Thursday, July 17, 2008

My final San Antonio Emmaus gathering

The Emmaus spiritual renewal movement, like all such renewal movements derived from the original Cursillo de Cristiandad, has as one of its "fourth day" features the monthly gathering together of folk who have been on a Walk to Emmaus, the initial three-day retreat. In the San Antonio area so many people have been Pilgrims that there are seven Fourth Day Groups, or local communities. Each has a monthly meeting, but twice a year we all gather together at some large church in whichever FDG is hosting that month. (The official local Emmaus community is the Southwest Texas Emmaus Community, co-extensive with the SWTX Conference of the UMC.)

Tuesday last (the 15th) we had our "July Joint FDG Gathering", hosted by the New Life FDG at Northern Hills UMC on the north side of Loop 1604. I got a ride there with Bill Clarke, who also had given me a ride to & from Men's Walk #1327.

The Gathering was wonderful, an almost overwhelming final blessing for yours truly! For one thing we turned out in droves -- over 300 attended, to be specific. And when the host Lay Director asked for indication of how many were from each of the constituent FDGs (plus visitors from other Emmaus communities), the number of folk who stood up at the mention of "Care Bexar" was simply exhilarating!

Instead of an actual "Fourth Day Talk" usually given during a monthly gathering, we saw a new film that the international office in Nashville is proposing to use as an alternative to the film "In Remembrance" that's probably been used since Emmaus got started in the Seventies (i.e., 1970s). The new film, "Dust", has a scholarly clergy fellow commenting about what it meant that Jesus the Nazarene was a Jewish rabbi with disciples. A Jewish blessing to be said to a disciple of such a roving rabbi in those days was, the narrator says, "May you be covered with the dust of your rabbi!" That is, the dust raised by a rabbi walking on the unpaved roads of rural Palestine would settle on the disciples who walked behind him. Interesting picture! Interesting film!

The songs we sang were fine; we sang using PowerPoint rather than the Emmaus songbooks, but I didn't mind. I didn't even mind the one song I didn't know. The prayer time was deep. Since there were so many, the Lay Director chose to simply pass the mike thru the crowd, first on his right and them on his left. When I had come to choosing a seat, I had wanted to sit with Rich and Joy Drady and others of Alamo Heights Christian Church, but there weren't any seats. Rich urged me to sit three rows up in the front row "because you're a front-row guy". And because I took the seat nearest the central aisle, I ended up being the final one to receive the mike.

Call this a "God thing". My final Emmaus meeting in S.A., and I get to be the last one to utter prayer praises and concerns! Thank you, gracious Lord!

Then, during the Lord's Supper distribution, when folk come forward to receive a piece of the loaf and dip it in the cup and partake (this method is called "intinction"), we sang "Here I Am to Worship" and two other songs.

. Here I am to worship, Here I am to bow down,
. Here I am to say that You're my God
. You're altogether lovely Altogether worthy,
. Altogether wonderful to me

I remember that I sensed that things were getting intense deep inside my heart, and my head threatened to leak. I found myself praying, "Dear Lord, please don't let 'Here I Am, Lord' be our closing song!" This song, a call to discipleship and ministry, is usually what we sing as the closing song of a monthly gathering. It's also one of my favorites even tho' it always puts me on the verge of tears by the third and final verse, And I KNEW that were we to sing it this evening I'd end up bawling like a baby.

Well, God heard my prayer! The closing song was "They'll Know We Are Christians" and that one I can handle!

Following the worship we adjourned to the church lobby for food and drink. As always at any Emmaus event I've ever attended, the food was plentiful. Once I'd consumed a plateful of the main potluck offerings -- veggies & dip, sandwiches, casseroles, etc. -- I went back for a plateful of dessert -- cakes, pies, cookies.

One dessert was a cake heavily covered with creamy white icing and over most of the top cherries in a thick sauce or syrup. It looked yummy, and I wasn't about to pass it by! However, as I started to serve myself a slice, Pat Hoover, my "prayer partner" for Kairos Briscoe #1, sauntered over and remarked to me, "Now, you know that's not good for you!"

I replied with a smile to her, "Well, I don't care! This is my final Emmaus event in Texas and I'm gonna celebrate!" We both laughed at my mock belligerence.

This Emmaus joint FDG gathering was only one of several farewell events that are and will occupy me during this month, before I move away. I've a lot of groups and individuals to whom I now must say «Adios. Que el Señor te (o les) bendiga hasta que nos vemos, o en esta jornada de la vida mortal o en la gloria del cielo». Or for you monolinguals, "Bye. May the Lord bless you 'til we meet again either in this mortal life or in Heaven." These include (but aren't limited to) my two church congregations, the "Mama's Men" Bible study that meets Wednesdays over breakfast at Mama's Café on Nacogdoches Road, Kairos and Emmaus bodies, my best friend in S.A., Joe Tovar. Etc.,etc. Whew! did I get involved in a bunch of spiritual relationships and friendships, or what?

