I have reasons to spend some time in south Texas. I will miss much of Midwestern autumn, certainly my favorite season. I will miss much of Midwestern winter, not even in the running for favorite season. I’ve been that Midwesterner: the one who says he/she loves the change of season. We even say that as we stand mid-waist in snow drifts, trudging out to the frozen automobile, hopeful that we can escape to a mall, cinema, grocery. Hopeful that the engine turns over after a night out in the garage.
Nope, I’ve heard that in San Antonio, once in a great while, they get a layer of ice on roadways and close down the city: I’m ready for that. The other day, the temperature dipped into the 60’s. The high 60’s. I slipped on my UGGs and was quite the item wherever I went. “Where did you get those boots? I need those boots.”
So, when you come for a visit, of course we’ll drive downtown to see The Alamo and to stroll along The Riverwalk, both right in the center. San Antonio has, in the verbiage of planning commissions, “exploited their major waterway” for economic gain. It seems that everybody has heard of San Antonio’s Riverwalk. Any and all visitors make sure they have walked along the concrete banks, lined with restaurants, shops and hotels. There’s always live music as you move past other attractions. It’s fun. It’s beautiful. It’s A Place To Be.
As for The Alamo. We’ve all seen iconic images of this famous fortress. When you stroll by, well, you’ll share the communal reaction: That’s IT??? Well, yes. It strikes you as odd that it’s RIGHT THERE, snuggled between parking lots, shops, and hotels. The city grew up around it.
It’s worth the trip and it’s worth the time to enter and explore. It’s just that your first reaction is that, well, yes there it is, right there.
Downtown San Antonio is gorgeous. Park like. Walking trails. Bike sharing stations. Trees and benches. A great place to stop. Nearby you find museums, art galleries, concert stages and live theater venues. And I’m not even a native. I have much to learn.
And then there’s the rest of this place which continues to amaze these Midwestern eyes.
If you look at San Antonio on a map, the roadways resemble a wagon wheel. The rim is 1604, which circles the city. (Using a different word picture…a clock…I live at about 1:30, inside the rim.) My daily trek involves a 5 mile stretch along Texas 78, a 4 lane highway with a 5th inside lane, a double yellow on both sides. It’s a curious path, heavily trafficked. Weekly, I maneuver around a fender bender along this route, nothing bloody or airbag deployable, but oh so often.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far: you don’t need to pass any sort of Driver’s Ed. to get an operator’s license in south Texas. That explains a lot. All too often, someone on the other side of that double yellow will decide he must turn left and cross two lanes of traffic and he will DO IT. No warning, no measure of oncoming traffic. He will JUST TURN in front of traffic. One must just be aware of him. He’s often driving an enormous truck, confident, I believe, in the fact that in a collision, he will win.
I am happily driving in the Granny Lane, keeping myself under the non-posted, ever changing speed limit; yesterday, he honked angrily at me as I did not see him and so almost didn’t yield. Amazing, isn’t it, that a honk can express emotion? I get several of these a week, even as I am following driving rules like a monk.
As for the speed limit: long-time readers will understand that I have been speed challenged in a former life. I try to be vigilant in obeying speed limits. Along Texas 78, these change and are not posted. I’m not kidding. It’s 50 and then it’s 30, and then 50 again until it’s 45. My little GPS flashes RED when I exceed the limit….Ms. Garmin knows how fast I can drive, even as Texas tries to keep it a secret.
Then there is that curious double yellow lane. What exactly is its purpose? Some people use it for merging. Some people drive ½ mile or more within its confines. Every once in a while, there are painted turning arrows that…guess what... point you to no place to turn. AND, way too often, there are pedestrians that seem to be just hanging out.
I pulled over next to a traffic officer the other day to ask him. He was vague at best. “Can you just drive along in that lane?” I asked. “We discourage it but it’s not against the law.” Oh. “What about the pedestrians?” “THAT’S against the law but we don’t ticket pedestrians.” HMM.
I have ventured out into the lane, trying to merge, as I’ve witnessed others doing. Last time, I got another of those angry honks coupled with the driver taking his hands off his steering wheel and giving me the double palms up, like ‘what are you doing???’ (Did you think he was going to flip me off? Nope, Texas. They may drive like maniacs but there’s a modicum of southern manners, even on the road.)
You also have to watch out for semis. The other day, during the going-home-crazy-traffic, I came upon a truck in my Granny Lane, with his flashers on. It slowed traffic and I couldn’t seem to pass him. Then, I saw him get out, walk into a Taco Bell and come back out with a sack o something. Amazing. At least he had called ahead.
There are some colorful road names that, if streets could tell tales, might have something to say: Gibbs Sprawl, Showdown, Stubb Pass, and Spit.
I’ve been told that San Antonio’s growth exploded without time or concern for any sort of planning. Try to find a Post Office. They are tucked away in curious corners. The one nearest to me is nestled in a residential neighborhood, without extra parking or even some semblance that it’s not just a house. There’s a flag and a sign but you could miss it. Another one is near a high school. There’s a green sign with an arrow but if you turn there, you’re in a gas station parking lot with no side street. You have to turn at the high school, drive 50 feet, turn in the general direction that the sign would suggest and then there’s a flag and the building.
Also, it’s not uncommon to be driving along a residential street when BOOM, one house is a BBQ restaurant with, again, no extra parking. But there’s fragrant smoke seeping out of the roof, IF the place it open. Some of these are open sometimes.
I’m not quite a resident but I can now get around without Ms. Garmin’s aid most of the time, and it’s a lovely place. Amazing to me is that after a week of 100+ temperatures, we get a reprieve of high 80’s and it’s so refreshing. Unlike my other home, where on a hot day, the day starts hot and stays that way, down here the days begin more temperature and then creep up up up into the afternoon.
I’ve yet to see a scorpion or snake although they are out there, lurking. We DO have those lovely reminders that this is NOT Heaven: the fire ants. We kill ‘em.
So, yes. Come. Or just freeze up there and envy us.