Tuesday, August 29, 2006

San Antonio & last year's storms

If you've paid any attention to current news, particularly of the printed genre (newspapers), you'll know that we're at the anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina came ashore and dealt its deadly blows against the city of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Louisiana & Mississippi. That was such a sad time, back then. Imprinted in my memory lies a photo from the front page of the San Antonio daily, showing an Afro-American woman wearing a print dress typical of middle-aged women, floating dead, face down in the floodwaters. Yes, it was horrible!

And then within a month, Hurricane Rita stormed ashore further to the west. She had her deleterious effect on the region still reeling from Katrina, plus visiting damage on southeast Texas.

Far stronger in my memory than that photo of the dead victim in New Orleans is memory of my city's response to the two storms and to those negatively impacted by them. San Antonio REALLY stepped in and helped our coastal neighbors! Tens of thousands of evacuees, mostly from the Big Easy, swelled our population for several months. This city was ready to aid them, and gave the evacuees a strong welcome and assistance. Even VÍA buses got in on the action, giving free rides to resident evacuees, so they could get around the city for immediate help of all kinds, to find shelter more comfortable than the temporary group lodging arranged in old hangars, an abandoned factory and a mostly vacant shopping mall, and to seek out employment either for the duration or permanently. It says A LOT about our welcome and assistance, that many, many New Orleans evacuees have chosen to make the Alamo City their new residence (and to not return to New Orleans).

Then came Rita. Again, San Antonio and VÍA went into action, as buses were sent to Corpus Christi to help in the evacuation of the Gulf Coast city. Turned out this evacuation wasn't needed, since the hurricane took a more easterly trajectory. But then, we saw lots of folk from the Houston-Galveston-Beaumont area. And thank goodness, these evacuees weren't as numerous as those from the previous storm. And Rita wasn't quite the ogre either that Katrina had been.

As the news media reminds of this sad anniversary, the sadness of the memories of the storms is lightened by the memory of how San Antonio responded! This city knows how to party; we also know how to work hard at helping neighbors less fortunate!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Summer slouches toward terminus

This past week has been a different one in some ways. Instead of taking the bus to work at Fiesta Texas daily (or most days) I've worked a few days at my other job, as substitute teacher in the Alamo Heights ISD. And I've had "free time", to catch up on the many items that had been set aside during the busy summer weeks at the theme park.

That school classes are back in session and Fiesta Texas is now open only on weekends may SAY that summer's over. But the thermometer most assuredly isn't saying the same! The daily high remains what it's been all thru August: at or above 99 F! And the drought that has afflicted Texas for months (since '05) rages on. Not exactly comfy weather for the learning environment!

Last Friday, as I was leaving Fiesta Texas on the final work Friday of '06, two things were on my mind. One, I had survived a double shift with a bad back (which I had injured the day before on the VÍA bus arriving at the themepark's employee bus stop). And two, I was feeling a sort of "separation anxiety" that I wouldn't be working daily at the park any more (at least in '06) and for only three more Saturdays to boot.

Yup, it sure felt, in a sort of spiritual way, that summer was indeed at its sad end. But. . . this HEAT! ! !

Add to your consideration, that folk in these United States consider the Labor Day weekend to be the "official" or "informal" end of the summer season -- but nevertheless the calendar end of summer is the equinox, occurring on or around 21 September. So-o-o, exactly WHEN does the "dog days" season have its terminus? Eh? ? ?

Meanwhile, what is continuing on is this HEAT! ! !

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Mexican mother, German father

Or maybe it's "Mexican father, German mother"? Either way, in this blog posting I offer rumination (there's that word again!) upon why it may be that San Antonio is what she is, specifically, a city whose middle name is "PARTY".

Because the main train depot at Fiesta Texas is in the German theme area of the amusement park, called Spassburg or "Fun Town", I've been doing a little investigation of the Deutsch language and German culture. Years ago, I must confess, I was prejudiced against Germans and all things German. They were the people who had sparked two world wars with their aggressive militarism, had put the despicable Nazis in power and exterminated millions of humans simply for being Jewish, Slavic, gypsy or whatever. But in the past decade or so the prejudice has been eroded by various factors. Perhaps most significant was that there was a native German lady at my church in Clarksville, Tennessee, who was a cherished sister in Christ. There wasn't anything about her to not appreciate, so why should I hang onto any remaining bias against the Deutsche, their language or culture/history?

More currently, a couple of my fellow train crew members on the Fiesta Texas RR were of German heritage. In fact, one related to me that he didn't learn English until he began school because everyone in the small town of his raising spoke either German or Spanish or both. (An interesting side note: in the mid-1800s the one bridge over the San Antonio River had a sign giving brief instructions for walking horses across it in Spanish, German and English -- a trilingual sign, reference to which always causes me to think of history's most infamous trilingual sign, the one Pontius Pilate ordered nailed atop the cross of Jesus.)

