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Monday, April 30, 2007

Sid Reports: Fiesta Flambeau

Our correspondent Sid Seidenberger writes about his trip with friends to this year’s Fiesta Flambeau, proving that being a schoolteacher can sometimes have quite a Fiesta Bonus!

It has been years since I last attended the Fiesta Flambeau night parade, but this year a couple of good friends, Patti and Al, both from Mission Trace, and I decided to go.

As veterans of many parades, we had the drill down pat: comfortable shoes, shorts, festive shirts, and adventurous Fiesta spirits (lively enthusiasm, that is, not libations, of course!).

The three of us are quite left-brained, concrete- sequential type personalities, and this was more or less (probably more) a spontaneous decision to attend the parade. In the past, I have attended the Fiesta parades and enjoyed viewing them from seats I had bought months earlier, as expected of a man with a plan left-brainer. This year, we had no seats, had no idea where we'd wind up in the parade route, no idea where we'd park, and still we bravely set out to make our way to the Fiesta parade with the largest attendance of all according to the records. (It must be hard counting heads from that helicopter hovering above the parade spectators!)

Traveling from Mission Trace and then down Interstate-10 to downtown was a breeze... until we hit we hit the Interstate-35 North exit. It was " worse back" up than "Wurzbach" traffic, to which we are daily accustomed to battling. We quickly averted the traffic cluster by staying on IH-10 until we made it to the Durango exit, which was also clogged by parade bound motorists, so we exited at the next intersection, did a turn-around, and made our way into the downtown area via Flores Street.

Once we made it to the area by Fox Tech High School, we encountered parking lot after parking lot with frown inducing entrance signs stating: LOT FULL. Ready to almost give up, we had a great idea! Why not valet park at the lot of one of the high-end, upscale downtown hotels (which shall remain nameless for obvious reasons)? Yes! Problem solved! You see, there are some fringe benefits to being a teacher; I have several former students working at this unnamed hotel as guest parking attendants, so they have always told me they will "hook me up" with parking anytime needed. If ever I needed one single, solitary slot in which to park, it was on this evening of ubiquitous LOT FULL signs.

Patti, Al, and I walked away from the valet parking entry of the hotel, and I felt as privileged as King Antonio himself, having handed over my keys and car to my former student, who was so pleased to accommodate us. I felt like a V.I.P. getting my car parked among the other Official Fiesta Vehicles. Of course I had no signs like these on my car, only the usual pings, dings, and scratches.

Having successfully parked, Patti, Al, and I realized the next hurdle to jump was finding either bleacher seats or street chairs. The thought of standing for an entire parade is not appealing, so we questioned every parade usher (easy to spot because of the lime green baseball caps supplied by the Fiesta Commission) as to the possibility of purchasing seats. We kept getting the response "all sold out,” so we were resigned to the fact that we would be standing!

Then we came upon a section of street seats unoccupied and figured we'd just sit down until the ticket holders arrived. As we began to shimmy down the row, a brightly fiesta attired lady with a flower and ribbon head wreath, looked puzzlingly at us as we sat, and she said these seats were hers. We were caught red-handed and red faced, but she quickly assured us that it was not a problem because her guests were not able to attend. She asked if we wished to purchase the seats, we said indeed we did, and then we were able to rightfully sit in the chairs with tickets in our possession!

Relieved to be legally seated, the Mission Trace trio felt victorious in acquiring not only primo parking but also choice chairs in the second row! What luck! With this winning track record for the evening, what could possibly go wrong?

It seemed an eternity before the parade actually made its way to our location on Third Avenue between Broadway and Alamo. As we waited, the kindly lady who sold us her extra seats took out a big blue zippered picnic tote, opened it, and was handing her family members foil wrapped tacos. Jokingly, I asked her if the tacos came with the purchase price of our seat tickets. She laughed, her lace lit up with a big grin, and the next thing I knew, her son (seated next to me) handed me three tacos, salsa, and napkins. Overcome with surprise, I looked down the row at this gracious lady who smiled at me. She said, "Please enjoy them. Happy Fiesta!" We quickly devoured the delicious, tasty tacos and gave our thanks not only for the seats, but also the treats!