Well, nevertheless, now I must say «Adios» to all of y'all in Texas. AND:

"Tennessee! Here I come, ready or not!"

Monday, July 07, 2008

Independence Day -- S.A. style!

Wow! We just celebrated the 232d anniversary of the declaration of independence of these United States! Here in San Antonio we partied in style!

Like many other citizens, my celebration began a bit early, that is, on Thursday nite. But NOT with fireworks or hot dogs or drinking! I went to prison. Getting a ride with Bill Havard (my "cellie" or roommate on the Team for Kairos Briscoe #2), I attended First Thursday Kairos Prayer & Share in the Dolph Briscoe Unit in Dilley. Due to a "guard-power" shortage we were back in the chapel for this one, rather than the gym. This kept the attendance down, and I missed seeing my "homie" from the Westside, Kevin, and others. But Porfirio and Luis from St. Peter's Table family on #2 and Jeremy from St. Luke's Family on #1 were there.

It was such a joy to be with the brothers in white this evening! And then it was all I could do as Bill drove us away afterward, to keep from bawling like a baby. You see, dear reader, I knew that I'd probably not see any of these brother Christians again this side of Heaven. Nor will I again see the interior of the Briscoe Unit, with its portrait of its namesake Texas Governor.

Next day, the actual holiday, I put such intense feelings aside, at least while I was working at Fiesta Texas. And hallelujah! we got another rain storm, one of several during these first days of July! Nevertheless, plenty of folk were buying tickets to enter the park and enjoy a day which would end in its spectacular fireworks show in place of the usual "Lone Star Spectacular".

But the theme park's Independence Day observation isn't the sole party for the holiday in Bexar County! The other theme park, Sea World, has its celebration, as do our military posts: Lackland AFB. Randolph AFB, and the US Army's Fort Sam Houston.

And THE "Fourth of July" party for San Antonio is the one at Woodlawn Lake. It features a variety of activities in the park around the lake, northwest of downtown and east of St. Mary's University. There's a parade around the lake, families camp out (or at least set up for some serious picnicking), a carnival, etc. One of my first two years here (before I began working at Fiesta Texas) I attempted to go to that one for at least the fireworks. However, traffic destined for the same goal as me slowed down the bus, and I ended up watching the nocturnal aerial show from the bus near the intersection of Woodlawn Avenue and Zarzamora Street.

Not THIS year! Leaving work at the theme park I came to Woodlawn Park from another direction; when traffic slowed the public transit down I got out and walked. I reached the east side of the lake just in time for the show. This viewing point was high on the east bank of the lake, in front of a community center, now for recreation but earlier a branch library. We had a good view across the lake, to the far shore of trees and what appeared to be a well-lit county-fair style carnival. Occasionally above the trees we'd get glimpses of fireworks in the far distance. I believe these were probably the display going on out at Sea World, which is in that direction.

The Woodlawn Lake fireworks got set off from a barge out in the middle of the small lake. While they were going up and bursting above us, recorded patriotic music was being played. (I couldn't detect if the melodious accompaniment came out of a general p.a. system or someone's high-volume boom box, but I'm pretty sure it was the former.) One of the songs was Lee Greenwood singing "God Bless the U.S.A." It put a lump in my throat, as I stood there relishing the celestial displays in the company of a mostly chicano audience, mostly from the Westside.

Next day the Independence Day party continued for me. Yeah, dear reader, it's true I was also back at work at Fiesta Texas. But on Saturday after clocking out from work I returned into the park as a Guest, just specifically for the park's fireworks show. (The theme park does it two consecutive nites annually.)

With a couple of hours before it would get dark en'uf for fireworks, I had time on my hands. So I attended a new show being offered in Zaragoza Theatre. It's called "Blast Fever" and features percussion and brass -- also copious choreography. Since the show opened its run, cart vendors have been selling tee-shirts and other souvenirs near Texas State Square, past the Zaragoza and toward the rear of the "Los Festivales" Mexican-theme area of the park. One of the tees features a dictionary-style definition of the word "blast". Number Two in the definition is "a party, particularly a wild party." The first time I read this I laughed and remarked, «¡una pachanga!» For you monolinguals, a pachanga is defined in Spanish-English dictionaries as "a rowdy or wild party".

"Blast Fever" commenced with a solo snare drummer on stage, giving the opening beat of Ravel's "Bolero". Instruments kept coming onstage and adding to the sound and the volume of the piece, just as it's supposed to be performed. And just as I heard it somewhere close to twenty times the evening I got initiated into Lambda Chi Alpha. I'm sure that for most folk my age "Bolero" sparks memories of the movie "Ten" and Bo Derek striding up out of the surf to that music. Not for me. Or probably any other Brother who was initiated in the Epsilon-Gamma Zeta house at 720 Deakin Ave. in Moscow, Idaho. I won't go into why "Bolero" was such a crucial part of our initiation ceremony; suffice it to say that the music is etched into our memories -- indelibly! What followed "Bolero" in "Blast Fever" was a drum solo, followed by a duet, both forgettable. But then there was a more "orchestral piece", a beautiful instrumental piece in which some of the artists came out and played in the audience area. Since it was a danceable number, I considered that if anybody else in the audience got up to dance I too would be cuttin' the rug in the aisles! The finale was a rather spectacular number with spectacular choreography. All in all, "Blast Fever" turned out to be a terrific show!

