TRAVEL BUG TALES: VISITING MY HOUSTONIAN CONNECTION
So, I was twelve and we’d recently moved back to Texas after living in Georgia for about six years. My parents decided I should get to know my cousins and a goodly number of them lived in Houston. I’m not sure that all the things I’m going to tell you about this trip actually happened on this trip, but that’s the way my memory has filed them away.
Uncle Al’s House
Of all my aunts and uncles, Uncle Al was the one most serious about procreation. He had kids stair-stepping from diapers to tween-agers. The tween-agers were Bubba and Judy. Bubba would be lost in later years to a very unfortunate accident, but Judy was my buddy – still is. I’d spent time with her at Ma’am’s house during summertime visits. The rest of Al’s kids were a maze of faces, many surrounded with angelic blonde curls, but I had a heck of a time trying to keep them straight.
Uncle Al was a favorite with everyone. Back in the sixties he ran/owned (I’m not sure which) a gas station, a very lucrative proposition. Good thing with so many mouths to feed. I remember being quite impressed with his home in Houston. At one time, they lived in Melissa and I wondered how they fit everyone into the white clapboard house, but in Houston they were doing alright.
Later in his life, music was Uncle Al’s passion. I have no idea what his financial situation was, but he was a regular at the Garland Opry. He lived in a house in McKinney with his new wife, but I never liked her as much as the fun-loving Vernice I had grown up knowing. When Uncle Al passed away, he had a country/western funeral. All his friends and fans from the Opry showed up. Funerals come and go, but Uncle Al’s was unique.
On this particular trip, we were merely stopping by for a visit. We’d be staying several nights with some of our other cousins, but for whatever reason, this was our only time with Uncle Al. I got the impression they had a lot of fun there. I remember a screen door in the kitchen that was perpetually slamming shut as one or the other of the kids ran in or out of the house. Their backyard seemed huge compared to the tiny postage stamp behind most of the houses I’d lived in. I’m sure they had a dog, a swingset and lots of green grass. I thought they must be the luckiest kids in the world.
I’m sure there was a meal, but I have no recollection of it. I just remember the big house and yard, lots of loving faces and more toys than toy store.
A Recent Re-Acquaintance
Back in April, we had a Cave Cousin Reunion. It was organized by my buddy Judy. Along with others of my cousins, I saw Judy’s brother and sisters, at least what there was left of them. Bubba and Vicky have been gone for a long time now. I will never forget Vicky’s funeral. It was a cold wet day and Vernice grieved at the thought of leaving her babies in the cold. Uncle Al, has been gone for a long time too, but Vernice was at the reunion. She and her kids are fighting a terrible, mean disease that steals memory and joy from its victims, but I’m proud of the way my cousins are loving her through it. If you come back next week, we’ll visit some of my other cousins.
So last week I talked about the differences between visiting my two grandmothers. That led me to thinking about the other people connected to my family – especially my cousins. Let me introduce you to the crowd.
The Mobleys VS the Caves
My mom was the baby of eight siblings. These eight aunts and uncles only produced nine offspring and most of those were significantly older than me, so at Mobley get-togethers, my sister and I were usually surrounded by adults .
Meanwhile, my dad was the eldest of six, but they were much more prolific in the reproduction department. Everyone had at least two kids, while two of his brothers had significantly more. I’d be hard-pressed to give you a definite number of cousins on that side.
The Geographic Divide
For my first five years I was an only child and I was the only girl cousin who would show up at most of the Mobley holiday events, in part because the other girls didn’t live nearby. At the Cave shindigs I was just one in a sea of faces which seemed larger every year.
Then, at about the same time as my sister was born, we moved to Georgia. Our appearance at any family shindig rarely coincided with a holiday and the opportunities to bond with my cousins were few and far between. Then about six years later we moved back to Texas. By then, my Mobley cousins were all grown up and had moved on to other venues. The Cave family continued to add faces, but Susan and I didn’t know any of them as well as they all seemed to know each other. We weren’t sure of our place in the pecking order.
The Uncomfortable Exception to the Rule
On the Mobley side there was one exception to my isolation and his name was Patrick. He was just a year or two older than I was and he was the bane of my existence. Here are some of the reasons:
He talked me into jumping on the roof of my parents car.
I ruined a pair of brand new shoes because he told me it was OK to drag them when I was riding on the back of his bike.