Finally, the parade commenced with the motorcycle cops heralding its beginning. Shortly thereafter, the usual dignitaries including Mayor Hardberger and King Antonio came waving at the spectators. Suddenly we heard loud hollering and thunderous applause for the Grand Marshal, the one and only heart throb of "Dancing with the Stars" and the former star of "Saved by the Bell"... Mario Lopez!

The usual fiesta parade floats followed super Mario with queens and princesses, marching bands, twirlers, dancers, and lots of frustratingly long lulls.... and then a drenching downpour! Yes, there was a dark cloud over our auspicious experience, the heavens opened up, and happy parade revelers scrambled as fast as their fleet-footed Fiesta feet could carry them to seek cover from the rain.

Mother Nature drew a quick, unexpected close to the 2007 Fiesta Flambeau Parade. She reigned over the evening as the most powerful of all the Fiesta queens that night, but she did not dampen the indomitable spirit of San Antonio.

The Mission Trace trio trekked our way through the infernal puddles left by the showers and amidst the trash and rubble left by the crowds and headed back to the hotel parking lot. We were disappointed that the rain ended our Fiesta fun, but we were still talking about the touching generosity and thoughtfulness of the real queen of the event, the lovely flower and ribbon wreath crowned lady who sold us her extra tickets and fed us, too. There are still truly nice people left in this world!

Do you have a Fiesta event to report? Feel free to e-mail me.

Day Trip to San Marcos

My wife and I took a trip to the outlet mall in San Marcos on Sunday. The place was packed! I had not been there in several years and I was shocked to see that the place has doubled in size. I guess they have two malls, Tanger and Prime, next door to each other.

On our way out of the maze-like parking lot, we witnessed an accident while it was in the making. Some guy in a big red pick-up truck was trying to back out of his parking slot. In the mean time, there was a long line of cars attempting to exit the lot. I guess the guy had decided that his reverse lights trumped the small car waiting to exit directly behind me. So, I saw the truck starting to back up and then I heard the car behind me starting to honk. My wife shrieked that the truck was still backing up, so I started to honk hoping to get his attention. Then, thinking if I could move forward enough, the small car about to be crunched could also move forward enough to get into the view of the truck mirrors. Too little, too late. Crunchville.

I would have stayed around to be a witness but as we pulled through the traffic jam, there were already several witnesses gathering to do their civic duty. And, if they need another, they can e-mail me!

We made a quick stop just north of New Braunfels at the TA Truckstop so my wife could pick up some fudge. That place was packed too.

My wife has been mentioning Gruene for a while so I got off of I-35 and we took a little detour into the Mecca of artsy folks and motorcyclists. Two problems, we were running late and the weather was turning bad. So we did a quick little drive through town and decided to come back on a day when we had time to park and get out and walk around the place.

So instead of getting back on to I-35 to head in to San Antonio, I got the bright idea of taking 306 past Canyon Lake to 281. Of course I didn’t have a map with me or I wouldn’t have pursued that idea.

About 10 miles down the road there was sort of a picnic area with a map of the Canyon Lake area. Don’t get me wrong, as a normal guy, I would prefer to simply continue driving along the road hoping for a good outcome, but we were starting to consider time as a factor as we were eager to get back into town. A quick look of the map revealed I’d be driving way the hell further north to get to 281 than I wanted to. Plus, I had always heard about the quaint town of Sattler. The fellows on the morning show over at KISS make great sport of the residents of Sattler, and I thought it would give me some perspective if I had at least driven through the town.

So I made a few zigs and zags along the back roads through some very pleasant areas and sure enough, got to see the big city of Sattler on a Sunday afternoon. Apparently, everyone was out at Canyon Lake, because the town looked pretty dead. Honestly, it was a little creepy but I hate to be judgmental since we didn’t even stop. Granted, we sped up a little when my wife was convinced she heard banjo music.

Anyway, on to Highway 46 through some really beautiful land - no wonder people are willing to live there and drive to San Antonio for work. Even though there were occasional moments of rain followed by the blinding sun causing me to play a silly game with my sunglasses; on again and off again every few minutes, it really was nice to be away from the traffic of I-35. Even when we got on to 281 to head south, it was still far enough out that the traffic was light and the scenery was spectacular.