However, my chief purpose for returning into Fiesta Texas was for the "Lights of Liberty" fireworks show. It's preceded by a country-rock show on the stage of Lone Star Lil's Amphitheatre in the center of the park. And don't you know? One of the songs sung was "God Bless the U.S.A."! (Most of the numbers were simply popular country-rock, rock and country hits of recent years.)

When the country-rock show was finished I left the Amphitheatre. You see, my preferred viewing locale for the "Lights of Liberty" is on Texas State Square, just outside the former Mi Pueblito restaurant building. One gets a fine view of the blasts from there, backlighting the Boomerang ride. (And, strangely, folk are still riding that thing during the fireworks!)

This year I noticed that the park's pyro guys were using a new technique in their fireworks. I cannot accurately describe this, just that it sort of looks like an invisible paintbrush were making quick, short swipes with "spark paint" across the sky! And many of the more traditional bursts were of the "'Oohs!' and 'ahhs!'" quality. It was a great show, as always, and well worth the sticking around to see, even one day after the actual holiday!

Sunday the Sixth the party concluded with church observances. Actually, when I was at Alamo Heights Christian Church last Sunday (27 June) they were sort of observing the holiday THAT Sunday. Sort of jumping the gun, if you ask me.

Anyhow, I chose to wear the red-white-and-blue necktie that somewhat resembles Old Glory, that my best friend Joe had given me. And then when I got to Mexican Christian Church I found out that the pastor wanted me to be worship leader! And for that reason Sister Liz Sanchez was delighted I had worn a patriotic tie! I also chose to sing, solo and a capella, the Lee Greenwood song I'd heard so many times over the course of the holiday weekend. I invited everybody to join me in singing the final repeat of the chorus.

. And I'm proud to be an American,
. where at least I know I'm free!
. And I won't forget the ones who died,
. who gave that right to me.
. And I'd proudly stand up
. next to you and defend her still today.
. "Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land!
. God bless the U. S. A.!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

One More/Last Meeting with the Society

Last evening, it being the final Wednesday of June, I attended the general membership meeting of the San Antonio Conservation Society. These meetings are usually held in the River House on the bank of the San Antonio River behind the Steves Homestead in the historic King William neighborhood.

As I approached the River House I noticed a significant difference: the food was being served outdoors, to the right of the door. And the sign-in table was to the left. When I stepped inside, I saw that more seating was set up in the resulting space available by having the two activities outdoors. Apparently the Society was expecting a major turn-out of members, both Active and Associate (I'm in the latter category). And indeed, the May membership meeting had been so very well attended that we had standing room only.

The food was delicious! We ate meatballs, breads, and three salads. And indoors was a chocolate chocolate cake for dessert. Also liquid refreshments: wines, Bud Lite, lemonade, coffee and water.

Various officers' reports on the past year, since mid-2007, formed the main item on the Agenda. These included our President Marcie Ince's general account of the year's activities, successes and failures. One of the Vice Presidents' reports included an update on the digital billboard struggle. The Society has constantly opposed all manner of billboards and has been fighting since late last year to get the City Council to reverse its December '07 approval of the digital variety.

We also had the installation ceremony for the new officers, who had been elected by the Active membership last month. And finally the Actives got to vote for three new members of the Board of Directors, to fill recent vacancies. The candidate who received the most votes was Braxton Smith, a sharp-looking Afro-American gentleman. He and the second-most-votes recipient got two-year terms while the third candidate (with fewest votes) got the one-year term. Congrats to all!

While votes were being counted we were treated to a slide show (or PowerPoint?) about the Women's Pavilion that still stands on the HemisFair grounds. This will be renovated for new uses, one of which will be as a party room or getaway for leaders and officials of conventions meeting in the nearby San Antonio Convention Center.

You may ask, dear reader, why I commence this post with "One More/Last Meeting. . ." Well, it's because the very same day, Wednesday the 25th, I learned that my clergy standing with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has been reinstated. This wonderful news, sent by e-mail, clears the way for 1) me to pursue a calling I've had longer than I've done this blog and 2) for me to move back to Tennessee! The "calling" is to become a full-time prison chaplain. And the move is thanks to a visit I made there in mid-June. The visit was to explore the possibility of a reconciliation with my wife Ellen. After a very good lunch with her and her pastor, who gave us very sage counsel, and after a couple evenings of line dancing -- Ellen became active in line dancing for exercise and weight loss as well as the fun, during my residence in S.A. -- I flew back to Texas rather encouraged. And truly sensing that this, too, is God's "calling", the Lord's directive for me at this time in life.

