San Antonio, Austin and Corpus Christi, Texas
09.04.2001 - 12.07.2001
View Work Trips 1997 - 2004 on GregW's travel map.
A Texan, a Mexican, a Brit and a Frenchman are in a plane flying over the Belgian Congo when one of the two engines sputters and stales. The pilot yells back to the four men that the plane cannot stay aloft with all four of them on board – either one of the men will have to jump, or the entire plane will go down and all of them will die.
The Englishman steps forward, “well, old chaps, I think it would be best if I jump out of the plane at this point. It’s been a true honour knowing you all.” The Englishmen walks to the door of the plane, takes one last look back, yells, “God save the Queen!” and jumps to his death.
“That didn’t do it,” the pilot yells back, “we are still too heavy. Someone else will have to jump!”
The Frenchman this time steps up. “Gentlemen, I will jump next. Adieu to you all.” He walks forward, screams “Vive la France!” and jumps out of the plane.
“We are almost there,” screams back the pilot. “If one more person jumps, we should be fine to make it to Mombasa!”
The Mexican and the Texan look at each other, neither budging. Finally, the Texan stands up and says, “I guess I should settle this, then.” He yells, “Remember the Alamo” grabs the Mexican and throws him out of the plane.
History of The Alamo
Originally built as a mission and called San Antonio de Valero, the small stucco building was dubbed the Alamo by the Spanish military who took the site over in the early 1800s after the units home town of Alamo de Parras. The site changed hands between the Spanish, rebels and finally Mexican militias throughout the early 1800s. In 1835, Texas rebels took over the Alamo from the Mexicans, but didn’t hold the fort for long. In February of 1836, Santa Anna’s army laid siege to the Alamo. The Texan revolutionaries held the Alamo from February 23rd until March 6th, When Santa Anna’s forces stages a pre-dawn raid and took the compound.
Hyperbole runs high regarding the Alamo, and it’s significance. According to www.TheAlamo.org, “While the facts surrounding the siege of the Alamo continue to be debated, there is no doubt about what the battle has come to symbolize. People worldwide continue to remember the Alamo as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds — a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty.” And while the Alamo has become the symbol of Texas Liberty, the much more decisive Battle of San Jacinto fought near Houston, where 1600 Mexicans were defeated by Sam Houston’s 800 strong Texan army, with only 9 Texan casualties is the more important battle in ensuring Texas’ freedom from Mexico.
The Republic of Texas lasted only a short-time, however, before it was annexed by the U.S. and became a state. However, a fiercely independent spirit still exists amongst the Texan people, and more than any other state in the U.S., people in Texas call themselves Texan first and U.S. citizens second.
A City Built Around a Symbol
The first time I saw the Alamo was quite shocking. I had grown up seeing re-enactments of the battle of the Alamo on TV. The Alamo was always in the middle of sage-brush and desert, surrounded by nothing but plains and blue-skies.
One day soon after arriving in San Antonio, while returning from dinner we drove past a small, two story, vaguely Alamo shaped building in the middle of downtown San Antonio, jammed between a shopping mall, a hotel and an IMAX theatre. “Hey, that building looks like the Alamo,” I stated, really to no one in particular.
“That was the Alamo,” came back the reply.
San Antonio was built up around the Alamo, which was most unexpected for me. When I first heard I was going to San Antonio, I decided that I would need to go and see the Alamo. In my head, though, I figured this would involve a long drive out into the middle of nowhere to find the distinctively shaped stucco mission surrounded by the desert and sage brush of TV and movies. Instead, the Alamo sits in the middle of San Antonio’s tourist district – just blocks from the overly touristy River Walk.
Nothing shatters the symbolic weight of a site like the Alamo quite like listening to two fat-ass tourists beside you saying, “so, that’s it then? Let’s go and get an Orange Julius at the mall.”
Fiesta, San Antonio Style
San Antonio, as a geographical entity, grows rather dull from a tourist perspective rather quickly. There are three sites that I found of interest – the Alamo, the River Walk and the Market Square (El Mercado).
The Alamo is impressive to see just because of the historical connotations. It is pleasant to walk in the gardens on the site, and you almost feel outside of the city itself for a moment, until a fire truck roars out from the station just a few doors down from the Alamo and the peace is shattered. All told, though, the Alamo takes about half an hour to walk through, or an hour if you read everything.