He shoplifted a candy bar from a convenience store when I was with him.
Our parents made him drive me to school my first year of senior high, but he still managed to skip classes and somehow that was my fault.
His greatest sin against me was that he always argued with me about cereal. Whenever our families would stay with one another, our mothers thought it was smart to get those variety packs of cereal, so everyone would have a choice. The problem was the only cereal Patrick wanted was whatever box he could get me to admit I wanted. Giving him first choice did no good, because then he’d say I was making him go first so I could trick him. Telling him which one I wanted and giving it to him didn’t work either, because he would accuse me of lying to him about which one I really liked. Whatever I did we ended up in an argument and I would be the one who got in trouble, because my mother told me I was not, under any circumstances, to let him draw me into an argument.
Yep, I knew Patrick very well and it was not a blessing! At least not in those days. It’s been a decade or more since he’s been in touch with the family, so I guess he didn’t like us all that much either.
With so many more cousins to choose from on the Cave side, I also have a lot more happy stories to tell. I’ll share some of those next week.
TRAVEL BUG TALES: Different Strokes for Different Families
In 1967 my family took a trip to West Texas and parts of New Mexico. I have fond memories of that vacation, because it was a real vacation, not just a mad dash back to Texas from wherever my dad was stationed. My scrapbook tells me that the next year we went to the Houston area to visit my Dad’s family that year. The photos got me to thinking about family in general.
The Mobleys VS. The Caves
I’ll admit, when I talk about family, more often than not, I’m talking about the Mobleys, my mom’s family. When we’d make that mad dash back to Texas, we were always headed to my mom’s family home in McKinney, where my Grandmother Mobley lived. My Cave Grandmother, who we all called Ma’am, lived just a little further up the road, in Melissa, but we always stayed in McKinney. Unfortunately, both of my grandfathers were gone before I was born.
My two grandmothers couldn’t have been any different. Grandmother Mobley was an industrious bundle of energy. She was up before cocks’s crow, sweeping sidewalks, working in the garden or finding some other project to keep herself busy. She’d break for lunch and watch As the World Turns. Then she was back to mending or canning or shelling peas. It was always something.
Ma’am was a horse of a different color. My memories of her are centered in her front room where she’d sit in her chair, smoke Lucky Strike cigarettes and watch her shows. I could keep up with As the World Turns at Ma’am’s, but I also saw The Edge of Night, The Guiding Light and whatever else was on in those days. She was a baker extraordinaire and created some of the best pies I have ever put in my mouth, but I didn’t often see her in the kitchen. In fact, when I was still knee-high to a grasshopper, she’d send me downtown to the little store in Melissa to get white bread and some sandwich meat – oh, and a pack of Lucky’s.
I adored those daily visits to the store. Melissa was a teeny tiny town and my grandmother could sit on the front porch and watch me make the trek back and forth to the store, but it felt so grown up. At home I wasn’t even supposed to cross the street without telling my Mom. In Melissa I could wander all over creation and transact business like an adult. Well, make that an adult with a sweet tooth, because another thing I adored about the daily visits to the store was the candy I was allowed to buy for myself.
Visits to Ma’ams were leisurely idylls, punctuated by crawfish hunting, passing trains and burning trash. Visits to Grandmother Mobley’s were the opposite. We were cooking, cleaning or gardening all the time. At Ma’am’s the TV was on constantly, allowing us to peek into the lives of folks on soap opera after soap opera. At Grandmother’s we’d watch As the World Turns and Lawrence Welk, but the rest of the time we were busy. In the evenings we’d sit out on the front porch and discuss the people passing by or the families in the houses that surrounded Grandmother’s house. Their lives had all the drama which was piped into Ma’am’s house via the TV.
Grandmothers are a special breed. Nobody else ever loves you the way they do. What do you remember most about your grandmothers?
So, we’re in El Paso, but our hanging clothes are still in my closet in Dallas. Mom insists the outfits in our luggage will not take us everywhere we need to go. So it was time to go shopping.
Saved by the Sears
When it came to clothes shopping, my family was usually on the JC Penney’s team. I’m not sure why we ended up at a Sears store in El Paso, but that’s what happened. At the front door Dad disappeared to do something mysterious and Mom took us to the girl’s dress department.