Certainly these have been eventful years of living in San Antonio, "Party City", Texas. I shall miss the unique qualities and elements that make this city what it is. But I'm going back to family, and to the "greenest state in the Land of the Free!" Tennessee has its charms, too. The biggest, and one S.A. lacks, is family.

So, dear reader, cherish your family! And cherish the place you live! It's God's camping spot for you on the earthly journey of life, and they are your God-given companions for the journey!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Thursday, Juneteenth, A.D. 2008

Texas has several rather distinctive holidays, in addition to the special days celebrated all over these United States or the world. Of course there is Texas Independence Day, 2 March, which commemorates the declaration of Texas' independence from Mexico and the launching of her status as one of the sovereign nations of humankind. And there are the anniversaries of the fall of The Alamo, 6 March, and the Battle of San Jacinto, 21 April, when Texans and particularly San Antonians remember the events that led to that independence.

However, a most unique holiday in this state is Juneteenth, on 19 June. On that date in 1865 Union General Granger landed at Galveston and proclaimed that all slaves in the state were free. So, yup, citizens of black African heritage are the major -- but hardly the exclusive -- celebrators of Juneteenth! In the morning on my way to work, for example, this white bread wished folks a "Happy Juneteenth!" One of the first I greeted thus was an African-American young lady who works with me at Fiesta Texas. But believe me, I was "equal opportunity" in my spreading of the greeting!

Perhaps because of the holiday, I got a "wild hair" and decided to celebrate Juneteenth by attending the evening Texas League game of our AA minor league team, the San Antonio Missions, in Nelson Wolff Stadium. This despite listening on the radio the evening before while the hometown boys lost 7-2 to the visiting Corpus Christi Hooks.

As I approached the stadium following the long walk down Callaghan from the bus stop on Old Hwy. 90, I was listening to the broadcast of the game. And I could see that even tho' the game was already in the third inning, the lines at the ticket windows were still long. By the time I got to the window it was already the sixth, so I contented myself with purchasing a "grass berm" ticket -- just to get into the stadium.

Once inside I got in another long line, for a the concession stand, to purchase a couple slices of "dollar pizza" -- Thursday games at the Wolff are "Dollar Nites" with dollar pizzas, hot dogs, beer and soft drinks. Now, the dollar beer isn't a bargain (except compared to the regular price in stadiums); I know any number of convenience stores in the Alamo City where I can buy a 16-ounce Lone Star Lite for less than a dollar. And Wolff Stadium cups aren't any 16 ounces! Nevertheless, I took my pizza and beer and sat down at a nearby table to enjoy these while still listening to the broadcast of the game on KKYX-AM 680. Stu Paul and Roy Acuff (NOT the Roy Acuff of the Grand Ole Opry, who's been dead for some years now) do the play-by-play on the air.

What I heard while standing in lines and then eating was a very good game! Leastwise, from the hometown boys' side. Pitcher Stephen Faris pitched a good one, and most if not all the other Missions players contributed in their own ways. One name that always stands out as I listen to the broadcasts is Mike Baxter. He used to play for Vanderbilt University, and Stu or Roy will sometimes remark about how this "Yankee" by origin (the region, not the ML team!) wanted to play college ball in the prestigious Southeastern Conference. And how Vandy has a great baseball program -- and gr-r-r-reat academic credentials! Other names that always catch my attention are José Lobatón, from Venezuela, Drew Macías and Sean Kazmar.

Then I went up to the press-box and talked to my buddy Stu Paul. We've carried on an e-mail correspondence for several years, and some time back he'd invited me to come up any time to say "howdy". When he stood up to greet me I at once noticed that he had slimmed down quite a bit! I remarked on this and he filled me in on his weight-loss plan. We also jointly marvelled at the attendance for that evening and the previous evening's game. Indeed, while I was still up there in the press box word of the official attendance came: 7,538. This is the highest attendance figure for '08, and probably one of the highest in the history of Nelson Wolff Stadium!

I actually got to sit down and watch the top of the ninth inning. Since the Missions were already ahead 2-0 there was lots of celebrating going on already. And since the Hooks from the Gulf-shore city didn't score any runs in this final half inning, that remained the final score!

Go, Missions!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Baccalaureate for AHHS Class of '08

Sunday afternoon (1 June) I attended the Baccalaureate Service for the Class of 2008 of Alamo Heights High School. As with the other two times I attended, it was in the beautiful sanctuary of Alamo Heights UMC. And the pews were FULL -- of Seniors front & center, of families, of faculty and staff.

