Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Suburbia: Cedar Hill - ROCT

In June 2014, I decided to come up a photojournal that took me to various parts of my home, the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. The size of Connecticut and Rhode Island and home to 6.5 million people, there's a lot between the highways and skyscrapers.

Dallas County, my homestead and the most urban county in this part of Texas. I'm spending the next three weeks here in Cedar Hill, house-sitting for a teacher friend while she visits relatives in Canada. Makes me feel like a "real" adult, a provides a taste of self-sufficiency. While I'm here, I decided to take a look around, now that I can drive.

I learned there was a trail head near the house I am sitting. The Red Oak Creek Trail runs for about two miles, along Red Oak Creek, snaking its way through subdivisions and undeveloped land in the extreme south of the County. I decided this would be the first Surburbia outing.

I set out at 7PM to avoid the heat, but with enough sunlight to grab some great shots. Starting at the trail head, I headed south past Parkerville Road. Right off the road was a thick patch of brush, interspersed with wildflowers, tall grasses, and what could have been cedar trees.

The trail is a nicely paved concrete path, about 10 feet wide, demarcated just as a road is with left/right lanes. Alongside are "traffic" signs on very tall posts (where I had to pick my tripod up) to warn of upcoming hazards or roads.

Coming to Tranquility Lane is a familiar sight for Cedar Hill: subdivisions with quiet so thick you could cut it with a knife. Looking both ways, a BMW drove past at probably 30 MPH on a street twice as wide as the trail. "Jesus" I muttered, crossing Tranquility, and wondering which way to go as the trail forked.

I decided to walk to the east. Walking west past a large grassy shoulder was a great sight: tall sunflowers growing, pointing up towards the sun. I went right into the tall grass surrounding the sunflowers, hoping not get bit by any insect or snake that might be hiding near.

While I would have loved to continued east (which ultimately leads you to the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre further down Parkerville), but my goal was Dot Thomas Park (the southern trail head), so I trekked through a dry creek bed and south I went.

As the trail curves away from Euless Drive, there is a 'NO TRESPASS' sign nailed onto a tree, probably by an angry property owner who had people walk through his thicket. The trail is lined by the thicket (which obscures a subdivision and several backyards) to the left. The suburban sprawl of brick-constructed cookie-cutters straight out of an Arcade Fire video on the right.

About a thousand feet from the Euless Drive is another branch off of the trail, leading west into a subdivision. With the way the rest area looked, I decided maybe it was time for a nice panorama.

Much to my surprise, there was water running in the creek at this point. It was crystal-clear with no visible pollutants. No sandy colour, no musty smell, just the sight of clear water. Unfortunately, there was a lot of junk in it (bottle, grocery bags, wrappers, etc) and even a shopping cart, wedged on a sand bank.

I hadn't seen any people, but a bicyclist rushed past me at the rest area, and I exchanged a nod with two women walking their dogs. As I took the panorama of the creek, a dad and his little son rode past and I wish I had looked up to take their picture.

Around 8PM, I ended up at another rest area, at Sagittarius and Libra Sts. I was thirsty, and needed a nice boost to lift me the rest of the way. There was a kid playing basketball, talking loudly on his cellphone, making a basket every once-in-a-while. A continuously-running water fountain bothered me, but looks like the control was either stuck or broken.

The sun was way lower now, and according to jogger that I had passed, Dot Thomas Park wasn't too far away.

Past the second rest area, the trail straddles right up against people's homes. Most have chain-link fences, so you can see right into their backyards and, if they haven't closed their blinds, their living rooms. I walked past a very interested German Shepard, who ran over and just watched me walked by. I waved to it and kept my eyes ahead of me.

Finally, I reached another neighborhood road. There was a sign that had a triple curve on it, and as I setup to shoot it, four cars drove past me, going at a good clip. A black family in a Honda Accord gave me the strangest look as I photographed the sign.


A friend later told me this was Capricorn Street and that cars usually speed down it. Dangerous as fuck, guys.

