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Year in review: Stories that moved us most in 2012

What was the biggest DFW story to you in 2012?
Posted 7:07pm on Monday, Dec. 24, 2012

1. Dallas does world-class

Underneath Dallas' 10-gallon, braggadocious exterior beats the heart of city with a major inferiority complex.

How else to explain its obsession with becoming "world-class"? Whenever those lifestyle lists come out with their best places to live, retire or bar-hop (yes, the Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch.com compiled such a list) and Dallas isn't on it, you can practically hear the Xanax bottles popping open all over city hall.

But Big D's efforts to compete with perpetual frontrunners Vancouver, Melbourne or Vienna may have started to bear fruit in 2012. The opening of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava's soaring Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in March and the addition of the playful Klyde Warren Deck Park spanning the Woodall Rodgers Freeway downtown in October are distinctive attractions and more than just multimillion-dollar eye candy.

Each knits together parts of the city -- downtown and Oak Lawn with often ignored West Dallas by the bridge; Uptown and downtown by the park -- which previously might as well have been separated by a Berlin Wall. And Klyde Warren offers a green space and gathering place for a city in much need of one.

This comes in the same year as the completion of the Arts District with City Performance Hall in September (joining the Winspear Opera House, Wyly Theater, Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas Museum of Art and Nasher Sculpture Center). They're all just a cowboy-hat toss from the knockout Perot Museum of Nature and Science at Victory Park, which opened in December.

Now, if they could only get some real water flowing underneath that bridge, Dallas just might find itself within shouting distance of Vancouver one day.

2. (Tim) Love is all around us

Tim Love is Fort Worth's best-known celebrity chef, but even for him, this was quite a year. We start in February, with the long-delayed, worth-the-wait opening of his Trinity River spot, Woodshed Smokehouse, which has proved to be a crowd-pleaser with its food, atmosphere and music (Bon Appetit named it one of the 50 best new restaurants in the country).

A few weeks later, Love became a partner in Oui Lounge, reopening the TCU-area spot and attempting to bring it back to the '70s. He made a smash appearance at the Austin Food & Wine Festival just after that, then announced he was closing his Love Shack So7 because he and the landlords couldn't come to terms on a new lease.

In August, Love began supplying food for TCU's Big Purple Truck, then worked in conjunction with Sodexo as the French-owned company renewed its contract for concessions at the newly renovated Amon G. Carter Stadium at TCU. Increasing his TCU presence, he opened Love Shack at the Oui in November, not long after he closed the Denton Love Shack and told our Bud Kennedy he plans to reopen the location as a high-end steakhouse in 2013. Somehow, he also found time to make a few TV appearances -- including one on The Next Iron Chef, where he was quickly eliminated -- and launch a line of cookware at Sur La Table. That's a whole lotta Love.

3. Swing and a miss: our year of sports mediocrity

Let's call 2012 what it was for DFW sports fans: The Year We Came Back Down to Earth.

No NBA championship. No World Series. No Rose Bowl. No Super Bowl. No hockey season (not that anyone noticed).

For the past few years, we were living with our heads in the clouds. The Dallas Mavericks won their first NBA title, the Rangers went to the World Series twice, and TCU won a Rose Bowl. It was so thrilling, frankly, that we forgave the Cowboys for their festering mediocrity.

But in 2012, our foam fingers drooped. The Rangers collapsed in the final month of the season -- and then watched slugger Josh Hamilton sign with the rival Angels. The Mavs were swept by Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs, and then let Jason Terry jet off to Boston. This season, with Dirk Nowitzki recovering from knee surgery, Dallas is dreadful and mostly unrecognizable. Et tu, Mark Cuban?

TCU's first season in the Big 12 held the most promise to brighten our 2012 -- until quarterback Casey Pachall (pictured) got arrested on a DWI charge and was suspended for the season. Freshman Trevone Boykin filled in admirably, but the Frogs' 7-5 record and an invitation to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Saturday) weren't exactly rosy.

So it was harder to forgive the Cowboys when they started the season 3-5. But a funny thing happened in December: The 'Boys started showing some spunk and won five of seven games. Now, we have no choice but to put our faith in Tony Romo, hoping he can rescue what has been a forgettable year for the fans in the stands.

4. Memo to Fox News: Liberals are back

After years of engaging in one of America's greatest pastimes -- mocking Canadians -- Americans became them in 2012. Sort of.

Liberals, apparently tired of running and ducking from Fox News firebrands and Tea Party titans, staged something of a comeback: re-electing President Barack Obama; legalizing marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington; endorsing gay marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington while turning back an anti-gay-marriage ballot proposition in Minnesota; and turning out of office at least one of the loudest voices of the right wing, Florida's Allen West.