This time we also were treated to a special "graduate" who was present to give the Baccalaureate speech. You see, Dr. Jerry Christian, just-retired Superintendent of AHISD (see my post of May), began his time as "Number One Mule" when this class began kindergarten. And here he was, thirteen years later, leaving the school system at the same time as they (if for a slightly different reason and a different goal)!

Before "Dr. C", as he's affectionately known in the district, began his speech we were treated to some beautiful music. Prelude music was by organ and trumpet; these continued during the Processional of the Seniors into the sanctuary. This processional piece was "Rondeau" by Mouret, which contains rousing trumpet phrases. The entire congregation stood to sing the hymn "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" which is set to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy". Following the Invocation and a Scripture reading, the Girls Choir of AHHS treated us to "I Will Lift Up My Voice". This piece had a special interest for me: during two days of sub-teaching for choir teacher/director Angus McLeod a couple months ago I had been blessed to listen to the young ladies practice this piece, among others. They had sounded sweet in practice, and today sounded even sweeter singing it in the church! Then just before the "Message to Graduates" by "Dr. C", a young lady, accompanied by a young man with guitar and refrain harmony, sang "I Hope You Dance". This song, a great country music hit by Lee Ann Womack, has such appropriate lyrics for the significant rite of passage that is high school graduation!

And yes, my head started to leak. For the second time. The first was when the seniors processed in to those stirring trumpet notes of "Rondeau" by Mouret. You know, dear reader, I think it's not good for me to attend these AHHS baccalaureates! The first time I was here was okay. But last year as the Class of '07 processed in, it came to me that I'd started my sub-teaching at their school halfway thru their Freshman year, and thus I witnessed their mental and emotional growth as they acquired classroom knowledge! I was torn between sharing their happiness at their special occasion, wishing them well in their future plans, and sorrowing that I'd get to see few if any of them ever again.

And this time, if anything, the intensity of emotional conflict was greater, because I'd seen the Class of '08 since almost the first day they began their four years of high school! In a way it was harder on me than when my own two flesh-and-blood graduated from their high schools: THEN I'd had intense feelings for just one graduate at a time -- and this time it was for hundreds all at once!

And then we heard the "Message to Graduates". Our retiring Superintendent "Dr. C" did a fine job inspiring and exhorting them. Of course he made note right at the start, of that special connection he had with them, by commencing his formal association with the District when they did and by now retiring even as they were about to receive their diplomas. He shared an anecdote from a visit he'd paid years ago to a kindergarten classroom; later he reflected back on this incident, and commented how precious kindergartners are, "for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven!" Wow! did I appreciate his citing of our Savior's teaching!

Afterward I told him that since he shared three points in the message (not to mention also its spiritual content), he would make a great preacher! He agreed with a smile, that indeed he'd made three major points. And then all of us made our way to the AHUMC's Christian Life Center (a combo fellowship hall and gym) for tasty refreshments.

I personally congratulated several of the Seniors about their high school graduation. One beautiful young coed told me that she was planning to attend Vanderbilt University. I cheered, and then shared how I received a Master of Arts in Latin American Studies from that venerable institution. I also warned her to "get ready to live in the Library!" Ha, ha! And I know that several of the AHHS Class of '08 will be attending TCU, the Texas institution of higher learning where I've also done graduate studies.

But. . . for the next couple of days they can focus on celebrating their graduation from high school. And yours truly can deal with my emotions at their passage away from me and AHHS and into the future. And pray for their success and for blessings on their future!

Friday, May 30, 2008

A Party of a Dedication!

Since I'm on the Citizens Advisory Council for VÍA Metro Transit, I received a mailed invitation to today's dedication ceremony for a new transit center on the South Side. Students in the Alamo Heights ISD are suffering Final Exams; thus, I don't have any more sub-teaching jobs, so I went to this dedication. It was in mid-morning, and when I left early to do an errand en route to the party, the windiness made it sufficiently cool that I donned a suit coat as well as dress shirt, slacks and tie. My coat lapel sported a lapel pin celebrating VIA's 30th anniversary, which had been given to me in March by the company. It gave me one more reason to "dress up" a bit more than I might have in this unusually hot and humid end of May.

The new Transit Center, which doesn't open to the public and for use by bus lines 'til 9 June, is beside IH 35, across the Interstate from South Park Mall and just northeast of Zarzamora. It's also going to be the training facility for VÍA operators, with that activity to be housed in a separate building. A few weeks ago it was announced that the new facility was to be formally named the Senator Frank L. Madla Transit Center and Training Facility. The late State Senator -- whose untimely and tragic death is covered in my posting of 28 November 2006 -- represented the South Side.

As I approached the main building, inside which the party was to take place, I saw that indeed its silhouette or general outline was like the building at Kel-Lac Transit Center, opened a few years ago and after I began serving on the CAC. Unlike Kel-Lac, where the outside walls are covered with horizontally-corrugated metal paneling which give it the look of a cubical approximation of a Quonset Hut, the Madla Center facility has good-sized rectangles of a tile-like material, mostly snow-white but with a few in some bright color like red or blue.

