Normally, to bike downtown I take a rather complicated route — south on Devine through Olmos Park, left at Alamo Stadium, bomb the hill towards the Zoo, ride across a faux-bois bridge into Brackenridge park, go south on a bumpy bike lane behind the Lions Club, continue on to Avenue B, take a left at Grayson, take a right on Alamo street, and from there it’s smooth sailing until Alamo dead-ends. When I asked my friend Brian how he rides downtown, he responded, “I just take Broadway.” That kind of took the piss out of my Byzantine process. I didn’t think it should be that easy. So, I tried.
It was. The best part of this route is the end, the 100 block of Broadway: The gateway into downtown. Except that it really isn’t. The 100 block is like a small version of Time Square circa 1970. This is the block with the huge antique store, Paris Hatters, the Texas T pub, a loan office, and some empty storefronts. With the exception of Twin Sisters cafe, new blood doesn’t seem to last long here.
I hadn’t been on the curb for more than 30 seconds taking notes when a guy in a cowboy hat emerged from Paris Hatters and asked if I was with “those other guys.” Evidently a lot of people on bikes have been coming to this block and taking notes.
I walked across the street to see the jewel of the block, the historic Atlee Ayres building at 118 Broadway. I expected to find a few private investigators in the lobby directory. Instead I saw Build San Antonio Green, Suite 223. It had to be a CIA front. I took the elevator up to see more.
Build San Antonio Green is a nonprofit organization that accredits “green” building. They have a large showroom to showcase materials such as Compressed Earth Blocks and cork flooring. The website, Buildsagreen.org, is a great resource for someone looking to remodel a fixer-upper.
As I learned about the water-saving properties of an Australian two-speed flush toilet, I glanced out the window. I hoped to see a parade of bicyclists looking around taking notes, or better, the guy with the cowboy hat from the David Lynch movie staring at me ominously. Instead, I just saw an old neighborhood and wondered what would survive — Build San Antonio Green or the old ’hood. Hopefully, both.
Marching alone (10/08/06)
On Wednesday I read an article that Jeff Spicoli (aka Sean Penn) would be involved with an “end the Iraq War” protest on Thursday in NYC. I later learned that the protest, organized by the group World Can’t Wait, was going to be held all across the country. San Antonio would be one of the locations, with or without Hollywood actors, 5 p.m. Thursday at HemisFair. I had to see how Say-Town would represent itself.
Driving a car to an anti-Iraq-War protest seemed grossly inappropriate, like showing up drunk to a MADD demonstration, so after studying for my anatomy test, I grabbed my bike and headed downtown. Clearly, a bike was the only way to get there; unfortunately, my bike was having problems. I did what I could to quickly fix it so I could still go, but it still made a horrible sound, like a cross between my Canon 814 Super8 camera, and an MRI machine.
I arrived at HemisFair at 5:15 p.m. in time to hear the chant: “If the people are united we’ll never be … DEFEATED.” I’m sorry, but I couldn’t stifle a small laugh. After a few back and forths, someone got on the bullhorn and the word DIVIDED was substituted and the rhyme was complete.
There were about 60 people. A few women from Code Pink. I did a quick crowd survey. First, anyone I recognize? No, but that’s expected; I just moved back to town. Most of the people held signs while standing on the curb looking out at traffic on Alamo Street. A few buses would drove by and honked in support. Occasionally a guy would drive by and make the two-finger peace sign. Then an obnoxious lady drove by and made the less-friendly middle-finger sign.
I hung in the back and tried to get a feel for the whole event. There were a good number of people with cameras and pens and paper. Reporters, I assumed. I suppose I should have been doing the same but I was too busy convincing myself that I was a columnist and not a reporter. But by hanging out in the back I’m afraid I came across less like a stoic hipster and more like an undercover cop.
So why didn’t more people show up? It can’t be that the majority of society still supports the Iraq War. Opinion polls strongly suggest otherwise. I can only guess that people are so predisposed against any form of street protest that they stay away out of fear of … something.
It is odd that a majority of society is against the war but also against any form of active protest. This is a bizarre parallel trend. In the 1960s there was a thing called THE DRAFT that really galvanized people into protesting that war. Noam Chomsky took a lot of heat for being in support of the draft, but he’s right fundamentally in that if this is our country’s war then the country should fight it collectively. I’m not saying I’d want to go, but I think he’s right. And if people don’t want to go, then that fact will be felt soon enough. And it was. The current administration is well aware of this point, not the least of which because they all avoided the draft, but also because they know that there will never be any popular support for a draft, and therefore, a war. So what does that really say about our country?
As I rode my bike home, that thought kept bouncing around in my head. And though my bike was almost on its deathbed, it was still easier to fix than the problems in Iraq.
On the Town (10/04/06)
About 8:15 on Friday night I headed downtown on my bike to the Alamo. The Downtown Highlife Bicycle Club was having its monthly ride. For those unfamiliar with the event, it begins at 9 p.m. on the last Friday of the month at the Alamo.