And then, there is the stretch of road from just north of 1604 that, for whatever reason seems to be THE place to live. I mean, seriously, 281 and Evans Road. Can someone tell me after sitting at that stoplight and looking at the houses popping up like mushrooms on the moon surface, the result of mass clear cutting of anything resembling a twig? Good Lord, I am no environmentalist, but why would you choose to build your $300,000.00 home in the middle of a traffic nightmare without the benefit of a tree within 3 miles? But, that’s just my opinion. I’d love to hear from readers that can tell me more about the area to give me a better understanding of the popularity.

We finally made our way south on 281 down to our hotel for the evening. Yes, my wife and I are celebrating our 22nd wedding anniversary so as a treat, we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn. I’ll tell you about that fun adventure and our visit to the Magnolia Pancake Haus next.

I’d love to read details of your day trips around San Antonio and the out reaching areas. Feel free to e-mail me.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

About Silver Creek - Part One

It is only fair that I tell you about Silver Creek and why I enjoy living here; after all, it is the title of the web page. Before we moved here back in 1999, we had occasion to drive around different parts of San Antonio and would make little excursions into the various sub-divisions and neighborhoods, either to scope out a promising garage sale, or just to see how other places differed from our little piece of Texas.

Each time we would find ourselves in Silver Creek, I loved driving up Timberwilde, the main through street. The houses looked so well kept, and they each had a unique appearance. I couldn’t help but think of them as custom-built homes as opposed to many of the cookie cutter boxes so common today. And the trees stood out showing that the builder had recognized how important they would be in giving the area an identity.

Another thing that stood out was the presence of security vehicles driving around, and people walking or jogging, offering a friendly nod or wave, as we would drive by. In my mind, this was a totally different world from the graffiti infested neighborhood where we lived, with every third house being a run-down, eyesore.

When we went to look for a new home, we did check out some of the KB neighborhoods and several other new builders. I’m not here to sell anything or sway readers in a different home buying direction, but for us, the difference in price of getting a spiffy new home with all the “upgrades”, then having to buy grass, add ceiling fans and purchase thousands of dollars in trees just so our house wouldn’t look bare (forgetting that the rest of the neighborhood will still look like a moon surface), we decided that an older, established neighborhood was the way to go.

And in all honesty, when you buy a house in an established neighborhood, you don’t have to meet your neighbors to see how they maintain their yards. When you move into a freshly built sub-division, everyone is moving in at the same time, and none of you collectively know who will turn out to be the crazy cat-lady, the beat-up car-collector or the person hell-bent on extreme landscaping techniques – you know, xeriscape via the use of weeds.

So, focused on homes we could afford within a reasonable distance of work, we looked through several areas within the Great Northwest, Braun Station and areas bounded by Loop 410, Bandera Road and 1604. Though we took about 6 months to look, for a house, we weren’t overly obsessive about it. I know this may sound compulsive, but other than a few minor things we definitely did not want, we felt pretty sure that when we saw the right house, we would know it.

What didn’t we want? Well, the first thing was, we did not want to live on a main feeder road through the neighborhood. You know, the main road in and out of a neighborhood that, any time of the day or night, somebody is traveling on it. Every time I drive down Timberwilde (the main feeder into Silver Creek) I feel bad for the people who have to take a chance on getting hit by a car every time they back out of their driveway. Another thing we didn’t want was green shag carpet or yellow countertops.

The one thing we were interested in for sure was that the neighborhood has a Home Owners Association. Bexar County and San Antonio are too big to depend on for making sure that your neighbor doesn’t paint his house lime green or that color of yellow found on many muffler shops along Culebra Rd downtown. A good HOA can be the Nazi in your life and make sure yards are mowed, dead vehicles are removed, and in the case of my HOA, they can give you someone to laugh at for how serious they take themselves. But I’ll get to that in due course.

