Dave

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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Weekend Trip to San Antonio!

This may come as a shock, but finding a hotel room in downtown San Antonio for the last weekend in April is not really easy. And we figured this out years ago the first time my wife had the bright idea of taking a mini-vacation without leaving town.

Years ago, we found a hotel that met all of our requirements: an indoor pool, an in-room Jacuzzi, a manager’s reception (read: free drinks) and free breakfast. At the time, the hotel was called the Executive Guest Haus, and I think it was about $89.00 for the night.

Later, the hotel changed owners and I believe the Clarion folks called it the Atrium. Now, after being closed for two years, our little getaway hotel is called the Hilton Garden Inn and it is just south of Bitters on 281 North.

A few things have changed since our first visit – for one, we no longer require the use of the indoor pool allowing some body-modesty issues to rule out what would surely be a refreshing swim in the pool, visible to anyone seeking to admire the beautiful open atrium of the hotel. I suspect if you stayed there, you’d thank me for that.

Another thing is, they smartly installed an actual bar into the hotel rather than some guy serving keg beer and boxed wine from a little pushcart. Though it seems small at first glance, patrons can sit anywhere in the lobby to enjoy their drinks in private on the comfortable variety of sofas and chairs or at tables with a good view of the nice flat screen High-Def TVs. We opted to sit at the bar for a quick drink or two. I’ll get back to the bar n a moment.

The rooms have been upgraded to include quite possibly the most comfortable bed I have ever slept on. We were so impressed with the comfort that we pulled the linens off to look for a tag and found that it was one of those sleep systems that allows you to change the settings for softer or firmer etc. I’m guessing it was set to “Perfect” because, without sounding like some paid spokesman, it was really that good. Oh, I did Google it once we got home and I suspect that for the mattress, the platform, the mattress cover and the pillows, we were sleeping on a $2,500 .00 bed. And that was just the sleep system itself, not the really nicely done headboard. My wife is saving for ours now.

There was one disappointing change to the room though. Originally, the Jacuzzi tub had openings on both the bathroom side and the bedroom side. This allowed for sitting in the tub and soaking while watching TV. I’m going to guess that the Hilton folks just assumed nobody would be interested in watching TV from a Jacuzzi. They don’t know me!

So our original plan called for finding a nice place to have dinner close by, back to the hotel for drinks and then breakfast in the morning at The Magnolia Pancake Haus. However, when the manager gave us some coupons good toward the purchase of dinner, drinks or breakfast, we opted to try the restaurant in the hotel. I’ll take cheap over romantic any day of the week – and this made our dinner just about free.

As I mentioned earlier, we opted to sit at the bar to have a drink. My wife is fond of a thing called a Bahama Mama, which roughly equates to three types of rum, some grenadine and some juice. Our bartender, Vito, a fairly new barkeep had never heard of such nonsense, but was quick to look it up and take a stab at one. In minutes, my wife was sipping away on the festive novelty, though it lacked the customary little umbrella.

When we walked into the bar, there were already two people who had just finished work at Luby’s, and quite possibly just finished a “Doobie”. They were sharing a beer and a burger, and aside from the female having the word “CRAZY” conveniently tattooed on her arm as a warning, we would have figured it out even if she had not removed her Luby’s smock in favor of the more casual wife-beater T-shirt she was wearing. Hey, I dig a chick in a wife-beater; I just prefer to see it on “COPS”, not sitting next to my bride at a quiet hotel bar.

Anyway, and please, don’t let this little tangent take away from the overall good atmosphere of the Hilton Garden Inn; it was slightly amusing but more disheartening to observe this young girl make an ass of herself in public. I’m no prude and have imbibed to excess more than once, but this girl was proof positive that smoking dope then drinking beer should not be done in public. Put it this way, the bar only opened at 5PM and our trusty bartender refused to serve her another beer before it was 6. I could prattle on about this, but I’ll save the calls for mass sobriety to our friends at DARE.

The burger the folks next to us had looked really good and even though the menu had a wide selection of normal foods to choose from – steak, chicken alfredo, etc., we both opted to go for the custom burger with steak fries. I ordered mine with grilled onions, mushrooms, three different cheeses topped with bacon. My wife had the same, minus the ‘shrooms. Service was reasonably quick and, though I am only guessing that these were the instant HEB-like microwave patties, the burgers were thick, the buns were fresh and toasted, and they received my “Tasty Treat” seal of approval.