I’m guessing Dad went to the credit department and explained our dilemma. “Hi, I’m George Cave. We’re here on vacation and need to pick up a few things, but I left my credit card at home. Can you help?” Knowing my father he told them a whole lot more and I bet before he left the office he knew everything about the people who he’d been talking to. Dad was that guy.
Nowadays, all you have to do is give them your name and they can tell you anything and everything about yourself, re-fi your home and forecast your horoscope, but our shopping emergency happened in the days before computers ruled the world. He probably had to give them his driver’s license and wait around the credit department while a phone call was made to some centralized billing location. I’m imagining a huge room where someone had to go through a file cabinet or card file to find our account.
Meanwhile Mom was fluttering around with us among the dress racks. Had I been on the store’s security detail, I would have been suspicious of my mother. She was dancing around like a cat on a hot tin roof. I guess she was nervous about whether Dad would succeed at his assignment. My dad did everything my mom told him to do, but he didn’t always do it exactly the way Mom expected him to and that caused her a lot of anxiety. Of course, we’re talking about Ruth and pretty much everything caused her a lot of anxiety.
The Red and Gold Culotte Dress
Over the the last week or so, as I worked on this series of posts, I’ve been going through all my photo albums trying to find a picture of me in the dress we bought that day. I know there was at least one picture of me in it, but since it was a picture of a birthday party for my sister, she might have it somewhere.
I loved that dress. It had a roll collar, short sleeves and a drop waist. The color was tomato red with gold stripes – not metallic gold like it would be today, but the goldenrod color used for some copy paper. The fact that it was culottes caused a dilemma for my parents. School dress codes were strict in those days and culottes weren’t kosher. Would I ever wear it again after the vacation? Mother let me try it on, but warned me she had reservations about it.
I remember my dad showing up after his mysterious disappearance. He was grinning ear to ear and mother’s relief was obvious. “Daddy, daddy, look what I’ve found! Isn’t it a great color? And look it’s culottes! I can’t wear them to school, but I can wear them to Duck Inn and choir and…” I wanted to be the one to tell him about it, because I knew Mom would start with all the reasons it was impractical. Duck Inn was our favorite place to get catfish and we went every couple of weeks, so I figured including it would give the idea that I’d be wearing it a lot.
There was some discussion of price and if I remember correctly, we’d found it on the clearance rack and my dad thought, for the price, if all I did was wear it on vacation I would get our money’s worth. I wore the dickens out of that thing. It was if I had to prove Dad was right to let me buy it. I actually wore the dress to shredding, which was a weird thing. I was growing fast and Mom was fastidious about the laundry, so most of my clothes looked brand new when I outgrew them. This one started fraying where the skirt was connected to the bodice.
Vacation wise, I don’t remember what we saw in El Paso, but I do remember going over into Juarez. We saw the bats erupt from Carlsbad Caverns and then went down inside the next day. Somewhere along the way we visited White Sands National Park and the Palo Duro Canyons. We went to Houston that year to, but for the life of me, I can’t remember whether it was on the same trip or on another one later in the year.
Come back next week and I’ll share a few tidbits from that trip to the Houston area.
We’d taken a small siesta, gotten all gussied up and were ready for happy hour. The Cork Bar, on the River level of Hotel Contessa, was a lively place. Last minute guests were arriving for a wedding on the Las Ramblas patio and bridesmaids were being lined up for their entrance. Televisions near the bar were tuned to a horse race. Deb and I ordered up a pair of margaritas, then settled in to enjoy the activity.
Vicarious Wedding Guests Watch Acrobatic Nap Demo
The wedding was our first focus. San Antonio is a big military town, so we weren’t surprised that most of the men in the wedding party wore uniforms – and impressive uniforms they were. We didn’t know the groom, of course, but he had to be a tough guy just to carry around all those medals on his chest. The bride was lovely, but being unable to hear through the glass wall of the bar, we soon brought our attention into our immediate surroundings.
We chatted about how much we loved the hotel, how great the service was – especially the doormen and commented on the decor. About that time a woman came down and tried out a large upholstered bench close to us. She was in town with her adult son and joked about the luxury of not having to take him to the potty as she had when he was young. After several attempts at sitting on the bench in different positions she decided the appropriate one for enjoying that particular piece of furniture was to lay down, but she didn’t want her son to catch her. So her little nap was only a couple of minutes long.
