Friday, January 26, 2007

S.A. weather: A-a-a-hhh!

Yes, I understand, dear reader! You're wondering about my title for this posting, when five postings ago I told how the "weather outside frightful." But that's the way it is here in south-central Texas during the winter. A few days of bitterly cold air, then a few days of spring-like sunshine and fresh breezes.

So yesterday and today have been BEAUTIFUL! A-a-a-hhh! Indeed, last evening as the sun was setting and I was soaking in the warm, fresh late afternoon air, I meditated on how a day like this day made one GLAD to dwell in south-central Texas! A-a-a-hhh!

How ironic about today's meteorological beauty, then, that this morning was the annual Cowboy Breakfast. This warm-up for the San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo usually entertains dreadful, wintry weather. And true, it WAS very cold before dawn (the free meal commences about 5:30 or 6:00 AM), with thick frost on the lawns. But the sky was clear, with little or no breeze! This means that the traditional trail rides into the city from various origins in all directions (e.g., Bandera, Laredo) will also enjoy decent weather (unless a "blue norther comes sweeping in from Alberta suddenly).

Speaking of the trail rides (they use highway rights-of-way rather than bona-fide paths), while we lived in Devine (1992-92) I happened to hear on the radio that THAT bunch of riders was coming thru the Devine area that very afternoon. I gathered up as many of the Boy Scouts in my Troop as I could, and we went down IH-35 southward a-lookin' for the men and their stock. Turned out the riders were taking a break, so the boys got to see the horses up close. It was a fun serendipity!

Back to the Cowboy Breakfast. My first year here it was at North Star or Central Park Mall, I think; I didn't attend. Next year it was at Sunset Station north of the Alamodome, I think; again I didn't attend. But since then it's happened behind Crossroads Mall, next to IH-Ten and VÍA's Crossroads Park & Ride. I've gone each year, to enjoy the free tacos, biscuits 'n gravy, coffee, etc. And the free live entertainment, the various organizational booths that pass out info about their services, provide sign-up for Rodeo raffles, give out trinkets, etc. It's always crowded (and usually cold and wet -- but again, not THIS year). But I enjoy it; as my chicano neighbors might say, "Es puro San Antonio."

It's pure S.A. because, as I mentioned in my latest post about museums (see 13 January), San Antonio IS truly a "cow town". You know, when I was a student at the University of Idaho (Class of '76) I hated that my alma mater was called a "cow college". I shouldn't have been so touchy, after all, the U of I indeed has an agricultural college and sits at the edge of a small county-seat town, Moscow, with fields of wheat, peas and lentils spreading to the horizons opposite the town side of campus. And as I affirmed in that earlier posting, this city was very important in the late 19th Century, because it first was a gathering point for feeders into the famous old Chisholm Trail, up which tens of thousands of cattle, mostly longhorns, were driven to rail heads in Kansas. Later, when the rails reached here, S.A. itself became an important shipping and packing locale for beeves!

And thanks to the annual Rodeo, this city, cosmopolitan tho' it be, remains imbues with a touch of the old "cow town" ambiance! And even tho' the weather more often than not is in SOME manner uncomfortable and inconducive to outdoor activity, when the weather IS good it's REALLY good! And appreciated!

So, while mother nature graces us as she has these past two days, it's time to get ready for our annual February shindig. "Let's rodeo, San Antonio!"

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

VÍA the "Way" to go in S.A.

Vía is Spanish for "way", as in path or route. It's one of las palabras del castellano that didn't change spelling from the Latin original. It's also the name of San Antonio's mass transit company, the buses of which take me all around town. Literally, VÍA is MY "way to go" in San Antonio!

Since some time in A.D. 2002 I've regularly attended the monthly meetings of the VÍA Metro Transit Board of Trustees. And since a couple of years back I've served as a volunteer on the Citizens Advisory Council for the transit company. The Council usually meets on the third Monday and the Board on the fourth Tuesday. Because the third Monday of this month fell on the MLK Jr. holiday, the Council meeting got re-scheduled to the following day (the third Tuesday).

Then the ice storm struck us -- and our meeting got re-scheduled yet again, to this past Monday. This set it the evening prior to the Board meeting! When I arrived for the CAC, there were insufficient members present for a quorum; indeed, several members' terms had expired with '06. Then,a couple of new members did show up, as well as a couple more veterans. So with a slightly late start the meeting commenced. Council Chair, Bill Martin, introduced the new Board Chair, who is Eddie Herrera, a very nice fellow whom I've liked since he joined the Board. Eddie spoke to us briefly, about his vision for VÍA for '07. Then he entertained questions, and we Council members had some good ones. Mine concerned the proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), to runp initially on Fredricksburg Road, connecting the South Texas Medical Center with downtown. It's an exciting proposal!

Later during the Council meeting, Priscilla Engle of the public affairs office gave us an organizational description of VÍA, with a handout chart. This also was helpful info. Our meetings, which are almost always held in a conference room of the VÍA Administration Building on the corner of North Flores and Myrtle, always have refreshments, to include bananas and apples. I usually take a couple fruit home with me, and Monday was no exception!

