Shining Star; BILLY KENNEDY Recounts on His Contrasting Six Days in the Lone Star State of Texas - Visiting the Glitzy Billion-Dollar City of Dallas and the Old-Style Historic Tex-Mex Settlement of San Antonio
Kennedy, Billy, The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland)
TEXAS - largest of the ''lower US'' states - has a reputation for its wide-open spaces, urban cowboy lifestyles and dynasties of self-made family fortunes.
The special Texan symbols of pride are the Texas Rangers of the past, who patrolled the high plains of this vast territory, and the lucrative oil wells that have dominated the Lone Star state's multi-billion dollar economy since 1900.
Texas, with a land mass that is bigger than France, has the most diverse ethnic population of any state in America, with the largest group proportionately of Spanish-speaking people in the entire United States.
The state also contains two of the 10 largest metropolitan areas in the country - Houston (population three million) and Dallas (two million).
The vast economy is not simply oil wells. It also extends from agriculture and aerospace to computers and cotton as well as tourism which has served the old Mexican city of San Antonio well largely due to the revered location of The Alamo in its city centre.
It is still possible to roam across barren unpopulated plains in Texas but visitors to the state are more likely to encounter a very cosmopolitan environment of glass and steel skyscrapers.
Dallas was the first stop on my six-day Texas sojourn in March and right away it gave the impression of being a city of great affluence and influence.
It is often said that Texans are Texans first and Americans second, so proud are they of their state and independence. I did get that impression from some during my stay!
Dallas, first settled as a town in 1841, is famous for the extravagant mansions of the very rich. However, I still didn't want to wander too far off the beaten track. I was told the city has its share of big problem areas like other American metros of its size, with a significant number of poor whites on the wrong side of the tracks.
There are many Mexicans, blacks and Indians living in the enormous Dallas sprawl and the large white population is represented by a cross-section of largely European ethnic backgrounds: Scots-Irish, Irish Americans, Scottish, English, Jews, Italians, Polish, Germans, French and East Europeans.
There is much to see and do in Dallas and the immediate area, which overlaps into Fort Worth (half-a-million population), and its city centre could be considered a reasonably safe place to walk about, even at night.
The downtown area of Dallas contains many interesting buildings such as the world-famous Neiman-Marcus Company clothing store and, of course, the Sixth Floor Museum Building (the former Texas School Book Depository), from where Lee Harvey Oswald is alleged to have fired the shots which killed President John F Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is a fascinating place. Hundreds of people file around it on a daily basis to poignantly re-live the events of that fateful day when Dallas became a byword for Presidential assassination.
Many in Dallas are still coming to terms with the Kennedy assassination and the tragedy even today bears heavily on the city's conscience.
Even the antics of J R Ewing and company in the celebrated Dallas television soap have not erased public perceptions of that day.
There is also the massive State Fair Park, the Museum of Natural History and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. For the sports enthusiast, the city boasts professional baseball, American football, ice hockey and soccer teams.
Fort Worth, less than 10 miles from Dallas, is an industrial centre hub for the cattle range country of north central Texas.
The city was a popular jumping-off centre for white settlers, a good many of them Scots-Irish, heading westwards during the 1840s and 1850s. By the 1870s, Fort Worth had developed into a cattle town, because of the nearby Chisholm Trail, along which cowboys drove vast herds of longhorn cattle to Kansas. …