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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Great Northwest Watch Report: My Notes...

Most of you won't give a hoot about any of this, but since I use this blog to tell you about the place I live, mi barrio as they say, hopefully some neighbors will find the information, uh, informative.

My wife and I joined a handful of residents at a meeting of the Great Northwest Watch Wednesday evening – the first one for 2008. We had an informative meeting and I’d like to take a minute to tell you about it.
The meeting did get off to a late start because the Lodge was being used as a place to take pictures of various sports teams, but it wasn’t a real issue. Chief Burton of GNW Security had arranged for two of our SAFFE officers, Officers Atkinson and Struxness, to provide the group with some home security tips and a way for homeowners to get a 5 percent discount on insurance. They offer a free service where they will come out to your house, do a thorough inspection of the place, then send a form into the state insurance board. Regardless of your insurance company, if you meet the requirements, state law mandates that you get the 5%. They offered up a handful of tips about different easy and inexpensive ways of securing your doors and the difference between what works and what doesn’t work. As they pointed out – they can't guarantee that nobody will try to burglarize your house, but you can make your house a less attractive target with easy and inexpensive methods, and simply send the crooks on to your neighbor’s house to do the stealing. Gee, I hope your neighbor has some insurance!

They also gave out a few interesting tidbits - did you know that not all burglars are male? Yep, the percentage of female criminals is rising fast. Your burglar will not always be dressed in black or look like that character from the McDonald's commercials. They are going to try to blend in to the surroundings. But the stats show that they still tend to be young, and they tend to be nervous. So if some young nervous girl is hanging out by the side of your house, it may not be because she is waiting for your son to get home, she could be there to rip you off.

One other thing that I have mentioned here before, and that has to do with the City of San Antonio and our SAPD. We have a force of about 2,000 officers (with 400-600 eligible to retire this month), to cover our entire city. The city of Philadelphia which is roughly the same population as San Antonio has 6,000 officers. Last year, our city fielded over 1 million 9-11 calls. If you dial 9-1-1 to have a police officer come figure out who knocked over your garbage can, what are the chances they are going to get to you anytime this week?

Sadly, the same thing is true for my pet peeve, graffiti. Please do not dial 9-1-1 to report graffiti. Call the non-emergency number 207-SAPD (7273) or 207-7484 and report it there. If you are giving a description of a suspect, describe the person from either head to toe, or toe to head. Men: they do not need to know how large Jennifer Broome's breasts have suddenly become. Give them something they can work with while they are looking for the scoundrels. And do me a favor, if you see them, take a picture of them
(the graffiti artists) in the act. That might help.

Before the officers skedaddled off, they also mentioned something you might want to do. Get your camera and make a video of all the contents in your house, and do up an inventory of everything and take it to another location. This way, if you get ripped off, you have a list for the insurance company with pictures. Also, do a back-up of your computer. They mentioned people who had laptops stolen and had huge business set-backs because all of their contact information, calendars and work was on the laptop. Good advice.
Up next, Mr. Mike Yager from the GNW A-Team gave a few quick words on how he is trying to revamp the group of area volunteers. His comments were well received and my wife and I even piped up to give testimonials of what a great time we had working with a group a few weeks ago.

Mike hit on one area that I’d like to mention and that is that some people may have a firmer line of what they consider helping out the community and doing personal services for people who should be paying for it. For example I think we can all agree that a group of people volunteering to help clean-up a community park is an effort that the community as a whole benefits from and whether or not you have kids who play in that park, it is still for the betterment of the community. Mike and a few others (myself included), can see trying to help an older couple, disabled person, or perhaps a young mother who has a spouse deployed with lots of little kids around the house who might need assistance with some yard work or something. Some people feel that this crosses the line because suddenly, now one person is upset that volunteers mowed his neighbor's yard, but not his.