The next evening, at the Board meeting, the BRT was again a major topic, as was the audit of FY 2006. Eddie Herrera, the new Chair, led the meeting and did a fine job. The Board has one new member, and also an open position to be filled. These meetings are held in a large, well-furnished meeting room in the VÍA MTA Center on San Pedro Avenue, about a block (a large one) from the admin building.

The monthly Board meeting agenda always contains time for "Citizens to Be Heard". I almost always sign up to speak for the allotted three minutes. When I first did this it was generally to complain or to suggest improvements for the bus company. But I've mellowed out over time, and especially since serving on the Team for Walk to Emmaus #1327 (Mens) last October, I've given kudos to the Board.

On the other hand, one Farris Hodge , who always begins his three minutes with "Hello, all you out there in Radioland, TVland and Internetland. . .", presents a list of beefs. Usually the same beefs each time. For several months he and I have been carrying on a feud of sorts, concerning the new shelters VÍA is erecting at various bus stops around town. I really like these shelters, including the pipes that serve as seating area dividers on the benches as well as good handles to get up when the bus arrives

Ferris, on the other hand, insists that these pipes be removed. You see, he has a bleeding heart for morbidly obese people, and gripes those pipes might make such vastly overweight folk uncomfortable if they seek to sit down on the shelter benches. My contention is that seats in movie theaters and in the SBC-AT&T Center where the Spurs play NBA basketball are narrower (between the seat arms); therefore, morbidly obese folk would have a terrible time going to the movies or a Spurs game! Ferris, BTW, also always shows up at S.A. City Council meetings, speaks during the Council's CtBH using the same opening words, and presents the same tired list of complaints (a different list, of course, from his beefs for VÍA since the City Council doesn't directly handle transit).

Well, despite Ferris and despite the constantly changing route itineraries and schedules for city buses, I still find VÍA to be not only THE BEST way to go in town, but also THE BEST mass transit system in any city with which I'm familiar. And I've ridden buses all over this country, from Boise where I was raised, to New York City where I've also ridden the subway, to Clarksville and Nashville, Tennessee. I appreciate the award-winning transit here in San Antonio, and wouldn't trade it for any other system. Neither am I in a hurry to procure a personal vehicle!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Top Ten reasons to Love San Antonio

Back on 4 April of A.D. 2006, in one of my first postings on this blog, I gave 5 reasons to DISLIKE San Antonio. This was an endeavor to display that I very well KNOW the failings and flaws of this metropolis. It is, after all, a human institution, and humans and their creations are imperfect. Dear reader, I remind you again that only ONE man ever was perfect -- and for that perfection He got put to death in the most horrible manner of execution or murder that the twisted mind of fallen man has ever invented.

Nevertheless, I do find San Antonio to be a fascinating city and a great place to live.

Here is a list of the Top Ten reasons to love San Antonio:

10. The Alamo, first Christian mission here, foundation of S.A., later a fort and battlesite, and Shrine of Texas Liberty.

9. Variety of cultural heritages expressed, tolerated, indeed celebrated.

8. Festive, party atmosphere year-round, possibly assisted by flowers in bloom year-round.

7. Rich with historic buildings (San Fernando Cathedral, Spanish Governors Palace, five old Spanish missions, etc.), museums (SA Museum of Art, the Witte, etc.) and parks (especially Brackenridge and San Pedro Springs).

6. The Mexican presence, as in population majority, frequent sounds of spoken Spanish, El Mercado and the Westside.

5. Numerous places of education (e.g St. Mary's Univ., Trinity Univ., Incarnate Word) and recreation (e.g. Fiesta Texas).

4. San Antonio Livestock Exhbition and Rodeo.

3. Texas Folklife Festival.

2. Fiesta San Antonio, April's ten-day party-to-end-all-parties.

1. Founded as a Christian mission station, by Franciscan missionaries.

Another death in Iraq, another funeral here

Just after Thanksgiving last year I posted about how the post-holiday scene in San Antonio and the nearby small town of Falls City had been darkened by shadows of tragic deaths and funerals. The small-town funeral involved an Army sergeant killed in Iraq. You may also remember, dear reader, my first-of-this-year posting about a wounded soldier visited here by a seminary friend of mine and others from his Fort Worth church.

Well, the war "over there" has hit closer to home for me now. A woman of my Westside church, Flora Patiño, had three sons: David, Ernest and Hector. I'd only met the youngest, Hector, once or twice. He was "the adventuresome one" of the trio of sons, and was a civilian supply contractor in Iraq. Hector was slain by so-called "friendly fire". The details of the incident are sketchy and contradictory, and an investigation is in progress. So I don't wish to share much about the incident, save to report that it was at a checkpoint guarded by Australian military armed with machine guns. But even ONE so-called "friendly fire" death is one too many in any combat situation. (We should be shooting the other guys, NOT our own!) And in THIS war there seem to have been a strangely high number of "friendly fire" deaths.

Hector was an Eagle Scout, husband and father, a military veteran who loved his country, and was building a fair-size "dream home" for his extended Patiño family, on picturesque Canyon Lake due north of here in the Hill Country. Emphasis on the "was". Now who Hector was -- good, bad and outstanding -- is history. Thanks to "friendly fire". Thanks to a war which more and more SEEMS to be turning into quicksand for the good ol' U.S. of A.