So-o-o-o. . . I've done a little reading this summer. Just a little, since I spent so much time either at work or going to and from work on the VÍA bus system. One of the books I read had a brief introduction by a sort of American ex-patriate living in Deutschland. His most interesting point, for me, was that next to the Spaniards the Deutsche are the most partying people in Europe.

Oh??? Hm-m-m-m!!! Well, then, perhaps THIS explains San Antonio's partying nature! Join the original settlers of this city, that is, the Spaniards and the Spanish-indigenous (that is, mestizo) Mexicans in union with the Deutsche who arrived from their Fatherland in the mid-1800s, and one might just ahve a very strong foundation for the party nature of this eighth largest US city! Or to metaphor it: join a Mexican mother to a German father in cultural marriage and the resulting entity (the city of San Antonio) will be born, crying "¡Hagamos fiesta!" ("Let's have a party!" or "Let's make merry!")

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Rattler bit me!

It's no secret to those who have known me a long time, that for much of my life I have had serious issues with heights (a.k.a. acrophobia). In the late '90s I more or less overcame the fear, thanks to the final ride installed in Opryland USA themepark before it closed for good. That ride was "The Hangman", a hanging & therefore floorless roller coaster.

When I began working seasonally at Fiesta Texas in '04, I remembered how "The Rattler" wooden roller coaster was the feature ride when the park had opened in '92, and how because some riders complained of injuries -- whiplash or the like -- the ride had had to be "tamed" as it were. That first summer of '04 I had entered the park on an off-from-work day and had considered riding even The Rattler -- until I witnessed how when the cars came down from circling around in a loop and then ascended a straight stretch back up to the top of the old quarry cliff the wooden structure VISIBLY shook from side to side perhaps five feet!

No wonder the wooden coaster was named "The Rattler"! Now my employee training had stressed to me that at Six Flags parks it was "Safety first last and always!" Nevertheless my heart told me that "sure as shootin', you get on The Rattler and it'll fall apart right at that point right when your car gets there!"

So-o-o, for over two years I hadn't even considered riding the thing. But remember the "Crew Ride" I had won? (See Sunday, 30 July blog entry.) Well, last Wednesday evening that raffle winning turned into a ride on The Rattler. All thru the day, whenever I was working as depot agent at the Western station (which looks right at that straight stretch that "rattles" so) I was busy psyching myself up to do the ride.

And I did it! Yup, I've been a rider on The Rattler, the largest & fastest wooden coaster when the themepark first opened -- if not still the same.

But the manmade beast really did "bite" me! During my spiel as conductor on the train, while passing under the coaster I would conclude with "The Rattler is a ride with quite some bite!" Well, when I stood up to exit the car my lower back was in pain. By the time I walked all the way across the themepark to the employee entrance and caught the bus home I felt better. So I only gave it further tho't during the infrequent twinge of pain before going to bed and after arising the next day.

However, the venom kicked in when I got to work at the park. You see, the express bus VÍA provided Thursday morning was one of its old RTS types, with two significant steps up to get on the bus and very cushy cushions on the seats. When I stood up to get off at the employee bus stop, oh! the pain and agony in my lower back! It was all I could do just to descend those two big steps to get to the ground. And then I had to get word to the park's First Aid to come to my rescue.

Let me give credit where credit is due. First Aid took such good care of my back pain that after two hours of being there I felt well en'uf to still do my final hours on the train. And the next day I did a double shift. The pain is still there in my lower back, I'm still taking Ibuprofen and applying relaxing heat to my lower back muscles. But I'm able to function!

So-o-o! I've now ridden The Rattler. And been bitten by the same and survived!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Salsa Mora's Café has gone

When I got acquainted with Joe, my best friend here, who drives a VÍA bus route that runs up and down Zarzamora Street on the Westside, I would simply ride his bus along the street to converse, whenever time permitted. It was then that I noticed that at the corner of Zarzamora and Durango there was a Mexican café with the name Salsa Mora's. Cute pun-type name! (Be aware that in Spanish the "z" is pronounced "s" and you'll understand the pun employing the street's name!)

After several months I decided that it was time to go in to Salsa Mora's and see if the Mexican food were as good as the name was cute. And thus I discovered that the café was owned and managed by Rudy Zamora! I had worked for Rudy a couple of times when I was a waiter at Jim's Restaurant and he an assistant manager. And now he had his own eatery! On the Westside, no less!

Just knowing the manager/owner would have earned points for Salsa Mora's, to me. But the food wasn't bad; it was typical of locally-run (v. chain) Mexican café fare. Another "plus" were the many paintings by José Villarreal, a Westside artist. Many of his paintings depicted life on the Westside. My favorites were "Las Mañanitas de Mi Madre" which showed a characteristic abuelita ("Granny") smiling out the screen door of her Westside home at a mariachi band serenading her, and an untitled painting simply showing a typical Westside cottage or casita decorated for Navidad ("Christmas").

