Monday, September 25, 2006

107 years of witness on the Westside!

Two years ago I read an announcement about, and then attended, the worship and celebration at Mexican Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of its 105th anniversary. I was charmed by the little bilingual church on the Westside. Eventually I became a member, while retaining membership in Alamo Heights Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which the year previously had celebrated "only" its 50th.

Yesterday, Sunday, Mexican Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) celebrated its 107th anniversary as an organized church congregation. We also celebrated the 81st anniversary of the church building. Some time back I found out, to my surprise, that not only is this congregation the first Spanish-speaking Disciples of Christ church nationwide, it's also the oldest Disciples congregation here in San Antonio!

The morning worship was blessed and delightful! We had probably three times the usual number of worshippers in attendance. This included both of our regular preachers of the past year or so, Andy Villarreal and Desiderio Del Pozo, and their wives. With a little encouragement from one of our congregational leaders, I led us at the opening with five praise songs instead of the usual three. And all thru the service there was an atmosphere of reverence before the Lord and thankfulness for the over a century of Christian witness here on the Westside. Also, I noticed that most of the men were wearing suits and ties; usually during the summer only the preacher would wear a suit and tie, and I would be the only other man even wearing a necktie!

One feature of the annual anniversary worship service at Mexican Christian Church is the presentation of the "Disciple Award" to somebody. This time it was presented to Robert Santana, a life-long member and one of our Elders, along with his two sons. These three men have done much work to keep up our 81-year-old building. In fact, only a week or so earlier they had stripped, cleaned and re-waxed the downstairs floor.

And downstairs we went after the Benediction, to enjoy the traditional anniversary dinner. As is true of EVERY church meal I've ever attended -- to include Emmaus events -- the food was plentiful and delicious. And I must confess that I ate too much. In fact, the piece of birthday cake I took remained partly uneaten, I was that full! And I did my traditional after-dinner custom at Mexican Christian Church: there is a fairly new (to the church) sofa beside and below the landing for the steps up out of the fellowship hall (to go to the chapel or to further stairs up to the main sanctuary). This sofa is VERY comfortable to rest upon -- especially with a full stomach. I take full advantage there of the terrific custom that the Spaniards bro't to the New World: la siesta. Perhaps I could start a new dicho or saying for Spanish-speakers: Después de en la mesa fiesta, al sofá para buena siesta. That is, "After the party at the table, to the sofa for a nice nap!"

¿Qué piensas, querido lector de habla español?

Walk to Emmaus -- Men's #1327

In my posting on 24 June I described my attendance at the first meeting for the Team for Men's Walk to Emmaus #1327. This past Saturday we had our fourth and final team formation meeting. NOW the Team should be basically ready to serve as a vessel of God's grace during the actual Walk at the end of next week!

Team #1327 got introduced to a couple of new Team members. One is Andy Smith, pastor of a United Methodist church in historic Castroville. (He was taking the place of a clergy member who had had to bow out.) That day Andy previewed his Talk, "Obstacles to Grace". Or "sin" as he aptly told me while we two were getting acquainted during the opening meet 'n greet ('n eat) time. Andy's Talk is the fourth clergy Talk (done on Saturday), and mine is the fifth and final clergy Talk "Sanctifying Grace" (done Sunday morning).

I felt led by the Spirit -- the divine "breath" -- to offer to be Andy's prayer partner, to pray with him just before his preview Talk, just outside the meeting room. Prayer is a very crucial element of the Emmaus experience. Folk from all over the country even overseas sign up to pray half-hour segments of the 72-hour Prayer Vigil tha goes on during the Walk. Before each Talk during that Walk the speaker, having dressed up for his Talk (suit & tie) will pray with his prayer partner in the chapel. The partner continues to pray during the 20-minute Talk, and the two prayerfully give thanks afterward. And this just begins to enumerate the various prayer features. . . .

Mike Solano, the Walk's Spiritual Director, even spoke of prayer during his "Fourth-day Talk" in the worship celebrated early in our meeting. It was distressing that he told us that studies indicate that only 5% of ordained clergy have a regular daily prayer or devotional life. No wonder the organized Christian Church is in such disarray as the Twenty-first Century begins! But Mike's talk focused on the positive, and was generally energizing.