Please don't get me wrong. I stand behind our President and Commander-in-Chief. I keep in mind the good news that our biased and ultra-liberal press doesn't report from Iraq. Such as schools and clinics our forces are building for grateful Iraqis. Such as the fact that most folk are heartily glad that the dictator was overthrown and now has been executed for his heinous crimes against his own people. Nevertheless, one cannot argue against the reality that SOMETHING needs to change in our operations "over there". If for no other reason than to eliminate the atrocity of "friendly fire".

Back to Hector Patiño. There was a prayer service for him last evening at the funeral home. I didn't get to attend, due to prior commitment. But I heard it was a good prayer service, complete with an endearing slide show of Hector's life.

His funeral took place this morning, at Mexican Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Our Pastor, Sister Liz Sanchez, gave a fine message about the risen Savior Jesus as our hope, for this life as well as the life beyond the grave. Before her sermon, Elder Robert Santana sang a beautiful rendition of "El Pescador de Hombres" ("The Fisher of Men" in English) -- probably my favorite song en español. Afterward a quartet of Hector's cousins sang "Amazing grace" and invited all present to sing along. Following the burial at San Fernando Cemetery Number Three out toward the former Kelly AFB, there was a luncheon back at the church.

The occasion that caused Hector's death may be tragic, but at least we who love Jesus have our crucified and risen Savior's Spirit to comfort us who mourn. Not only comfort thru our faith in Him, but also thru our loving fellowship with one another. Blessed be the Body of Christ on Earth. And "rest in peace" to one who died as part of the war effort "over there". Que descansa en paz, Hector.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Weather outside frightful

This "Spud" from Idaho grew up where it gets COLD for the winter, and it snows occasionally. (Cynically, I've told folk that in Boise it snows twice a year, the day AFTER Christmas and Mothers Day!)

BUT the weather we're suffering this very week here in San Antonio is FRIGHTFUL. Indeed, lots of songs about winter have been playing in my head the past couple of days. I'm referring to songs which are often broadcast during December on the radio, or heard over Muzak systems in mall stores. It's as tho' these were Christmas songs -- but the holiday is NEVER mentioned, nor is gift-giving, so THESE SONGS could be sung or broadcast in January or February without a problem! "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow" comes to mind almost as frequently as "Walking in a winter wonderland."

Winter weather where I was raised was VERY different from weather in states of the south central or southeastern USA. In Idaho, once it got cold for the winter (by December) it STAYED cold. The occasional snowfall was powder snow, not all that good for making snowballs or snowmen, but gr-r-r-reat for sledding or skiing. And fairly safe to drive on, except for the very rare "black ice" under a subsequent snow covering.

Upon moving to Fort Worth, when the winter of 1976-77 commenced, I began to hear forecasts for something called an "ice storm". What's THAT, I'd wonder. I found out in a hurry. It wasn't pleasant. It was nothing like the powder snows in which I'd grown up! When I'd drive back and forth between FW and Dallas I'd see plenty of vehicles of all types off in the roadside ditch.

Well, San Antonio had enjoyed rather mild winters since my 2002 arrival for my sojourn here. Until this past Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday, that is. This city boasts the best attended MLK parade in the country, and leaders had planned on over 100,000 marchers in this, King's REAL birthday as well as Monday federal holiday. However, Monday's very cold rainfall kept the number well under a fourth of that!

Then Tuesday and Wednesday the rain became an actual ice storm. So students remained out and schools closed an additional two days, and in the Hill Country three. Overpasses and Hill Country stretches of roadways got closed due to the icy conditions, and a busload of Greyhound travellers got stranded in Kerrville. Iron fences and tree and shrub limbs received an ice coat of close to half an inch. Oh, the poor rhododendrons outside my window!

I got cabin fever, and ventured out on errands. I made certain to return to my efficiency unit before nite-fall. This morning I entered a conveniece store to buy a cup of hot chocolate. (What I'd have given for Mexican hot cocoa, champurrado!) Convenience stores here are almost all managed/owned by Indians. So I quipped to the manager, "Well with this type weather, I reckon that you wish you were back in India."

To my surprise, he answered, "No." Then he explained that he valued the life and freedom he knows here in the good ol' U.S. of A!

Consider THAT something to warm one's red-blooded all-American heart on a frigid winter day!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Fifth Anniversary

Exactly five years ago (plus one week) a man arrived in San Antonio by Greyhound. The origin of his bus journey had been Tennessee, where he had literally lost everything. He lost his job, and couldn't find another, even a menial job. His unemployment was soon to run out. He totaled his car in the same intersection where a couple years earlier he'd totaled another. His dear cat died (of old age and overweight). His family was even dearer to him -- but because he didn't express this, let alone act on it as a model father and husband, he had lost them, too.

And so, five years ago he arrived in the Alamo City. In effect the bus he rode in on was a long grey hearse wearing a grey dog and bearing at least one dead man.

San Antonio, however, is named after the patron saint of lost items. Here, in St. Anthony's city this man found healing and new raison d'etre. He found fairly decent and inexpensive lodging, a decent job, and a church "family". When in February the city celebrated its Western and cattle connection with the annual Rodeo he found enjoyment again. As the South Texas landscape blossomed with spring wildflowers, proclaiming the return of life after the drear winter, he too returned to life abundant.

