Friday, October 17, 2014

Why Downtown Garland is Perfect for Dallas Millennials

I grew up in the afterglow of an older, middle-ring post-war suburb of Dallas called Garland, TX.   The area I grew up in, with its 900 square foot blue collar houses and endless sea of mostly-empty strip malls, was caught somewhere between the nostalgia-tinged Main Streets of prewar small town America and the ocean of asphalt and big box stores swallowing up the modern countryside.  We still lived close enough to walk to school and the post office, but not to stroll to the grocery store or to buy some new shoes.  All the neighborhood kids still rode their bikes to the corner store, the park, and each other's houses, but most important trips still involved getting into the car.  We definitely played our share of video games, but only if it was too hot or too dark outside to finish our never-ending games of hide-and-seek and ill-conceived padless full-contact football matches.   I had a small taste of "neighborhood life," even though we were kind of far from the big city.

Poetry Place, a restaurant/special event space in the former home of Main St. Coffeehaus
Garland is famous--well, at least far more famous than it probably should be, and not necessarily for flattering reasons.  Garland has been touted in pop culture media for appearing to have absolutely nothing interesting going on.  Perhaps its most famous reference point would be Mike Judge's long-running animated series "King of the Hill."  It  has been hinted at with all-but-certain confirmation that Judge's fictional small-town suburban setting of "Arlen, TX" is heavily inspired by my hometown of Garland.  In "King of the Hill" the people of Arlen are presented with a kind of "aw-shucks"  simplicity, showing them as uneducated and unworldly people who nonetheless lead fulfilling lives of barbecue, block parties, cheap beer, and family values.  The movie "Zombieland" is decidedly less kind in it's very brief description of Garland.  In addition to these unflattering portrayals, Garland has had some very real things happen that have taken away some of its prior appeal.  When I was a little kid, there was a Wet 'n Wild water park and a great little farmers market where there now stands a CarMax.  The city moved its huge, locally-famous 4th of July celebration "Star-Spangled 4th" from it's charming downtown square to the new outdoor mall at the edge of town, getting rid of the carnival rides and fair-type midway just because the mall could accommodate a little more parking.  This move is perhaps the worst, because it took away the potential business opportunities the celebration brought to locally owned downtown businesses in favor of giving Old Navy and Gamestop a little more foot traffic. 

The Generator: great coffee, local art, free WiFi, and live music
Despite all of the things Garland doesn't have, there is one huge thing it does have: potential.  Specifically potential to attract the millennial cohort that cities and towns all over the country seem to be competing for.  The generation (my generation) that grew up watching Friends, Seinfeld, and Sex in the City tends to prefer smaller homes close to a walkable town center and rail transit over an exurban landscape of clover leaves and big box stores.  Big things have been happening in Garland, albeit slowly, to lay the groundwork for an influx of 20-30 year olds, and if the city leadership and current residents are open to new ideas and personalities in their community, downtown Garland could be the next Bishop Arts District--a thriving, hip, artistic community that attracts nightlife, new residents, and an economic revival.  Here are some of the reasons Garland is poised for a millennial boom:

  • The DART commuter rail.  Downtown Garland is connected to downtown Dallas, Plano, Las Colinas, Deep Ellum, Fair Park, and now even DFW airport by a cheap, short train ride.  Since downtown Dallas has also been undergoing a huge revitalization in the last decade, millennials who want to rely less on their cars but not pay the insane downtown rents will find downtown Garland a great choice.
  • Bike-friendly.  Downtown Garland has always been an easy place to ride a bike, given the gridded streets and wide lanes.  But the city has recently shown their intentions of making the town center even more bike friendly, by adding dedicated bike lanes along both sides of Glenbrook, a major road through town running North and South.  As millennials ditch cars for alternate modes of transportation, making it easy to get around by bicycle is a smart move for Garland.
  • Great local businesses.  While Garland has not yet seen the culinary resurgence of places like downtown Plano (Urban Crust is amazing), it is home to a few great little casual haunts.  Whether its burgers and craft beer at Salvage Pub and Grill, killer Tex-Mex at Dos Banderas, delicious diner fare at Hubbard's CafĂ©, or a gyro sandwich at Main St. Deli, millennials will always have something tasty within walking distance in downtown Garland.
  • Modern, urban-style apartments.  A few short years ago 5th Street Crossing, a modern urban-style apartment building with ground floor space for retail and professional services was built right next to the DART station.  The second such project is currently underway across the street.  In these beautiful apartments, millennials will find high ceilings, bright colors, hardwood floors, a great fitness center, and all the other amenities  they often look for in a place to live.
  • Downtown Garland has character.  While the town center is small, the buildings are old and beautiful.  The square is a great public space that, given foot-traffic, would be a perfect venue for musicians (Garland Square Pickers, anyone?), art shows, board game afternoons, outdoor yoga classes, and all the other things Gen Y-ers do at parks.  If there's one thing my generation values more than anything else, its authenticity--and downtown Garland bleeds it.  It feels like a small town because it is a small town; it just happens to be one of the biggest small towns in the US, and is a short drive (and even shorter train ride) from a major city.