Then Andy went to the Table to preside at the Lord's Supper. Each team formation meeting includes this during the first hour of actual meeting. It follows the order in the "purple book" everyone receives on his or her Pilgrim Walk as a printed aid. In the worship order is the Great Thanksgiving, in which after thanking God our Father for His mighty acts in history and especially in Jesus the Nazarene, the Words of Institution are spoken. As Andy said these over the bread and then the cup, my mortal eyes saw what they always see: a loaf of bread and a chalice. But my eyes of faith saw more: a light came down and surrounded each Element in a soft yet bright glow! Did you ever see the TV show "Touched by an Angel", and when one of the angels would reveal his or her angelic nature to a human, the angel would glow? (For once Hollywood got a spiritual matter correct!) Well, THAT was what the bread and cup looked like to my eyes of faith!

Then, at the end of the Great Thanksgiving prayer Andy said the familiar petition: "Make us one with Christ, one with each other and one in witness. . . ." And again my eyes of faith saw the awesome! (My physical eyes were closed.) Cords composed of that same celestial light moved thru the room and encircled each Team member, binding us together! And at the "Amen" those cords were gone.

I wanted to cry out, "Lord, I'm not worthy of such wonderful insights, revealing Your presence with and blessing upon this Team!" Nevertheless, when the worship was over and we were about to break before previewing the first talk for that day, I shared with my Team buddies what had been revealed to me during the Great Thanksgiving. I knew it would encourage them to have evidence of "God with us"! And as I said at the start of this posting, NOW the Team is basically ready!

Hallelujah! Praise God! - De colores.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Summer's-end slouching has ended (?)

Well, dear reader, I've been informed that today, the Twenty-third of September, is the first full official day of Autumn. Remember my two previous blogs (see 25 August and 7 September) about how seemingly the Summer of '06 was slouching toward its ending or terminus?

One certainly couldn't detect this from the weather here in San Antonio! At least, not unless one gave heavy emphasis to the fact that we are seven or eight degrees cooler than we were in much of August; that is, we're in the mid-nineties for the high rather than over 100 F.

Oh, but then we ARE well into high school and university football, which is automatically associated with the Autumn season. Speaking of which, I finally decided to take the VÍA bus(es) way out northeast to suburban-rural Converse and see the Judson Rockets game versus the Churchill Chargers. It all started out nicely; prior to the game and teh requisite raaising fo Old Glory to the strains of the National Anthem, the visitors, Churchill, were invited to sing their school song, followed by host Judson and their school song.

The Rockets stopped Churchill on their first possession, and then in few plays took the pigskin into the end zone for a touchdown. Things were starting out very well for the home team, which made me glad for coach Rackley and his "boys". However, Churchill came back to first tie the game and then with a later score to go ahead. Judson sent the game into overtime with a last-minute field goal. But two overtimes later the same field goal kicker missed as over-time ran out, to hand the game to the visiting Chargers.

Did you notice that I described Converse, Judson High School's hometown, as "suburban-rural"? For the most part, the Judson ISD appears much like any other way-out-from-S.A. suburban area, such as Loopland to the west. Square miles of fairly new and soul-less residential development "all made out of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same". Dozens of fairly new strip-shopping constructions "all made out of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same". Etc. However, here and there large areas spreading across double-digit acres remain in pasturage or cropland. And what makes Converse "rural" for me is a little area to the north of the high school, where several very old business buildings still stand, some still in use for something, and a FEW used for the original purpose, e.g. along the lines of farm suppy. Whenever the VÍA bus takes me along the two streets that pass these, I get a STRONG sense of rural Texas -- even stronger than I got in Devine during my years of living there!

Hence, Converse retains some of its rural community roots, even as it morphs into a typical suburban entity much like Loopland.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Texas' national religion

Yeah, I know that these United States legally forbid government establishment of religion. Nevertheless, it's widely recognized both by native Texans and by "foreigners" (e.g Okies, Yankees, Brits, etc.) that Texas DOES effectively have a National Religion. (Oops, make that "State Religion".)

It's called "Friday night lights", that is, high school football. Some observers might append to these youthful gridiron gods the slightly older deities of the pigskin who are burnt orange Longhorns or maroon Aggies.

Yes, I'm writing this with tongue firmly in cheek. But make no mistake! 1) High school football IS serious business here in Texas (as is NCAA football). And 2) I too can get fairly serious about it. Hopefully, not to the level of religious devotion!

