San Antonio

So, I should probably post my recollections of this trip before I actually forget them.

Mark and I decided to go to San Antonio, Texas for a few days. We came up with the idea after I quit on Wednesday night, finalized the idea Thursday night, and left Friday night.

Why San Antonio? A legitimate question, one that I really don’t have a good answer to. The short answer was that it was about as far as we could go in five to six days (the trip was constricted by Mark’s impending departure for Norway…well, today at this point).

It was also the only city we a) had both never been to b) could agree on actually wanting to visit and c) were convinced was warm at this time of year. Other suggestions included New Orleans (Mark’s been), Pittsburgh (cold, I’ve been and never wish to return), and Toronto (cold).

So I picked Mark up after his last day as an intern at Playboy (insert Monica Lewinsky joke here…oh wait, E! News has one for me), and we took off.

Because San Antonio is about a 20 hour drive from Chicago, we decided to break up the trip a bit, stopping in Champaign, IL and Dallas on the way down. As Mark said, “Getting there is half the fun…or in this case, most of it.”

In Champaign we stayed with my friend Elisa and her husband, Ray. They’re fun to hang out with, and I wish I could make it down there more. It’s only a couple hours from Chicago, and I’m an unemployed layabout (again). I really have no excuse.

Anyway, while catching up on what’s going on, we found out that Ray, after competing in Indianapolis in a national…tournament?…is the 7th ranked diesel mechanic in the nation. Now I admit, until I found out he was in the competition, I had no idea there even was a competition. But it’s still cool.

I still cannot get over the fact that they are married, even though millions of other people my age are married with (gulp) children, and I even attended their wedding. I still cannot grasp that I’m old enough for my friends to be married.

Anyway, when Elisa found out that we were considering driving all the way to San Antonio on Saturday (which, it turns out, would have been about an eighteen hour drive), she offered us a place to stay at her parents’ house in Dallas, which we gladly accepted.

It was kind of funny having to call her dad and be like, “So Elisa has graciously offered us….your house!”, but both Mark and I have stayed there before, right after September 11th when we picked up Elisa at the tail end of another ridiculous road trip.

As my mom IMed me when I got home, “What is it about you and Mark going on road trips that makes war break out?”

We stopped in Hope, Arkansas on the way down to Dallas, partly for gas but partly to at least get a picture of the “Birthplace of Bill Clinton!” sign. And Mark did, since I was a dumbass and didn’t bring a camera.

Hope is a shit town in the middle of nowhere now, and I can’t even imagine how it must have been when Billy Boy was growing up 40 years ago. Seeing it makes a lot of things about Clinton suddenly make a lot more sense.

Anyway, we rolled into Dallas incredibly late because of our dumb “Hey! We can see more of the scenery if we take this back road and we’ll save time because it’s shorter!” strategy. Unfortunately, it was much slower and the part of Arkansas it went through was pretty dull.

The only remarkable thing about it was the unnaturally green color of the grass. It seriously looks like a fertilizer ad where someone’s turned up the green in photoshop to something just wrong. And it’s only in Arkansas. Not Texas, Missouri, or Oklahoma, which are all right nearby.

Elisa’s dad fed us some barbecue and we watched the Stars game, but both he and we were so tired that there wasn’t much visiting, and her mom was out of town at her grandparents’ ranch in Centerville.

We also got up and got the fuck out early Sunday morning so we might actually, you know, get to San Antonio.

The stretch between Waco, about 100 miles south of Dallas, and San Antonio, is surprisingly built up. Hundreds of random stores, just lining the highway like the entire stretch was a metropolitan area.

The stuff that’s there has obviously sprung up since the highway was constructed, but similar stretches between Dallas and Waco and Dallas and Centerville (so named because it’s halfway between Dallas and Houston) are pretty much desolate.

San Antoino itself is an interesting town. It’s a lot like D.C. in that the Designated Tourist Area is really beautiful, but much of the rest of the city is poor, majority-minority (although hispanic here instead of black), and relatively dilapidated.

The general attitude is pretty much the same, too: “Hey, tourists! Look, it’s beautiful! No wait, don’t look over there!….”

There was an enormous amount of empty real estate, more than I’ve seen anywhere, even in this economy. I don’t know if there was some sort of industry that collapsed in San Antonio, but it looked like people had just fled the city in the last 5 or 10 years.

Mark and I, of course, stayed in the Designated Tourist Area, at a little motel that was a sort of spinoff of a Days Inn called the “Downtowner Motel.” It was kind of sketchy, but I’ve stayed in much, much sketchier.

The big advantage of it was that it was only a couple blocks from the Alamo and the Riverwalk, the two main things to do in the DTA. We immediately headed over and got some pictures of the Alamo, then walked about the Riverwalk and got yet more barbecue.

We had tickets to the BullsSpurs game that night, which was kind of silly in that neither Mark nor I had ever been to a Bulls game, and here we were seeing our first, but in San Antonio. It was strange, yet somehow totally appropriate.

However, we had a couple hours to kill before the game, so we headed over to the missions. San Antonio was a big center of Catholic missions in the early 1800’s (the Alamo was a mission before it was abandoned by the Church and turned into a fort by the Spanish).

So there are 4 major missions that are still in various states of uprightness in San Antonio: One that’s pretty much nothing but ruins, one that’s in moderate shape, and two that are in surprisingly good shape for having gone through 200 years of wear and tear.

We went to the first two on Sunday, since we didn’t have time to visit all four before the game. It’s kind of hard to describe historical sites unless you’re actually writing about history, and really, I don’t feel like it.