I’ll skip further details of our evening having adequately reported on the quality of the bed earlier, but I do have to slip in this one detail, which I found entertaining.

I have seen my fair share of hotels around the country as a result of traveling with my job. I have also seen those news-entertainment shows like 20/20 and Dateline NBC where they take the hotel linens to a lab only to find evidence of fecal matter and semen everywhere from the coffee pot to the remote control. I generally have to put this out of my mind in order to sleep. I simply pretend that either I am the first person to sleep in the room or if not, the well-paid housekeeping staff has washed everything in bleach, wiped everything that won’t fit in the washing machine with bleach, then used one of those CSI-like black lights to ensure that no remnants of personal bodily function or fluid has remained beyond the last tenants visit.

So, solidly living in fantasyland of perfectly pristine comfort, and having consumed several large beers from the aforementioned hotel bar, I was amused rather than disgusted to see a shade of faded brown on one of the towels in our room. Now surely this stain was as innocent as someone spilling a cup of hot black coffee as they came out of the shower and reaching for towel wrapped around their body so as to avoid any McDonald’s like lawsuit for burns in an uncomfortable and embarrassing area. I was willing to believe that, but I was not willing to take a chance by using the towel. Naturally, I gave that one to my wife.

But, she insisted I seek a different arrangement and so when I went back down to see Vito the barkeep for a spoon (my wife had a parfait she wanted to eat), I asked for some fresh towels as well. Vito was all too accommodating and I generously tipped him for his service.

So, Monday I had taken off from work and we decided to start our day with the long anticipated trip to the Magnolia Pancake Haus. First, by the appearance of the place, you can tell that the owners are really interested in an enjoyable atmosphere. Though the restaurant is actually located on an end slot of a strip center, they went out of their way to build a façade including columns, outdoor seating to accommodate people who my have to wait for a table, and a really crisp paint scheme to give it the feel of an older place in the country rather than a shop located in busy Embassy Oaks.

Right away, friendly staff seated us and I couldn’t help but notice the various plates of breakfast being brought out to the other patrons. Everything looked excellent, and the smell of the place was wonderful. I knew for sure that I wanted to have buttermilk pancakes and my wife was certain that she would be ordering the pecan pancakes. But believe me, the full menu will make you question your initial selection because everything sounds so appetizing.

Just as we were about to order, the gentleman seated in the booth behind us got his order. Against my better judgment, I decided on the spot to have whatever he was having, which turned out to be corned beef hash. I won’t lie here. It was not something I would order again, mostly because my idea of hash involves a can of Hormel with diced potatoes rather than shreds. But having said that, it was not bad and I was glad I tried them. The good news is, my the corned beef hash comes with a side of buttermilk pancakes and they were awesome. And as promised, my wife found her pecan pancakes to be the heaven that her friends had described. All in all, great stuff and I know we will visit again, if not for breakfast, but to give their lunch a try.

I know it is an Internet Rant cliché to go on about people and their cell phones in restaurants and such, but this little incident was worth passing along (at least I think so). First, as we were waiting for our breakfast, a frumpy looking gentleman with gray unkempt hair walked in and was seated about four booths away from us. Almost immediately, his obnoxiously loud cell phone rang and thankfully, he was able to answer it on about the fifth ring. If this wasn’t distracting enough, he began a lively conversation using an accent that sounded half-British and half-Australian. I should know, I lived in England for some time, and I’ve seen the Crocodile Hunter show (may he rest in peace). Anyway, the fact that it sounded awkward makes me think the guy was just faking it to impress other diners. “Oh, look at me, I’m British, or maybe I’m Aussie, I just don’t know which.”

So just after our food arrived and we were digging into it, the gentleman behind us (the guy who prompted me to order the hash) decided that he needed a new ring tone for his cell phone. And then he promptly played every ring tone on his phone until he found something he liked. The funny thing was, he was completely undeterred by my wife proclaiming, “You have got to be shitting me” at full volume and with no embarrassment whatsoever.

That was actually a perfect ending to our little getaway trip to celebrate our 22nd anniversary. Like many others, we did encounter the most incredible torrential downpour on our trip back to 78250. In fact, I honestly thought that I was going to float away in the left hand lane (the fast lane) of Loop 410 at Callahan. What idiot designed a highway that can amass 2 feet of water in the fast lane?

How was your weekend? E-mail me and tell me about your adventure in San Antonio.


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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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