Dallas After Dark: Downtown is lonely, but offers respite to some



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Posted on May 3, 2012 at 10:41 PM

Updated Friday, May 4 at 11:24 AM

All this month, we’ll be taking a close look at Dallas after dark and just what happens in the city after midnight.

In part one this week, we focus on the downtown area. Not the clubs and bars, but the people left behind after the last venue closes.

DALLAS - Imagine for a moment being in downtown Dallas after dark… long after the last club has closed. It’s the last shift most of us would want to work, in a place many would prefer not to live.

However, post-midnight, Dallas is a different city with a different dynamic. Different people, who insist Dallas in the dark and our not being there make all the difference in the world.

At 2 a.m, you have to look closely for signs of life downtown and in the most unusual places, like the now-closed Ramada Plaza just south of Dallas City Hall.

Three years ago this month, writer Tom Coughlin moved in after he answered an advertisement on Craig’s List: free rent to anyone who’d live here while developers figured out their next step. Now, Tom lives on the eleventh floor and has the run of an otherwise empty building.

"You see all the lights on the 11th floor - if you drive I-30, that’s got to cause some people to stop and think," Coughlin said.

Tom’s a night owl who needed a place to concentrate on his writing, so this is perfect.

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, he has the 11th floor lights on and he is never bored. For example, the now-empty hotel swimming pool is his private putting green.

Tom had six neighbors on six different floors at first. Now, they’re all gone… the lights out.

"It’s been not nearly as scary as a lot of people might suspect it would be,” he told us. “It’s been very, very safe."

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t had a break in.

"I’ve had people break in and I’ve thrown them out, and they break in the next night," Coughlin said. "I caught one person in one of my rooms on the tenth floor, and I asked him when he got into the building, because I thought he’d gotten in earlier that afternoon or possibly that morning. And he said, 'three weeks ago.'"

Other overnight downtowners are here to work, like Tony Coward. He’s a security officer at AT&T downtown. Tony likes the quiet of night with everyone gone, although he has seen his share of trespassers.

“Sometimes the homeless will try to get into the little cubby holes and try to sleep, and we’ll walk around the exterior of the building to get them to move," he said.

However, with most people out of downtown, those problems are few and far between from midnight to dawn.

AT&T computer attendant, Laura Redwine considers the shift perfect for raising her family.

"I have five daughters," Redwine said. "I felt like the best way to be there for them is to work nights. I can be there to take them to school in the morning, I can go to assemblies, I can pick them up from school if they’re ill."

The secret both maintain is to develop a good routine.

“I try to get in the bed at about 8 o’clock in the morning," the security guard said. “I try to sleep as long as I can. Get up, eat, go back to sleep, take a nap, and get back up, get ready come to work."

For Laura, it’s very different.

“I call myself 'espresso queen,' and I love it all," she said. "I drink it during the day, I drink it at night, I take good coffee and put instant coffee in it to make it really strong.”

Back at the Ramada Plaza, Tom Coughlin sets no schedule; he’s always either writing or enjoying his time in the Tina Turner Suite (Yes, that Tina Turner).

The story goes: Ike and Tina Turner were in Dallas years ago. Ike beat Tina, and she ran away with no money, no credit cards and showed up at the hotel.

“They gave her a room here - the room that I’m in up on 11, and put a guard outside her door until they could confirm that Ike had gone back to Houston."

Tina’s long gone, so Tom now has one of the most beautiful views available of downtown Dallas, but not for long.

Rumor has it, remodeling gets underway sometime next year. Tom’s business background tells him the new owner is getting a good building.

What’s next for him? He’s not sure, but he’s not worried.

There are plenty of other living "opportunities" like the Ramada Plaza downtown.

If you hear of anything - empty building, fixer-upper - don’t forget Tom Coughlin. He’s not too particular.

E-mail jmccaa@wfaa.com