Keep Hope Alive
My trip to Dallas started in, of all places, New Orleans...two years ago.
I was at the late lamented Big Easy Con (although, if you want to go to a con that's just as well-run and just as cool, Con Daddy Roger Price still runs the excellent Mid-Ohio-Con, even if Columbus doesn't have the more enlightened drinking laws of the great state of Louisiana) doing the Caricature Boy routine, when I drew this guy, and we got to talking. Mostly about two of my favorite programs, "SportsNight" and "The West Wing." Both the brainchildren of Aaron Sorkin.
He was the sometimes unfortunately-named Jesse Jackson. This Jesse has no illegitimate children, never counseled the President on infidelitiies, and as far as I know is up front with the IRS on where all his money goes. I had a nice time talking to him, but I didn't think much more of it and returned to my life in Ohio, such as it was.
Then, the Monday after Thanksgiving I was returning from Mid-Ohio-Con (What, you haven't checked it out yet? What's wrong with you?) and I had just made it in the door when the ThomLine rang. It was Jesse Jackson. He remembered me from Big Easy Con, still had the caricature I drew of him displayed in his office, and needed a little cartoon done for his company, BancTec.
We hammered out the financials like the hardened pros we were. "Um, is that too much?" "No, are you sure that's enough?" And we were off to the races. That first cartoon, a little blue guy named Little Bit, became the first of many cartoons I did for them, most of which seem to involve cheese.
Thank you Spencer Johnson and "Who Moved My Cheese?"
Anyway, to make a long story unbearable, he foolishly said "We should have you down here to do caricatures sometime." I gave him my day rate and a couple months later, I was on a plane flying down to Texas.
A brief aside: I thought about driving down. Hey, I've got a cooler-than-cool little convertible custom made for cross country road trips. But much like my free trip to the Bahamas, I couldn't find anyone to go with me. I've not given up on the idea, and am currently looking for companions for another trip, as well as the Bahamas trip, and eventually one to Australia Applicants will be judged on personality, creativity, charm, with bonus points awarded in the swimsuit category.
I'm From the Country and I Like it That Way
I arrive in Dallas and go to meet Jesse at Baggage Claim. It's then that I realize that I haven't seen Jesse in two years and I have only a dim memory of what he looks like, No matter, I figure. My website is littered with my ugly mug, usually in the arms of some sci-fi hottie. So if Jesse wasn't too distracted by Virginia Hey, he probably knew what I looked like.
Sure enough, he did. He met me and we went out to his truck and proceeded from Dallas-Fort Worth effort to my first sight-seeing part of the trip.
In the city of Las Colinas is a pretty cool sculpture: a bunch of life-sized stallions in a fountain/pool. It was so close to the airport that Jesse figured it'd be a nice first stop. It was.
We then went to Jesse's house, where he was kind enough to offer to let me stay. Jesse, it must be noted, is married and has a 13-year old son. They didn't go to New Orleans and, as such, had never met me. Linda, his wife, said that if Jesse believed me not to be a knife-weilding psycho, that was good enough for her. Chris kept kidding that his Dad was having a friend over for a sleep over. Apparently, though, I won Linda over when one of my first questions was "Where's the closest Catholic church so I can go to Mass on Sunday?"
We met his family and their dog, Ranger, a beagle which could give Porthos on "Enterprise" a run for his money in the cute department. I've never really wanted a pet, unless it was a deaf lip reading half-wolf-half-Alaskan Malamute like on "Due South." But if I did get one, I'd probably like one like Ranger.
We went to a local chain diner called "Mothers and Daughters" and the pattern for the weekend began to emerge. Much like my Irish cousins, they apparently believed me to be way too skinny and tried to fix that with as much good food as they could, and apparently my Yankee Money was no good in the South.
Back at Jesse's house, we stayed up late talking of "SportsNight," "Buffy" and comics. Then, after the requsite and religious e-mail checking, we went to bed.
