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Dallas

The Trinity River reflects one of the most renown skylines in the nation. (© Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau) The Trinity River reflects one of the most renown skylines in the nation. (© Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Known to locals as simply "Big D," this North Texas upstart certainly doesn't lack for confidence. The indoctrination starts early. I grew up in North Dallas, and the refrain that all school kids had to parrot was from a little ditty that went "Big D, little a, double-l, a-s." Dallasites, like most Texans who are given to hyperbole when talking about their state, are proud to declare that their city is nicknamed "Big D" because, well, everything's bigger and better in Dallas.

Americans and people around the world have grown up with images of Dallas -- some big, some not necessarily better. A sniper gunned down President John F. Kennedy as his motorcade snaked through downtown Dallas in 1963; while the nation mourned, a local nightclub owner murdered the presumed assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, right under the noses of local police. The Dallas Cowboys, a football club whose supporters had the audacity to call it "America's Team," won five Super Bowls and made scantily clad cheerleaders with big hair and big boobs a required accessory in professional sports. Bonnie and Clyde began their wanton spree of lawlessness in Dallas. J.R. Ewing presided over an oil empire in the TV soap opera Dallas, and propagated an image of tough-talking businessmen who wore cowboy boots with their pinstriped suits and had oil rigs pumping in the backyard. The irascible H. Ross Perot -- remember him? -- made a fortune in technology and thought he deserved to run the country. His pop-culture place has now been taken by Mark Cuban, high-tech billionaire and owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks.

Dallas has come to symbolize the kind of place where such larger-than-life characters live out the American dream, even if their versions are slightly skewed. Big D is about dreaming big, so the city, not much more than 400 square miles of flat prairie land broken up by shiny skyscrapers and soaring suburban homes, adopts all things big. Big cars. Big hair. Big belt buckles. Big attitude.

With 1.2 million inhabitants, Dallas is only the third-largest city in Texas, though it ranks number nine in the United States. Flat and featureless, it has little in the way of natural gifts or historical precedents that might have predicted its growth. Yet the city grew from a little Republic of Texas pioneer outpost in the mid-19th century into a major center for banking, finance, and oil. It is a largely conservative city, and its residents' biggest passions seem to be making money and spending it, often ostentatiously. In the city that spawned Neiman Marcus, shopping is a religion, and megamalls fan out in every direction, part of an endless commercial sprawl. Dallasites are also fiercely passionate about big-time sports, and not just the Cowboys. Just about every professional sports league has a franchise in Dallas, and there's also rodeo and the Texas Motor Speedway. This is a place where the top high-school football teams routinely sell out playing fields that seat 20,000 and schedule their playoff games in Texas Stadium, home of the Cowboys, to accommodate a fan base that reaches far beyond parents and teachers. Dallas is also a place where Southern Baptist churches pack in nearly as many for Sunday services, and for the most part conservative politics reign supreme (the presidential library of No. 43, George W. Bush, will be located at Dallas's top university, Southern Methodist University [SMU], the alma mater of his wife, Laura Bush).

Dallas ranks as the top business and leisure destination in Texas (and the second-most-popular convention site in the country). The city has grown much more cosmopolitan in recent years, even though it's always been amazing to me how quickly newcomers from all over assimilate and begin to think Texan. Dallas has tried very hard to establish a cultural life on a par with business opportunities, and a recent burst of arts philanthropy -- and hiring virtually every renowned international architect in the book to build up the Arts District -- is doing much to catapult Dallas into the big leagues. Slick and newly sophisticated Dallas has plenty to entertain visitors, many of whom come on business and stay around to play a bit: great hotels, eclectic restaurants, a thriving nightlife, and even a pretty robust alternative music scene. And, lest we forget, the enduring appeal of nonstop shopping.

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