El Mercado is an indoor / outdoor market “patterned” (according to the San Antonio visitors bureau) after an authentic Mexican Market. I didn’t find the shopping all that great, but they do have good food, cheap (and cold) beer and bands playing Spanish and Mexican music in the main building.
The River Walk is a number of below grade walkways along the river that runs through downtown San Antonio. The walk is lined with stores and restaurants, and you can even take a dinner cruise on the river on a number of dinner barges. The walk is nice, below the noise of the street and covered by a number of large trees and plants, but ultimately the restaurants are expensive and filled with tourists.
If you happen to be in San Antonio during April, you can partake in Fiesta, an annual party celebrating Texas’ “Independence and Diversity.” The Fiesta includes a water parade, a unique parade of floats that actually float down the river along the river walk. The year I was there, however, the water level was too high and the barges could not make it underneath the bridges, so the parade was cancelled for the first time in 110 years.
If you miss that, there is the Battle of the Flowers parade, which is kind of like the rose bowl, but with people throwing the flowers at each other, as far as I can tell. I was at work during the parade, so I missed that too. However, I saw the aftermath, which looked pretty messy.
The River Walk, El Mercado and other parts of the city come alive with booths and music. It is like many other festivals that occur around the world, but anyway you slice it, festivals are fun. Especially seeing as there is not a law against walking around with open alcohol containers in Texas, meaning that you can crush from venue to venue with a beer in your hand and not have to worry about hiding it when you see the cops.
The People I Meet
After Fiesta ended and after two weeks of eating at the River Walk, the novelty of eating on the edge of the river wore off. I realized that the river is just a muddy stream, the salmon I was eating was flown in from B.C. and costs $10 more than it should, and that the couple next to me is from Hoboken. It was time to get away from the tourist areas and find something else to do.
If you wander just a few blocks away from the River Walk, it’s not hard to find inexpensive and delicious restaurants. I ate in a restaurant just a few blocks from the River Walk and got a 3 course fish meal, with 3 filets of fish for only $7.95. The name of the place name escapes me, which doesn’t help either you or the owner, who might appreciate the advertising. But the point is that if you just take it upon yourself, you can probably find it, or something like it on your own.
Luckily, the people in Texas are very nice, and more than willing to show you the local sites in San Antonio. A prime example was Elva, who worked on the same floor as I did, and was the first to show me around El Mercado.
She was Mexican, and invited me to her friend’s Mexican birthday party. The party was held just north of El Mercado in a large hall. The main room had a D.J. and a band alternating entertainment for the crowd, the band playing traditional Mexican songs and the D.J. spinning modern American music. Off the main room was a courtyard, providing a quiet place to talk or grab a cigarette, until the piñata was broken out. The birthday girl (who was in her thirties) was blindfolded and given a large stick. A huge piñata was hung from a branch overhead, and two men vigorous pulled on ropes deftly moving the piñata constantly out of the reach of the woman. Finally, after 10 minutes of swinging and missing, a few lucky shots hit their mark, and the piñata sprang open. Candy spilled out onto cobblestones of the courtyard, and children (young and old) pounced upon it.
Usually, in my job, if I am working in a place like San Antonio I have the option to go home every weekend. Some places, like Denver and Northern California, I choose not to go home, instead immersing myself in the local scenery and culture. In San Antonio, I didn’t fly home because it was an 8-hour ordeal involving changing planes in Houston. Better to stay in San Antonio then waste 16 hours of my weekend on travel. Fridays and Saturdays were fine, because I could always find a club or pub or restaurant to meet some fun people and have a good night. Sunday afternoons, though, were less exciting. I ranged far and wide, looking for excitement. Usually I would just end up walking around for a few hours until I found a local bar and sat down for a beer.
On one of those Sunday afternoons I meet Ted. I was sitting at the bar of a pool hall west of downtown San Antonio watching something enthralling like bowling on ESPN when Ted wandered in. Ted was a large, gray hair and gray bearded man who I would have guessed to be in his later 60s. He pulled up to the bar a few stools beside me (the stools in between us were empty), called the bartender by name and ordered a beer. After a few swigs, we started chatting.
The conversation turned lively when Ted heard that I was from Canada. “Do you watch hockey,” he asked (referring, of course, to ice hockey). I responded that as a Canadian, I was required to watch hockey.
“Do you know what the miracle on ice was?” he asked. I replied that it was the name given to the 1980 gold-medal win of the U.S. team in the winter Olympic games.