Artists Don't Do Mornings
The next morning fresh off my almost five and a half hours of sleep, wait, let me be clear, early the next morning, six in the morning, which was still five in the morning to my eastern standard body clock, we headed off to BancTec. Maybe I'm making too much of this, but my freelancer's constitution is a delicate thing. I usually wake up right around the crack of noon... well, maybe not that late, but the last time I saw five in the morning I was going to bed after working an AfterProm.
Jesse took me on a tour of the building. The first thing that made me laugh was the "No Weapons Allowed On Premesis" sign. Texas has a concealed carry law. I was a little worried, of course. Not that a gunfight would break out, but I am a trained kickboxer and as such, consider myself a human weapon. My boyishly charming exterior fooled them, though.
Inside BancTec was a weird experience to say the least. Let me be clear, the people are good people, well trained and very nice. The facility is clean and just as nice. What was trippy was that they had displayed all over the Call Center (Jesse' department) rooms was my artwork.
A lot of what I did has appeared on T-shirts and caps, which Jesse dutifully sends me, but they've also printed a lot of it on posters. And, I designed a series of posters for him, none of which I've seen. So it was my first time seeing much of my art that large.
And that ubiqitous. It was like the Thom Zahler Museum. There was my original drawing of Little Bit, the one of him running a race, the one of him as Spider-Man. You'd think it'd be the opposite, but it was very humbling.
To further the big weird, many of the BancTec employees were wearing the shirts I designed. Sure, I've seen the shirts. But only on my Jolly Green Giant frame, not on anyone else.
I set up my Uber-easel and started to draw. It was a great time. I worked the whole day, aside from a lunchtime trip to a place called Stuffers, home of the world's greatest cheese fries. Like I said, apparently I'm just too thin.
A weird thing happened while I was in Texas, too. Apparently, everybody wanted me. I have a little Star Trek communicator-like cell phone with a national calling plan. It was ringing off the hook, or vibrating off my belt as the case may be. I picked up two lettering jobs, an inking job, a caricature commission, a caricature party, and a Career Day all while out of the state.
Most people travel because of business. Apparently, I travel to get business... somewhere else.
He Always Did Have Good Taste In Food
Jesse and Linda took me to dinner at a place called La Trancera where then-President Bill Clinton ate. Despite that, I found it a really nice place. Good Tex-Mex food. This time using the hand speed that only comes with ten-plus years of drawing, I snatched the check before they could even think of paying for it.
Now, I liked Jesse, I always did. Linda I had never met. She's a great lady. A triathelete, a runner, and she's kind enough to try to show interest in her husband's avocations. Like, for instance, "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer." Now, Linda doesn't watch Buffy, let's be clear. Not at all. She catches the occasional episode or twenty two only when spending time with Jesse. She knew me to be a Buffy fan, however, and since Jesse has only been watching the Buffy DVDs and isn't past season two, asked those innocent casual questions that only a sporadic viewer would.
Like: "If whenever a Slayer dies there is born another, when Kendra died did that mean there will be another Slayer?" "What exactly was Giles like when he was The Ripper?" and "Does Willow continue to become even more powerful in the ways of Wicca?"
Like I said, she doesn't watch the show, but I was more than happy to ask these clearly superficial questions.
Shaken, Not Stirred
We then went to a place that Linda likes to go but doesn't get to go to very often, the Martini Ranch, a swanky little place in downtown Dallas that serves a smorgsboard of martinis. I found the chocolate martini particularly appealing. Chocolate and liquor, together in one great drink? Frell the Reese's people, these are two great tastes that taste great together.
Linda also informed me that quite a number of young, and I do mean young, ladies seemed to be checking out my black-clad form. I wouldn't presume to call Linda a liar, but I'm not so sure about it. Of course, if she had said anything about it before we left, maybe I could have put her theory to the test and in the process tried to smooth over relations with two or three of my Southern brethern, in my continuing effort to help us all get over the War of Northern Agression.
