During last weekend's visit to San Antonio, I posted several sets of photos accompanied by the hashtag #SuperBowlRefugees. Since we live about two miles east of NRG Park, along US-90A, we left town to duck the mayhem that a Super Bowl brings to one's city. There was plenty of PARTYYY! going on during the preceding week, but most of that was confined to the Discovery Green/Convention Center District downtown. I'd love to have seen some of the local musical acts (and I don't even mean Solange) performing there, but I likely couldn't handle the traffic and crowds.
Since everybody in the anti-Trump #Resistance has taken to copying and pasting each other's #Resistance messages on Facebook, I'll buck the trend by copying and pasting this Facebook Note into my blog—with minor edits for context and clarity.
When Kayleen decided that she could not or should not travel with me to Connecticut over Winter Break, I was able to cancel her reservation on Amtrak. But Megabus, which we had planned to take to New Orleans to catch the Amtrak Crescent, does not refund fares; however, passengers may exchange the tickets they have purchased for a different trip. We decided we would get a pair of tickets to San Antonio to get away from the Super Bowl LI madness here in Houston.
San Antonio was the right call, I must say.
More important than what we did, where we went, what we ate, etc., were the impressions we got from our short visit. Even knowing that SA has large pockets of poverty, heavy dependency on military bases (like Lackland, where Kayleen was stationed for a while in the 1980s), and wildly uneven school systems, we also know that the city does several things quite well. Here are some of those impressions
Baby Bowheads. We shared the city with thousands of participants in the Southern Regional Cheer competition, along with the parents and other entourage. There must have been hundreds of elementary and middle school cheer and dance teams, all girls, almost all white, mostly with big hair and big bows and high-performance make-up. When the girls weren’t competing at the Alamodome, they and their families were also doing tourist stuff. We nearly got run down by a herd of them Saturday night as we walked from Mi Tierra back to the Rodeway.
River Walk and Performing Arts. The River Walk is much more than the central cluster of identical, overpriced Tex-Mex joints with water taxis sloshing by. It extends south toward the old Hemisfair grounds and north past the Tobin Center for Performing Arts, between Broadway and North St. Mary’s Street. I happened to notice that the Tobin’s marquee was advertising upcoming concerts featuring Bryan Ferry and Tiffany (not on the same bill). This reminded me that Tiffany is now OMG 47 or so. Ferry is approaching 70, and he’s still got that quintessential Roxy moxie.
¡Viva Via! I’ve long considered SA’s Via bus system superior to Houston’s Metro in several ways. There are gaps in Via’s coverage, but mostly even out in the suburban reaches there are routes within a few blocks of most residents. Downtown service is reliable, with clean buses, friendly drivers, and sometimes jazz or Latin music on the PA. One-way fare costs $1.30, a full-day pass $2.75; we each bought a day pass and took a total of five rides yesterday on the ¡Viva! routes (11, 40, and the 301 Centro trolley).
Tidy City. SA’s central districts are mostly devoid of litter, unlike a certain large city 200 miles to the east. The city deploys recycle bins at convenient locations, including bus stops; sanitation crews actually empty the disposal bins, even on Sundays (I seen ‘em!). Here in Houston, most bus stops get a single trash bin; those bins fill up quickly, even though many passengers choose to leave their fast food bags and cups on the ground instead (or on the floor of the bus), and stay full for days.
Truly Laid Back. Once upon a time, Austin was considered a laid-back city. The tech boom and other factors have just about destroyed that vibe. When I think of Austin now, I think of lethal traffic jams on 35, 183, and MoPac; I think of Dellionaires and other strivers competing to see how quickly and extensively they can block access to Lake Travis, spoil the Edwards Aquifer, and run cyclists off the roads to reclaim all those bike lanes for the sports cars and SUV’s for which God intended all that asphalt. San Antonio is not Austin. With any luck, it never will be. On the several occasions that I visited SA in the 1980s, it was a great place to get Houston-stress out of my system, where even I could relax, and it still is.
Urbanism. The stretch of Broadway that we traveled between Downtown and the Pearl showed signs of continued revival, including new-urbanist-style apartment buildings with retail on the ground floor. Dining and entertainment options are all within walking distance or a short bus trip away; there is a bike route connecting Downtown and the Northside. All that seemed to be missing there was a supermarket, or even a small neighborhood grocery, accessible on foot. The architecture of these apartment blocks is rather bland, a bit reflective of similar efforts in Austin, and a disappointment compared to SA’s charming older buildings, but the design doesn’t detract from the city’s overall character.
Missing Amenities. I’m sure there are other accommodations SA should have but doesn’t, but two that leap to mind are 1) an HI Hostel and 2) car-share businesses like ZipCar or Enterprise Car Share. Hostelworld has one location in SA, Woodward Lumber on Fredericksburg Road, with rates as low as $29 a night. But my experience with Hostelworld lodgings (and, indeed, some HI lodgings) is that they tend not to be user-friendly for disabled travelers. Hostelz.com has this one up near the Pearl. Neither hostel has the Rodeway’s advantage of being caddy-corner from the Megabus lot.