Great food and local craft beer at Salvage Pub and Grill
While I am under no illusions that the transition will be automatic or overnight, I do think that, with some intelligent planning and community support, downtown Garland could easily be the next suburban area in Dallas to undergo an urban renaissance, bringing millennials to the area, along with their young families and their money as well.   

Being Unbusy

Being busy will kill you. 

Not "doing something productive you really want to do" busy; more like "can't go to the concert this weekend because I really should clean out my car" busy.  Or "don't have time to look for my dream job because I'm too busy compiling reports for the one I hate right now" busy.  The kind of busy that, if you really put a couple of minutes into figuring it out, could be worked around, greatly reduced, or eliminated altogether.  Every moment you spend being busy is a moment lost.  It's all about opportunity cost.  If you spend time being busy, that's time you can't spend doing something else.  If you turn down something because you are busy, you might not get that opportunity again. 

I spent the first 8 years of my 20's being too busy.  I have never had traditional weekends as an adult, which I convinced myself for far too long was an adequate reason for missing weddings, birthdays, bachelor parties, and other important events.  I told myself time and again that I just didn't have the time or schedule flexibility to be present for these once-and-done life events that I won't get the opportunity to see again.  I repeated to myself countless times that these things simply weren't an option for me, when in reality, all I had to do was put in a simple schedule request.  I don’t know if it was a desire to not seem needy at work, or perhaps a means of allowing myself to not have to think about my ailing personal relationships when these events came up.  Either way, I missed them.  I will never see one of my oldest friends get married for the first time.  I will never be at the baby shower for the arrival of my best friend's kid.  I will never get to go to the weekend-long "manly events competition" bachelor party for an old gaming buddy of mine.  Those opportunities are gone, and I spent them closing down a store that sold overpriced cookware, like any other day.

So screw that.

A little over a year ago, right about the time I turned 28, I decided I was not going to let the time slip by anymore.  I only get one shot at this weird-ass, terrifying, infinitely beautiful thing called life, and I couldn't afford to miss any more of it than I already had.  Since then, I have been sincerely trying to be as much of a "Yes Man" as I possibly can.  If there's something I want to do, I try my damnedest to find a way to make it happen.  Like last week, I took my girlfriend on a trip to the State Fair of Texas.  Next weekend, we are going camping.  These seemingly small ventures are things I'd convinced myself for years I didn't have time to do.

Of course, I didn't quit my job and move to Fiji to bartend on the beach.  I have a job.  I have an apartment.  I have responsibilities.  I have a girlfriend.  I have a life.  I'm not going to drop everything and hitch hike across the US like so many who have a similar epiphany claim to do.  First off, that's not what I want out of life.  Second, I firmly believe that the best way to live a full life is to achieve a balance somewhere between accountant and spendthrift.  Between townie and vagabond.  Between police officer and troublemaker.  Everyone's scale will balance a little differently, but happiness lies on the spectrum, not at the poles.  So these days, I work when it's time to work, love when it's time to love, save when it's time to save, and spend when it's time to spend.  I see my family and my friends more often, and spend plenty of time with my wonderful girlfriend.  I take time to go running, watch movies, read, write, celebrate, visit, vacation, and explore. 

