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Texas Bound and Flyin’

Frisco Public Library

Although it was a horrendous and depressing movie, Smokey and the Bandit II is notable for its theme song: “Texas Bound and Flyin’,” performed by the Snowman himself, the late Jerry Reed. Although it was little more than an attempt by Reed to capture lightning in a bottle for the second time (it’s practically the same song as his hit “East Bound and Down” from the first film), it’s still a fun song — and is entirely apropos, I find, for what may become the next chapter of my life. You see, Apple and I may shortly be “Texas bound” ourselves.

As for flyin’, we’ve already done some of that recently with our fact-finding trip to Frisco, Texas last weekend. Since my company is relocating there and offered to pay each of its employees to go check out the area and see if they might like to relocate as well, we decided to take them up on the offer. If nothing else, it would be a free vacation. So we spent four days in the north Dallas area, seeing the sights, visiting family and hanging out with my boss (a.k.a. friend) and his family, who are all really great people.

We started by flying into DFW airport (which is as huge as a city in and of itself), picking up a rental car and heading north to our hotel. Thanks to the Price! Line! Negoti-aaaaa-tor! we scored a $55/night deal at a brand new, fairly upscale 3.5 star Sheraton right on Highway 121, which turned out to be good because it was centrally located near essentially everything we wanted to see. Not long after checking in, we met my boss at his new house, whereupon he then took us on a whirlwind tour of Frisco.

For the initial tour, we didn’t see anything in too great a depth, but we saw a lot of things. We stopped by the Frisco Public Library, which I tend to think of as “city hall” because it’s also where you do all of your tax, tag, registration, driver license and other affairs. Built in 2006, the five-story brick building sports a huge, modern library that spans four of those floors and looks really impressive. Apparently there is a new building being constructed behind the library which, if I recall correctly, will be a convention center.

Our rented Altima outside the boss's house

We drove through the heart of Frisco’s retail district, which includes the enormous Stonebriar Center Mall, complete with its 24-screen (plus IMAX) AMC theater and indoor ice skating rink. They had a really cool video game store there that specialized in classic games, including long-forgotten software and hardware from the Nintendo 64 to the Atari Jaguar. From there we saw the myriad of sports arenas downtown, including Pizza Hut Park (which hosts soccer, football, concerts and other events), Dr. Pepper Park (home of the Frisco RoughRiders baseball club, the Class AA affiliate of the Texas Rangers) and Dr. Pink Field (which belongs to the local school district). We even checked out the Frisco recreation center, a family-oriented gym with both an indoor pool and an outdoor water park.

That evening, we journeyed eastward into Plano, where there lives a huge Asian population comprised primarily of Chinese and Koreans. There was a big Asian supermarket there as well as a Sichuan-style restaurant that my boss and his family took us to; his wife and in-laws are from China’s Sichuan province and found the food at this place to be very authentic. Unfortunately, Apple wasn’t feeling too well so we took her back to the hotel to rest up while my boss and I went to see Iron Man 2 on the IMAX screen. Even though we ran behind and had to sit in the front row, I somehow managed to see the entire movie without getting a headache. (It was actually watchable, too — surprising.)

The next day was Sunday. We were scheduled to drive down to Dallas and meet some of my family there, so we started by grabbing some baked goods at La Madeline, a chain French-style bakery/cafe that has several locations in the North Dallas area. After that, we had some time to kill and decided to let our curiosity get the better of us by taking a look at the local IKEA store. I’d always heard about the tremendous hype surrounding IKEA but had never been in one. On this day, we both discovered what all the hype is about: prices. IKEA is like the Wal-Mart of furniture stores, with at least one very notable exception: the stuff they sell doesn’t suck.

Apple at the IKEA store

Really cool-looking kitchen

The store’s entire second floor is all furniture, including little “miniature homes” of a few hundred square feet that show you how you can completely outfit a small space to be a comfortable and livable area. The furnishings themselves have a decidedly European flair without being an exercise in function following form, and the prices were very reasonable. Downstairs, you’ll find kitchen gadgets, artwork, pillows, bedding and other miscellany. There’s even a cafe near the entrance where you can order Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes, a particular favorite “comfort food” of mine. (Yeah, I tried them — they were pretty tasty.)