This past Sunday (the Sixth) I chose to eat Sunday dinner at Salzamora's (Rudy's re-spelling of the name), since I hadn't eaten there in a few weeks. Am I glad I chose to eat there! As soon as I entered, I noticed the walls were bare of Villarreal's paintings and it otherwise looked comparatively barren. Then I saw Rudy and approached him. He told me that this very day was the final day for his café.

When I asked him why, Rudy replied, "Because I'm starving here! When I bo't the place I gave myself three years to make a success of it [and it hadn't happened]."

This analysis took me by surprise, because whenever I'd eaten at the café it was busy. (To be honest, I usually ate after church on Sundays, but I had been in a couple of times on weekdays, too.) Nevertheless, Rudy made it clear that he just wasn't drawing a clientele except at midday on Sundays.

Alas! I shall miss my friend Rudy. And I shall miss eating at what had been probably my favorite Mexican restaurant/café here in San Antonio. I pray Godspeed on Rudy and blessings of success in his next enterprise.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Of sparrows and squirrels

Lately, whenever I work the closing shift or a double on the Fiesta Texas Railroad, I've ended up at the German depot during the time the train is down for the park's parade. (This parade is a new feature, at 4 PM daily, celebrating 45 years since the first Six Flags park opened its gates in Arlington, Texas.) The train spends the "down time" at the other depot, the Western one, so all the rest of the crew is over there.

But I'm not lonely! If nothing else, while I tidy up the depot I can enjoy the broadcast of recorded German music. It's instrumental waltz, march or oom-pah, with one vocal. This latter is Ein Prosit der Gemutlichkeit, a drinking toasting song. Also, we have a family of sparrows and also one grey squirrel who like to visit the vacant (except for me) depot. If I've finished my tidying up I will rest and just enjoy watching the birds or the furry friend move around the station paving. The sparrows hop and the squirrel scampers, as they seek out any left-over crumbs. There are always a few crumbs I managed to overlook during the clean-up!

And I'm most certainly NOT ALONE! God is there, too! In Matthew 28:20, among other verses in the four Gospels, Jesus Himself promised that He is "with you alsways, to the end". And I firmly believe that Jesus was not promising this to those present, but to all of His disciples everywhere then AND now! David, in the Shepherd's Psalm (Ps. 23), affirms of and to the shepherding God, that "You are with me". In the Emmaus order of worship there is an affirmation of faith. It begins "We are not alone" and it ends "We are not alone; God is with us; thanks be to God!" And sometimes as I watch the furry friend or the feathered familythere at the depot, the Creator and I carry on a conversation without audible words, about the sheer joy of His creation -- even in these small inhabitants of that creation!

NOTE: The two depots on the Fiesta Texas RR have various names. The names on the buildings themselves are "Der Pilger Bahnhof" and "Whistle Stop 39". The train crew personnel when answering the phone at either depot generally will say, "Spassburg" or "Crackaxle" (or "Crack" for short). The terms "German" and "Western" I picked up, I think, from printed employee material. BTW, the depot name in Spassburg means "The Pilgrim Depot" in Deutsch.

Of La Prensa, Nite-Out, Castro & Cuellar

San Antonio used to have two daily English-language newspapers. But around A.D. 1993 the better of the periodicals, the San Antonio Light, went defunct. Nowadays, in addition to the Express-News daily, S.A. has two or three regular Spanish or bilingual journals. The oldest of these is La Prensa. It prints articles in Spanish and also about as many others in English. Likewise, photo captions may be either language. Most issues of La Prensa contain a main news section and other sections of Deportes (Sports) and of Cultura (society/culture). I enjoy reading La Prensa, since it both keeps me up on local events from a chicano perspective and on my Spanish reading comprehension.

On 2 August La Prensa on its front page covered the National Night-Out of the previous day ("day" literally, since at City Hall there was a "lighting ceremony in mid-morning!). I had gone to the Witte Museum Tuesday evening the First, primarily to view the special exhibit "A Wild and Vivid Land: South Texas stories", but also to engage in the NNO event(s). There were some very interesting displays for the NNO, altho' most were definitely oriented to kids and/or families with small children. But I am glad that this national observance is going on, and apparently growing stronger each year!

Also on the front page of La Prensa two photos caught my eye: Fidel Castro of Cuba in one and in the other Congressman Henry Cuellar who in DC represents portions of South Texas from S.A. to Laredo. What struck me was that both men were wearing dark suits, white shirts and red neckties! Hm-m-m! I can just hear some late-nite TV pundit crack some joke about how politicians look (or dress) the same, no matter where they are on the left-right political ideology spectrum! Hm-m-m!