Of course, if you live south of the Mason-Dixon Line -- like right here in Texas -- don't get ready to light up and get all gay-married just yet. The region remains reliably red, even if Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis earned re-election to the state senate.

And, if some have their way, we won't have to worry about those wanna-be Canadians in the northern states much longer because the Southern states will have seceded. When word got out that petitions had been set up online to lobby the government for secession, Texas led the way with nearly 120,000 signatures. If a state gets 25,000 names on the electronic dotted line requesting secession, it's supposed to guarantee a response from the White House.

We imagine it might go something like this: Uh, no.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming. In January, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was laughed out of the Republican presidential primary race. His vaunted national campaign lasted less than six months, and he was forced to slink back home, where his brand of spurs and guns-up governing might still get him elected.

5. Roll out the orange barrels

A little gridlock doesn't faze us. We're used to sharing the roads with five or six million of our closest friends in DFW. But damn you, orange barrel, you and your soulless clones have taken over our fair Metroplex. This year's blitz of billion-dollar road projects, dust-filled detours and never-ending lane closures has been almost too much to bear.

And life among the barrels has become one long, stressed-out slog without any shortcuts.

Road warriors and commuting commandos are forced to play a daily game of pick your poison: Texas 114, awful; I-35W, no freakin' way; Loop 820, it's a parking lot! Airport Freeway is never clear for takeoff, and the $1.6 billion Chisholm Trail Parkway being built near downtown Fort Worth, well, it slows things to the speed of the original Chisholm Trail. You might actually go faster on horseback.

At one point this year, when Berry Street was closed and the Hulen Bridge clogged, we considered chartering a helicopter just to get out of our neighborhood.

Of course, the big question, which we've all had plenty of time to ponder while waiting in traffic, is: Why the heck are we at level orange when it comes to road construction?

The easy answer is that federal stimulus money accelerated road projects, adding new construction to ongoing projects, like the DFW Connector. The more complicated answer is that the area is growing at a fast clip, especially on the western side of the Metroplex, so barrel blight is going to be part of our lives for at least the next few years. Most of the current projects are scheduled to be complete in 2015, and maybe then we'll see smoother sailing. Until that time, try to stop gripping the steering wheel so, dang, TIGHT!

6. The rise of the Ridglea and Live Oak

The best way to tell that the Fort Worth music scene is thriving? Not one, but three music venues came into focus this year.

The most anticipated was, of course, the Ridglea Theater on Camp Bowie Boulevard. At year's end, owner Jerry Shults wasn't quite finished renovating the historic jewel -- you could see workers flitting in and out of the doors just days before Christmas -- but a handful of events, including several concerts, were held at the space beginning in October. (There were also three concerts, booked by AEG Live, that were abruptly relocated to Trees in Dallas.) Shults isn't sure what he ultimately wants the Ridglea to be, but 2013 might give a better indication of just how much live music fans can expect on the beautifully restored stage.

Across town, in the exploding Near Southside neighborhood, former contractor Bill Smith threw open the doors to the Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge. A cozy room with great acoustics, the Live Oak, which opened in June, cycled through a few booking agents before landing on area powerhouse Spune to oversee its stage. Impressive gets like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band coupled with high-octane local shows like the sold-out Green River Ordinance gig this fall or Skeleton Coast's CD-release party ensure that the best of the national and the homegrown will have a smart, inviting place to play.

Fort Worth's east side doesn't boast too much in the way of local-music-scene traffic, but that also changed this year, when Trent Debth opened the expansive Whiskey Girl Saloon. From opening weekend onward, Debth and his staff have welcomed a full range of Fort Worth (and beyond)-based artists. Call it the sound of Cowtown coming into its own.

7. Texas icons fade from view

Texas icons, whether made of flesh and blood or fiberglass, had a rough year. The loss of Big Tex, a Lone Star legend for more than half a century, struck many like a death in the family. Less than a day before the State Fair of Texas concluded its 60th birthday year in October, an electrical fire that began in Big Tex's jaw spread through the 52-foot structure in minutes, consuming the statue in flames and horrifying fair attendees. Fair officials promised to rebuild Big Tex "bigger and better" for 2013, but the sight of the State Fair legend engulfed may be hard to shake.

Another Texas hero, Fort Worth-born actor Larry Hagman, who rocketed to international fame as duplicitous oil man J.R. Ewing on the massively popular TV series Dallas in the 1980s, succumbed to complications from throat cancer in November. He was 81. Although Hagman was enjoying a late-career renaissance reprising the role of J.R. for a new, sleeker version of Dallas airing on TNT, fans also bemoaned the loss of such a beloved ambassador for the state (one people loved to hate, anyway).

And although, thankfully, Fort Worth treasure Van Cliburn hasn't been lost to us yet, Texans were rocked by the news in late August that the 78-year-old pianist is suffering from advanced bone cancer and receiving around-the-clock care at home. Hopefully, the namesake of the city's quadrennial piano competition will live to see next year's iteration, before another Texas titan is taken from us.