My own alma mater, Borah High School of Boise (Class of '72), had a splendid team, the Lions, who lost only one game in my three years there (Boise high schools were grades 10-12). The Borah Lions reigned (of course: the Lion IS King of Beasts/Mascots) at least four straight years as mythical Idaho football champ of the largest schools, and my senior year represented Idaho in Honolulu, where the Lions beat the best of Hawaii's football teams. And I've maintained interest in local h.s. football any place I've lived since. Thus, while I lived in Decatur, Texas (1979-'80) and then Devine, Texas ('92-'94), I enthusiastically supported the gridiron Eagles and the Warhorses, respectively. Therefore I was delighted to read in the Sports section of the newspaper early this week that the state-wide AP poll ranked Decatur #10 in 3-A schools and the Express-News' own poll of local schools (greater S.A./south-central Texas) ranked Devine #10 for all Sub-5A (Devine is also a 3-A level school). That same Sub-5A ranking had the Alamo Heights Mules at #2. AHHS is the high school where I sub-teach.

Allow me to advise you, dear reader, that the Texas state religion is somewhat stronger in small towns such as Devine and in distinctive "suburban" school districts (set-apart by obvious boundaries or unifying and unique characteristic, e.g. Alamo Hts.) than it is in metropolitan ISDs. Also, in these latter it's not just "Fri. nite" but also "Thu. nite-Sat. p.m." lights due to limited stadium facilities. Thus, the San Antonio ISD, where I used to also sub-teach, has eight high schools and two football/track-&-field stadiums. I still keep up with the high schools where I used to work, including the fortunes of their gridiron elevens. Notably the Sidney Lanier Voks ("Pride of the Westside"), the Thomas Edison Golden Bears, and the Thomas Jefferson Mustangs.

My favorite stadium in Bexar County is the SAISD's Alamo Stadium. The WPA of the Depression Era (1930s) built it, so it features solid construction and attractively classy looks. It overlooks downtown San Antonio from a hill to the north between the zoo-Brackenridge Park and the Trinity University campus. I also really like Alamo Heights' Orem Stadium and Harlandale ISD's Memorial Stadium near the old Spanish missions in southern S.A. At those two I can stand and watch a game from outside the fence, until ticket-takers leave the gates mid-way in the second half. Then I can enter and for no cost sit and enjoy the final quarter!

Well, I shall be at one or another of those temples of the Texas state religion some evening this weekend. I just haven't made up my mind WHICH game yet! It may just be highly-ranked 5-A Judson's stadium, because they are hosting another high-ranked 5-A team (Churchill H.S.), and I personally knew their head coach, Jim Rackley, when he was head coach at Southwest H.S. and attended my church in Devine. Now, let me tell you: having known him personally in the church/family setting (I was his house guest one night), and followed his coaching career since, I firmly believe that Jim Rackley is not just a terrific coach, but that he's probably THE BEST high school football coach in Texas! Which may just mean Jim's the best in the USA!

Monday, September 18, 2006

San Anto -- ALWAYS something to do!

Let NO ONE say in my presence, that "there's nothing to do in San Antonio!" As you may have guessed from my constant references to San Antonio as being a "party city", there is something entertaining or recreational going on all the time (weekends at least). And if there isn't some special event, there are always the numerous museums (more about them in a later blog), parks, or historical sites and tourist attractions.

This past weekend was a HUM-DINGER!!! We celebrated Diez y Seis, Mexico's Independence Day from Friday evening thru Sunday -- and NOT just Saturday the actual Sixteenth (Diez y Seis)! I had TWO spiritual/church-related events to attend in addition to the usual Sunday morning worship. The Aggies of Texas A & M were playing a football game against Army (West Point, the USMA) at the Alamodome, in addition to the usual line-up of dozens of area high school football games on Friday and Saturday nites. Also, I had won admission for two to great pop and country singer Ray Price's concert for Saturday nite at Floore's Country Store in suburban Helotes.

And then, I went to the Thursday evening closing portions of the S.A. City Council meeting -- and got reminded that this weekend was ALSO the annual JazzSAlive festival of jazz music in downtown's block-size Travis Park! Wow! When was I going to have time even to sleep, if I tried to take in all this? The ball games, of course, immediately got scratched. Since I couldn't find anyone with a car who could go to Ray Price (several liked him and would gladly have gone, but already had other commitments), that got scratched, too.

Friday evening I went across town to the Lackland AFB area to attend the Northwest San Antonio FDG Emmaus monthly gathering. One event of the meeting was the commissioning of the Team for Men's Walk to Emmaus #1327, and I'm on that Team. (The number of a Walk, BTW, refers to how many that particular conference-equivalent Emmaus community has done. This is the Southwest Texas Emmaus community, co-equal with the SWTX Conference of the United Methodist Church (the UMC oversees Emmaus nationwide). It's such a huge area that it's divided into numerous Fourth Day groups, of which NWSA and Care Bexar are two. Southwest Texas easily has had MORE walks than any equivalent region! And my impression is that Cursillo, the original 3-day retreat floowed by 4th Day activities for Christian renewal, in the Catholic Church is probably likewise enormously popular here in Texas.

