. The appetizers were actually quite good and we ended up skipping dinner that night.
  • Three odd parts of our trip worth mentioning
    • Gator's Croc and Roc - Just making sure you are paying attention...
    • Weird Toll Policy - When picked up our car rental, the place tried to see us a $32 package of pre-paid tolls. We declined saying that we don't know what tolls we'll use, but we'll pay them as we come across them. The rental place pointed out that there are several highways that no longer take cash. You rack up fines if you don't have a transponder with the appropriate money in it... and you rack them up fast as each checkpoint is a $25 fine.

      I can't understand two things. 1) Why not have one cash lane or people from out of town, technophobes, or just people with malfunctioning equipment? 2) Why have a pre-payment for something that you might not use? It wasn't clear if we were going to get refunded this money if we didn't use it. I tried to ask that and the car rental place didn't seem to understand that we didn't want to give them money for a service that we didn't intend to use, but we would pay for services that we actually use. Unfortunately that wasn't presented as an option.

      As it turned out we found two restaurants that we wanted to go to, but couldn't because of Dallas' silly toll system. We tried to plan around back roads, but our GPS and Google Maps just gave us a response of "You can't avoid that leg of your trip."

      The car rental place that Dallas was going in this direction with all it's toll roads. Note to Dallas: You'll be sinking tourists who don't have reasonable access to your transponder system.

    • Visiting NAS Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base - As part of the military, we went to check out the military base in Fort Worth. Sometimes you can some good deals on clothing. I did find a bright purple suit just like the Joker's, but my wife refused to let me buy it. I thought it would be good value for $30, but she pointed out that it wouldn't fit anyway. That wasn't really the freaky part though. We found out about the Fort Hood shootings the next day just two hours from the base we were on.

    Posted on November 9, 2009.

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    11 Responses to “Adventures in Dallas (and how we saved money there)”

    1. I come from a land with no toll roads (Iowa). I much prefer the toll system where you get a ticket upon entrance and surrender the ticket (with amount owed) when you exit (even it it’s a couple hundred miles away). I absolutely hate the places that hit you up for a buck every mile or two.

      Cattle drives bring up bad childhood memories of dad yelling “cows are out” to us kids at 2 AM. Which was short for “get your @sses out of bed and help get the cows back in before they get themselves hit by a car”.

    2. Laura says:

      I live in Dallas, so I will have to check out PT Money’s link. I had to chuckle about your nervousness about being cast as an outsider…it always amazes me to hear what people think Texas is like. (Granted, you got more of a cowboy experience because you went out to Fort Worth.) I never think much about how nice people are here, nor did I really notice people to be as stereotypically brash as I expected when visiting Boston and New York.

      Thanks for sharing that quote from Kennedy…very weird. I can’t believe that Jack Ruby’s hat just sold at auction for around $54k while the paper outlining the motorcade’s route signed by Kennedy that morning went for much less ($39k).

      560 is named that way because of its height. I went there once and was disappointed with the prices and the waitress trying to upsell us. I may go back for happy hour someday because I’d like for my husband to see the view.

      I have never heard of Gator’s Croc & Roc. And I can’t believe you went to Texas and didn’t mention having TEX-MEX!

    3. Lazy Man says:

      Laura, after 2000 words and hours of writing, I was pretty exhausted and ready to publish. So I didn’t go into detail about going to The Jalapeno Tree and Blue Mesa. Both were good, but neither stood out.

    4. PT says:

      Glad you had a good time, LazyMan. And happy to hear I was a bit of help. Next time you’re in big D I’d be glad to meet up to drink some Shiner and discuss JFK assn theories.

      I’ll need your advice when I visit Boston. The last great American city I’ve yet to visit.

    5. Will in Dallas says:

      I live in Dallas, and I think the rental car company has a little scam going, sort of like when they offer to sell you a full tank of gas up-front, regardless of how much gas the car has in the tank when you return it. While it is true that many of the Dallas tollways have gone toll booth-free and instead us a “Zip Cash” method of scanning your licesne plate (supposed to be more enviormentally friendly), none of them penalize you for not having a toll tag. The main advantage of having a toll tag is that the price of each toll is reduced, and of course, you do not receive a bill in the mail.

      From my understanding, the rental car company, as owner of the vehicle is billed, and they charge your credit card the amount of the tolls you accrue while operating their vehicle.

      I am glad you enjoyed Dallas, and hopefully the rental car companies get enough push-back regarding their sale of these over-priced toll packages that they move away from them.

    6. Eric says:

      You didnt think a REGULAR burger was going to fill you up???? Wow! Im 6’4 and 210 and I always ordered a #1 (regular combo) and was full with that! Wow.

      Next time you see a WHATABURGER, try the breakfast taquitos — OMG! They are soooo good, better than any lunch taco truck burrito!

    7. Ron says:

      Who are they kidding with this $25 fine nonsense, more scare tactics to get you to buy something you don’t need.

      If the vehicle does not have a toll tag the registered owner will receive a bill for the tolls at the end of the month.

      Its possible for the rental company to charge you for tolls charged to the vehicle while it was rented to you but that would require that they actually use their computer system to query the North Texas Toll Road Authority computer to ask for the tolls so they could bill you. What they really wanted was to charge you $32 to cover the $10-$15 in tolls you might actually rack up while in the DFW area, its called money for nothing..

    8. Mike Zoril says:

      I really question if an all electronic toll road can be legal. Right on all our money it says “This note is legal tender for ALL DEBTS, PUBLIC AND PRIVATE.”

      If you are driving on a toll road and therefore incur a liability for doing so, the person you have a liability to MUST accept cash…even if you pay in pennies. Otherwise, they are not entitled to payment.

      The only exception is that they can refuse to accept cash from you BEFORE the liability is incurred (just not after).

      Therefore, they must give an option to pay in cash or an option to exit when reaching the toll. They can’t tell you they don’t take cash after you’ve already passed the exit. Maybe they do that. I don’t know, I’ve haven’t been there…but it just sounds strange to me.

    9. Lazy Man says:

      Mike Zoril,

      I agree. I pointed that out to the car rental agency (Dollar). They shrugged and said to take it up NTTA (North Texas Tollway Authority). At the airport, where you are making the decision at 10:30PM, the NTTA doesn’t have a representative.

      I’ve also wanted to try the “Legal Tender for All Debts, Public and Private” with American Airlines as they announce that they no longer take cash to purchase food. I know it’s slightly different as you just choose not incur the debt, but if you do incur the debt (i.e. order food and consume it), they should have to accept it. And they shouldn’t be able to discriminate against people (i.e. refuse to serve them) on basis of form of payment.

    10. hondo says:

      Glad you enjoyed your trip to Texas. As a Texas native and Dallas resident, one thing you can’t avoid is how proud native Texans are of their state…if for no reason other than that’s the only thing some of us have known..it’s a big state. RE: the toll system, as with most states these days, if they can save some budget that would otherwise go to infustructure, they do it. The NTTA (North Texas Tollway Authority) did a great job of building and maintaing the tolls..and most are paid off already, but they charge you like crazy if you don’t have a toll tag. Some suburbs actually cannot be accessed (barring slow tertiary roads) without jumping on the tolls.

      Come again sometime soon.

    11. annk says:

      You were right to be worried. Those of us in Houston know that Dallas is chock-full of snobs and jerks. : )

      I had a similar experience going to NYC for the first time last summer. Although I have traveled quite a bit around the world, I had never been there, and was curious about what I would find. The people were amazingly friendly and open.

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