My view is, first and foremost, this is a volunteer effort. If you don;t want to support a particular project, simply don't. Nobody is going to hold it against you. Mike has taken it a step further (hence, the reason he is in charge). He says that tough evaluations and decisions will have to be made, and some people may be unhappy that the A-Team could not support their need. But we can't allow that disappointment to halt the good that the group can do as a whole.

So, if you think you have even an hour to give only one time, not even on a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis, but just one time, please contact Mike. You can get a form for the A-Team and Mike's contact info from the February Passages (online now).

Okay, following the A-Team discussion, it was my big debut as the new coordinator for the watch. I'm happy to report that I did not faint from nervousness, though my wife says that I constantly clicked my pen. Perhaps next time, I take one of those little squeeze balls.

I wanted to ask my fellow watch captains (it sounds almost Tony Soprano-like) how they felt about a few things about how the format of the meetings go and just stuff that was administrative in nature. One thing for sure was that everyone agreed we should make the meetings as quick as possible - they start at 7:30PM, and we should definitely be done and on our way home by 9PM. And, the assembled crowd agreed that we should only have guest speakers if they were on topic. If not, why bring someone in just for the sake of speaking?

If you are reading this and you live in the GNW and you are, or you want to be, a block captain, please get in touch with me via e-mail by clicking here. I will try to contact the folks I have contact info for. Also, you don't have to be a block captain to attend the meetings. The next one is Wednesday, February 27 2008 and we will have a speaker from the San Antonio Parks Department to talk about - what else - Oscar Perez Memorial Park.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Gratitude Campaign...

If you haven't seen the video or the web page for The Gratitude Campaign, please take a minute to check it out here.

You inevitably pass service members in the airport and even when you have no idea where they are coming from or going to, I think it is a good idea to say "thanks".
Take it from me, you'll feel really good when you do.

Monday, January 28, 2008

River Walk Construction Update: Here's Your Fix...

Here we go - a few pictures to keep you from forgetting that construction continues and progress is, well progressing... It is looking good.And you can check out some older pictures here and here and here...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lunch Report: Fat Cowboys

It makes no sense to drive all the way to Atascosa County and not stop someplace new to eat, so following our trip to Christine, my wife and I got off Highway 16 and headed East on Highway 97 from Jourdanton to Pleasanton.

I confess, I have never been to Pleasanton before and I was surprised to see how city-like it is. We stopped in the Tractor Supply Co. so my wife could purchase a few discounted Christmas items - 75% off!
Once done, I had thoughts of driving back to San Antonio so I could throw some fajitas on the grill but it was already getting to be mid afternoon, and stomachs were growling. So, I clicked on the ol' Garmin and saw a restaurant called Fat Cowboys. How can you go wrong?We whipped into the place and I found the parking situation to be entertaining. They have a few handicapped slots and a specially marked, Sheriff Only slot.You know I love this sort of interior design - where friendly animals can observe you while you eat them, along with nostalgic items of interest for observation.We looked through our menus contemplating how we might get an appetizer or perhaps try a steak or something when a group of teens seated at a table near us got their orders. Several of the kids got these huge baked potatoes loaded with things and I pretty much made up my mind, I was going to try that.

I will tell you that a few of the items on the menu were quite pricey. I don't recall exact prices but the Catfish was at least $15.00 and that is more than I'm willing to pay for something that may or may not be good. But don't let that stop you - they have lots of reasonably priced meals to choose from.
My wife ordered up a chicken sandwich with fries. She took about a bite into it and was already making her signature "Eeee-Yum" sound. I didn't try the sandwich, but I did inspect a few of the fries to confirm tastiness. My baked potato was huge. I ordered mine with chicken, something I would have never thought of, and of course, asked for it loaded with whatever else they wanted to throw onto it.

As much as I love baked potatoes, there was just too much of it and I ended up taking almost half of mine to go. It was good eatin' though.