Such is the story of yours truly during the past five years, sojourning in San Antonio. That Year of Our Lord 2002 was a major turning point of life, up from the abyss (if not the grave). Indeed, I've written a poem about that year. It was my first effort to write something bilingual. Actually, it's a code-switching poem. "Code-switching" is what many fluent speakers of Spanish and English do here: in mid-sentence they will switch from the one language to the other, and a few sentences later in mid-sentence switch back to the first language. It's fascinating to listen to this during a conversation. Truly, my poem might be better heard (or read aloud to oneself), because I code-switch in mid-word at one point!

My poem's title is "Dos Mil Dos: el año of arriving in San Antonio" (the English is lined under the Spanish, like a sub-title). I've written other poems these past five years; some express my response to this or that aspect of this city. Some are in English, some in Spanish, but I think that so far "Dos Mil Dos: el año. . ." is the only code-switching poem I've written. Eventually, I may publish a book of poetry, to include these poems as well as ones I wrote while living in Devine or in Clarksville, Tennessee. I'm also writing a novel, set in San Antonio during the Christmas holiday season and culminating in La Gran Posada.

Look for them on you favorite bookstore's shelf -- just not real soon!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Museums, again! Hooray!

Back in the fall of '06 -- 27 October to be exact --I posted about certain museums here in San Antonio. I knew that I was only covering the largest and best-known of the many here, and had intended to return to the subject and deal with some of the remainder of museums in the Alamo City. After all, museums are among my favorite places to go, along with libraries and churches and parks. Yours truly IS a history-lover, you know. (Surely, dear reader, you'd already guessed!)

And last nite I indulged by spending a night at the museum by going to the movies. I went to see "A Night at the Museum" at the Northwest 14, beside the IH Ten-Loop 410 interchange. I got to go because I had won a ticket to Santikos Theaters movies, and Northwest 14 is one of the easiest Santikos theatres to get to and from by VÍA bus, as a VÍA route goes right past the backside of the building.

"A Night at the Museum" as a film wasn't much to write home about. It was the standard plot of a rather slacker of a dad (played by Ben Stiller) who seeks to inspire his young son to love and admire him. But it was SET IN A MUSEUM because the dad takes a job there as a night guard. The Museum of Natural History in the Big Apple. I realized rather quickly that this movie museum was actually a combination of two real-life institutions of NYC, The American Museum of Natural History, west across the street from Central Park, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, along the eastern edge of said park. I had actually visited "The Met", and had been thrilled by its huge collection of Ancient Egyptian items!

Therefore, despite the movie museum's name, there was a lot of HUMAN history as well as natural, inside the walls. AND every animal or human display within comes alive after dark! Thus we get to see the life-size equestrian statue of Teddy Roosevelt move around and interact with the dad and later also with the boy. played by Robin Williams -- who does the outdoor-oriented President terrific! (Other famous actors in "A Night at the Museum" are Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney, who play old night guards.)

I think my favorite character in the film is the Egyptian Pharaoh Akh-men-ra. (As far as I know there never WAS a king by such a name reigning on the banks of the Nile, and indeed I think the script spells the name Ahk-men-ra, which isn't a likely spelling.) He is a mummy who comes alive and after shedding the mummy wrappings helps the guard and his son to retrieve a stolen tablet, which had belonged to the Pharaoh, which caused the exhibit pieces to come to life each nite while it hung on a wall above the Pharaoh's coffin -- and which had been stolen by ex-guards of the museum. NOW the story gets really interesting! Present me with anything that is of Ancient Egypt, and you've got me in the palm of your hand, if not wrapped around your little finger like a mummy wrapping! (Ha, ha, I couldn't resist this one.)

Anyway, back to museums here in S.A. There are several smaller and less well-known museums to attract the tourist-visitor or the longtime resident. One that I have a coupon for free admission to is the Air Museum at Stinson Field on Roosevelt in the southern part of the city. It re-opened recently after refurbishing, so whenever I get to it, I imagine it will be an enjoyable museum experience. After all, after my junior year in high school I learned to fly the Cessna 150 two-seat airplane, and I've loved air flight ever since!

There is also the Texas Pioneers, Trail Drivers and Rangers Museum. This small museum with the big name sits next to the Witte Museum on Broadway. The building is called Pioneer Hall, I think. The displays aren't as tidy as those of the Witte, but I still enjoy visiting it. Especially interesting are the numerous photographs of Texas Rangers, either at work or posing.

Also along the lines of law enforcers, one may visit the Texas Hiway Patrol Museum. This very small, storefront museum is on South Alamo Street at St. Mary's. I've ridden by it many times on the bus, and even walked by a couple of times; however, it's not been open at those times. Apparently it has brief open times, or is by appointment only.

Then there are the "house museums." Best-known of these is surely the Spanish Governors Palace on Plaza de Armas or Military Plaza, across from City Hall. Originally this was la comandancia or residence of the commander of el Presidio de San Antonio de Béjar/Béxar, the military fort that protected the Spanish missions in the area from Apache attack. In the later stages of Spain's endeavors to occupy and develop Tejas, San Antonio replaced Los Adaes and its fort (located inside what is now the State of Louisiana) as capital of the province. The Spanish Governor usually also served as commander of the fort here. Hence, the current name for la comandancia. This structure which served much less noble purposes after San Antonio became a city of the USA -- to include being a tavern! -- was an early project of the ladies of the new San Antonio Conservation Society of the early 20th Century. It is completely restored, and refurbished as it would hae been in the 18th Century.