While I definitely have a lot of demands on my time and attention, I strive daily to remain "unbusy," so that the important things don't get shoved aside by the urgent things.  In short, I am finding the time to live.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Howdy Folks!: Greetings from the State Fair of Texas

From the Skyway
There's something about state fairs.  Something communal.  Something spectacular.  Something magical.  Maybe it's the shouts of laughter and screams of exhilaration from the flip-upside-down-until-you-hurl thrill rides.  Or it could be in the endless sea of "food" stands parading an array of deep-fried ridiculousness to the already overstuffed masses.  Perhaps it's the nonstop barrage of advertisements for everything from $1800 sets of cookware to ginormous Chevy trucks with which one could pull a redwood out of the ground for "Jesus and freedom."  Whatever it is, as you walk around the fairgrounds and see everyone having the time of their lives, it permeates your skin and fills your lungs.  And it feels damn good.

I'll admit, I have only been to the State Fair of Texas twice as an adult.  I went this year at 29, I went once at 25, and other than that, I hadn't gone since I was 11.  My family was not a "Fair family," mostly because my parents were divorced and didn't make much money, and the State Fair of Texas, done "right," is a very expensive day out.  The few times I did go as a child, we rode 2 or 3 rides and spent most of the day watching product demos, going to the auto show, visiting the museums at Fair Park, and other inexpensive/free things.  We never bought any of the deep fried nonsense, save for maybe a funnel cake split between my dad, my sister, and I.  In short, while we always had a great time, we weren't your stroller-pushing, duffel-bag-toting, spend-our-year's-savings kind of fair goers I so often see.  This year, I wanted to do it up big.  I set aside a budget of $200 (this is big for some of us) for the whole day for the girlfriend and me, and this proved to be just enough.

We came in the Wednesday mid afternoon, arriving right at 4 PM.  Apparently we picked the best possible time to visit the fair, because it was noticeably not very busy.  This meant super short/non-existent wait times for pretty much everything.  I think the only ride we really waited for was the famous Texas Star Ferris Wheel, which is as much a part of the Dallas skyline as Reunion Tower or the "Green Building."  Even for it, we were only in line for maybe 20 minutes, and this was after dark, when the lines for all the tall rides grow tenfold so people can see the flashing neon lights below as they soar through the night sky.  Speaking of the Texas Star, this was my first time riding it, and it was an experience I'll never forget.  Sitting in an open-air cage with my lovely girlfriend seeing the Dallas skyline light up the city was the highlight of my week. 

And of course, we ate ourselves stupid.  Started with my absolute favorite, a gargantuan smoked turkey leg, a State Fair of Texas classic.  Throughout the day, we shoveled down the likes of a strawberries-and-cream funnel cake, honey-cinnamon fried butter, a big cup of Mexican elote (street corn), a mile-long chili cheese dog, plenty of beer, and a huge pina colada inside a pineapple.  If you're into decadence and have a pocket full of cash, the State Fair of Texas is one of the best places to indulge your inner little kid. 

All in all, it was a fantastic day full of fun and memories, and I was super psyched to get to spend it with the one I love most. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Slow Autumn Mornings

I'm so glad to be back in restaurant management again (although I can't imagine too many people have said the same before).  The thing I missed most during my brief stint as a project manager for a web design company was having my mornings.  Over the last 10 years I have become so used to the retail and restaurant lifestyle that I have come to overwhelmingly prefer my personal time to be in the mornings and my work time in the afternoons/evenings.  There's just something about getting up in the early morning to do something you want to do, rather than something you have to do.  And my favorite time of the year, when the morning really shines, is autumn.
Morning on my little street.

My favorite mornings are those where I actually wake up early enough to watch the sun come up over the apartment buildings just east of my own little Uptown Dallas pad.  I am a bit of a polar bear, so it doesn't take much willpower to get me out from under the covers and on my feet in the brisk morning air.  After chugging down a glass of water and a multivitamin, I slowly open the bag of French roast coffee I keep handy on my kitchen counter and pour out just enough for 2 big mugs of joe.  Before I close the bag up, I make sure to inhale a deep, earthy whiff--ground coffee is one of my favorite smells on the planet.  I dump the water in the machine, and proceed to whip up some egg whites and spicy black beans for breakfast. 

When my coffee and breakfast are ready, I head out to the balcony of my little 1-bedroom post-WW2 apartment and sit to eat.  My terrace overlooks the parking lot, so I get to say hello to all my neighbors as they rush to their cars on the way to their 8-5 gigs downtown.  When finished eating, I make it a point to read at least a few pages of a good book each day.  I'm not a huge reader, at least not of fiction.  I love books on sociology and economics, so I like to soak up a bit of knowledge from the likes of David Brooks, Bill Bishop, or Barbara Ehrenreich about what's right and wrong with the world around me.  