When I entered I saw a great crowd -- almost wall-to-wall -- who were enjoying the lovely sound of a teenage mariachi group dressed in black and silver charro outfits. From the program I found out that they were from South San HS, which is probably the closest high school, being just a few blocks beyond the other side of the Interstate. I realized that I had inadvertently entered thru what was effectively the "back door" for the ceremony, and that programs were across the room at the other door (effectively the "front door"). So I passed thru the crowd, received a program (a half-size sheet) and found a place to sit. This was on one of the curving blue-painted metal benches that will provide seating for waiting riders when the transit center begins serving the public. There were also several chairs brought in and set up for additional seating -- but still there were plenty of folk who had to stand.

The mariachis finished and VÍA Public Affair's Priscilla Engle commenced the formal program by introducing the Madla family, VÍA Board and Administrators and local elected officials present. Then Father Flanagan, Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of San Antonio prayed the invocation and the blessing on the facility. He was rather long-winded and a bit repetitive, but I attribute this (at least in part) to his advanced age. Then VÍA Chairman Eddie Herrera gave the first speech. He, like subsequent speakers, paid tribute to the late Senator and his support for public transit, and lauded the facility and its importance to the South Side: it's the first such transit facility on the South Side (unless one counts the one beside McCreless Mall, which recently became history, as did the mall). Herrera also pointed out that Leo López, who just ended his term on the VÍA Board and was present in a white guayabera (rather than his usual Board meeting apparel of suit and tie, regardless of outdoor heat), was responsible for the suggestion that the new transit center for Madla's South Side be named in his memory.

Other speakers included the two County Commissioners present: Tommy Adkisson (Precinct 4) and Sergio "Chico" Rodriguez (Prec. 1). Commissioner Adkisson is a tireless supporter of VÍA and of improvement in the transit and traffic infrastructure of Bexar County.

Also present and speaking was State Senator Leticia Van de Putte. When I first read her name on the program I frowned. During the first year or so that I lived here she and Mike Villarreal led a small group of Democrat legislators who fled the lege's session in the Capitol, sneaking to New Mexico so as to prevent a quorum for voting. It was their cowardly tactic for preventing votes that they knew would go against them due to the Republican majority. And I'd hated this cowardice, considering it unworthy of heirs of The Alamo defenders' heroism! Thus initially I wasn't happy about her presence. But I mused that I ought to leave aside my animosity for the time being and listen to her words of dedication without prejudice. Senator Van de Putte's speech actually was very good! So good it turned around my attitude toward her!

City Councilman Cortez, in whose district the Madla Transit Center is located, also spoke. I had seen him, and he me, only a few hours earlier, when I addressed the Council during "Citizens to Be Heard". Only today the Councilman lacked a necktie! So after the program I couldn't help but greet him with, "Didn't we see each other just a few hours ago? Only now you look kinda naked!" as with a grin I pointedly stroked my tie. He grinned back.

Another speaker was the late Senator's son, Frank Jr. When he finished, he and his mother unveiled a plaque on the wall, which proclaimed the facility's naming after the Senator, whose bas-relief portrait was on the plaque. Then we were invited to enjoy some more performance by the mariachis from South San, and to partake of refreshments. These latter were pastries of various kinds, and chunks of fruit. CAC Chairman Bill Martin joked with me, that he KNEW the food was why I had come. Years ago he'd taken note of my frequent trips to the cookie table at VÍA Board or CAC meetings! I wasn't the only butt of Bill's humor, tho': he also remarked that today was the first time he had seen Leo López sans suit and tie!

After sufficient refreshment I enquired about the training facility and if it were available for touring. I was told that yes, it was. So yours truly almost zipped over to "inspect" it. You see, dear reader, education of all types is "in my blood". I was delighted and not surprised to see that the two rooms inside come equipped with projectors at the center of the ceiling. At Alamo Heights HS I had noticed that this year the classrooms there were likewise equipped with these projectors and accompanying screens near the wall, which can be used to show videos, DVDs or Power Point. I'd say that the Sen. Frank L. Madla Transit Center and Training facility is "state of the art".

Afterward I got a ride on a charter bus (one of VÍA's own), up IH 35 to the VIA Admin Building. During this I enjoyed pleasant conversation with other riders, who all had some formal connection with VÍA, most being administrators or employees. Bill Martin also rode, and then gave me a ride home. Thus went yet another party in "Party City" San Antonio! I justifiably call this dedication a "party" because there were entertainment and refreshments both solid and liquid.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day (Weekend) in S.A.