The Triple Crown
The wedding continued, but we recognized quite a buzz around the bar. Someone had turned up the sound on the TV. We were almost irritated until we figured out it was the Belmont Stakes and American Pharoah was poised to win The Triple Crown. The last time anyone had done that was back in the 1970’s.
As the pre-race coverage gave us the background stories leading up to the Belmont Stakes, Deb and I reminisced about our own horse racing experiences. Chief among mine were George and Ruth, my very Baptist parents who followed the Triple Crown religiously every year, “betting” on who would win. Soon the newly married bride and groom, led their guests to a mezzanine nearby, but we noticed several guests lagged behind. It was almost race time.
American Pharaoh was a clear favorite, but the commentators hedged their bets by pointing out potential spoilers. American Pharaoh would have none of that. When the gate opened she was out and away. No one even got close. It was a thrilling outcome. When the race was over, the wedding guests made their way up to the mezzanine and the others in the crowd wandered away. Dinner time was upon us.
Thanks to the VIA trolleys Deb and I were visiting San Antonio attractions we would’ve never reached by walking and we weren’t having to hassle with driving and parking. That’s the way to enjoy sightseeing.
Both the Botanical Garden and the Japanese Tea Garden are part of a larger complex of attractions called Brackenridge Park. Included in the Brackenridge Park Conservancy is a zoo, a golf course, the Witte Museum and other recreational activities. Brakenridge Park is an important part of what makes San Antonio such a wonderful place to visit.
The Witte is undergoing a major overhaul right now, but on a previous trip, Bill and I had thoroughly enjoyed the museum with its South Texas Heritage Center. My last trip to the zoo was decades ago, long before I was blogging. Though small in comparison to some zoos, like San Diego for instance, it was quite charming. What sets it apart from other zoos, in my mind, are the beautiful animal sculptures sprinkled throughout the exhibits.
Visiting the Japanese Tea Garden
As I planned this trip with my bestie, I hoped we’d have time for the Japanese Tea Garden. I kept telling myself that surely somewhere along the way I had been there, but I could never recall a specific occasion. So, I looked forward to refreshing my memory. The VIA trolley rolled up to the entrance, I took the obligatory picture and then my bestie and I climbed the hill to the garden.
Once we reached the top and walked over to a pavilion where other tourists were madly snapping pictures, I realized I had never actually been there, because if I would have been, I would never have forgotten the view!
San Antonio’s Japanese Tea Garden was re-claimed from a quarry and the results are dramatic. From the pavilion you look down into a verdant landscape with two large pools. Then your eyes travel to the far side of the garden which features a cascading waterfall.
Garden Needs TLC
Since I’m always honest with you, I have to tell you, this is not a pristine garden like, Portland’s or Fort Worth’s Japanese Gardens, but the landscape is so unique it is still well worth a visit. As I was writing this series of articles and pulling up sites for linking, I noticed the Brackenridge Park Conservancy urging San Antonio’s citizens to come to a meeting about a new Master Plan. After seeing the condition of the Botanical Garden and the Tea Garden, I have to say they need a Master Plan.
A wedding ceremony was underway beneath the falls when we arrived so access was limited, but we made our way down the hill to the pools. One pool has perfectly clear water (well mostly clear water) and the other is clogged with some sort of algae or plant. Hopefully the new Master Plan will include clearing the murky pond.
When the wedding concluded and we were allowed back under the waterfall. The site, which had been so impressive from the pavilion, lost some of its charm up close. Like the Botanical Garden, the Tea Garden suffers from lack of maintenance. No one has loved either of these gardens well enough in quite a while. Enjoying gardens the way I do, it was sad to see what once must have been a stunning garden struggle to stay alive.
Back to the Trolley
We made a circuit of the garden, stopped in the tea shop for refreshments and headed towards the trolley stop. Truth be told, we were pooped. With the exception of a few quick trolley trips we’d been walking all day. Deb wears a Fitbit and when she told me how many tens of thousands of steps we’d made, I was suddenly even more exhausted.
The trolley finally showed up and we dragged our tired bodies into our seats, but the day wasn’t over. After a short respite in our wonderful suite we were rejuvenated and recharged – just in time for happy hour and dinner. Come back next week and I’ll tell you about that!
