A few days after Christmas, while visiting family in Dallas, I was driving with my parents to dinner in their Lexus (bumper sticker: "Don't Mess With Texas"). Along the way we passed an elementary school, which is just down the street from the ranch-style house at 10141
Daria Place that George and Laura Bush now call home. "Can you believe he put all those kids in danger?" my mom gasped. She fears Bush will be assassinated in a dirty bomb attack that will also incinerate the rest of the zip code.
I grew up (and my parents still live) six blocks from the former president's future home in Preston Hollow. It's a place New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams recently called "a town outside Dallas" where "houses come with horse stables, lake views, mountain views, golf club views." (It's actually a neighborhood inside Dallas that comes with none of those things.) Reporters have called it wealthy, white, and Republican, yet that hardly does it justice. My parents, both avid Democrats, probably have fewer Democratic friends in Preston Hollow than Bush's 8,500-square-foot home has bathrooms.
Of course, Preston Hollow is not Highland Park, the ritzy, incorporated town in the middle of Dallas where the 113-year-old Dallas Country Club didn't count a single African American member until 2007. But the neighborhood includes a small number of estates—huge spreads occupied by Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks, H. Ross Perot, and oilman T. Boone Pickens, among others—that were once surrounded by a sprawl of postwar tract homes, many of which have since been razed and replaced by McMansions. Stuck into their green lawns are yard signs that say with proud intimacy, "Welcome Home, George and Laura."
Though I could've guessed that Bush would be welcomed back (he also lived here before he was Texas governor), the warm reception brought back memories of the neighborhood's other political signs.
My first inkling of Preston Hollow's conservative ways came in the third grade, when I was riding home with a freckly, redheaded kid named Josh Music, whose mother was a member of my mother's carpool group. At the time, Josh seemed especially cool and especially Texan because he'd run shirtless through a field of bluebonnets in a TV commercial for Blue Bell Ice Cream. When his mom randomly asked me which presidential candidate I liked, I said Mondale. "How could you vote for a woman for vice president?" Josh scolded. "If Mondale gets shot, a woman would be president!"
Preston Hollow now supports Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), but racial politics remain more complex. Almost no African Americans live in my parents' neighborhood, other than the family that recently took up residence in a gated castle just constructed across the street. It's the home of Rayford Wilkins Jr., the CEO of AT&T. After he and his wife moved in last year, my mom enthusiastically knocked on their door with a plate of warm brownies and later offered to throw them a welcome-to-the-neighborhood party, adding proudly, "And we'll celebrate the election of Obama!" The pretty and fashionable Mrs. Wilkins stared back blankly. My mom briefly entertained the notion that Mrs. Wilkins had misconstrued the brownies as a racial slight, but campaign filings confirm her other guess: that Mr. Wilkins backed McCain.
Unlike the Wilkins' palatial home, with its gurgling fountain and scalloped facade of Austin stone, Bush's new pad looks surprisingly demure; from the street its squat brick exterior seems as old as the neighborhood. My parents don't appear to buy the idea that a man of such unsubtle politics could possess subtle tastes. "I wonder if he's going to tear it down," my mom said.