Close by la Comandancia/Spanish Gov. Palace is Casa Navarro. Located at Nueva and Larredo streets next to the S.A. Police headquarters, this is the restored home of Texas and tejano hero José Antonio Navarro. It's really a small complex, consisting of a one-story residence with porch space, a two-story office (Navarro was a lawyer and rancher), a kitchen and a now-enclosed yard or courtyard with ancient encinos (live oaks). The SACS is also responsible for saving Casa Navarro from destruction, in the mid-Twentieth Century.

Another well-known house museum is the Steves Homestead. It was one of the first mansions built in San Antonio's first upscale suburb, the King William neighborhood. LIke most of the families who built and then lived in King william in the late 19th century, the Steves family was Deutsch; indeed, the suburb was named in honor of Kaiser Wilhelm I, architect of German unification. The name was anglicized due to anti-German sentiment arising from the two World Wars. The Steves family was influential in the culture and commerce of San Antonio, into the early 20th Century. Even tho' they no longer live in the mansion, they continue to be prominent in the Alamo City. indeed, a very recent Fiesta had a Queen, a King Antonio and a Fiesta Commissioner who were all Steves; should have called THAT Fiesta "the Steves Family Fiesta" or even "The Steves Family Reunion." Now the mansion is run by the San Antonio Conservation Society, which holds its regular meetings in the River House (formerly an enclosed swimming pool on the river bank) behind the mansion on the property.

Scattered all over town are various museums of a very small size - "pocket museums", if you will - associated with major or historic institutions of the city. For example, Fort Sam Houston Army post has at least two such museums that I know of. San Fernando Cathedral, the oldest active cathedral building in these United States, has a museum-like display area in its gift shop next door to the ancient, hallowed sanctuary. A similar museum or display area is inside the visitors Center at Mission San José. Indeed, the other missions in the National Park also have museum areas which interpret various aspects of mission life as they display artifacts from the mission era.

Out northeast of the International Airport, on Wetmore Road is the Texas Transportation Museum. Neither have I visited this one, yet. But I understand it's a fine one to visit, including for children. It's supposed to contain artifacts relating to the history of trains in Texas, which will grab the interest of yours truly who's "been workin' on the railroad" at Fiesta Texas!

It's appropriate that San Antonio has the first and last museums which I listed. You see, dear reader, this city sat on El Camino Real, the King's Hiway which connected the viceregal seat of government with the missions and settlements in far eastern Tejas. (I delight that Texas shares two distinctive geographical features with the Holy Land of the Bible: a road called the King's Hiway and an upland called the Hill Country!) The Alamo City was the point of destination of many Anglos from the USA who traveled what they called the "Old San Antonio Road". (Nowadays a portion of this is officially labelled the OSR.) In the late 19th Century San Antonio served as the gathering point toward the south end, for feeders for the old Chisholm Trail, up which thousands of longhorns were driven to railheads in Kansas. Just a few years later on this city became a major rail-shipping point itself, served by several railroads. Even today the lonesome whistle of the train still sounds thru'out the streets and neighborhoods here.

From the ground to the air: here is where military air flight began. The first military airplanes used the parade field of Fort Sam Houston as the landing field. And of course, since military flight coalesced into the US Air Force, San Antonio remains a major center of the airborne military.

So, there is my run-down of museums in the Alamo City. I hope you'll get to enjoy a few of them some time in the future. When you visit this city that's well worth visiting!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Back to the Park - Fiesta Texas

Early each calendar year, Six Flags Fiesta Texas holds a "Rehire Event" to sign up veteran employees for the new park season and thus get an idea of how many new employees the park needs to hire. The previous two years the "Rehire Event" was held at University Bowl on IH Ten near De Zavala Road.

Part of the draw of the "Rehire Event" being there at a bowling alley was the free game of bowling. I enjoy bowling; indeed, my wife and I were on the Battalion bowling team at Fort Hood (1981-83). Because I was the 62d Engineers (Combat)(Heavy) chaplain, our team was called the "Holy Terrors"! So, when I found out that this year's "Rehire Event" for Fiesta Texas wouldn't be there, I immediately began missing the bowling.

However, the event was at the park itself, mainly in Sangerfest Halle in Spassburg, the German theme area. The weather was terribly cold , windy and wet, but even tho' it was the opposite of South Texas summer, I was very glad to be back in Fiesta Texas. They served us breakfast, catered buffet-style -- odd since the Sangerfest Halle food court was right there to use! And the catered coffee tasted terrible: it vied with Starbucks coffee for bitterness and Army mess hall coffee for strength. As in "put some hair on your chest, it will!"

But en'uf complaining! I was back in Fiesta Texas! It was so good to see my old buddies from the train again! The old vets like Rick, Don and Ross. The "new" older guys like Sam ("San Antonio Sam" as he would introduce himself when he was Conductor - S.A. Sam is the name of the main narrator-character in the laser-light musical show at the park). And the younger folk of the train crew, too, like Audie.