It was during one of our drives through neighborhoods in our targeted area that we found ourselves in Silver Creek again. Some people here call it Timber Land because for the most part, all the street names are “Timber Something”. Aside from all the names being the same, we were actually getting to recognize which streets we had been on before. As soon as we saw it, my wife and I looked at each other and we knew this could be the one. The trees, the second story balcony overlooking the front yard, there was something that drew us to it.

Though our realtor had shown us several properties in the area already, she had not shown us this one, so our guess was that it was out of the price range. Long story short, there was a pending offer, it fell through and we moved in less than a month later.

Interestingly, about six months after moving in, my wife and I were out in the garage doing some work when a politician came walking the streets. He told us half jokingly that we stole his house from him. Turns out that at the same time the aforementioned sale on the house was pending, he also made an offer but apparently we got our offer in quicker.

We have not been disappointed in our choice to move to Silver Creek. Though we have seen some changes over the years, mostly increased traffic due to booming construction in the area, I think that is something you will deal with anywhere around town. The important thing is, once you get home, you feel comfortable and you have great neighbors.

I’ll tell you more about the neighborhood and of course, our entertaining HOA in future posts.

Lunch Report: Sea Island

I’m no fan of fast food type restaurants, and we certainly have our share of the usual fare around Silver Creek, but I do enjoy the next level up in dining, the chain type bar and grill. You know, Chili’s, Applebee’s, Bennigans etc. It isn’t fast food but you know for the most part what you are getting regardless of which location you go to.

San Antonio has a local chain called Sea Island. As you would imagine, they serve fish. For the most part, they have a good system in place allowing you to order directly at the counter, get your drinks then find a place to sit while waiting for your food to be cooked. This system saves the issue of waiting for a waitress. Though they usually have a person walking around serving refills on your tea, it is also very acceptable for you to go to a drink station and get your own refills. I do like this system and wish say for instance, Chili’s would give it a shot. Especially the parts of letting me refill my own beer!

Okay, so having said that I like their system, I have to confess that as far as fish goes, I am more of a fan of Clear Springs out in Afton Oaks, or better, the one in between New Braunfels and Seguin. But, my wife likes Sea Ilsand and it is near the house. For the price and service, it usually hits the spot. We get the “B Lunch” which is quite a deal with shrimp and fish, hushpuppies and two sides. The cole slaw is okay and if you like fries, they work. Saturday, I tried the black beans and I have to tell you, they were excellent!

So the complaint? For whatever reason, both my wife and I agreed that the fish and the shrimp were in bad form. The plank of fried fish was flat and dry. My wife made the comment that we should have gone to the Fred’s Fish Fry that just opened on Culebra. The shrimp had a really fishy taste to it. Thankfully, the tarter sauce they serve has a good creamy quality and taste, and I was able to drown out the dry texture of the fish.

So, while we were not pleased with the quality (other than the wonderful Black Beans) this time around, I think that we have had enough good experiences at the Bandera Pointe and 1604 Sea Island to recommend it to others – just hope for a good day. Oh, and try the Black Beans.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Living in Mission Trace - 78230

I’m pretty excited about having our first guest reporter give a little update on the area known as Mission Trace. Hell, the fact that Sid e-mailed is proof that I’m not the only person reading, so that in itself is pretty exciting. But I digress.

If you have ever taken the drive along Vance Jackson north of Loop 410, you know that there are quite a few lovely neighborhoods and apartment/condo communities. Believe me, this is quite a contrast from my visits to the west side of SA. But as envious as I am of the area, even the residents of higher end neighborhoods often have to wait just like the rest of us for needed improvements. Our correspondent, Sid Seidenberger reports:

I have always wondered why there were no sidewalks (just a few limited sections of cemented walkways) for pedestrians since this neighborhood has been in existence for some thirty years. School children, the elderly, dog walkers, and others have experienced a very difficult time negotiating the holes, ditches, puddles, and high weeds all the while being mindful of the heavy traffic here on Vance Jackson between Wurzbach and Big Meadow.

Finally, after three decades, something is being done! It has taken a long time, but if you drive through this area (I wouldn't walk it quite yet), you will observe the construction of continuous concrete side walking made completely wheelchair accessible. The low water crossings even feature grated concrete curbing to help deter flooding during heavy rains. Construction crews have even sodded areas between the new curbing and freshly laid sidewalk with grass pallets.