View from my balcony

I love everything about my fall mornings.  I love the chilly, brisk temperature.  I love the feeling of hot coffee warming me from head to toe.  I love the smell of the morning dew on the tree leaves and the energizing feeling of the sun lighting up the world around me.  Fall comes very late in North Texas, and doesn’t last long before our rainy winters start; we have to soak up each one we can before they are gone.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

What the Scouts Know: The Importance of Being Prepared

Were you ever a Scout when you were growing up?  Maybe you had a sibling who was a Boy or Girl Scout, and you saw them parade off to Scout meetings once a week and come back with a new badge on their sash.  Whether you were involved with scouts or not when you were growing up, I'll bet you've heard their motto:


Being prepared will, of course, help you when you are on a backpacking trip through the mountains and need to start a fire for warmth and cooking.  However, this life lesson doesn't just apply to stereotypical outdoorsy scout endeavors; it also matches up perfectly with the concept of forming good habits to achieve success!

How Preparedness Supports Strong Habits

I want to talk for a second about the concept of WILLPOWER.  Willpower is a very loaded word.  We hear it in reference to all kinds of things, typically things that we associate with a need for self-control.  We hear about willpower in weight loss conversation.  "I just don't have the willpower to say no to chips and queso when it's in front of me!" or "It takes a lot of willpower to wake up everyday and go jogging before work."  We hear it referred to in financial matters.  "Saving 10% of every paycheck and not touching it takes tremendous willpower, and I'm a shoppaholic!"  Willpower seems like this impossible concept for many of us, and when we can't seem to maintain it, we feel weak, and beat ourselves up accordingly, perpetuating a cycle of failure and powerlessness.  But here's what nobody tells you about willpower…YOU DON'T NEED IT!

The Scouts' motto "Be Prepared!" can help you overcome the need for willpower!  If going to a Mexican restaurant is your trigger for eating ridiculous amounts of chips and queso, you can prepare yourself to avoid that situation entirely by having several of your own restaurant suggestions to keep you from indulging your queso habit.  If you know that you always wake up too late to jog in the morning, you can avoid that trigger altogether by going to bed early and laying out your running clothes and full water bottle the night before.  If you know you find it hard to click "transfer" on your bank's website to sock away savings from each check, set up a direct deposit program that puts 10% of each check into savings, so that you only see your paycheck after the savings has been set aside (David Bach's Automatic Millionaire is built on this central principal).  Being prepared for the challenges in your way can mean the difference between continual self-defeat and wild success. 

Making it Happen

How can you take the scouts' motto of "Be Prepared!" to heart and use it to overcome the obstacles in your life?  A little thinking and self-analysis can go a long way to making sure you are ready to meet the  challenges head on:

  1. Identify your failure triggers, and stop putting yourself in situations that present them.  You know yourself better than anyone else knows you, and we tend to repeat the same failures over and over if we don't think critically about our weakness triggers.  At what point does your Groundhog Day of failure start? 
  2. Think of alternative courses of action if a trigger comes up.  If unnecessarily spending too much money at the mall is causing you to not reach your financial goals, the way to fix it is not to constantly test your willpower by seeing how long you can avoid buying something you see--it's by avoiding the mall entirely!  If you go to the mall to walk for exercise, go for a walk downtown instead.  If you go to the mall for people watching, go to the busiest park in your city instead!  If you go to the mall for retail therapy because you just HAVE to buy something, hit up Target or even Dollar Tree instead, and you'll be almost guaranteed to spend less.
  3. Make it a habit.  Just like anything else, being prepared becomes easier the more you do it.  And the better you get at it, the more preparation you'll find yourself accomplishing for everything you do!  Eventually, with persistence and a good attitude, you'll be on a cycle of success instead of a cycle of failure. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

You Are Not Trapped

Have you ever had the feeling that you are trapped in some place you don't want to be?  Perhaps you are overweight and out of shape, trapped in a body that you don't feel alive in.  But you've tried the "whole diet and exercise thing" and you just couldn't seem to get any traction, so you went back to overeating and laying around all evening.  Or perhaps you feel trapped in a job that isn't what it used to be, but you've been in the same industry for so long that you don't think there's any hope for escape, so you just keep unhappily trudging into work each day.

