Hat trick

Copyright 2005 Ben S. Pollock

Monday, June 27, 2005: Representatives of Highfill, home of Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, should mosey down to Grapevine, Texas, and take notes, themselves. This town has created a historical district, which on some holidays and by request (such as for visiting columnists) puts volunteers in early 20th-century costume and gives them scripts to tell passers-by just how things were, a long time ago.

Or not. This made for a pleasant couple of hours, but, you know, any burg could do this. Many have. Not the walking actors so much as renovate downtown, clamp some zoning restrictions and promote it as a tourist destination. Here in the Ozarks, Rogers has done this beautifully, well surpassing this Grapevine village (named for wild mustang grapes found here but never harvested or fermented; wineries arrived as part of the tourist draw in the last decade or so) in rehabilitated historic handsomeness. The Bentonville Square doesn’t quite have enough to be worth a full afternoon, and my downtown Fayetteville uses all its buildings for residents and their commerce, naturally drawing visitors, as opposed to tourists.

Springdale? Like Rogers and Grapevine, it doesn’t have a square — is that because their central business districts were strongly attached to train stations? — and Springdale’s facades along Emma Avenue (the true Main Street, although it does have a Main Street) is firmly 1950s in tone if not architectural precision.

But Rogers has “it,” and it’s always a treat to walk there and poke your head in the shops and restaurants.

The flaw in Grapevine for me is 90 years ago isn’t old enough to be captivating.

What made our trip a trip, outside of the conference (housed in Grapevine’s year-old Gaylord Texan Resort), was spending Thursday, June 23, in downtown Fort Worth, specifically at the Kimbell Museum of Art and the Japanese Garden of the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens, which are a half-dozen blocks apart.

I moved from Dallas-Fort Worth in June 1985, to Little Rock, and for all the warnings about how much it’s grown and changed since my four years there in suburban newspapers, I stopped getting lost when I discarded the maps and the Internet road-direction printouts and followed my memories.

Was that truly a geographic sense-memory? In part, sure, but I think that all those years ago when I was driving I was hardly looking at fields, subdivisions or shopping centers but just at road signs, intersections and freeway exits. That a pasture is now a mall wouldn’t throw me because I didn’t need to implant that in my brain.

Seeing the cultural district of Fort Worth was my second priority. Actually it alternated in the last 12 months with my first, a shallow desire.

That first priority was a 20-year-old ambition to revisit the Resistol hat factory in the Dallas suburb of Garland. In the early 1980s I dropped by its outlet store a couple of times because it had top hat brands because the corporation that owned Resistol apparently owned other classic lines including Stetson and, I think, Dobbs. Between Google and phone calls, I got the store’s location (it had moved a block away), hours and directions. Unfortunately, it was a good hour’s drive from the hotel.

Fortunately, I called a day ahead. Unfortunately, it was closed for inventory. But, hey, it would be open Saturday so I made plans to skip the Grapevine history tour and drive there then meet the gang at the Sixth Floor Museum in downtown Dallas. Saturday morning I called the store; it was still closed for inventory. Forget it.

My third non-columnist goal for this trip was just a drive through Irving, home of my first job in the area. As it happened, our NSNC buses took Carpenter Freeway (Texas 114) for our field trip to the JFK museum. In the seats behind us, a couple from New York City were trying to tell their little girl about landmarks but this was their first trip. As I told my wife things to the effect of, there’s the first buildings of Las Colinas, I realized I had a bigger audience. The husband was particularly interested in the Dallas Cowboys’ Texas Stadium. My geographic memory kicked in so I could say, see that tower? That’s the University of Dallas, a Catholic school. Right after that is the stadium.

Thankfully I was right. This felt like a nervous guess as I was making it. Other times during the long weekend I spoke too soon or too much, but this wasn’t one of them.

Postscript on the Resistol. Part of my research centered on making the shopping excursion effective, in case we only had a half-hour there instead of an afternoon. To that end I visited a chain Western store in Springdale. Surprisingly, this one has two older gents who are real cowboy hatters, complete with steam hoses, old but working tools and an aluminum head form for stretching hats.

These fellows are kind and generous with their advice. Another plus was the full range of prices of the hats. The day after our return, I went in and bought a traditional Western straw and also a comic sidekick’s “cowpoke,” both Resistols.

I’ve grown weary of my Australian style and European derived hats and caps. I have been seeking toppers authentically and democratically American. The finer Resistol looks sharp, too. -30-

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