“There was a U.S. gold medal win prior to that game,” he told me, leaning in almost as if he was revealing a great secret. “In 1960, at Squaw Valley in California, we won the gold medal. I know because I was on the team.” Ted went on to tell me how he had played on the 1960s gold medal U.S. team, and then spent a few undistinguished years in the NHL, playing for the Rangers before being traded to Boston in 1962. Ted’s one accomplishment in the NHL was being the first American born player in the league. After his career in hockey ended, he wandered around doing a variety of jobs. He was passing through San Antonio when his car broke down in the 1970s, and he ended up staying.
We spent the next few hours talking about hockey. Ted told me stories of hockey players whose name I had heard, but who had stopped playing years before I started watching hockey, or was even born. It was an entertaining afternoon listening to the stories Ted told.
The problem with Ted’s stories is that they were blatantly false. There is no Ted or Theodore listed on the roster of the 1960 USA team, the trade between Boston and the Rangers never involved a player named Ted, and the first American born players were playing in the NHL back in the 1920s, probably before Ted was even born.
I don’t know what Ted’s motivation for the lies were. Maybe he was slightly crazy and believed them to be true. Maybe he was just an aficionado of hockey who wanted to have a little fun with a Canadian boy on a Sunday afternoon. Either way, he never did ask me for anything. I didn’t even buy him a beer, which I really should have for a former Olympian and all. We just spent a few hours talking and parted company, never to see each other again. And while it was all a scam, it was a good-natured scam, and made my Sunday, and the ensuing week of research to try and prove Ted’s stories (which ultimately wouldn’t hold up, despite how much I wanted them to).
This is the magic of travel, even in non-magical places. The people that you meet can make even the most dull and uninteresting place (like a billiards hall on Sunday afternoon) seem interesting.
Texans (as I have stated) are very independent, and very different from other people I have met outside of Texas. Texans wears suits with cowboy boots. Texans have signs to remind them not to bring their concealed weapons into the bank (though I have always wondered what they were supposed to do with them, leave them in the car with the kids?). Texans drink in public, and just prior to my arrival in 2001, Texas had banned driving WHILE drinking. And Texans are sure that they can leave the U.S. at any time.
Prior to joining the U.S., Texas was an independent country, and if the original presidents of the Republic weren’t such bad money managers, Texas might still be today. However, in a short 9 years Texas ran up an insurmountable debt, and needed the U.S. government’s money to pay off the amounts owning. So in 1845, Texas became a state of the union.
A number of Texans told me that when Texas joined the U.S., there was a clause written into the Annexation papers that gave Texas the right, at any time, to just up and leave the U.S. and become their own country again. They were sure that if things got dicey in the U.S., they could become the Republic of Texas again. This isn’t true, however. Texas doesn’t have the right to just leave the union, but they can partition themselves into more states – creating up to 4 new states out of the existing territory. So if things get hairy, I suppose Texas can act a little like a blow fish, and make itself appear 5 times it size by becoming spawning 4 new states. Anyone feel like naming some new states? I bet Tom Landry will get a state names after him.
One of the things that might have so quickly bankrupted the original Republic of Texas was their penchant for moving their capitol. In 1836, five different cities served as the capitol. In 1837 Sam Houston moved the capitol to the city bearing his name, but that only lasted for two years before the capitol was moved to Austin in 1839. The capitol has stayed in Austin since, presumably because no one is willing to pack up the governor’s china again.
Austin is the home of the University of Texas, a fantastically beautiful campus and worth a visit. Go on the weekend and head out on Friday and Saturday night to 6th street. Seven blocks of Sixth Street in downtown Austin from Congress Avenue to Interstate 35 is the entertainment district, and becomes a pedestrian mall on Friday and Saturday nights. The numerous clubs along Sixth Street throw open their windows and their doors and live music flows out into the street. Austin is known as the live music capital of the world, and hearing the mix of blues, country, rock, and urban music mixing in the night air, you can understand why. Every bar has a band. It is a festival atmosphere every weekend, and definitely worth the trip to Austin.
38-Year Old Grandmother Strippers
Less worth the trip was Corpus Christi. On the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, I figured a trip down to Corpus Christi one weekend would give me an opportunity to soak up some sun and surf. Corpus Christi, though, is more of an industrial port than resort town. The beaches are covered with gritty sand, and the water looks barely passable for swimming. After a tour of the USS Lexington Museum (a retired aircraft carrier docked permanently in the Corpus Christi harbor), I looked at the beach and decided to head indoors for a drink instead.