After the food got low & the signing-up was done, there was another treat. We got to enjoy a free viewing of ""Superman Returns" in Zaragoza Theatre in Los Festivales, the Mexican theme area at the park entrance. I had already seen the film in the summer of '06 during its initial run in theaters, using a Santikos ticket I had won. But hey! it was free, and the movie was rather good. I certainly enjoyed Kevin Spacey's portrayal of long-time Man-of-Steel nemesis Lex Luthor. Spacey seemingly achieved just the right touch of unspeakable evil masked by unremarkable facial expression and great taste in dress-up clothes. Between the two viewings of the film I had read an analytical review of it, asserting that among all the Justice League, etc., comic superheroes, Superman is the most clearly a Christ-figure.

Yeah, laugh, dear reader. I laughed too, when I read that opening assertion. But the author made very good supporting points. Starting with: here was someone from beyond Earth sent by his father to heroically rescue frail humanity from evil and destruction. And that the hero and his father on Planet Krypton had names that end in -El. This I already had noted, since I knew that many Hebrew names end with -El, signifying the one true God.

Therefore, as I watched this time I kept a lookout for other allusions to Christ. At one point, during his suffering Superman's body lay out cruciform, arms stretched atraight out to the sides! How could anyone miss that? Later, folk tho't the Man of Steel dead, but he came back to life (and complete strength), revived by the love given by Lois Lane and her little boy. Admitted, with the REAL true-life ultimate Hero, Jesus the Nazarene, it was His Daddy's love that returned the suffering Savior to life, on the third day. But, as with ANY artistic Christ-figure (I think, e.g., of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings) the likeness to our dear Savior can only be pressed so far, and NOT to complete identity!

So much for my review of a movie I watched for the second time for free, thanks to the "Rehire Event" for Fiesta Texas AT Fiesta Texas.

AND NOW I can hardly wait to be back at Der Pilger Bahnhof or Whistle Stop 39, hollering as I open the gate, "All aboard!" Or interspersing the Conductor's touring spiel with banter and questions for the train's passengers.

Fiesta Texas is about having FUN! Yippee! ! !

Monday, January 08, 2007

Seventh day of the seventh year

Yesterday, which was the first Sunday of the new Year of Our Lord, was the seventh day of this seventh year of the Twenty-first Century (also the Thrid Milennium). So it was 01-07-2007.

My daily m.o. upon rising from sleep is to have my devotions and prayers, or "quiet time". For this I use "The Upper Room"; this year I am also reading the Spanish version of this Methodist-published (Nashville) devotional periodical. It's called El Aposento Alto.

And lo and behold! for this seventh day of the seventh year the scripture reading for the day's devotion in "The Upper Room" was Psalm 77! Since I attribute significance to certain numbers, as I confessed in a previous blog-post, I do not see this as mere coincidence!

Psalm 77 is a plea to God from one in trouble (here the composer is not David but rather Asaph), wondering if the Almighty will come to the rescue. But even as he questions, he remembers. He remembers God's mighty acts of rescue of the past. The song wraps with images of water: a rainy thunderstorm, and the sea, and God's unseen footsteps in the seabed. Lest the reader miss that this last alludes to the parting of the Red Sea for the escaping Israeli slaves, Asaph concludes by affirmation that God led Israel by means of Moses and Aaron.

So, even tho' there is the darkness of current trouble in Psalm 77, there is the much brighter remembrance of God's past works, to include the defining moment in history for His chosen people Israel. And the clear implication that God WILL be there to help. To which I would add: "in His time!" Thus the psalm is great for meditating at the change of years, as we say good-bye to the old one and commence the promising new year.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

A backward look at '06

Today is the sixth day of the new year. So I'd like to take today to glance backward at the sixth year of the century (or milennium).

What a year it was for me! When '06 began I had rather low expectations, at least in terms of A.D. 2005. THAT year had seemingly been a very good year for yours truly. And I know that I had done certain things to make the year ending in "5" such a good and memorable one. (I tend to give significance to specific numbers, such as 5, or 11 or 15.)

Nevertheless, in a lot of ways the just-ended year surpassed its predecessor. This occurred with less deliberate action on my part! And some of my conscious choices resulted in unexpected benefits!

For example, I chose to change summer jobs at Fiesta Texas. This I did primarily to avoid five straight hours in the hot Texas summer sun, with my hypertension problem. And I'd really wanted a totally indoor job, specifically in the Hospitality Office. Instead I ended up working on a ride. And what a "ride" I got while working on that ride! Had I known how FUN it was to work as Conductor and Depot Agent on the Fiesta Texas Railroad, I'd have started out working on the railroad when I first got hired by the theme park! If you've been following my blog postings since at least June, you know that I posted several reports or comments (or both) about my summer job.

Far more important in the eternal scheme of things was my participation on the teams for both a Walk to Emmaus and a Kairos Weekend. Again, I didn't start out to do TWO in one year -- indeed in one season. But since I got to do neither a Walk nor a Weekend in '05, it sort of stands to reason that I should indeed do both. I kept telling myself that I was CRAZY to do such. And then BOTH experiences turned into such memorable blessings!