Walking past Capricorn, I could see my destination, Dot Thomas Park. It consists of nothing more than a consession stand and two lit baseball diamonds. The trail circled around them and came to a stop at a big rock. One of the diamonds was being used a Little League team, so I decided I'd sit it on the practice. That's really why I did this, to see all the little happenings in suburbia.

I sat down on an empty aluminum bench, which squeaked as settled on my side. At bat was kid in a red-grey uniform, who repeatedly kept missing balls. The coach, a bald Hispanic man covered in tattoos, kept telling him to keep legs apart and to watch the pitcher.

Time after time, the kid kept missing, and looked pretty frustrated. 

After several minutes and several vertical balls (and right into the adjacent field), he struck one out so hard, it scared me. The coach guy got angry at the outfielders because they just stood still as it sailed past. Another guy, probably an assistant, who looked a little heavier than the coach but similar yelled, "That's right guys, just stand there, as if you were playing a real game. Just stand there!"

The assistant sent the batter out into the field and took the umpire position from another kid. A small white kid, who kept brushing his shirt up, was next. A woman in the stands, across from me, jeered the kid a little: "Why do you keep pulling up your shirt? You want all the guys to see?!"

Some kid from the outfield replied, "He's just showing off his abs!" 

After hitting one or two balls, the kid's dad, a tall white man, walked over to the coach and said, "Hey, it's :20 past, I gotta take him home." He called him over and the kid walked out with his gear bag slung over his shoulder. The coach and a few of the people in the stands muttered about this, how the kid's dad always pulled him out before the practices concluded.

The kid who played umpire when I first arrived was next at bat and he hit a few. Then followed another kid with long hair who cracked one out of the park.

At this point, the sun was way down, and the lights of the field had overtaken it. I was going crazy with mosquito bites to my back (itches I couldn't reach) and looked down at my cell. "8:55PM"

As the coach hustled the kids to hurry up, I decided it was time to go because it was rapidly getting dark. I started walking out of Thomas Park, but not before I broke a branch off of a tree, mainly for scratching my back, and for protection, in case I had to fuck someone up.

The sky was a deep blue as I got past Capricorn, and was a dark purple after a stop at the 2nd rest area for a few long exposures of an emergency telephone post.

Walking on the trail in the pitch darkness with expensive equipment is not anything I recommend. I had to get home somehow and this was the most direct way. Huffing my way back, I kept seeing little sparks of white and yellow light, thanks to the fireflies around the creek. I freaked out until I realized what exactly I was looking at.

As I approached the first rest area, two figures came out of the darkness some thirty feet in front of me. I was walking past an eerily abandoned house and a dark cul-de-sac. The branch in my right hand swung in step with me as I walked past the figures, and I kept a close ear as they went past and blended into the darkness behind me.

Past the first rest area, the mosquitoes were eating me alive. The houses I had walked past earlier now had lights on, and one house in particular I could see way into it. The kitchen lights were on, and a man was watching basketball game on a large rear-projection television.

Voyeurism? Nah.

I encountered one more person on the trail, a guy who was walking south, talking on his cell phone. He got a little quieter as he passed me, and we kept a brisk pace going past. A small pit stop under a street lamp, and I hurriedly continued on past Tranquility. What I had found nice at 7PM was alarming at 9PM, since the lack of lighting and houses meant my screams for help would be unanswered.

After a panicky walk, the flat LED lights on Parkerville shone upon me like a merciful god. I bent over a bollard, exhausted, my pack on the ground. I was so close, but so far from home.

I crossed Parkerville and slowly made it to where I had started it earlier. My cell phone read 9.35 and I planted myself on rectangular stones, gulping down a water bottle and a granola pack. There were two Cedar Hill cops nearby, talking to one another about whatever.

I mused later that I could have been smoking pot and neither would have noticed.

I limped home, and slipped into an easy chair, carelessly throwing my shoes far away from me.

While the walk back was less than leisurely, I had a great time seeing how suburban and nature area mix. Certainly a good way to spend an evening rather than on the sofa watching another season of Mad Men. Sometimes, anyway.

Part of the Suburbia series