(That's right, Southern Belles and Dallas Cheerleaders, this Yankee said "War of Northern Agression." Come, let us discuss the sociopolitics of the 19th Century. Preferably over a chocolate martini.)
Better Than Oliver Stone
The next day, Jesse and I got up to go into Dallas. Jesse had kindly arranged a signing for me at Keith's Comics (more on that later) and we didn't have all afternoon. I had to choose between two places: a tour of the Ballpark at Arlington, and a trip to the Sixth Floor Museum and Dealy Plaza, where President Kennedy was shot.
Now, I love baseball and wanted to see the ballpark, but we have ballparks back in Cleveland (not that I've gone on the tour, but that's another story altogether). We don't have any Presidential assassination sites, so I picked Dealy Plaza.
The Sixth Floor Museum is a really well-done exhibit. It covers Kennedy's career, with a special focus on the assassination. Aside from the oddness of the videos in the exhibit being done by Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman ("Johnson took the oath of office aboard Air Force One... Alfred, Robin, the Joker's on the loose!") I found it really informative. Unfortunately, you're not allowed to take pictures in the museum, which is a shame. I understand copyright issues and all that, but you really should be able to take a picture out the window Oswald shot from. He makes a hairpin turn that really slowed down the motorcade, and the sixth floor is fairly close. It didn't seem like all that difficult a shot.
Now, that is of course if Oswald took the shot. I'm not going to address the conspiracy thing here. You want to read about conspiracies, read my graphic novel "Raider," available at raidercomic.com. The museum does do a great job of addressing that issue themselves, and manage to remain neutral to boot.
This Book Is Worth More If I Write On It?
I then was chauffered to the spiffy Keith's Comics in Dallas. Yeah, I was living the Big Time Comic Book Life. I'm being driven around, signings are organized fo me, and all I have to do is show up. Sweet.
I brought a bunch of books with me and managed to sell them all! Yay, me. I met a lot of nice people. Keith runs a really nice shop, very professional and very well organized.
I'm looking forward to hearing the reaction from my new readers.
Como Se Dice "A Lot of Food?"
That night, we went to El Ranchito in Dallas. We met up with Jesse's friend and co-worker Gina, and her husband Andy. Gina is a Hispanic, and took us to an authentic Mexican restaurant. She wound up doing all the ordering for us.
They have great service at El Ranchito. Gina ordered us a few sampler platters. The waiter told Gina she was ordering too much food, and she assured him that we would be fine.
Believe it or not, it was too much food. It was, however, great food. And I'm sure Ranger enjoyed the treats we brought home.
We also wound up back at the Martini Ranch. The original plan was for some of the single guys from BancTec to take me out for a night on the town. I told Jesse that was a nice, if misguided, plan. "Why not have a bunch of the single ladies take me out?" Neither plan coalesced, but I can't say I was disappointed. I had another great night.
This time I decided to broaden my horizons and try more than the Chocolate Martini. They had a Wedding Cake Martini that was recommended to me by one of my caricature victims at BancTec, so I decided to try that. Honest to God, it tasted like a slice of wedding cake.
That's No Moon...That's a Pancake
Sunday we went to Saint Monica's, the Jackson family parish. It was a fine church. Afterwards, we went to the Original Pancake House, where I ordered the Apple Pancake.
Now, I've been to a lot of places for pancakes, and I'm a big fan of the apple cinnamon pancakes. Usually five pancakes, drizzled in cinnamon syrup with warm apples on top. I missed the lack of an "S" in the word Apple Pancake. They served one pancake, as big as the plate and three inches high, with cinnamon and apples baked into the thing. It was good eatin', but it was also a lot of eatin'. I gotta admit, I didn't make it thrrough the whole thing.
My trip was largely over then. Jesse and his son drove me to the airport and dropped me off, even slowing the car down for me. I had a great time in Texas, and recommend it to anyone. I'll be going back soon myself.