Let me not forget my friendships with two fellows I met in '06. Upstairs for over half the year lived Dennis from Detroit, a quiet neighbor (I never heard him leaving his apartment even tho' previous occupants sounded noisy on the outside stair) about my age. AND sharing my birthday, 14 March! The other friendship was with Bobby, who was a veteran on the train crew at Fiesta Texas. I met him the day I began training on the ride (as Conductor and Depot Agent), and immediately liked him. He always had a broad smile. Alas! both Dennis and Bobby have moved away, the former back to Motown and the latter to Pennsylvania, I think, to be near his ailing parents.

Like icing on the cake was the successful quest of the Alamo Heights High School Mules football team for the state championship in 4-A Division I! Early in the 2006 h.s. football season I had commented on high school football as being the "National Religion" of the Lone Star State. I asserted that I did not get as passionate about the sport (or any sport) as many men and even not a few Texas women get. Nevertheless, I DO enjoy the gridiron contests at the high school varsity level! So I was just as delighted as any native Texan that AHHS took the championship!

Epiphany - Today's holiday

This day is the sixth day of the New Year. 6 January is always a holiday or holy day on the Christian or church calendar. It's called Epiphany, and in some countries or cultures Epiphany rather than Christmas is when gifts are exchanged. This keeps the emphasis of 25 December on the coming of God to Earth and humanity in the baby born of the virgin, Mary, in Bethlehem. (Remember, as I have affirmed previously, Jesus the Nazarene was most likely born at some other time of year, since shepherds would have had their flock in the barns not the fields during December -- but I still celebrate Christmas on 25 December, to remember that He DID come at SOME specific time!)

Epiphany is connected with the young Jesus, just like Christmas. You see dear reader, Epiphany remembers the visit of the Magi or Wise Men to see the young Messiah.

The traditional nativity scene -- called a creche in French and nacimiento in Spanish -- gets it all wrong. Check out the report of the evangelist Matthew in the second chapter of the first Gospel. They followed a star whose appearing had alerted them to Messiah's birth, and if we grant that the luminary (which moved in very un-starlike ways) commenced to appear with Jesus' birth, it would have taken the Magi months to travel from their homeland far to the east. Logic tells us that Mary and Joseph would have moved away from the unsanitary and uncomfortable area of the manger -- whether it was in a cave, a barn or the courtyard of a caravanserai (the "inn" of that place and time; Matthew's "no room" may simply have meant no four walls with roof) -- into a regular house ASAP. And indeed, the Gospel tells us plainly that the Magi came into "the house" where mother and child were! Please notice also that Matthew does not tell us the number of Magi in the party -- not three or any other quantity. The "three" apparently derived by assumption from the number of materials mentioned as gifts. But the number of gifts could have been as low as two -- the containers for the incense and myrrh being of gold.

Therefore, it's good that traditionally the Christian community, or at least that portion of us who observe a liturgical calendar, commemorate the Wise Men's visit almost two weeks after commemorating the Savior's birth! Because it's clear that this visit was SOME significant time after the birth and the shepherds' visit. Indeed, I agree with those who propose that the Magi's homage came upon Jesus' first birthday. This might explain why the evil King Herod had all Bethlehem males murdered up to two years old. He being as evil as he was doubtless hiked the age upward some just for "good measure" or insurance!

The Magi, altho' not "kings" in their land and culture, were influential advisors for those who were in power, including kings. Therefore it is appropriate to sharply contrast Herod's response to the coming of Messiah and their own response, which was a long journey to render homage! May we all choose the response of these Wise Men, and bow our knees to Jesus the Christ, and offer Him whatever we have and are!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Out with Old ('06) in with NEW (A.D. 2007)

How appropriate that this blog-posting which I had meant to compose yesterday the Third, gets delayed 'til the Fourth day of the Seventh year of the Third millennium! Seems that I'm sort of the "late" Mr. Graham!

You see, back in the Second millennium, i.e. the late 1900s, in writing checks I often forgot the new year's number while dating checks and would write the previous year's. One year my dating error continued 'til March! Thank God, I don't seem to have had that problem (in writing checks, at least) since the present millennium dawned on 1 January A.D. 2001. BTW, most of the populace has the mistaken notion that 31 December A.D. 1999 was the final day of the Twentieth Century and the Second millennium. However, such cannot be, as any historian or mathematician knows. There was NO Year Zero! Western history goes from the end of One B.C. (Before Christ) directly to the start of One A.D. (Anno Domini, "in the Year of Our Lord"). So the First Century A.D. ended with the Year 100, and the Second Century commenced with 101. And so on, down to our present time.

BUT NOW, concerning my celebration of the most-recent change of years. For the fifth time I observed New Year's Eve night and the midnite start of New Year's Day, not by going to the very well-publicized fiesta that San Antonio throws on South Alamo Street at HemisFair Park and La Villita. I will confess that I did stop by there late in the afternoon on my way to my NYE destination, just to observe the setting-up for the S.A. party. My heart was touched when I strolled near the Arneson River Theatre (at the Riverwalk and La Villita), because the sound system set up for the later live entertainment was broadcasting a very nostalgic song, "Mayberry". Actually I'm not sure that is the correct title, and I don't know the recording artist. But I do know that it's featured in one of the country music shows, the more contemporary show, out at Fiesta Texas theme park. Such a timely song to play on NYE, and think back on the vanishing good of the past, while singing, "I miss Mayberry, sittin' on the porch drinking ice cold cherry - cokes. . . strummin' my six-string. . . watchin' the clouds roll by, bye-bye. . . ."