At a bar just a few blocks from my hotel, I met Julie. Julie was thin with dark hair, dark eyes and olive skin. She was Iranian in descent, though talked without a detectable accent (either Iranian or Texan, actually – she had the non-descript accent of the people raised watching Sesame Street). We started chatting, and I learned the basics about Julie. She was 38 years old, had 3 children, the eldest who was recently married and had a daughter herself. Now, 38 seems young for a grandmother, I know, but it was quite a common occurrence in San Antonio, so I was used to it by now. Despite the grandchildren, Julie was beautiful and exotic and I was instantly smitten.
Julie and I talked and drank for an hour. My smitten self was feeling lonely, being in a strange city alone and looking for some company. So I was willing to overlook some of the things I was learning about Julie:
- She was bisexual (good), but couldn’t understand why her partner was interested in her bringing women to bed with them (extra good) but not men (bad)
- She worked in a bar (indifferent) as a stripper (bad, or maybe good – ummm, let’s call this one indifferent).
After an hour of drinking, Julie asked if I would be willing to give her a ride. She wanted to score some weed from her dealer.
There comes a decision point in every potential attempt to pick-up a woman where you must either decide to walk away or proceed. Here was mine. I could refuse, move on to another bar, get stinkin’ drunk and collapse alone in my hotel room bed. Or, I could drive Julie to her dealer and hope to get some. I decide to drive.
Like I said, I was lonely and smitten.
On the drive I learnt more about Julie. She was a recovering heroin addict, but now only drank and smoked weed. However, because of the heroin addiction, she didn’t actually have custody of her children anymore, though she still kept in touch with them and had visitation. These were all bad things, obviously, but I had committed myself to the cause – I was going to stick through and see if I could wind up not alone in bed.
Julie got her drugs, I got some beer and we went down to the beach. We sat on the sand and listened to the water lap against the shore. We kissed and I caressed her breast (underneath her shirt – second base!). I felt sure that tonight I would not be alone. We stopped kissing and continued talking.
She hated the government, because they had taken her children. “Do you know Timothy McVay?” she asked me. I said I knew him. He was convicted of the bombing of the Muir building in Oklahoma City, and was scheduled to be executed soon. “I wish I could get some of his sperm,” Julie said, “so I could have his children. It’s sad to see that kind of hatred of the government die.”
Later, she complained about Mexicans and African Americans. I won’t repeat the words she used, but suffice it to say they were not very politically correct.
All that being said, I was still willing to invite her back to my room. “She doesn’t know anything about me,” I thought, “not even my last name. If she comes to my hotel, I can have sex with her, drop her off tomorrow and never see her again.” It seemed a perfect plan to my somewhat hormone and alcohol addled mind.
Julie turned me down. “What?” I thought, “this 38 year old grandmother, bisexual stripper who would be willing to have sex with TIMOTHY MCVAY is not willing to have sex with me?” I was shocked. If I had been more of a real man, I would have abandoned her by the statue of Selina and gone back to my hotel. Instead, I drove her to her cousin’s place.
“I am going to be up in San Antonio in a couple weeks to take the kids to the zoo,” she said as she was getting out of the car. “Here’s my number, why don’t you call me and maybe you can join us.” Great, I thought, even ex-crack heads think of me as the nice guy, the kind of guy who you take to the zoo with your kids. “Sure,” I said, and put the number in my pocket.
The next day I woke up, my head clear of alcohol and testosterone, and threw out the number. A month of so later I was in Orlando airport watching CNN covering the news of Timothy McVay’s execution. They didn’t mention any last minute conjugal visits with a stripper from Corpus Christi, so I have to assume that Julie never got her wish.
The Corpus Christi weekend was a complete bust. I didn’t get any sun or sand, I wound up doing nothing but drinking with a very damaged individual and I ended up leaving early Sunday morning, disappointed with the weekend.
However, across the past few years this weekend and my encounter with Julie has become one of my favorite travel stories. It is both shocking and funny. Like the story about Ted, the “first” American-born NHLer, it highlights one of the best things that can come out of traveling– that whether the place is the most beautiful place on earth or a industrial port town, the people you meet will be more interesting and provide you better stories than any purple mountain majesty or amber waves of grain every could.