The NWSA gathering seemed to go longer than usual, & not simply because of the additional commissioning of our Team. So I didn't get downtown until about 10:30. I had REALLY desired to attend the "El Grito" ceremony at Municipal Auditorium. I hadn't attended in a couple of years & missed it, because it truly is a delightful, colorful and musical celebration of Mexico's culture, ending with the official grito or shout patterned after Father Hidalgo's original grito that launched the struggle for independence from Spain. Plus I knew that one of the entertaining artists this year was to be Los Caporales, the excellent mariachi band which performs in Fiesta Texas themepark. But alas! as I approached the auditorium, the audience was leaving, since the show was over. Strange, that el grito was done at 10:30 and not an hour and a half later (midnight), as it's done across the border. (Hidalgo had summoned his parish in Dolores village by ringing the church bells around midnight, to utter his cry -- grito -- for revolution.)

So I went on home to bed. And I was up early on Saturday, to pray my half hour of the Prayer Vigil for Kairos Weekend #16 at the Torres Prison. Then I rode bus(es) to the Westside and my church on Guadalupe Street, for the Diez y Seis Parade. As always (when I've been able to attend it), this parade was colorful, long and fun. I'd put it right up there with the parades of Fiesta San Antonio -- even my fave, the Battle of Flowers (altho' Diez y Seis isn't nearly THAT long!).

Then I got on the bus(es) again, to get to Fiesta Texas, to turn in my locker and employee i.d. and to try one last endeavor to find someone who would like to attend the Ray Price concert and give me a ride. I had no success on that latter. So I consoled myself by enjoying the themepark one final time in '06. I watched my three favorite musical shows, Los Caporales mariachi, "The Heart of Country" traditional country classics and "Reflections at Rockville" '60s rock. That latter has my heart because the songs they sing and the clothes they wear are THE songs and clothes of MY high school years! (I was Borah H.S. in Boise, Class of '72.)

Furthermore, even tho' I took it easy as far as planning my itinerary, in addition to the three shows I rode six rides (the Train twice, for seven rides), including three I'd never before ridden. I even did the lead-up to The Rattler I had planned early this summer & hadn't gotten to put into action before that infernal Crew Ride on the wooden roller coaster that threw out my lower back. I first rode the Roadrunner Express, a comparatively mild coaster that I had ridden before, then The Boomerang, which takes riders several stories up on an incline before dropping them down thru a corkscrew and loop and then dropping them thru it all again -- backward! The lift up and dropping down (face-to-the-ground) on that first incline was the scariest part! Backward, which I'd been told was THE scariest part, was a piece of cake.

And THEN it was off to The Rattler, to ride the wooden coaster for my second time! To avoid another throwing-out of the lower back, I padded my seat with the day's newspaper which I'd bro't with me. Also, I psyched myself to stay as loose-jointed and relaxed as possible. No problem! I felt fine when my ride on The Rattler was done!

Sunday morning I was back on the bus(es) and riding back to my church on the Westside's Guadalupe Street for worship. It was a good service, well-attended for this small congregation! I had to leave during the sermon, in order to catch the bus again and get to a rendevous point at the appointed time to get a car ride out to the Torres Prison Unit (west of Hondo, the next county seat town due west of S.A.). One of the other passengers in this car had had heart surgery just this past Thursday -- and yet here she was, going to the Closing for Kairos Weekend #16 at Torres! What a trooper!

Dear reader, if you're a Christian & haven't ever been to a Closing for a Kairos Weekend, PROMISE yourself that you'll find out when the next one at a prison near you will be -- and go; in being a blessing to the inmates you'll get blessed! It used to be that to attend a Kairos Closing one had to have been on Cursillo or a Walk to Emmaus or a related program, but they've dropped that requirement (at least the TDCJ in this state has dropped it). All one needs is clearance to visit the prison (here, thru the TDCJ). I went to my first Kairos Weekend Closing in September of A.D. 2002 -- and I was "hooked! I couldn't get on a Team to do a Kairos Weekend fast en'uf! The testimonies of the inmates who were Candidates on the Weekend were that powerful, as to how the three-day Christian retreat in the prison had changed them around for the better! Kairos Prison Ministry is widely recognized as being THE MOST SUCCESSFUL rehabilitation program for offenders (inmates, convicts), that is, it has the best rate for released inmates NOT returning to a life of crime and back into the prison system.

