Road Trip! Friday, September 16, 2011-San Antonio, TX

I wonder what the last thoughts of men like William Travis, David Bowie, and Davy Crockett were before they were massacred at the Alamo?

Did they think about their loved ones?  Did their lives flash by before their eyes?  Did they think they had any chance at all?

I doubt the latter.  The odds were about 15-20 to one that day, and these were military men.  They knew they’d die.  But I also think they wanted to live as much as you or I.  What gives a guy the kind of courage they showed?  I’m pretty sure Crockett and Bowie gave the Mexicans all they could handle…they’d had plenty of war experience, and they’d seen death before.  Travis, though, was only 26, and he was in charge.  Records show that his last thoughts were focused on his sweetheart and on victory.  “Victory, or death.”

If an event can summarize the mindset of a people, then the Alamo fairly succinctly epitomizes the heart of Texas.  Understand what happened here, and you have the essence of this great state.  In the early morning hours of March 26, 1836, a rag tag band of 200 Texian volunteers held off a Mexican Army of at least 3000 and as many as 6500 troops twice before they were put to the sword in furious hand-to-hand combat inside of this 18th century mission.  All were offered a chance to leave before they were surrounded.  Only one did.  The rest knew the odds, and they chose to fight.  To the death.

They came from all over.  Most were native Texians, but there were many from the Deep South, Mexico, and even a couple from the northeast.  They were German, Irish, Scottish, and Dutch immigrants, and they knew how to handle firearms and live on the wild frontier, where weather, Indians, and scarce water and food constantly threatened to exterminate them.  They didn’t scare easily.

The Alamo itself is not an imposing building.  In fact, you’re struck by how small it is, and it’s difficult to tell what it really looked like 175 years ago, because now it’s sitting in the middle of a major city.  Huge office towers now stand where the exterior defensive walls used to be, so all that remains is the original church and a couple of outbuildings.  This is hallowed ground, but it’s hard to penetrate the civilized veneer of its surroundings.  Yet I can tell from the original length of the perimeter walls that this was an indefensible position with only 200 men.  An effective garrison of 500 might have done it, but that kind of help never came.

Santa Ana thought that his slaughter of the Alamo defenders would squash the resistance of the nascent Texas Republic.  He found out how wrong he was at the battle of San Jacinto, where General Sam Houston’s force of 1,000 delivered a decisive defeat to the vastly larger Mexican Army, and captured Santa Ana himself in the process.  The rallying cry of Houston’s army?  “Remember the Alamo!”

Jonathan and I are taking the audio tour for $6 each (admission is free), and it’s better than nothing, but I long for the time when the trustees used to provide personal accounts of the infamous events of those days.  Now, there are guides who recount pieces of it, but it just isn’t the same.

Still, you can get a good feel for the battle by watching the movie and reading the various plaques and just walking the grounds, which are well maintained.  Make sure to take the time to view the exhibits in the Long Room, where you’ll see one of the Kentuckian Bowie’s knives and a real rifle used in the Crockett TV series by Fess Parker as he depicted Tennessee frontier life, circa 1820.  I think it’s instructive that the Daughters of the Texas Revolution manage to run this monument using only voluntary donations and proceeds from the attached Gift Shop better than the National Park Service does with admission fees and your tax dollars at the facilities they maintain.

We left this morning from Dallas, where I had a classic American breakfast of eggs, bacon, and coffee as a good start for the day.  After saying goodbye to our hosts Uncle Bob and Aunt Dorothy we took I-35 South through Waco and Austin to San Antonio, regretting that I didn’t have time to visit my good friend Lisa in the state capital, which I’ve heard very good things about.

San Antonio has a lot going for it.  It’s a tourist town, but it’s also a real town.  There’s a big military presence here, including Air Force and Marine contingents.  It looks relatively new, and the River Walk area winding through the downtown district is a real delight.  You could spend a full day just wondering through its many shops and tasting the dining delights.  The only ugliness stems from the awkward home arena of the Spurs, which looks like a tarantula crouching on top of a box.

We stay at the Sheraton ($98), which is a nice place with fantastic bedding, but beware of the extra fees.  $24 for parking?  $11 for Internet?  Are you kidding?  Charging for Internet is like charging extra for TV…

But it’s convenient to the Riverwalk, and we take the opportunity to dine at Casa Rio, highly regarded by Trip Advisor, but in all honesty this is not good Mexican food, or even Tex-Mex.  What it DOES have is a great location for al fresco dining right on the picturesque tree-lined “river” (which is actually a diverted creek), where you can people watch and enjoy the sight of the tour boats passing by.  The good news is the chips and salsa are first rate and freshly made.  Too bad the tacos and enchiladas are no better than what you’d find anywhere else in America.  The tacos are basically ground beef and a little soggy.  The chicken tacos are tasteless but big.  The enchiladas are pretty pedestrian as well, according to Jonathan.  But, for $25 out the door in a tourist area, including a decent margarita and a coke, it’s a bargain.  Suit yourself.

We watch an in-room movie and crash out for the night.  Tomorrow I am seeing my…eccentric brother in McAllen, Texas, on the border with Mexico.  See you then!

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