One thing I noted about the menu was that they made note of the fact that they need time to make your order right. I expected we would be waiting a while considering the place was mostly full. Surprisingly, our food was out quite quickly, and that made me pretty happy. I'd certainly recommend this place if you happened to be in the area but like many other places we visit, I wouldn't drive an hour just to try it out.

Do you have a place you would drive an hour just to eat at? Tell me about it.

Christine, TX: Howdy Mr. Parker...

My late father-in-law, Scobey as his friends called him, worked for over 30 years out at Lackland, mostly in the transportation department. He actually drove the bus I took from the SA airport to Basic Training, and I remembered him years later when I met and married his daughter.

During his years working at Lackland, he had quite a few friends and co-workers, but one man who stood out was named Jim Parker. When Mr. Parker retired and got to be up in years, it was not uncommon for Scobey to help him with work around his house or taking him to doctor appointments and such. Other than a sister in California, it turns out that Mr. Parker had no other family to speak of. But he had always relied on his pal Scobey to help him out.

When Mr. Parker's health was failing and it was apparent the end was near, he asked Scobey to take him back to the town where he was born and raised, Christine, TX. This is not hardly the dramatic task as Augustus McCrae asking his friend Woodrow Call to haul his body all the way from Montana to Texas in a cart; Christine is only about an hour south, and in the case of Mr. Parker, he would be cremated, thereby lightening the load considerably.

In a handsome wooden box that was big enough to hold the urn containing Mr. Parker's ashes with the letter from his high school letterman's jacket, it was a pretty day in a very small town cemetery, when my in-laws, the sister from California and a preacher returned Mr. Parker to Christine. Not a whole lot of fanfare I suppose, but he was home.
I had never been further down Highway 16 than the Poteet Flea Market, not even to the Strawberry Festival. But I wanted to see Christine, and say howdy to Mr. Parker and perhaps get a feel for what the area was like. When my wife and I take drives out of San Antonio, she is constantly on the hunt for that piece of property that we will surely purchase if we win the Lottery, in spite of the fact that we never play. Texas has so much wide open and inviting land that it feels like a crime to sit here in 78250 with the traffic and the shopping centers and the houses popping up like mushrooms, but then I remember that I'm not a rancher or a farmer, and there was a reason Mr. Parker left Christine in the first place. Work.

But we can dream.
We drove down Highway 16 south of San Antonio and I finally got to see Poteet. The drive is quite nice once you get past the trashy frontage just south of Loop 1604. They never seem to show these parts when you see San Antonio featured on national television for Spurs games or the Alamo Bowl. But looking south, you can understand why some people stay out there and not succumb to the comfort of a job in the city.And so you know you are in Poteet when you see the big strawberry.Further south on Highway 16 is the town of Jourdanton where there seemed to be a bit more to look at.Though the water tower did not have a paint scheme resembling fruit of any description, an older castle looking building caught my eye warranting a quick investigation. Turns out this was the old jail house. My guess is, not a lot of folks busted out.This huge building is built with a round-about type road around it making the traffic smoother, I suppose. And of course, Jourdanton has a post office if you need to mail anything. When we got to Christine, my wife told me to slow down. It wasn't for fear that I might get a speeding ticket, but she didn't want me to miss it. That population of 436 must be pretty spread out because we only encountered maybe a dozen people during our visit.In spite of the few visible residents, Christine does have both a fire department and a post office.They also have a City Hall and a museum, though I confess, neither seemed readily identifiable to me. What we did see was a shocking amount (shocking to us anyway) of just busted up and abandoned dwellings. Was there a tornado I missed? The few unpaved roads we traveled down contained churches or seemingly abandoned homes. I can only guess we didn't find ourselves in the Alamo Heights section of Christine. And it seems a shame to see a place like this. Because after all, we had come to see Mr. Parker and I suddenly wondered how long it had been since he had visited his hometown, if there was anybody for him to visit. Would he have recognized the place and still desire to rest there?