Don't you want to be a part of something that God is using THAT effectively to bless folk who truly need the blessing of getting their lives turned around for the better???

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Radio: San Antonio on the airwaves

In my previous blog I mentioned listening to Stu Paul (& Roy Acuff) do play-by-play broadcasts of the San Antonio Missions Texas League baseball games on radio station KKYX-AM 680. This "classic country music" station is one of two stations I've listened to THE MOST since arriving here in San Antonio in A.D. 2002. The other station is KDRY-AM 1100, which used to be a limited-broadcast (i.e., not 24-7) mixture of good Christian teaching programs and of Southern Gospel music. KDRY is now 24-7, but is also almost all-teaching and almost no music any more.

A-a-a-hhh! I remember how in '02 I got into a very satisfying M.O. to start my week days. I would set the alarm for 5:00 AM on radio (rather than set for the beeping alarm), and have the radio tuned to KDRY. At the appointed hour KDRY would awake me with its opening, which included the morning deejay, Ralph Thompson, saying, ". . .and remember: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift from God. So let us rejoice and be glad in the present!" I've never heard a better opening for ANY radio station!

If I remember correctly, the first hour was all Southern Gospel music, and at some point during it I would silence the radio to do my morning devotions. Then, at 6:00, I would listen to Dr. John MacArthur's excellent teaching program "Grace to You". As soon as it ended, I would switch the radio to KKYX, catch the 3-4 minutes of local news, weather & traffic (not that I needed the latter), and then delight in two to three classic country music songs, one of which was ALWAYS a George Strait song! And then, about 6:38 would come "Today in History". Deejay Jerry King would go over events that had happened on the date thru'out the years (usually just the past century or two), and generally end this with a partial description of some event -- with the listener to call in a missing detail. I won a lot of tickets to such things as San Antonio Missions games and the Texas Folklife Festival by listening to Jerry's "Today in "History"!

Alas! most of that M.O. is now gone, mostly due to KDRY going 24-7 and dropping almost all music and that dear morning deejay! And at KKYX the program director, who dictates (doubtless by computer programming) what songs are played when (with NO concern for what the listening public might like), has seen fit to take George Strait and move him to BEFORE the 6:30 news (while "Grace to You" is still airing at KDRY). Oh, well. . . I still listen to KKYX a lot (& still win with "Today in History" or "Farm Fact or Fiction" an hour later), and to KDRY for "Grace to You" and when I can for its one remaining hour of So. Gospel music on Saturday afternoons.

Radio station KKYX-AM 680 played two songs on the morning of the eleventh of September, that were very appropriate for the solemn memorial of that fifth anniversary of the attacks. Right after "Today in History" it broadcast Alan Jackson's song "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)?" which was most appropriate, I'd say! Within a half hour the station also broadcast Moe Bandy's "Americana". Even more than Jackson's song, "Americana" bro't tears to my eyes, as it always does.

"Americana" is a ballad sung in the first person, of a man who for some reason turns off a superhighway into a small county seat town -- I like to think Decatur, Texas, or Crossville, Tennessee -- and upon observing the relaxed and friendly pace of life there, decides to hang around a bit longer, even tho' it will "throw me off my schedule". He sings about old men playing checkers and kids hop-scotching on the town square, Old Glory flying "high above a statue of an unknown soldier" at the courthouse, and young lovers courting at the drug store's soda fountain "like we did before they built the shopping mall". And as he gets ready to pull back onto the superhighway "it hit me like a freight train, that a stone's throw from the fast lane, America is still safe and sound."

Yes, even that Norman Rockwell-like image of small-town Americana, is getting rarer and rarer. And I suppose that 9-11 has to some degree had its deleterious effect upon even the smallest and most remote of burgs in this country. This is probably true also for that earlier terrorist attack that so many seems to have forgotten, but which was perpetrated by red-blooded American citizens against a target in the Heartland: McVeigh & company's vile destruction of the Murrah Building in OK City.

Still, as I listened to Moe Bandy sing those words that are at once both nostalgic and patriotic, "it hit me like a freight train" that there are still strong remnants of that old pre-terrorist American life, to be experienced here & there. And so I'll continue to sing along on the chorus:

. "Americana, pictures of a people proud and free
. Americana, I’ll keep holding to the dream
. You’re still what living means to me."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Baseball: Minor & Major

Early on in my postings at this, my blog spot, back in April, I mentioned the San Antonio Missions, the local minor league -- AA Texas League -- baseball team. Haven't said much, if anything, since. Here's why:

I actually won tickets to two of the Missions' games during this past season. My upstairs neighbor, Dennis from Detroit, went with me to one of those games. At the other game I got to go up in the pressbox and meet face-to-face with radio announcer Stu Paul, who does the games on radio station KKYX-AM 680. This is the fifth season that I've been privileged to listen to him and Roy Acuff (NOT THE Roy Acuff of the Grand Ole Opry, who's playing the Opry of Heaven; this one's not even named after him) do their play-by-play of Missions' games on KKYX-AM 680.

