I change planes at DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth). Last time I came to Dallas was that November Friday. Then, it was modest, utilitarian Love Field. Now, DFW is a vacuous tomb, a secular temple to all things modern. Curving hallways shout empty expense – highfalutin hotdoggin’. They drift off, out of sight in both directions, melting away like an unbeliever’s prayer. Texans walk by on indoor/outdoor carpet – red river of contrived warmth cutting gorges through glacial glass and stone. These Texans have a different look about them today than they did back on that day.
Now, cool and confident primary industrialists, purveyors of food and fodder, fuel and fiber, they saunter past. Or clump in small knots of small talk. In one corner of the waiting area, a tall blonde woman with dangling earrings chit-chats with two men. Her red turtleneck peeks out from under an haute couture pant-suit expensively fashioned to recollect bib denims. Outside Gate 15 of B Lounge, they shuffle and mill like penned-up cattle. So full of energy and life they can barely tolerate being corralled in this hallway, even temporarily.
Life and action and hospitality show mechanically, in the Southern way. Emotions seem close to the surface here – a subtle check-rein that screens from view with the obvious. Carefully programmed, they claim to be close to the land and proud of it. Bless their hearts.
But back on that November Friday, the wind-up dolls slowed almost to a halt. Their joints wanted oil – like thousands of tin-men jounced off a junk truck passing Love Field. Somebody had forgotten to tighten their springs and they were nearly run down. Run down with grief and worry, concern and fretting. Women’s eyes were red-rimmed and blurry – make-up made down. Men stared hard at the ground as if they’d dropped their car keys. And they clumped in small knots of big talk.
My flight was due to arrive at Love Field at noon and we approached on time but circled in a holding pattern. All air traffic was held for Air Force One to land. My arrival was about 30 minutes late. I rented a car heading for a meeting in Fort Worth. But it was still bumper-to-bumper on the long road leading out of Love Field. So, I gave up and pulled in at the first motel to eat lunch and wait for the motorcade tail to clear out.
Walking through the motel lobby, I paused at one of the TV sets there. It showed an all-out, down-home, y’all-come, big-ole Texas welcome. He sat in an open convertible on top of the rear seatback, alongside his Guinevere. He waved to right of him. Smiled to left of him. Came through the jaws of concrete, people-packed canyons.
Halfway through my tuna salad sandwich, some hysterical woman ran through the coffee shop half-screaming, half-crying, “They shot the president.”
Everybody in the coffee shop – customers and staff alike – ran into the lobby. There four TV sets – tuned to different channels – were all blaring at the same time; “We interrupt this program — Dallas — Parkland Memorial Hospital — CBS News bulletin — Seriously wounded — Critical condition — Texas School Book — several shots — died this afternoon at approximately 1 PM Central Standard — The president is dead.”
With my stomach trying to claw its way up into my throat, breathing was labored. I tried to drive on to Fort Worth. My fogged-up brain responded only to previously programmed intentions. As I waited to turn around at the police barricade on the highway, I watched B-58s take off from Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth. They had their afterburners lit and carried long black pods below their bellies – nukes. Every couple of minutes, one took off and hustled North. A blood-curdling sight reaching all the way down to my bones.
Back to Love Field. The FAA had shut down all outbound flights and the airlines shut down inbound ones too. This city is closed down, no citizens can leave, few can come.
A lone plane landed and taxied up to a gate. The whole plane was loaded with grim-faced folks in conservative suits. The word went around – FBI agents. Another plane landed and disgorged a near endless stream of people, some with two or three cameras slung around their necks. Time/Life. Their first draft of history is still being revised.
Across the field stood Air Force One. By mid-afternoon, cars were swarming around it. Several long, black limos pulled up and unloaded passengers. One long black hearse pulled up to the cargo bay at the rear of the plane. Sadness and dread flooded through me as I watched. Air Force One taxied out and took off, back to DC and a different world.
Capturing Oswald rocketed up a bright distress flare. It signaled Texans to rescue their reputation he had shattered, scattered shards. Re-gather, piece together, super-glue with Lone Star pride. Hide its seams with an enamel coat of power, prosperity, pretension. Fire until cured, begetting soulless DFW, abandoning Love.
Love Field reopened that evening and the airlines just made up flights on the fly and at no charge. The PA would announce a flight for LAX was forming at such and such a gate. Another for LGA at a different gate and so on. One headed for Detroit was full. But I got on one to Chicago and then caught the second leg of a West Coast redeye to Detroit Wayne. To home. To Vietnam. To Watergate. To DFW.
Dean Z. Douthat is a retired engineer residing in a senior living facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan.