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Commentary: Celebrate Fort Worth -- I do

Posted 12:12pm on Wednesday, Sep. 08, 2010

I was busily typing away at the office last week, when I looked up at the calendar and realized it was my anniversary. Ten years ago, I had stepped onto an airplane in New York and arrived a few hours later in Fort Worth, where I had taken a job as the film critic for the Star-Telegram.

I had no idea what to expect of Texas at the time -- my only previous visit to the state had been for my job interview six weeks earlier. Truth be told, I didn't think I would last here very long, either. I figured Texas would be too hot, too slow, too conservative, too, I don't know, Texas-y, for someone born and raised in the outer-boroughs of New York City. I figured two, three years tops, and I'd cut-and-run back to the East Coast.

Funny thing happened, though. Fort Worth opened its arms and served up some of its legendary Texas hospitality. I first noticed it my second weekend here, when I was sitting at the bar of a now-closed restaurant downtown, eating dinner. A colleague at the newspaper, someone whom I hadn't even met at that point, recognized me from the building and introduced herself and her husband. Seeing that I was alone and knowing I was new to town, she invited me to join them. I actually declined -- it looked like they were on a diet, and I didn't want to derail their evening -- but I never forgot the gesture.

And then it kept happening, at the gym or the grocery store or the office, complete strangers might strike up a friendly conversation, neighbors in my apartment complex would stop and ask if they could pet my dog. Not to traffic in geographical stereotyping (and not to disparage my fellow New Yorkers, whose hard edges I cherish), but people here just seemed friendlier and more welcoming. Even when I encountered people who hated my guts -- as a few readers of my movie reviews professed -- they nonetheless seemed grateful to have me around.

It wasn't just the people who were welcoming, either. It was the places and things, the restaurants that just beg you to idle away the afternoon while sipping a margarita (I speak of you, Joe T.'s), or the museums through which you could aimlessly wander and contemplate untold beauties (I ventured to the Kimbell a half-dozen times in my first year here). Fort Worth is often described as a "sleepy" town, a reference I assume to its slower pace and its family-friendly atmosphere. And while I suppose that's technically accurate, "sleepy" makes Fort Worth sound lifeless and boring.

What I discovered instead -- and what I'm still discovering -- is that there are a multitude of inviting and exciting things to do here; and that, in most instances, a newcomer will be treated just as generously as a longtime veteran. Once you're here, the unspoken ethos of Fort Worth seems to be, "you're one of us."

This weekend marks the return of the annual Jazz By the Boulevard festival, an event I'm chagrined to admit I've never actually attended. I take comfort, though, knowing that the organizers will bear me no grudge for not having attended the festival before. And I'd bet longtime attendees will be happy to take a moment to instruct me on the finer points of the festival, the best spots for food or the best bands to watch.

That's simply how people roll here, and it's part of the reason I'm so proud to count myself among them.

Will I still be in Fort Worth in a decade's time? Life offers too many curveballs to accurately answer a question like that. But I've long thought that if I ever do move to another city, I'll feel a nostalgia for this one that won't easily be tempered. Home is where the heart is, the old cliché goes. Fort Worth took grip of mine during a very hot September in 2000 and still hasn't let go.

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