They are beautiful, though, and the historical information and such that they have at each mission is pretty interesting.

We headed back to the other side of town to the brand new SBC center, which is a pretty nice arena (much better acoustics than the horrifically shitty ones at the United Center). People really love the Spurs in San Antonio, typical of a town with one major sport that’s always a contender.

The Bulls, of course, lost. They’re horrible this year. They’ll be good in a few years when people grow up, although Jalen Rose provided an argument that they may never grow up by getting two technicals (and thus ejected) with about 8 seconds left and down by almost 20.

Monday, we got up and decided to go look at Natural Bridge Caverns, which we had seen advertised on the way in, since it was cloudy and kind of gross, and thus an ideal time to go underground.

The cavern was kind of cool, although I’ve been to an absurd number of caverns and this was probably one of the lamer ones. Part of that was because our guide was a) still in high school and b) on his second day on the job, and had no idea what the fuck was going on.

The one interesting piece of information he did give was to point out an eight foot deep pile of batshit. Apparently, the moisture in the cave keeps it from drying out. Fortunately, it is odorless, because otherwise this cave would clearly be off-limits to the smelling public.

We went back to the mission area and saw the two missions we hadn’t seen after the cave excursion. They weren’t quite as interesting or well-preserved as the ones we saw on Sunday, although one was now an active monastery again, which was kinda cool.

We then went back to downtown San Antonio and took the full tour of the Alamo, something we had decided to put off because of the vast tourist hordes the day before, when there was a line to even get in the museum portion of the Alamo.

The crowds were slightly smaller, both overall and in stature, because apparently all the elementary schools in Texas were on spring break, and people decided to educate their children about the history of Texas for spring break.

There’s your standard set of objects in plexiglass (Davy Crockett’s rifle, bibles belonging to various revolutionaries, bullets, etc.) in the museum, but they also have guys giving talks about every half-hour giving a much more vivid description of the history.

I don’t know whether it was the fact that the lecture was short, well-presented, or what, but for some reason I found the presentation Mark and I listened to much more interesting than 90% of the classes I had at Northwestern.

Maybe it’s just the fact that now that I don’t have to learn, I actually want to.

After we were done, Mark got about four thousand pictures of the Alamo, probably two of which did not also feature tourists standing in front of it.

We discussed this point later: Why do people take pictures of themselves in front of landmarks? To prove they were actually there? I can’t say I’m not guilty of this myself (hell, I had someone take a picture of me in front of the Grand Canyon).

But what compels people to not just take a picture of a landmark, but to take pictures of themselves in front of the landmark? I find it difficult to believe that people will not accept that you’ve been someplace if you simply show them a picture of a landmark.

“Oh hell, anybody could’ve taken that! I demand to see you standing in front of it, wearing a t-shirt that says SPRING BREAK 2003, smiling dippily and waving.” Granted, I purchased one of these shirts, but at least there are no pictures of me in front of the Alamo in it.

Anyway, Monday was also St. Patrick’s day, which meant the one thing it generally can mean in San Antonio: Margaritas. There was a grand total of one Irish bar in the part of San Antonio we were in, and people were damn near falling into the river it was so packed.

So what to do in a dire situation like this? Have 30-ounce margaritas, of course. Mark and I each had one, and it took me an hour to finish mine (granted, I had 2 12-ouncers at Casa Rio, an excellent Mexican restaurant on the Riverwalk we ate at earlier).

I got good and drunk because I can’t hold my liquor (tequila in particular), and then stumbled up to the Alamo so Mark could get some night pictures and have fun with light experiments. He kept apologizing for making me wait, but he forgets: I’m a film major.

I was born to wait.

San Antonio was fun, and I think a visit of only a couple of days was probably just the right length, especially for someone of my incredibly short attention span (why do you think it’s taken four days for me to write this?).

Anyway, we got up and got the hell out on Tuesday morning because we wanted to try and avoid rush hour in both San Antonio and Austin (succeeded in the former, failed miserably in the latter).

In another reprise of our last major roadtrip, it started raining just north of Dallas and pretty much never stopped. We stopped at my uncle James’s in Springfield, Missouri. He’s very amusing to stay with, because he always has some wild stories.

James is a funny guy…it’s kind of difficult to elaborate on why without meeting him, although a large part of it has to do with his continued perception of himself as a 25-year old who can conquer the universe, despite the fact that he’s a 56-year old cardiologist.

Anyway, we got out of Springfield again early in the morning since Mark had to get back and do some work before he left to go to Norway. It poured rain almost the entire way back to Chicago, but we managed to get back just before rush hour, so that was a plus.

All in all, it was a fun trip. I know it sounds nuts to drive 2700 miles in about five days to spend only a day and a half at your destination, but to me, that’s what it’s all about. Flying somewhere, you feel nothing concrete.

Driving, however, is theraputic, and much more connected than simply flying. It would have been a lot faster and easier to fly to San Antonio (though obviously not cheaper), but in my book, it’s so much better to drive.

You never get to see the absurdly green grass of Arkansas, or pass by the birthplaces of three Presidents (we passed Eisenhower and Truman’s birthplaces on the way back to Chicago), or even just realize how fucking flat the entire state of Illinois is from 30,000 feet.

You also get to know your friends a hell of a lot better when you drive more than 40 hours over the space of about five days.

Mark’s been pretty much abducted by the journalism grad program here, and my life’s just been a chaotic mess lately, so it was nice to actually be able to talk for more than about half an hour for the first time in a few months.

All in all, it was an excellent trip. I can’t wait to do something this loony again.

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