Well I have good news for you: you are not trapped.  Well, at least, you are not trapped by anything but your own mind.  Our lives and our circumstances, our routines and our habits, lead us to assign ourselves certain identities.  And if we practice live under an identity we aren't happy about for long enough, we become a person we aren't happy to be!  But when you stop for a second, take a deep breath, and ask yourself a few penetrating questions, you can create your own action map to lead yourself out of the trap you hate and into a life you'll love.  Here are 3 questions to ask yourself to lose the ball-and-chain and make a break for it:

  • What is it that you value most?  Is it career success, and making an impact on your industry?  Do you place incredibly high value on your family or friendships?  Is there a spiritual organization or community that you want to be an important part of?  Asking yourself these questions will help you reveal the things upon which you place the most value!
  • What does success in those areas would look like to you?  Get as clear and specific in your descriptions as you possibly can.  Are you driving a particular car?  Are you taking your wife on vacation to somewhere she's always wanted to go?   Are you attending every single one of your kid's soccer games?  Come up with real, measurable conditions for how you would define success.
  • What are 3 different paths you could take that would lead to each picture of success?  Think about the first steps that would get your to your vision, and then come up with 2 alternatives to those steps that could also get you there.  Don't get trapped in the idea that there is only one path to your goal, because I guarantee there are more.  Now represent them visually.  Draw them out like a flowchart or a map.  What intersection points are there?  At what places could you switch between paths and still be headed in the right direction? 

Now you have a clear picture of the goals you want to achieve, and a success plan for achieving them.  More importantly, that success plan has some contingencies to accommodate for when things don't go exactly how you thought they would.  Now the only thing to do is rally your confidence and take the first step on your map, and you'll be on your way to freedom!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The One Habit That Will Make You Smarter Than Ever

The most crucial, absolutely critical habit you will ever form was articulated by none other than Jefferson Airplane back in 1967…

"Feed your head."

It's that simple.  We take in infinite pieces of information, large and small, all day, every day.  Everywhere we look we are bombarded by advertisements, 24-hour "news" outlets, entertainment, emails, and conversations with friends, coworkers, lovers, family, salespeople, and anyone else with whom we come in contact.  We are faced with so much information that we are incredibly skilled if we can even soak up and retain a small fraction of it!  Moreover, our worldviews are shaped, molded, broken down, or reinforced by every little thing we witness or experience.  With so much data and experience flying at us headfirst all the time, it's easy to see how our actions and emotions are easily dictated by what we are exposed to.  And with all this stuff being constantly processed by our brains and our hearts, how are we ever supposed to control our behaviors and emotions to reach our goals?

The key is to feed your head.  What you put into your brain each and every day is what shapes your actions, your emotional state, and ultimately your results.  We can't control everything that happens to or around us.  But we can actively seek out the kinds of information and engage in the kinds of activities that will build us into who we want to be.  The secret is to control, as often as possible, the information and ideas you are exposed to; in essence, you want to put your brain on a healthier diet!

Here are some ways to put your brain on a better diet today:

  • Manage your email: Today, email comes at us at all times of the day.  And night.  And weekend (ugh).  Setting specific times of the day at which you will answer email will keep you from overdosing on unnecessary info, or getting involved in someone else's SNAFU projects.  Worldly jack-of-all-trades blogger Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Work Week, has some awesome ideas for making your email life (and your coworkers') much less cluttered. 
  • Cut your cable:  Many people would consider this one pretty drastic, but this is honestly the best thing I've ever done for my mental health.  Cable TV (or satellite, of course) makes it very easy to lose an entire Saturday (or many in a row) on the couch watching syndicated episodes of Three's Company and Night Court.  Although, both great shows, how much does 7 hours straight of them really improve your well-being?  Getting rid of cable will force you to make a more conscious choice of how to spend your "down" time.
  • Get advice: Self-improvement books are one of the greatest tools in the arsenal of successful people.  Inspiring words and anecdotes from the greats like Les Brown, Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins, and Zig Ziglar will keep you focused and motivated throughout your day, and will ultimately develop your path to becoming the kind of person you want to be.  Amazon's list of Best Selling Self-Help audiobooks is a great start!

Control what goes into your head, and you will control your results.