Both games I attended this year the Missions won.

However, over-all, 2006 was not kind to the hometown "boys of summer". After commencing in April with a successful series against the Corpus Christi Hooks in the Gulf-side city, The Missions slid down into a definite last-place finish in the TL South first half. Then after the TL All-Star Game break, San Antonio started out roaring in the second half! I actually got to thinking (hoping?) that '06 might be a repeat of '02, when the Missions finished dead last the first half, only to turn around and win the second half and go on to the first of back-to-back TL Championships.

But it never happened; the Missions faded away as the second half came to a close. There were some great games, at least to listen to on KKYX. But they still didn't make the playoffs.

So. . . since I've bro't up the subject of pro baseball, how about the Majors? Well, just to let you know, when I was a boy, I was a fervent fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates and all but worshipped Roberto Clemente. When he died in an airplane crash while taking aid to earthquake-devastated Nicaragua, his death hit me hard. I couldn't bear to follow baseball at any level for years. Then I moved to Fort Worth (A.D. 1976), and soon became a fan of the Texas Rangers. I actually attended a couple of Texas Rangers games at their ballpark in Arlington (the old one, before George W. built the present stadium). I'll never forget one of those, in which the Seattle Mariners were at bat, and the Rangers got a triple play against them! A TRIPLE PLAY!!!

When Nolan Ryan starred with the Rangers, I found a new baseball hero, one to almost rival my boyhood adoration of Clemente. Ryan was such a CLASSY man all around! And going strong at an age when most pro baseballers had hung up their gloves! Alas! the last visual image of Ryan as a Ranger was in a fight that broke out at his final game (or near-final), and there he was in the midst of the donnybrook, the head of someone on the opposing team locked in an elbow-grip while Ryan was giving him a noogie. Not an attractive image to go out on!

Since my Metroplex-residence days I've been a fan of the Rangers. I also continue to support the Pirates. And my love for the Seattle Mariners has become strong, due to them being the parent club for the S.A. Missions.

So-o-o, there's baseball and me, for you. . . .

Monday, September 11, 2006

Nine-Eleven five years ago

Well, dear reader(s), here we are, on the fifth anniversary of one of the most horrendous events -- if not THE most horrendous -- to occur in my lifetime. To be honest, other terrible things assaulted me in A.D. 2001, that first year of the Twenty-first Century and the Third Milennium. All these traumatic events affected me deeply, and here in '06 I remember them clearly. But in the case of this one remembered today, EVERYONE remembers; it was an event which affected everyone -- most especially folks who were in the locations where it happened.

Five years ago, on Tuesday morning of the eleventh of September, I was watching "Stanley and Livingstone" on one of the classic movie reruns channels. When the movie was over, I considered getting myself ready to go out job searching (I was in the middle of a seven-month stretch of joblessness). But I decided instead to channel-surf. As the remote control sent the TV surfing over the various cable channels, there was a recurring image of one of the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City billowing out a huge cloud of black smoke. When this image had cropped up three or four times, I let up on the remote, to find out what this signified.

Shortly afterward, the second jet rammed into the second tower. That was just the beginning of a series of images on the small screen that infamous day and the following days. The Pentagon hit by a third jet. . . a fourth jet hurtling to Earth in a Pennsylvania field. . . the WTC towers imploding one after the other. . . people fleeing the destruction thru the streets of NYC, businessmen with their neckties flying over their shoulders. . . dust covering people and cars. . . . It was a much darker picture than had been that movie I'd been watching, set in the interior of "darkest" Africa!

At some point it became very clear that these United States were not being attacked by some other established nation but rather by some shadowy group of terrorists. I remember going to awaken my son (a "night owl" and late sleeper), to tell him that "we're at war!"

And so we were. Here, five years later we're still in this war against terrorists. A lot of my fellow citizens are opposed to continuing this war, or at least that part of it that has our military in Iraq. However, I remember the words our President had said a few days later, upon declaring this war against terrorism. He told us it would be a long war, and nothing like any war this nation had fought before. We need to keep up our resolve, to thwart terrorism and pass on a peaceful, terrorist-free world to our children and grandchildren.