Eventually we had to get on the road, so we took the Dallas North Tollway south into Dallas itself, eventually arriving at the home belonging to my cousin G. and her husband. My family is fairly small, and G. is really the daughter of my grandmother’s cousin, but to keep things simple (and to prevent my fingers from going numb from too much typing) I’ll simply refer to her as my cousin. It was Mother’s Day, and G.’s mom and dad had driven up for the occasion, as well as her brother, his wife and their kids.

I normally don’t do family get-togethers — if for no other reason than there’s rarely more than four or five of us to actually get together at any one time — but this was a whole new branch of the family tree that I haven’t met since I was too young to remember, and it was great fun to re-connect with them all. G. in particular is incredibly outgoing and friendly, and welcomed us into her home as if we were best buddies. Her brother, too, is a really cool guy who actually works as a forensic investigator for the sheriff’s department, which I thought was awesome given what a fan I am of TV’s Forensic Files. We had a great meal, chatted about all manner of things (life in Texas was a particularly popular topic) and took some family photos.

Family Portrait

Apple and I were both pleasantly amazed at just how welcoming all of these folks were, especially since we are relative newcomers to this part of the family. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since the small part of my family that we’re already familiar with is filled with kind and generous folks. G. and her entourage made sure to tell us that if we ever needed anything, they’d be happy to do whatever they could for us. As someone who’s spent most of his life relying on as few people as possible, mostly out of suspicion, it was a somewhat new — and simultaneously delightful — experience. I’m sure I’ll be seeing more of all these folks in the future.

In the evening, we got together with my boss and his family again, whereupon Apple and I treated them to dinner at a Thai restaurant in downtown Frisco. We had a long conversation about work, life, the future of the company and where everything was going. It was pretty eye-opening, actually, to hear some of the “inside dish” that I never get to be a part of by virtue of my isolation in a “remote worker” capacity. I do have to say, though, that having eaten at two of the area’s Thai restaurants, neither Apple nor I were impressed with them. We have more exploring yet to do before we find a really memorable Thai eatery in the DFW Metroplex, it seems. At least, according to Yelp.com, there are many more to choose from.

On the third day, my boss dropped off the ladies at the mall so they could thoroughly explore the shops on offer, while he and I ventured to geek paradise: Fry’s Electronics. Here was another place that I’d always heard about but never had an opportunity to enter, and again I was blown away. Fry’s is a vast store indeed, seemingly twice the size of our local Best Buy, and filled to the brim with computers, TVs, appliances, electronic hobbyist equipment, computer parts that look like a Newegg warehouse and even paintball gear. There was a huge wall of just hard drives that dwarfs the entire supply of computer parts at most local office store chains.

Fry's Electronics in all its awesomeness

The pièce de résistance was found at the back of the store, and came in the form of a 55″ Samsung LED flat panel television with 3D capability. Oh…my. Such pure geeky goodness is so rarely realized. Here was this incredible piece of technology, less than an inch thick, and sporting the ability not only to display 3D-enabled films and software through the use of glasses, but also the ability to apply a psuedo-3D effect to any 2D image you feed it.

Although these simulated 3D images don’t pop off the screen, it gives an almost creepy depth to the screen itself, like you’re looking through a window at a diorama that you could actually reach into and touch. Very, very cool. And, the TV was surprisingly affordable at $2,600 — I had thought most 3D-enabled sets were much more. We were then called away by our wives with an emergency plea for lunch, so I neglected to take note of the model number, but I believe it was the Samsung UN55C7000. Still, if I’m honest, I’d have to say that 3D TV is still in its infancy and that buying one now would be a mistake.

We also visited the office park where my company will soon have its headquarters. The Hall Office Park in Frisco is amazing, filled with classy-looking buildings of various configurations, private parking garages and satellite businesses that offer medical, dental, daycare and other services to tenants at promotional prices. Naturally, I took a variety of photos, some of which I’ve posted below.

Hall Office Park entrance

Office building

Our building entrance

Multiple buildings

Central building lobby

A parking garage

Moving on from there, we spent some time at my boss’s house, watching The Big Bang Theory and then had dinner at this goofy restaurant in Dallas called The Magic Time Machine. This is a restaurant where every room has a theme, and every server is in character. We were waited on by Captain Jack Sparrow. The table across from us was served by the inestimable Doctor Evil, complete with gray suit and bald head. If you go there, make sure you don’t ask to use the restroom because they’ll parade you through the whole place and announce to everyone that you have to pee. It’s the most bizarre thing ever — kitsch doesn’t even begin to describe it. Apple asked me to carry her purse to the salad car because it was getting heavy, so naturally I took a good ribbing from Captain Jack on my “excellent man bag.” I replied that it was European. (Seinfeld in-joke.)