Progress? Yes, but one must wonder why it took so long for the "powers that be" to act in doing something that has obviously been long overdue. After all, there is much foot traffic in this area, and there are two public schools and a library located between Wurzbach and Huebner.

I don’t know the details, but it sounds like perhaps the Home Owners Association has taken some time to get things going. But thankfully for Sid, sidewalks are on the way. If you would like to tell me about your neighborhood, the good, the bad, and the ugly; feel free to e-mail me.

More on Downtown SA...

A quick follow-up to the downtown trolley; it costs $1.00 to ride (first transfer is free). A colleague and I had to go from our downtown office over to the H.B. Gonzales Convention Center, so we thought it would be a nice chance to take the trolley and not have to pay for parking when we just needed to make a short trip.

I have to tell you, the trolley has very cool air conditioning. On a hot day, that would be worth the buck just to get out of the sun for a while. Experienced bus riders will know that the driver doesn’t make change – so be ready. I didn’t have anything smaller than a ten so my co0worker had to pay my way until I could make change for our return trip to the office.

While we were waiting for the ride back to our office, we stood at the downtown trolley station. People often complain about the “gift” from Mexico, the big Gumby looking sculpture, but in all honesty, I think it does make a nice distraction from some of the “downtown people” waiting for the bus.

Coming soon, I hope to tell you about my neighborhood, Silver Creek, and also, our first guest correspondent will be reporting about sidewalks and such in Mission Trace.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Welcome to the West Side...

In the mid 1980’s when I first got married, I would often visit my wife’s grandfather who lived on San Antonio’s west side, north of Kelly AFB (now, KellyUSA) in an old neighborhood off of Castroville Road and General McMullin. His age and a hard life had left him partially blind and always in need of something to be done around the house, but mostly just someone to visit and talk with. More often than not, visits ended up with long, boisterous conversations fueled by beer we’d purchased from a now defunct grocery store called La Concordia, next door to the best Church’s Chicken in San Antonio, a walk-up stand on Castroville and Balboa.

That neighborhood had a cast of characters who would pass by and offer their greetings to us. One neighbor, Richie Cammarillo (may he rest in peace), would often join in to help us with our yard beautification projects, knowing well that he would benefit from any beer or chicken runs we made.

It reminds me that, there was a beer brand that I had never heard of before and haven’t seen since, Jax. You could get this beer for 68 cents a Quart at La Concordia, and I thought that was a pretty good deal until I actually had a swig once.

So the other day, I was driving by that area near Las Palmas Community Center and the San Fernando cemetery when I was reminded of one Sunday morning that my brother-in-law and I were in the old neighborhood. We had gotten to the house on Balboa fairly early to enjoy some barbacoa before starting a project in the yard. Around 9:30 in the morning, we decided to take a drive to a lumber store to pick up some materials when we drove up upon a bus stop near a stop light on Gen. McMullen. There was a fairly dapper looking gentlemen fully decked out in his Sunday’s best, no doubt waiting for a ride to church or perhaps the flea market, sipping on a quart kept cool by a brown paper bag. He had on more gold jewelry than I had seen on a man in my life. And keep in mind, this was before Rap Stars and wannabees wore their big huge gold chains. This guy had a Rolex (or perhaps it was Rol-lex) watch, bracelets, rings and his pointy-toed cowboy boots even had what appeared to be some sort of gold polished toe guard.

As we drove up to the stoplight looking the man over, you could sense his uneasiness. My brother-in-law and I looked at each other, and with almost jinx-like precision, both asked, “Where did he get a beer before noon on Sunday?”

As it turns out, and I only have this on rumor from a man who has now sadly passed, there was a lady in the neighborhood who would go to La Concordia on Saturday nights and purchase an ice chest full of quart bottles of beer, then sell them to the drunks prior to noon on Sunday for quite a substantial profit.

But he never would give me the address of this lady. Took it to his grave.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Let's get Started...