For all the horror of those days of September of '01, a few good things came out of them. One was the strong sense of national unity in the face of this terrible new threat, another the sympathy of other nations expressed in numerous memorials overseas, some simple and spontaneous, such as growing collections of lit candles outside USA embassies. And for me, a growing gratitude that the previous November (after much thought and weighing the plusses & minuses of the candidates) I had cast my vote for the man who was to be President when the 9-11 attacks occurred. Yes, I thank God that George W. Bush was our President when the atack came!

So: where were YOU that Tuesday morning five years ago? What were YOU engaged in?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

End-of-summer slouching continues. . .

In an earlier blog, I described how the Summer season seems to slouch toward its ending, since there are numerous ways to define the end of summer (in addition to the official calendar ending, which is the Fall Equnox on or near 21 September).

Well, the slouching of Summer's ending persists. Tomorrow will be my final day of work on the Fiesta Texas Railroad. Now, stictly speaking this situation should not signal the end of Summer, since I did a whole week of work on the train ride during Spring Break and then Saturdays to late May. And let's not forget that Spring Break was early in March, well before the equinox that officially signals the commencement of Spring!

Nevertheless, I consider work at Fiesta Texas to be my Summer job, in some manner or other. Certainly during the summer months this is my sole source of income. And as I've said in earlier blog postings, this Summer's work on the train has been FUN! Already I miss it -- and I still have that one day to go!

Oh, I've mentioned that San Antonio has been in a drought, and that August daily high temperatures have been at or above 99 F. Well, early this week we finally got some much-needed rain, and the "cold" front that bro't it snapped that trend toward triple-digit highs. Indeed, yesterday we didn't get into the 90s at all! Hooray!

One event that seemed to signal Summer's end, at least for us Fiesta Texas workers, was on the Sunday evening at the end of the park's being open all week long. It was a "Sock Hop" for all employees, in the Rockville or 1950s theme area. The dominant item in the Rockville area is Rockville High School, and altho' the "Sock Hop" was held outside & well away from that building, and the event didn't involve a true sock hop or any dancing at all -- still, one associates a sock hop with high school, since it was type of dance event popular in high schools of the '50s.

What WAS available for enjoyment during this event were a couple of games, at which I did lousy, three rides, none of which I could ride thanks to the earlier back injury on the Rattler and the VÍA bus, and karaoke, a great delight for me. Alas! this karaoke was limited to strictly Elvis Presley hits. As I scanned the list of hits we could sing to (which was far from exhaustive of Presley's output), I saw "In the Ghetto", which is my favorite of songs Elvis recorded. However, it's been years since I heard it (if I remember correctly, when I was in high school I had that song on a 45 rpm vinyl disk), and I wasn't sure but what it might go above my comfortable vocal range. So I chose "Return to Sender" I sang that one easily en'uf, but still didn't win the prize. Nevertheless, it was a fun evening, presenting one of a bunch of events I can consider as end-of-summer!

So. . . have a gre-r-r-reat Fall, y'all!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Los Apaches Café has gone

Well! Is there some dread disease moving among the Mexican cafés of San Antonio? Last month my favorite Mexican café closed its doors, and only by serendipity did I get to have a final meal at Salsa Mora's, on its final day.

As this month of September in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Six began, I was dismayed to read in the newspaper that Los Apaches Café likewise was about to shut down! After all, it was among the first places at which I ate when I arrived here in the Alamo City in January of A.D. 2002.

During that first week of living here in San Antonio, I took the bus downtown one evening to get re-acquainted with landmarks I remembered from earlier eras in my life. (Specifically, during my tour of duty at Ft. Hood, north of Austin, in 1981-83, and then while living in Devine, southwest of here in 1992-94.) One place I checked out was El Mercado, the Mexican Marketplace. Since I found everything there closed, I started walking east on Commerce Street toward Main Plaza. And thus I came to Los Apaches Café, and found it still open on this chilly January evening. I went in and had a small supper there. The food was delicious and definitely NOT mass-produced like a chain cafe's! And all over the inside, as well as on the sign outside were many Native American figures & figurines: "Indian" heads, paintings of "Indians" on the warpath or hunting, etc.

Really, it was a very pleasant place to dine! Alas! shortly afterward, Los Apaches did what most Mexican cafés here do: it began to close in the mid-afternoon. But I still had a breakfast taco or two occasionally there. LAst Sunday, my after-church dinner was at Los Apaches. And I probably would have eaten there more often, had I not encountered such other delightful Mexican restaurants as the now defunct Salsa Mora's.