8. Growing pains for the DFW food truck scene

For as much as the North Texas food truck scene picked up speed in 2012 (new trucks, new parks, a slew of events), it inevitably hit a few potholes.

The Fort Worth Food Park recently celebrated its first anniversary, we saw the birth of Cowtown Chow Down, and this month, a third Fort Worth park opened: Clearfork, on the Trinity Trail. In October, Dallas got its first stationary truck spot, Cedars Food Park. The trend that has helped define Austin eating seemed to be humming along.

Alas, in the waning months of the year, things seemed to take a wrong turn: Several high-profile trucks closed up shop, including The Bacon Wagon, Zombie's Food Truck, The Wiener Man and Food Traveler Truck. And Cowtown Chow Down struggled, ultimately closing for winter, with the promise of new management.

Stephanie Hawkes, who blogs as the DFW Food Truck Foodie, said that in the 17 months she has been following the industry, 21 percent of the trucks in North Texas have closed. If you break it down by city, the percentage is much higher in Fort Worth (26 percent) than in Dallas (9 percent). Behind this push-and-pull, she says, is a mix of hopes and dreams that often come into conflict with rules, regulations and the reality -- which is that many trucks only make it about a year.

And yet, looking through the spotty windshield of this trend, we see bumps in the road but also a steady stream of newcomers who are ready to roll. Big dreams, and big appetites in DFW for the next wave of moveable feasts, mean the food truck scene still has some miles to go.

9. The local media merry-go-round

Part of the appeal of local TV and radio is that we're familiar with the personalities. The best ones connect so well, we begin to feel as if we know them. But a lot of that was stripped away this year, as we watched with incredulity a steady stream of departures.

KXAS/Channel 5 anchor Jane McGarry, who had been with the station more than 30 years, 20-plus as one of the best-known anchors in DFW, left after pleading no contest in July to a DWI charge in a May incident. Less than a month after that, popular morning "Gridlock Buster" Tammy Dombeck (pictured) left NBC 5 after 12 years with the station. In November, Rebecca Miller, who had spent 17 years at NBC 5 -- many of them with McGarry and Dombeck -- announced she was leaving her most recent station, KDAF/Channel 33, after it overhauled its 9 p.m. newscast to the more "youth-friendly" Nightcap News.

She told DFW.com: "I'm done with TV news." We hear ya, Rebecca.

Radio wasn't much better. Josh Venable, who has long been associated with KDGE/102.1 FM "The Edge" and re-energized it as program director, got laid off from the station a second time (the first was in 2007) in a nationwide round of Clear Channel cuts. And talk-radio host Mark Davis, who had been on the air for 18 years at WBAP/820 AM, left after he and new station owner Cumulus Media couldn't come to terms on a contract. Davis quickly turned up at KSKY/660 AM, a smaller station, where he's still doing the morning show. But, as we heard from many readers this year, their connection to local TV and radio has been weakened by the exodus of proven talent.

Meanwhile, KTXD/Channel 47 went the other direction, launching The Texas Daily, featuring a role call of notable DFW media personalities from the past, including Tracy Rowlett, Troy Dungan and Rebecca Rodriguez. It's already catching on, proving that perhaps the future of local television is its past.

10. The pink ribbon gets tarnished<

It was a year of blowback, as politics mixed with chicken and waffle fries, and women's reproductive rights. The Chick-fil-A vs. gay marriage controversy was inescapable around the country. But closer to home, we saw the Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure take a massive PR hit.

Komen, with its omnipresent pink cancer ribbons and wildly popular Race for the Cure events, had always been considered a trailblazing, populist charity -- never a political entity. But that changed in January 2012, when Komen announced it would be cutting its funding to Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood offers many services, including contraception, screening women and men for disease, and underwriting mammograms. Of course, the political sticking point is that the organization also provides abortions.

The policy would've stopped grants to 19 of Planned Parenthood's 83 affiliates, which received nearly $700,000 from the Komen foundation in 2011.

However, the public outcry from Planned Parenthood supporters was so loud that, in February, Komen reversed its decision. The whole ordeal caused a months-long leadership shakeup that began that same month with the resignation of Karen Handel, a senior VP for policy, who was among those who had helped persuade Komen's board to change the policy.

Then, in August, Komen announced the departure of president Liz Thompson, and a new role for Nancy Brinker, who founded the charity in 1982, two years after her sister, Susan G. Komen, died of breast cancer. (She's now focusing on fundraising and strategic planning, according to the announcement.)

This won't be the last time a business or charity gets caught in a political firestorm. We just hope an organization as important as Komen can now stay free of the stink of politics, and keep on track with the critical business of spreading strength, hope and healing.

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