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A farewell party

When I came on board as a San Antonio Current staff writer in February 2003, the first thing the editor did was send me to a church service.

Padre David Garcia of San Fernando Cathedral had called a group of parishioners to a noontime mass to celebrate the news that the Toyota Manufacturing Co. was setting up shop on the South Side. Mayor Ed Garza and other dignitaries had been invited, but they were too busy celebrating with Governor Rick Perry at the Westin Riverwalk. Hallelujah, and God bless the baby Tundra, which, it turns out, will be one of the biggest pickup trucks on the market when it rolls off the assembly line later this year.

In February 2004, three of us piled into an SUV for a wild ride across the Mexican border to meet the Great Sabinosaurio, a Cretaceous Period “noble lizard” that was discovered by Sabinas resident Juan Pablo García in the carbonífera region of Coahuila. The skeleton of the 49-foot, duck-billed dinosaur was 80-percent intact and the pride of the city.

But the best part of the story was how we got there. My wife had forgotten the title to our ride, so we had to improvise. I presented my press credentials to the captain of the Mexican border patrol, I introduced my wife as translator, and then-Current art director Julie Barnett confirmed that she was the photographer. We only needed to drive another 20 or so miles into Coahuila, we explained, and the mayor of Sabinas was waiting.

Miraculously, the officer let us through, and we spent the next two days in Sabinas, exploring the city’s restaurants, nightclubs, and getting to know the great people of that desert city. And we got to see some amazing dinosaur bones at the Exposición de Paleontología de la Región Carbonífera.

Not long after that trip, Ralph Nader came to San Antonio to garner votes for his 2004 presidential run. A crowd gathered in Thiry Auditorium at Our Lady of the Lake University. I had arrived early to find a good seat among the TV cameras. Then, along comes TV videographer James Lozado of the now-defunct News 9 San Antonio. He proceeded to set up his camera tripod in front of me, blocking my view of the podium. I told him that was my spot, but he said something to the effect of, “I’m a TV reporter and I can set my camera in front of you if I want to.”

He was warned. Just as Nader finished his speech and opened up the floor for questions, I stepped in front of Lozado’s camera. I felt a frantic tap on my shoulder, then a click as Lozado yanked his camera off the tripod and raced around me to film Nader as he interacted with the audience. I’m willing to bet that Lozado has since refrained from blocking a print reporter’s view of the podium, but it might be hard to prove since everyone who worked for News 9 has moved on.

It was more thrilling, though, to track down Vietnamese refugee Pham Van Phuc in February of ’04, nearly 30 years after he arrived in San Antonio from South Vietnam, with 10 children in tow. The assignment was to research the influence of the Asian population in San Antonio, which included trips to my favorite homework venue, the Texana Room in the Central Library. Pham Van Phuc found work with the Alamo Heights School District, and some of his children still live here.

He refused to talk about his life in San Antonio, but his youngest daughter, Mai Pham, 13 years old when she arrived in San Antonio, is now Jenny Samelson, and she has three happy children who grew up in the Alamo City.

There could be many more words in this column, but the gist is that over the past three years that I’ve worked at the Current, I have enjoyed writing on many diverse subjects. Now it’s time to move on to another project. A clue: Look for news in All You Can Eat. Adios, dear Current readers, and vayan con gusto.

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