And alas! now Los Apaches is defunct, too! Who's next, I wonder. . . .

Friday, September 01, 2006

Gen. Mc Dermott, Sir, rest in peace!

Early this week San Antonio and the USA lost a man who, probably more than anyone else, shaped this city in the last half of the twentieth Century into what she is now in the opening years of the Twenty-first. General Robert F. Mc Dermott left this mortal Earth on Monday the 28th, at age 86, following complication of a mid-August stroke.

The General was known to me primarily as the (retired) CEO of USAA, the major financial and insurance firm for military (active & retired) and their dependents. In that role I'd long admired Gen. Mc Dermott. He was a very respected leader at USAA. which used to be my auto insurer and still is MY BANK. One item that led to my admiration was that early in the 1990s, he insisted that USAA not stoop to the "casual Friday" work apparel, but rather continue to have employees dressed like professionals, e.g. men in dress shirts and neckties. Speaking of apparel, I've never seen a photo of the General where he wasn't wearing a suit and tie. With such dapper garb and his silvery head of hair always neatly combed, and his bearing, he truly looked regal, or as someone has said, like "a made-to-order General for Hollywood casting"

But oh, there was SO MUCH more to "McD", as he was affectionately known. One strong indication of the full life of this man is that his obituary took up TWO entire columns on the Express-News obituary page! (Be aware that the font size for obituaries is smaller than the font size for regular newspaper articles!) And in the day or two following his departure from this life there were easily a half dozen newspaper articles concerning him. Even the Sports section got in on this act, since McD was engaged with S.A.'s beloved NBA team, the Spurs, and was responsible for the hiring of Coach Popovich, a cadet at AFA during McD's tenure there.

Raised in New England, he flew several combat missions in WW II. He was also in the administration of the then-new Air Force Academy in Colorado, and retired as brigadier general (the youngest at the time he was promoted to that rank). While taking USAA from a mediocre auto insurance corporation to an efficient and admired financial giant (for awhile the largest private employer in S.A.), McD also took San Antonio from a sleepy, status-quo-is-fine city basking in the afterglow of HemisFair '68, to the vibrant and economically diverse yet still-colorful metropolis it is today.

On the way, McD started innovative business practices at USAA & had his hand in the origins or major expansions of various now-well-established S.A. entities, such as the Medical Center in the northwest of the city, the Economic Development Foundation, and the Texas Research Park in far west Bexar County. He and USAA joined forces with Opryland USA in Nashville, to bring an Opryland-style music show oriented amusement park to S.A. Hence, we now have Fiesta Texas!

McD was not perfect. (Only one man ever was perfect, and for His perfection He got nailed to a cross!) Early on he and C.O.P.S. got cross-wise of each other. But then McD realized that his E.D.F. and the Communities Organized for Public Service had very similar goals, and conversations led to co-operation. McD also was a staunch early advocate (if not agitator) for air bags in vehicles. I detest those deadly devices -- numerous small children and small women have died thanks to an air bag deployment. So McD loses points with me thanks to that! (However, he doesn't lose many.)

The Express-News, S.A.'s daily newspaper, on its Website had a "Talkback" page where readers could post reminiscences of General Mc Dermott, and condolences to the family. Over 70 such messages were quickly posted, many from retired or former USAA employees. Many a heart-warming anecdote concerning this man got shared here.

Mc Dermott's name graces such items as the USAA headquarters building, a nearby elementary school and professorships at the AFA and the UIW. A grateful San Antonio also gave his name to the portion of IH Ten going north from downtown past the USAA campus and further out toward Fiesta Texas.

Today they held the funeral and then buried this remarkable man. Also, there was a rosary for Gen. McD last evening, in the chapel of the University of the Incarnate Word, where he had been teaching when he suffered the stroke. The funeral itself was this morning at St. Peter Prince Catholic Church in Alamo Heights (just blocks up Broadway from the university chapel). He being a retired military general, the burial was of course in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

Due to work schedule and other factors I didn't get to attend the rosary, the funeral or the burial service. However, I've made a promise that as soon as I am able, I'll visit the FSH Nat'l Cemetery and pay my respects to this man I never met but whose impact has touched my life and whose example I will always hold to be one of the best!

General Mc Dermott, Sir! Thank you for all you gave, to make San Antonio the dynamic city she is today. And a special thanks to you for your hand in the creation of Fiesta Texas! May you rest in the undying peace of Heaven!