When I was a boy growing up in Boise, I remember well, Memorial Day was always on 30 May. (This was before the Monday holiday bill was passed by a Congress more interested in catering to their leisure-craving, pleasure-seeking constituents than in seeking to ensure that we Americans might remember WHY certain holidays were being observed.) Public schools always let out on 30 May for Memorial Day, and Dad, Mom, sister Debbie and I would go get Grandma Graham and go decorate Grandpa Graham's grave in Boise's Cloverdale Cemetery. Cloverdale is like Arlington and other national cemeteries, in that all tombstones are alike. Due to the family custom, it was only well into my adult years that I discovered that Memorial Day wasn't really for remembering all the dead but rather for honoring the military dead, especially those who died in combat.

Considering the all-too-often-forgotten true reason for the holiday, it's not surprising that Memorial Day is observed with fervor in San Antonio. This city is often called a "military town" due to its crucial Army post, Fort Sam Houston, its two Air Force installations (that used to be four) including Lackland AFB, the "Gateway of the Air Force" where all enlistees get their basic training, and its large military retiree population. Well, all this and the historic fact that a military post of some sort has existed here since four days after the initial Franciscan mission was founded, since on that day el Presidio de San Antonio de Béxar came into existence to defend that mission.

So, don't be surprised, dear reader, that I participated in a Memorial Day-oriented event. It was the Tobin Endowment Concert on Fort Sam, featuring S.A.'s own world-class Symphony. My brother Patrick came and got me in mid-afternoon and took me to his quarters. While my sister-in-law LaRae was preparing other food items, he grilled beef for fajitas out on the front porch.

During this food preparation, we had a video tele-conference with our sister Debbie in Berkeley, California. She'd just received her M.Div. at an Episcopal seminary there and Mom was visiting her. On our end we were three: LaRae, Patrick and me. And on their end, way out west, they were three: Debbie, Mom and Teresa, Debbie's friend.

Adding to the excitement of this unprecedented "family reunion" of sorts, was that the Phoenix spacecraft landed on the planet Mars, and we all followed the landing on television! Here we watched the Science Channel coverage; we could also have viewed it on the NASA Channel -- Patrick and LaRae get hundreds of channels thru Fort Sam. The folk in Berkeley had some other channel on; it was interesting to compare notes on what each network was covering. It was touching when the Phoenix spacecraft had landed safely, and the scientists and engineers in Mission Control cheered wildly and hugged one other. This reminded me of my boyhood, when we'd all follow televised coverage of, first the Mercury space flights, then Gemini, then the Apollo moon voyages. There WAS a striking visual difference. Way back then, on our black-and-white screen were white males in white dress shirts and dark ties; now we were seeing a mixture of genders and races, all garbed in dark blue polo shirts.

After the excitement of the Phoenix landing and of the Graham family tele-reunion (or family e-reunion) we three on Fort Sam devoured beef fajitas and accompanying items. Yum, yum! Then, as the sun approached the western horizon, we went to the same area of the very-long MacArthur Field where this year's Fiesta Fort Sam had taken place. We found seats on low, aluminum bleachers at the edge of the field just as the program commenced.

Emcee Joe Pags, a WOAI radio personality, greeted everybody and introduced a couple of officials who spoke briefly. They were US Senator John Cornyn and County Judge Nelson Wolff. Then the Conductor took over the program and led the San Antonio Symphony in an eclectic musical celebration. Much of it was patriotic music, since this WAS a Memorial Day concert. And since this IS an Army post in a military city (as explained in my second paragraph), the Symphony presented the anthems of the five armed services. Members and veterans of each branch were invited to stand up and sing during their anthem. Being used to these commencing with the Army's, as happens in Fiesta Texas' "Lone Star Spectacular" -- which I'd seen for the first time in '08 just last Saturday night -- as soon as I heard musical notes coming from the stage and the Symphony, I stood up. Only then I realized that what they started with this evening was the Navy anthem! I'm glad that in the darkening dusk nobody could see my reddening face!

We heard Sousa marches and "America the Beautiful", and the finale was Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture". Yes, dear reader, the one with booming cannons, or howitzers as we call them in the Army. And wow! the fireworks show was even more spectacular than those I'd see at other Fort Sam events!

Thus, even tho' I had to work at the theme park on the observed Memorial Day, I still remembered. And celebrated -- with family! And some unusual elements (the Mars landing and the video tele-reunion)!

A "Christian" who's a Christian!

Last Friday was truly a busy day for yours truly (no pun intended). After returning from the TDCJ security re-training in Dilley, I changed my clothes and went to the Muledome at Alamo Heights High School. This was the site for the formal retirement ceremony for the AHISD Superintendent Dr. Jerry Christian. I was late arriving, and cannot speak for what activities I missed. (These were probably performances by various student groups.) However, I did get to witness the farewell speeches and presentations of various officials, including the honoree himself.

Superintendent Christian has something in common with yours truly: a weight problem. Thanks to the speeches and to a slide show of his life (from baby pictures on!), found out that we two had more significant things in common!