Shortly afterward I continued on by VÍA bus to that NYE destination, Ashley Road Baptist Church on the South Side of the city past Stinson Field (the city's first commercial airport). When we lived in Devine (A.D. 1992-94), I discovered that this church had a New Year's Watch Nite service, featuring a Southern Gospel family singing group from Tennessee, The Telestials, and several local gospel groups. The four plus hours of live gospel singing is broken by an adjournment to the church fellowship hall for a late supper, to include of course black-eye peas and cornbread, chili and tamales. Then The Telestials do an encore sing, which endsjustt before midnite. At that point we pray out the old year and pray in the New Year of Our Lord. I cannot imagine a better way to celebrate the change of calendar than this. It certainly has the advantages of being indoors and out of whatever cold or wet there may be, and that of NO hangover upon awakening on New Year's Day!

Music being such an integral part of me, isn't natural that this type of activity to "ring out the old and ring in the new" be so cherished by yours truly? Indeed, my first significant activity (other than daily tasks) in A.D. 2007 involved music. You see, the blood center I patronize was offering a New Year's Day special, so I contributed platelets. The platelet donation process takes about two hours, so they let you watch the movie of your choice while donating. I took along a DVD of my favorite movie of all time. Guess which movie? That's right: "The Sound of Music"!

At the ARBC Watch Nite a constantly included local group is the father-son duet Frank 'N' Joe. They celebrated their fortieth anniversary of singing ministry back in July of '06 (see my posting about the anniversary). Now Frank 'N' Joe seem to have a calling to sing at several Watch-Nite services in the area, so after singing a few songs (including a bilingual gospel rendition -- their apellido/family name IS Ramirez) they move out the door to their next venue. This year I attempted to get them to hang around for at least one more song, by hollering "Encore!" But in vain. Sort of. Brother Anthony Shipp, Pastor of ARBC, assured the congregation that "Brother Glen Alan will get his 'encore' in February." On the second Saturday of that month they'll be the featured singers for the monthly second Saturday singing at ARBC.

I can hardly wait!

And Happy New Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Seven, dear reader!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Visitors from Cowtown!

"Happy New Year!" to you, dear reader!

The Year of Our Lord 2006 ended nicely for me -- see comments (additions) I made to my two Christmas traditions postings. But the nicest year-end happening was a visit to San Antonio from a friend of mine from my Fort Worth years: Rob Scofield.

Back in Fort Worth (late 1970s) Rob and I and our wives were part of a married couple Bible study at our seminary, Brite Divinity School. We took turns hosting the Friday-evening gathering, and fellow seminarians, observing this movable meeting and not knowing what we were about, gave us the nickname of "Spooks"! So we call one another that, and even had a "Spooks Reunion" during the Disciples of Christ General Assembly that was held in San Antonio in the early 1980s.

Rob is now serving as Pastor of a church in Fort Worth (after being at a church in Kentucky), Hillside-Memorial Christian Church which sits on the South Freeway (IH 35W heading toward Waco). A young member of the church, Josh Resch, was injured in a bomb explosion in Iraq, and was in Brook Army Hospital here. Rob and several church members had come down to S.A. to visit the valiant, hospitalized soldier. They stayed in my church, Alamo Heights Christian, which has facilities for such overnight usage and often hosts groups. And surprise, surprise! Josh got released on the last Friday of the year!

Still, they wanted to see some of the Alamo City -- but now with their soldier-boy. (I do NOT say this in any less than full admiration and respect for PFC Resch' service and sacrifice to our country! Indeed, when I first met the soldier-boy at AHCC, I respectfully saluted him!) So after having breakfast with them in a café across the street from the church, I guided them to downtown and a good parking spot. Parking spots were at a premium downtown, due to the Alamo Bowl going on Saturday afternoon, but we still found good spots for all their vehicles.

Rob and I strolled westward thru downtown from The Alamo, spending quite some time just sitting in the Hyatt Regency on The Riverwalk, simply talking. Then we resumed our hike toward El Mercado (the Mexican Marketplace). As we strolled we continued talking, and I would occasionally drop some tidbit of info on some building or historical spot we'd be passing. (I'm certain that the square mile of San Antonio that includes The Alamo, Riverwalk, Main Plaza and the Spanish Governors Palace has GOT to HAVE THE MOST historical markers of any square mile in these Untied States! I'd put it up against even any square mile of DC!)

At El Mercado Rob and I had a snack, while enjoying a live musical show, in mostly Spanish with some English. Such shows, which often feature children of all ages, are common on almost any given weekend of the year in El Mercado, at the very least in the "food court" area of the so-called "farmers market" building on the west side of the complex. Rob noticed how much I was enjoying the Mexican music and culture, and commented how I looked like I felt "at home" in S.A., or some similar observation. True this!

We two then walked back, by a different route, to where the cars were parked. I gave each driver instructions for how to exit downtown S.A. onto IH 37 to go home. Either by IH 35 thru Austin and Waco or by US 281 thru the Texas Hill Country. I've gone both ways between the "Alamo City" and "Cowtown". You know, I wouldn't have minded riding with them, to go back and see Fort Worth again -- "Where the West begins"! After all, Cowtown was my intro to the Lone Star State!