There’s more than one reason I have a blast traveling with my bestie. One of the benefits I truly enjoy is her encyclopedic knowledge of movies and TV – especially movies and TV she enjoyed with her boys. Since I didn’t have kids at all and tend to know more about concierges than coneheads, I can be seriously entertained by things most everyone else already knew. Enter the sculpture garden at the McNay.
You can usually tell what is most important to me on a trip, because I will schedule it first on the agenda if at all possible. That’s why the McNay Art Museum was our Friday morning destination. As we pull into the beautiful grounds of the wonderful museum, Deb says, “Incoming message from the big giant head.” This made no sense whatsoever to me. Yes, there was a large sculpture of Marion Koogler McNay‘s head there on the lawn, but what was that “incoming message” stuff about?
That’s when I got a lesson on sci-fi sitcoms. Most of you don’t need an explanation, so I’ll leave it at that. We arrived a few minutes before the museum opened which gave us some time to explore the garden. Deb posed before the big giant head in the appropriate stance and we captured a few of the other lovely sites on the grounds.
Getting to Know Marion Koogler McNay
Though I’ve mentioned the McNay before, I’ve never really told you how wonderful it is. Marion Koogler McNay was a patron of the arts and one of her husbands (she had several) built her a palace in what was once a rural area outside San Antonio. Now the estate is just minutes from downtown, surrounded by accouterments of the bustling metropolis. Learning more about the heiress’ life is just one of a plethora of reasons to visit the McNay.
Ms. McNay is one of those people who had everything other people want, but was denied the one thing she really wanted. Over the years as I’ve visited the museum, I’ve learned tidbits about her life and it is a haunting story.
Born in Ohio, to a family with money, she was exposed to great art at a very young age and it captured her heart. She was one of the first to collect works of Impressionism, which led to an appreciation of the schools which followed it, like Cubism and Fauvism. But the modern art of her day was not her only interest. She collected religious images from the Middle Ages and classic sculpture also. She was an artist in her own right and played a role in the artistic community of Taos New Mexico.
But all she really loved was Don McNay. She was still quite young when the pair met and married. Though she was well-to-do, her husband was not. He was just a soldier who was about to be posted to an assignment on the Texas-Mexico border. She came along and they lived very happily in a very modest house near his posting. In spite of her affluent upbringing, this was the best time of her life.
Unfortunately it was not happily ever after. Don was reassigned and shortly after leaving the border area, he died from the Spanish Influenza epidemic. Ms. McNay had not followed him on his second assignment, but settled in San Antonio, where the two had honeymooned on their way to the border town. There were other homes and other husbands, but her heart would always belong to Don.
One of her husbands built this beautiful mansion, called Sunset Hills, for her, and even though she made it a beacon of art and beauty for others, she had sad experiences there. It took years to build the complex residence and when it was done, our country had fallen into the Depression. She held a gala housewarming, but the pictures of it seem to echo with disappointment, rather than glee. In just a few years her marriage ended and she took back Don’s surname as her own. I can imagine her walking the halls of her beautiful home wishing she could trade it all for just a little more time with the love of her life, Don McNay.
The McNay Today
Though her own life was sad, she brought opportunity and great art to San Antonio for others to enjoy. A visit to the McNay to learn more about Marion and enjoy Sunset Hills is more than enough reason to make the pilgrimmage, but on top of it all is the art – some of it hanging on the walls, other items actually a part of the walls, like the beautiful mosaic in the courtyard.
Membership having its privileges, Deb and I got in for free, thanks to my membership at the DMA. Then we began to roam the museum enjoying first the permanent collection, then wandering back to the theater area for some special exhibitions out there. One was called “All the Rage in Paris” and it had posters, costumes and other artifacts from the days of the Ballet Russe in Paris. What and interesting and beautiful collection!
While visiting the museum we watched a video on Ms. McNay’s life, which reminded me of some of the things I’d learned about her. We also relaxed in the courtyard. I love that courtyard so much that there is even a chance that I actually go there for the fountain and mosaics rather than the art. (Don’t tell anyone! I’m still trying to impress people with my art appreciation skills.) The museum also has a whimsical and wonderful gift shop, but I managed to leave without buying anything this time.
After a couple of hours, it was unfortunately time to move on. We had many plans for our day and lunch at the Guenther House was one of them. Come back next week and find out about Champagne Chicken Enchildas! In the meantime, enjoy a few more pictures of the McNay.