When I arrived I found a small, diverse group of white people on bikes — a few students, some bike collectors, a landscaper, a teacher, and a bike mechanic, ranging in age from 20 to 62. We were a lucky baker’s dozen and after some catching up and introductions be-tween new acquaintances, we headed off.
Our destination was Woodlawn Lake but our route took us first north toward San Antonio College. We snuck through the SAC parking lot and then cruised west through San Pedro Park. I hadn’t been to the park for a long time so it was good to see the successful restoration.
After briefly riding north on Flores, we doglegged around Ashby to Blanco and took a short break at the corner of Ashby and Blanco — the previous location of Mr. Taco, back when they had pay televisions at every booth.
After raising the eyebrows of a few kids waiting for the bus, we began a straight shot west on Cincinnati. Cincinnati begins inauspiciously at Blanco and it has the faded glamour of a forgotten boulevard most likely done in by the construction of I-10.
A few blocks later we rode triumphantly underneath the Josephine Tobin arch welcoming us to Woodlawn Lake. At night the lake really is a sight to behold. Curving around the west end of the lake I spotted a building that used to be the Peacock Military Academy. At the turn of the century, the previous century, this was the historic West End, and I remember reading about the famous filmmaker King Vidor, who went to school at Peacock. As a side note, Vidor has the longest career of any filmmaker, having shot his first one-reeler in 1913 about the great Galveston flood. He made his last film in 1980 right before his death. That’s longevity.
We biked back east on Woodlawn and then south on Flores into downtown. As we neared Travis Street a discussion began about what bar to hit. Travis 151 doesn’t have good bike parking — funny but true. The Esquire, someone informed me, just closed for remodeling. Everyone but me had heard this story and when I asked why the facelift, the chorus was something about remodeling to be more family-friendly. Jeez. The Esquire was probably the last place in town where you could still be approached by a guy with a trench coat full of watches for sale. And I mean that in a good way.
We settled on La Tuna and headed south on St. Mary’s, riding next to a group of classic cars wandering downtown, looking for a ZZ Top music video to hang out in it seemed. They would rev their engines and burn rubber and then drive for a block and stop at a red light. The fact that we pretty much stayed with them all the way until Southtown must have created an existential crisis for them. South of Durango they floored it and took off for good — and us, we kept on riding.
On the Town (9/24/06)
Looking for an honest mechanic can be like spelunking — a dark and lonely business. Luckily for me I was given a good recommendation and I took my injured Honda Accord station wagon over to Mac Auto on 3810 Eisenhower, which is just down the road from an old flea market that used to sell fake IDs, bad sunglasses, shurikens, and other ninja paraphernalia back in the ’80s.
As I approached the office to talk to owner Ralph Murillo, I saw a tall guy wearing a really large cowboy hat go in before me. I sat in the office and waited my turn while Ralph talked shop with the cowboy.
As I listened in on their conversation it became apparent they weren’t discussing the pros and cons of flushing a radiator. The cowboy was discussing some sort of gig he just had at a ranch where he was paid to, from what I gathered, impersonate John Wayne. I had to second-guess myself for a moment to make sure I was hearing this right because they were so casual about something that seemed hard to understand. Ralph knew all too well the people being discussed. There was some mutual sighing and rolling of the eyes as certain names were mentioned as well as a discussion of the difference between being inspired by a performer and outright stealing material.
At this point I began to look around the office. Like many auto shops there were spare parts fastened to pegboard walls and other accoutrements of the shop, but what caught my eye were a variety of posters for some group called The South Texas Gunfighters. The posters featured old black-and-white photos of banditos in front of a saloon.
Back to John Wayne. As I listened to the Duke and Ralph swap stories, it became apparent they were two actors discussing the inner workings of a trade. Though I just walked in to get a thermostat replaced, I was really getting a glimpse into a sub-culture unknown to me — historical-recreation entertainment.
After John Wayne left I talked to Ralph to learn more. Ralph, or “Sancho Garcia” as he’s known outside the shop, is the leader of the banditos I saw on the poster. Ralph and his group get hired out for a variety of events — the Poteet Strawberry festival, the Peanut festival in Floresville, parties at dude ranches, as well as benefits for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
The performances are almost always different. Most recently, he and the boys hitchhiked onto tourist buses on the way to dude ranches and gave conventioneers from Iowa (or whereever) a taste of the Old West in the form of a surprise highway-robbery performance. All in good fun, of course, though I can imagine some tourists not catching on at first, and reaching for their wallet to buy off these windblown marauders, thereby making the joke all the more funny.
As we talked, the other mechanic Jeff (or “Dusty” as his alter ego is known) entered and told me that my car was ready. As I drove home I thought back to all the bad run-ins I’ve had with mechanics and I would say Ralph is probably the most honest mechanic I know. Whereas as some mechanics rob their customers for real, Ralph reserves his hijackings for the weekends when he’s “Sancho Garcia.”