In my four plus years of working in the AHISD as a substitute teacher I had developed a deep respect for the Superintendent. Indeed, from the first time I met "Dr. C", as he's affectionately called around the School District, I held one of those sensations that once in a great while I get upon meeting a certain person for the first time: that this person is very, very good at what he or she does and is someone well worth knowing. To be sure, I'd long ago concluded that the excellent reputation of the school district was due at least in part to great leadership, of the "Super" as well as of the School Board.

But on top of such esteem I also harbored a strong sense that with this man "Christian" wasn't just his family name, that it was his heart's faith, too. And such turned out to be the case. His successor is Dr. Kevin Brown, formerly the capable Director of Personnel for AHISD. Kevin, I think it was, in his speech this evening in the Muledome, made mention of Jerry Christian's faith and how it had informed his work as Superintendent. Other speakers may also have referred to the faith element in the retiree's life and work. But when "Dr. C" himself was speaking, placing much emphasis on his family -- all of his children, grandchildren and siblings were in attendance -- he remarked that a highlight of his life had been when he baptised his own son! Well! can I relate to that or what? You see, I'm blessed to remember that I immersed both of my children, and likewise those two baptisms are highlights of my memories!

So the two of us share not only a love of public education and a love of eating but also a faith in Christ. But wait! there was more! One of the slides in the slide show pictured "Dr. C" playing an acoustic guitar. Well "me too" on that talent (or hobby at least)! And during his speech, the retiree stepped away from the podium and to a nearby piano, to play us one of his favorite songs while he sang it. And once again, me, too, on this talent (or hobby at least)! However, I admit that I haven't played the piano much since the lessons ceased toward the end of my seventh grade year. I know I wouldn't have sounded as good on the ivories as did Jerry Christian this evening!

All in all, the retirement ceremony was a memorable celebration of memories. In which we of Alamo Heights honored one who had provided memorably excellent leadership for an excellent school district.

Re-training for Kairos (prison security)

When one serves as a volunteer in prisons, as I do with Kairos Prison Ministry, the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice requires that the volunteer go thru a course every couple of years. This course of a few hours refreshes one's knowledge of procedures for prison volunteers and for their relationships with inmates. I did this refresher training on Friday the 23rd, in the Dolph Briscoe Unit.

For a short time I was concerned about getting to Dilley for the training. You see, several days earlier I's arranged with Ross Hoover to get a ride with him to it. But then when I got home Thursday evening and checked my phone messages I heard one from Ross, that he wasn't going to be going after all; he'd just become a grandfather and was driving to Houston instead for the "blessed event"! Well good for him -- but not so great for me; immediately I began making phone calls to see if anybody going to take me along with him. And thus I missed the AHHS Choir's spring concert, which I'd eagerly anticipated all semester. "Oh, well!" to this latter, and "Not to worry!" to the former.

You see, the result was that I got a ride with Ed Palow, who was my roommate on Kairos Briscoe #1. We're both ordained clergy of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and are decidedly on the conservative end of the theological spectrum among Disciples clergy. Indeed, Ed considers himself as affiliated with "Disciples Heritage", a group that seeks to maintain the original focus of the leaders who commenced the Restoration Movement that became the Churches of Christ (noninstrumental), the "independent" Christian Churches and the Disciples of Christ. Anyhow, the two of us carried on a non'stop conversation all the way to Dilley (about one and a half hours, about Kairos, the recently-retired Area Minister of the Bluebonnet Area (CC-DC) John Callison, and several other areas of mutual interest. Among other items, I shared my impressions of the Closing for Kairos Torres #19 (see the previous posting). Then we ate at Millie's, a café that I'd recently been told was where the Dilley locals went for breakfast, and then would go to Pacho Garcia's for lunch or dinner.

And then, when the two of us arrived at the Briscoe Unit, we discovered that the refresher training was to commence at ten, and not at nine (as the most recent e-mail had suggested). But Chaplain Jerry Satterlee came out to the sally port (the front gate) to meet us anyways. I introduced him to Ed, who hadn't been at Briscoe in a very long time and thus had never met the new chaplain. Chaplain Jerry led us into the administration building and into a room to the right, where the training would take place. The three of us talked awhile, and then the chaplain excused himself to see to other things prior to the training. Ed and I continued chatting and sort of watching the television that was on in the room.

Eventually about a dozen other volunteers arrived; we were not all Kairos but we all did have connection with the chaplain's office. Also arriving was Captain Owens, who taught the security course. For most of us it was a refresher course, but a couple of fellows were getting the info for the first time. So it was lengthy and detailed, and numerous questions were asked for clarification. This was okay with me. It had been at least three years since I'd had any security training, so it was a heavy-duty refresher class for me! Indeed, I found out that one activity I did innocently was questionable by TDCJ rules. I won't be doing this again!

When the training was finished about a half dozen of us went to Millie's for a late lunch. And then Ed and I hit the road (Interstate Highway 35) north back to San Antonio. And all the way we were carrying on further conversation. . . .