TRAVEL THERE: SAN ANTONIO’S CHART HOUSE RESTAURANT
If there is one thing I hate, it’s a reviewer that can’t find anything good to say about any place they stay or eat. I wasn’t loving the place we stayed the first night in San Antonio, but I wasn’t going to let that color the rest of my experience.
Going with the Flow
I was the one who wanted to stay in a cheap hotel, but I had high hopes for the rest of the stay. One of the reasons I’d opted for the first night in a bargain was because I really didn’t expect to arrive in San Antonio until late that night, but travel is really all about dealing with change.
I’d expected sight-seeing in Austin, another town I love, but taking the tollway just got me to my favorite city a little faster. Having a meal in the Tower of the Americas had been on my list for a long time and the change in plans gave me the opportunity to do just that.
The Way It Was Before
Way back in the summer of 1968, on a family visit to the Hemisfair, we did not have dinner in the tower. If memory serves me right, I’m pretty sure we didn’t pay the price of ride up the elevator either. I think something like that would have stuck with me. I remember the wonder of walking through all of the amazing pavilions and adored the Institute of Texan Cultures, but all my memories of the tower are from the ground looking up.
In subsequent visits other things kept me from visiting the tower:
bad reviews of the restaurant
not enough time
traveling companions who thought it was a tourist trap
I thought that the “not enough time” issue might come into play on this trip, too. I always have so many favorite things to return to in San Antonio that it’s hard to find time try new experiences. Arriving hours before I expected to, paved the way for an experience I’d wanted to have for a long time.
The Way It Was This Time
With a map, instructions from the hotel clerk and a GPS we set out for downtown San Antonio. Just as the clerk promised we found parking at RiverCenter Mall with no trouble. Somewhere inside my head is a map of the Riverwalk, but it always takes a little while for that map to sync with all the development around the popular attraction. We could see the tower and my mind told me where we should go, but we kept running into obstacles that my old mental map didn’t know about.
It didn’t help that the “You Are Here” map provided by the city next to the river did not have the promised red dot telling me where we were. Still it was only a minor irritation, because I followed my gut around the obstacles and soon recognized we were on the Hemisfair grounds – then all we had to do was look up.
If I was ever in San Antonio with time to kill, I think I’d kill some of it just enjoying Hemisfair Plaza. It’s a very pretty place, but I had my eye on the top of the tower. There was a booth selling elevator rides and the ticket salesmen pointed us to the other side of the tower for the Chart House Restaurant. We sidled up to the desk and asked if they had room for us. To my great joy, they did.
We had to walk back around the tower to the elevator, but this time we were inside. After a short wait and a quick conversation with a couple of guys who were also on their way to dinner, we arrived. From the picture above, you can tell that it was a pretty spectacular experience. The view alone was amazing. The restaurant was also nice.
I’ve been in Dallas’s Hyatt Regency Reunion Tower and the Westin’s Peachtree Plaza Tower in Atlanta, so I can tell you that the experiences are very similar. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the same architect designed them all. I can also tell you that this was not just a me-too experience. San Antonio is a town very different from Dallas and Atlanta. The spontaneous opportunity turned into a evening I won’t forget for a long time.
We were not seated immediately, but that was OK. We hadn’t had reservations and it was obvious that a lot of other people did. What was not OK, was that if I was going to wait I would have liked to enjoy a drink. The hostess pointed us at several groupings of leather chairs and told us to wait. I assumed it would be a short wait. There was an observation deck above, which may or may not have had a bar, but if I’d known we’d be cooling our heels for a while I would have at least gone exploring.
Still, I wasn’t an unpleasant experience. I sat in the big comfy leather sofa and enjoyed the view. I also enjoyed the arriving dinner patrons. Many were dressed to the nines, suggesting the meal was a special event. The restaurant was also recovering from a big busload of diners. Observing them go down the elevator in batches of a dozen was somewhat interesting.
After the noisy bus tour was back on the ground, a sort of calm settled of the restaurant and I smelled a fragrance I couldn’t at first identify. I pointed it out to Deb and we agreed it wasn’t a food smell and kept trying to guess what it was. Saddle Soap!! The leather sofas had been recently cleaned with saddle soap. There was no residue and the fragrance was subtle, but I enjoyed the little smell association game. Finally, they seated us.