I feel bad saying it, because I'm sure if anyone from Christine were to read this, they'd wonder why I would be so down on their small place in Texas. I can only confess that I was disturbed by the sights. I probably wouldn't do well on a trip to some impoverished third world nation, though I suspect the people of Christine have a much greater opportunity to change their situations.
Thankfully, the Christine Cemetery seemed to be, dare I say, one of the brighter spots of town. We drove up and after my wife got her bearings (she's made the trip to visit Mr. Parker a few times before), we stopped and paid our respects to the man. The cemetery is fairly small but full of names from the handful of families that once made the town what it was. Interestingly enough, I stumbled upon what seems to be quite the controversy brewing within the tows people. This marker posted above the grave of Christine Andrews Paul explains how the town derived the name, Christine. (Click on the picture to enlarge it, and you can read the story yourself.) Well, this seemed like a pretty official looking monument to me. But as I was looking to find more information on the town, there is a different Christine wanting a little credit. Apparently, a land developer named CF Simmons had two daughters, one named Imogene, and another named Christine. It is said that Mr. Simmons developed the town of Christine and named it after one daughter, then named another nearby town Imogene, though that town never really made it.

So, decide for yourself. I suspect Mr. Parker doesn't care either way.

Let's Rodeo, San Antonio...

I don't do Cowboy Breakfast because I have a job. I'm sorry if that sounds as though I don't have the spirit.

In fairness, my wife and I do go to the rodeo every year on Valentines Day, not to see any concerts or to actually watch the rodeo events, but we make an afternoon of looking at livestock, shopping inside the Joe & Harry Freeman Coliseum, and happily paying Spurs game rates for beer as we walk around collecting free samples from eager vendors and radio stations. Oh, and we dig the onion blossoms.

For the first time in nine years, the rodeo folks decided to run some cattle down Houston Street to get some local attention, and you better believe that we were in place, camera in hand and ready to celebrate the cause.

In case you couldn't make it, here are a few pictures of what you missed from start to finish as if you were lined up like we were on Houston and Main in downtown SA.
As we readied ourselves for the big event, it was pretty exciting to imagine that we were just steps away from the famous Bob Lee, Air Conditioned Hotel on Houston Street in downtown SA waiting to see some cattle. Oh, and as a note; I always complain about the lack of places to pee downtown, so kudos to the Riverwalk Market & Deli who served up some piping warm coffee at a fair price and a clean restroom when my wife needed to make a sprinkle.I have to tell you, the city had their act together. we parked and walked over to a good place to stand (toward the beginning of the route - not the end by the Alamo) and watched as police officers manned the intersections in preparation for the cattle drive. Soon, city crews came by and quickly blocked off the streets with barricades so that cars would stop and the cattle would stay on course. Likewise, rodeo ladies in their official jackets and beehive hairdos readied themselves for the drive, and crowds of bystanders eagerly waited for the big event.Moments later, we could see the cowboys (and girls) coming down the street. Let's not freak out here. We have all seen cows and cattle and such, if not in a zoo, at least in the meat section of our local HEB; but I have to tell you, this up close and personal business is pretty entertaining.
And the cows...
At one point as I was busily taking pictures, one of the cows took an interest in me and seemed to wander my way. I looked up at one of the cowboys on his horse and gave him the international sign for, "Holy Shit" by saying, "Holy Shit!" He recognized my anxiety and simply gave a quick, "Whoop!" and the cow moved along.
In all, the 35 mostly well behaved cattle made their way past us in a matter of minutes on their way to the Alamo where I can only assume that a big crowd slaughtered them, then ate them.But from our vantage point, we got to see the rest of the event to include horse riders, waving big rodeo flags and showing off beautiful horses, boots, and hats.Up next, the clean up crew came - first in the form of some guys with shovels...then, always a crowd favorite at parades... the guy in the street sweeper.Finally, what would a rodeo be without a rodeo clown or two?

Our total time from start to finsih was less than half an hour, but it was something you just don't see everyday, at least here 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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