Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 19, 2005
BLOG: San Antonio
So, if you were wondering where I've been (OK, pretend you were wondering), I spent last Thursday through Monday in San Antonio for a family wedding. Of course, traveling is always a stark reminder of how big this country is and how little of it bears any resemblance to Manhattan. For the ninth largest city in the United States, San Antonio feels remarkably like a small town, with none of the heavy traffic and skyscraper canyons that I deal with back home. When we arrived on Thursday afternoon, the place seemed almost deserted.
Naturally, we took time to see the Alamo, the one can't-miss tourist attraction in the city. If you've never been there, well, I had a mental image of the Alamo as you might picture it from movies, surrounded by open land. In fact, it's right in the middle of the city, across the street from drug stores, shops and restaurants on all sides. Of course, the Alamo itself and one or two other structures are still standing, but the "long barrack" that formed a wide defensive perimeter around the old mission, and which served as the front line for the defense of the Alamo from January-March 1836, is long gone, with only a few segments preserved for posterity.
To the modern eye, the numbers of soldiers involved in the Battle of the Alamo, and indeed in the Texas Revolution as a whole, is astonishingly small. As I've mentioned before, I recently read John Keegan's book on the First World War (more on that later), and after a while you get numb to another 100,000 men dying every other paragraph or so; it was jarring to see that the Texan force defending the Alamo was just 180 men at the end, and Santa Anna's Mexican force was less than 4,000.
We also spent time at the Riverwalk, San Antonio's other big tourist destination. The Riverwalk is nothing much to see, just a narrow channel of shallow greenish water bounded on each side by a sidewalk. But it's still a pretty cool destination because of the long strip of restaurants (many with outdoor seating and hospitable weather) and stores, much like the South Street Seaport in Manhattan or Quincy Market in Boston.
Of course, the "welcome to a red state" effect - which we saw, for example, when the priest at Sunday Mass went off on people who file lawsuits against school prayer - was magnified by the presence of the U.S. Army-All American Bowl in San Antonio the weekend we were there, a high school all-star football game sponsored and, apparently, heavily attended by Army personnel. It seemed like every third person on the Riverwalk was a soldier in uniform, which among other things made me feel very, very old, given how many of these guys are just skinny teenagers. (A waiter actually asked me whether I was a captain or a major, which believe you me is the first time I've ever been mistaken for a soldier; I was able to set him straight on that one, but it's true that guys my age in the Army are getting up to those ranks). Of course, as for the wedding itself, the groom was my wife's cousin, who's a surgeon in the Air Force and was in Iraq for several months last year, and the bride is also an Air Force doctor; the groom's brother used to be in the Army, and the bride's brother was back on leave from Afghanistan. A little different group, there.
Anyway, I've been swamped at work lately; even this post was sitting half-written for the past day and a half, and I'm cutting it off here a bit arbitrarily. Hopefully, I'll be back to the blogging routine in another day or two.