So the big question is, why a blog about my sub-division? No, this isn’t Desperate Housewives or anything like that. It really isn’t about my neighborhood, but it is about San Antonio.

I look at it this way. If you have never been to Europe but your friend lived there, would you want to know if the friend lived in France or Belgium? If they lived in Italy, would it matter if they lived in Rome or in Naples? You may not care, but for a lot of people, there is a difference between Military Highway over by Castle Hills and Military Drive over by Lackland.

So, with that in mind, I live in Silver Creek. It is a sub-division in the Great Northwest part of San Antonio, and our Zip Code is 78250.

That’s it. Now you can see where I’m coming from. But as an added bonus, it is my intent to cultivate correspondents from other areas of San Antonio to report on the sights they happen to see in our city.

So, if you see something worth reporting, e-mail me!

HEB Plus - Free Samples and Fun

My wife and I are huge fans of HEB Plus. We shop at the new one on Potranco Road at least once a weekend. Earlier today, we went in for some fruit, veggies, a malt from Spoonz grill, and of course, samples.

The ladies who do the cooking on the main stage are always very funny (they told me I was a brave guy for pushing around a cart with my wife’s purse – I asked them what made them think it was hers) and they know how to make a great sample. I had the tortilla soup, a baby spinach salad, and some awesome potatoes and stew.

Here they are posing with me. They are the cute cooks; I’m the dork looking away from the camera.

Anyway, if you are so inclined, you can see the photo actually signed by all of us on the main cooking stage. They’ll be happy to feed you.

Please tell me about your favorite place to shop. You can use the "Comment" button below.

Fiesta San Antonio!

Instead of a “mission statement” of sorts or an explanation as to what I’ll be posting here, I thought I’d get right into it. We can catch up on who I am and all about Silver Creek later.

Friday, I had lunch and a meeting at my downtown office and took the rest of the afternoon off. After all, it is the beginning of Fiesta! I had this bright idea of taking a trolley from my office over to El Mercado and purchasing a Fiesta shirt for my mother.

San Antonio’s Via (the bus company) has a trolley that runs around the downtown area so it would make sense for me to stay parked at my office and take the trolley, but there is only one problem. I haven’t really figured out the route, how much it costs or any of the schedules, so I decided to walk instead. And what a great day for a walk.

I think a lot of people who live in SA forget how wonderful the downtown area is, or perhaps they have had a bad experience and have written it off. Beyond the River Walk, I think there is so much to see, so many shops and bars and restaurants worth giving a chance.

On my way towards the Mercado, I saw quite an interesting site. I suppose this is art. I’m just not sure I would waste a Corvette like that, or such a nice Impala.

This is why I always try to keep a camera handy.

Anyway, back on topic. One of my major pet peeves in life is graffiti. I know that there is a segment of society who wants to excuse taggers as misguided artists seeking nothing more than a canvas to express themselves. I’d say, we should hire a Director of Cultural Affairs, give them a reserved parking spot, and a little canvas to work with.

I made my way to Market Square and things were just getting kicked off. Bands were playing, a homeless drunk (or perhaps, simply crazy) lady was already getting her groove on, and the shops were full of souvenirs for the tourists. It was just after 1 PM and already, there were lines forming at the beer booths.

Fiesta is comprised of many events at various locations throughout San Antonio but I have always enjoyed the sights and sounds of Market Square or El Mercado. There is a large Police presence to keep things under control, yet I have never witnessed our officers unduly cracking down on people trying to enjoy themselves. There is such a huge variety of food to enjoy and it seems like a different band or type of music is available around every corner.

I went inside the market to find a good shirt for my mom, but instead I found a 32 oz cup of beer for $4.00 so I opted to look around a bit more.

On the center stage, there was a young performer, a girl who appeared to be maybe 16 giving a performance suitable for Karaoke night at a strip club. She really was working the stage and I felt almost creepy for watching. Her manager/mother had printed out stacks of 8 x 11 Glamour Shot like photos that she was selling for $2.00 each. I passed.

What an afternoon, and it was just the start. Nothing says Fiesta like several rows of Port-a-Potties! Welcome to San Antonio!

About Your Host

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San Antonio, TX, United States
I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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