Korean lunch at Jin Mi

We had to head home on the fourth day, but first, Apple asked if we could check out a Korean restaurant somewhere in town. I got on Yelp and found one that looked good; it turned out to be in the neighboring town of Plano, so we headed down there. After a pretty leisurely fifteen-minute drive, we arrived at Jin Mi Korean Restaurant in a fairly run-down little strip mall. The food there was excellent, and about halfway into our meal the place was suddenly overrun with Korean businessmen on their lunch breaks, so apparently it’s pretty authentic, too — and affordable, I might add. It reminded me of the unassuming little Japanese restaurant in Livonia that we like so much.

On our way back into Frisco, we drove through a fairly quiet residential zone of Plano that reminded me very much of Dearborn, Redford or various other suburbs of Detroit in the area where I grew up. This part of Plano was perhaps a step down from where I would like to be living, but it was certainly far from the crappy areas of suburban Orlando I saw all too often whilst in college — areas that near single-handedly convinced me that I didn’t want to stay in O-Town. By comparison, the suburbs of Dallas seemed more familiar, more…dare I say it…Midwestern in their style. They may be no better or worse than suburbs of Orlando or any other city, but the mere predictability of their design makes me feel that much more at home. And the abundance of streets, toll roads and communities you can actually drive through made getting from place to place a much less hair-pulling affair than it is here in Florida.

FiOS van

We also spotted a Verizon FiOS van on the Plano roads, reminding me once again that this is no sleepy Midwestern town: this is a place of real technology, filled with young families our age who are as busy shaping the modern world — wittingly or unwittingly — as we are. Unlike our current location in Florida, were everything is geared toward the rest and relaxation that comes with retirement, the DFW Metroplex is a bustling place, filled with opportunities, but also with class, culture and refinement. In fact, it seems to have everything in near-equal parts.

Our entire trip to Texas was incredibly eye-opening. There’s a whole world out there, and I’ve been largely insulated from it for so long that I had assumed it wasn’t really for me. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there’s actually a lot of cool stuff to do out there. My grandmother recently reminded me that I haven’t led a very exciting life, at least compared to others my age — sure, I’ve done a fair bit of world traveling, even seeing a few of this planet’s fairly remote destinations — but on the basic day-to-day, I’ve stayed pretty sheltered. And although I’m not clamoring for a life filled with extreme sports and death-defying stunts, a little more activity would no doubt be healthy.

And as if everything we’d seen wasn’t incredible enough, I happened upon — like a guidepost on a wandering path — one of my childhood favorite soda drinks in a fountain at a local business, a flavor that is all but impossible to find.

Tahitian Treat FTW

Tahitian Treat, first encountered by this author ca. June, 1991, is a decidedly unspectacular yet strangely addictive drink. And here it was, as if to say, “Long time no see.”

I haven’t even begun to mention the Frisco area’s real estate opportunities, which are nothing short of astounding to a denizen of southwest Florida. The amount of house you can get for your money is like a punch in the gut — for the same amount of money our house here is worth, we could find a house in Frisco that’s double the size. It makes me want to laugh out loud when I think about how much we almost paid for a new home down the street during the height of the real estate run-up a few years ago. Although it cost us money to extricate ourselves from that disaster before we went past the point of no return, I can’t help but wonder if it happened for a reason…that those events were specifically designed to lead us to the here-and-now.

We have such an unprecedented opportunity in front of us — an opportunity to be paid by my employer to move closer not only to work, but also to friends and new family members — that Apple and I have become adamant believers that this is the road we want to take to the next chapter of our lives together. Further, it is a road which we would do ourselves a disservice not to travel. And so, as we continue to research the finer points, we’ve also begun to make preparations for a move. This time, we’ve got ten more years of experience to draw from, and I no longer feel like a twenty-year-old kid who’s letting the gulfstream of life carry him where it may. This time I can do my own steering through these currents, and I’ve got specific goals in mind.

Because after all, as the next verse of that titular Jerry Reed anthem goes: “How you gonna win if you ain’t tryin’?”

More updates to come.