San Antonio sojourn

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I'm nearing the end of two business trips in one week, separated by less than 16 hours at home, both involving graveyard-shift hours.

The first was to Altus, in southwestern Oklahoma -- drove down on Wednesday, worked the wee hours of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, slept a bit, then drove home late Saturday afternoon with a couple of self-indulgent stops: taking pictures an abandoned stretch of US 62 east of town, followed a short while later by a Meers burger.

Back in '87 I spent six weeks over a three month period in Altus for Burtek with a team of about 10 engineers, installing and testing a simulation written in Ada to control a C-141 full-flight simulator. It was my first major site trip as an engineer, and going back to Altus brings back a lot of memories, most of them positive. It was strange to see what had been the Ramada Inn, the nice new hotel in town in '87, with an indoor pool and restaurant, now a Motel 6. The nice new place in town these days is the Holiday Inn Express, a bit further east.

Got in Saturday evening in time to give the four-year-old a bath, read to him and his big sister, hear the 13-year-old's enthused description of Avatar in 3-D, get a couple of loads of laundry done, then deliver a computer chassis back to the office, then about five hours sleep. Sunday morning involved turning in the rental for the Altus trip (a Ford Fusion -- pretty nice car), going to church, going back to the rental office to pick up the Pikepass I'd left on the windshield, lunch at Delta Cafe -- vegetable plate, to make up for what I ate in Altus -- then off to the airport.

At the airport, I met up with a colleague from my FlightSafety days, off on a site trip of his own. We wound up next to each other on the plane, and it was good to get caught up.

The Thrifty van driver was playing a local Christian radio station playing a type of music you don't hear much any more -- neither 18th century Charles Wesley or Isaac Watts, nor 21st century emergent church grunge, but hymns and gospel songs from the late 19th, early 20th century -- the songs of my Southern Baptist childhood and my dad's childhood, too. I tuned my car radio to the same station and harmonized best as I could remember from the Baptist Hymnal (1956 edition). On the drive to the work site at 2 a.m., they were playing Alexander Scourby's reading of Genesis 31-33 from the King James Version.

During off-season, you can find a hotel room downtown San Antonio about as cheaply as one out on Loop 410, and downtown is far more interesting. For a short trip in December, I stayed at the O'Brien Hotel, a 10-year-old boutique hotel in an old three-story commercial building, just about a block from the River Walk and La Villita. This time, someone else picked the hotel, the Hampton Inn, northeast of the Alamo. The large surface parking lots between the hotel and the Alamo makes this a much less appealing part of downtown.

It was unusually chilly for San Antonio. I set out for the Riverwalk to find a place to eat, only to discover that the river was gone! This, evidently, is the time of year they drain the loop to dredge and clean the river bed. A few pubs and eateries were closed, as were some of the sidewalks.

Drained San Antonio River, MDB10509

Since I had to be at work at 2 a.m, I decided to have breakfast for dinner and had an Ulster fry-up (bacon, eggs, sausage, tomato, beans, toast, and mushrooms) and an overpriced Guinness at Mad Dogs Pub. I went back to the room, finished reading Ender's Game (which had come highly recommended by my 13-year-old), and took a two-hour nap.

Work on site was done about 8, but I wrote up my trip report and answered e-mail as I had the hotel's breakfast for dinner. Finally got to bed about 11 and slept 'til 4:30 with Fox News droning in the background to drown out any extraneous hall noise. (Glenn Beck woke me up.)

My walk to get something to eat took me past a building that holds a historical scale model of the Alamo as it was in 1836. Price of admission was $3, and it was well worth it. There's a view of the excavation under the building, showing layers of debris from different periods, including a layer, about two feet down, with cannon balls, horseshoes, and animal bones. There's a recorded story to go with the diorama, and it's narrated by drummer, vocalist, and Alamo enthusiast Phil Collins. Spotlights on the diorama highlight the component buildings of the fort as Collins describes them, and then backed by the Degüello -- the haunting bugle call meaning "take no prisoners" -- Collins tells the story of the battle. The presentation helped me get a better sense for how the siege and battle progressed.

The diorama is connected with The History Shop next door, which specializes in antique maps, documents, books, and weapons.

Just west of the diorama is the Emily Morgan Hotel, a 1924 Gothic Revival building that has some Philtower-like gargoyles depicting various medical ailments. (Originally, it was the Medical Arts Building.)

Emily Morgan Hotel gargoyle, MDB10479Emily Morgan Hotel gargoyle, MDB10478

The stroll onward took me past a new Walgreens at Houston and Navarro. The building was completed last year, and it replaces an older Walgreens that had been there since the '30s. The new building retains the old neon signage and has the form of the old, but the new store is about twice as big. The upper stories of the old building were unused; the new building has offices in its second story. It's a very nice job of urban infill.

Downtown San Antonio Walgreens

Dinner was at Schilo's deli, just next door to Casa Rio on Commerce Street. This is an old fashioned German deli, and it was hard to decide which dinner entrée to choose. I went with the jaegerschnitzel, accompanied by German potato salad, a delicious cup of split pea soup, and a chilled mug of Spaten Optimator.

Schilo's Deli, MDB10497

MORE: Before heading home on the 12th, I had some time to take more photos around downtown, including the San Antonio Express-News building, and daytime shots of the drained San Antonio River, and time to have lunch at Schilo's. The pastrami was underwhelming (thin sliced, lean, not steamed), but the split pea soup and homemade root beer were good.

(Finished at last and posted on February 19, 2010.)

BOOKMARKED: Memories of San Antonio places from someone who left in 1961. Many of the photo links are dead, but the narrative is interesting.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 11, 2010 7:34 PM.

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