The great journey began on June 1 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Katelyn and I packed up the car, put some gas in the tank, and as we joined the volatile automobile swarm of I-10, we said our goodbyes to the Crescent City, promising that we would see her again in a month. We drove to Houston, Texas, where we spent the night with Katelyn’s grandparents, and from which we left the next morning, with San Antonio in our sights.
On the way to San Antonio, we made a pit stop that Katelyn (as a native Texan) referred to as a rite of passage for anyone traveling by car in the Lone Star State: Buc-ee’s. Buc-ee’s is a chain gas station and food mart at its core, but believe me when I tell you that these are just the bare bones of the Buc-ee’s establishment.
Buc-ee’s is an experience that serves all the senses. From the moment you step past the sliding glass doors, you are barraged by consumerist cannonfire on all fronts. Whether you are in the market for a cheeseburger hot off the grill, a grill upon which to cook your own cheeseburger, a canvas tote bag declaring its bearer to be “Mother of the Bride,” or a stuffed version of Buc-ee himself (keychain, human-size, or anywhere in between, the beaver mascot has many huggable forms), you can find it here. Buc-ee’s has a fully loaded magazine of whatever fast food, home goods, sports paraphernalia, or Buc-ee’s spirit wear you could possibly desire. I am compleely convinced that a person could live inside Buc-ee’s and lead a very happy life.
Unfortunately, that future was not meant for me (for the time being, at least). Katelyn and I had a date with the Alamo and we could not keep it waiting! After filling up the gas tank, we continued on our way to San Antonio.
Our first stop upon arrival was of course, the Alamo. It was fascinating to learn about the history of Texas and the sacrifice of those who fought at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. Within the grounds of the Alamo there is also a collection of artifacts pertaining to the era and events surrounding the battle. The most singular of these is a locket containing a piece of Davy Crockett’s hair, but most of the artifacts are swords (some yielded by Crockett and Sam Houston), small personal possessions such as coins, and fragments of ceramic household objects.
We spent a great deal of time along the River Walk, just strolling around and seeing the sights until we decided on a place for dinner. We dined at Casa Rio, which was the first restaurant to open along the river in 1946. While eating with some new duck friends staring up at us from the water, we watched tour boats sail past us on the river, some laden with chairs and tables set for a suppertime cruise.
As it happened, taking a river tour of the Texan Venice was next on our tourist to-do list. After dinner we hopped on a “gondola” and sailed down the San Antonio. The river tour afforded us an excellent opportunity to view some of San Antonio’s most notable structures, such as the convention center (apparently booked solid until 2025!) and the Tower of the Americas, with a special guest appearance by Saint Anthony (San Antonio) himself- in statue form.
The most interesting part of the boat tour for me personally was how much it felt like I was sitting on a ride at Disney World. The little boat was stuffed with tourists squished in next to each other in a fashion akin to a tin of sardines. Meanwhile, a bored captain recounted fun facts (that amused no one) and steered the boat (into the bank or even another vessel from time to time). The tour went along the areas of the river walk that are clearly the most lively and populated, where there are tacquerias lining both banks and mariachi bands walking around offering to play any song you request, as long as you give them twenty dollars. There are multicolored umbrellas, lights, and other decorations just about everywhere you look, helping visitors sipping margaritas feed their fiesta mentality. All this and more gave me the strangest feeling that I was on the boat ride atttaction in the Mexico pavilion at Epcot in Walt Disney World.
The most bizarre aspect of the river by far is how curated everything is. Every square inch is manicured and micromanaged, so that the crafted stonework of the river walk and the plots of green space with hedges, palms, and cypress trees maintain an artistic balance at all times. The effect is a soothing blend of modern construction and “natural” landscape, but I couldn’t help but have the suspicion that none of the plants along the river walk grew naturally in their current spots, or are even native to the San Antonio environment. I later asked a veteran tour guide how much of the vegetation along the river walk was natural versus cultivated and native versus non-native, and the only thing he could definitively say on the matter is that there is a lemon tree somewhere along the river walk that grew all on its own from some serendipitous happenstance that caused a discarded lemon seed to take root. Most of the trees along the river walk are at least two stories tall, and there are very few that are not mature. The height of the trees along with that of the buildings of downtown San Antonio all but obscure the sky, which intensifies the sense of being in a minutely designed biosphere or synthetic society of the future in which natural features and manmade objects exist in harmony. San Antonio (at least the river walk portion of the city) gives the impression of a mature Epcot that has its foundations on history, rather than a fictional cartoon mouse. Nevertheless, Katelyn and I greatly enjoyed our time along the San Antonio River Walk. It just seemed a bit too contrived than I would prefer, if I were a permanent resident. I would also be very interested in further investigating how the human interference with the San Antonio river and the natural topography of the surrounding area has affected the environment.
The last item on our San Antonio agenda was a laser light show at the Cathedral of San Fernando. Countless images were projected onto the face of the cathedral, which is a beautiful architectural monument as it is. The light show lasted almost half an hour, and told the story of San Antonio. It was a fitting end to our whirlwind day in the city, putting a very nice exclamation point at the end of a sentence that had been filled with learning and new experiences.