Seated at the Top of San Antonio
We were looking north-ish when we first sat down – sort of toward our lovely Microtel. Not that we could pick it out from up there. As the evening played out we enjoyed the view until we were south-ish, but by then the city had disappeared into the darkness and all we could see was the lights. One disappointment was that you cannot see the Alamo for the big Marriot which is attached to the RiverCenter. That would have been quite wonderful.
What was wonderful was the food. The prices were a little steep. Not that they were expensive for what they offered, they were just more than I usually pay for a meal. We made choices around the outskirts of the menu, not so much for the cost, but because that’s what sounded good. And of course, we ordered Margaritas!
I started with Lobster Bisque – thick, creamy and delicious – just the way I like it. It was not the best I’d ever had, but it was a treat. Deb chose a salad and it was HUGE. Our next course was side orders – sauteed mushrooms, asparagus and an OMG order of Lobster Mac & Cheese. Good thing Deb and I had decreed that nothing had any calories during this entire weekend, otherwise we would have just scored about two days worth of them. OH – and we had a souffle for dessert. My mouth and stomach were in heaven and the view was out of this world.
Since this trip was my belated birthday celebration, when we met Cousin Brenda she had a belated birthday present for me. Along with some lovely fragrance gifts for my house, she also gave me one of those gift cards you can use for whatever you want. What I wanted was dinner at the Tower of the Americas. Thank you Brenda. We didn’t have to wash dishes to leave the tower.
Maneuvering back to the car was no problem. My internal map had synced with the city. We did have an adventure getting back to the hotel. First the GPS couldn’t figure out where we were when we left the parking lot and then there was the back road approach to the hotel, but all’s well that ends well – right?
Our next stop? The McNay! You’re going to love it, so come back next week.
TRAVEL THERE: MICROTEL SAN ANTONIO NORTHEAST A DANGEROUS BARGAIN
We all know that if it’s too good to be true, then it’s probably not true – and with few exceptions, you get exactly what you pay for. Deb and I wanted a cheap hotel for our first night in San Antonio and that’s exactly what we got, so no surprise here.
Decision Path to Disaster
Now I’m not so cheap or adventurous that I’d purposely stay in an awful hotel, but I will look for bargains. In fact, I’d first planned to stay somewhere in San Marcos or New Brunsfel, but all the reviews of their bargain hotels made it sound as if these hotels had served one too many drunk river rafters – dirty and smelly being the biggest clue.
But I know Microtel. I’ve stayed at several of them and they have all been great. They weren’t always the latest and greatest, but you got a lot for not so much dough and they were clean. Enter Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham San Antonio Northeast. I know, for $45 a night in San Antonio I should have figured out there was a problem, but I didn’t.
Maybe our first clue should have been how difficult it was to find. On the map it looked as if it would be easy to get to, but maps can be deceiving, because what’s in a convenient place might be hard to reach. Our GPS had to take us around and around and around until we finally broke a few laws and made it to the parking lot. Then there was a sigh of relief. The outside looked as if it had been freshly painted and the landscaping was under control. The cars all looked as if they were driven by people with a sense of propriety and the lobby was nice.
There was one couple ahead of us in line, but I was more interested in the breakfast bar than I was this anonymous couple. That was until I figured out who they were. He was a rugged type, with a beard that was a day or two old. He was wearing a black t-shirt with “The Trucker’s Prayer” emblazoned on the back. I found that to be at least a little bit interesting, because they’d arrived in a crossover van. It didn’t seem as if English was his first language. In comparison, his companion was a beautiful young woman with cafe au lait skin. Her hair was in a semi up-do. She had on great shoes and a cute short set with very, very short-shorts which showed off a pair of perfect legs. She flashed me a great smile.
Though I was not listening carefully, I figured out that the clerk was trying to explain the hotel’s cash policy to the man. If you pay cash, you have to leave a $50 deposit at the desk. When you’re through with your stay, they inspect the room to make sure everything is OK and then you get your $50 back. It seemed reasonable on the surface and then the woman cooed, “Just put it on your credit card, baby.” Something clicked in my brain and I figured out what most of you had already realized. This was a hooker with her john. That made them very interesting.
The conversation went on for a few more clicks, but the baby was not going to put it on his credit card and the Microtel wasn’t going to change their policy, so eventually the pair left. The funniest thing was that the female half of the pair turned around at the door and said, “We’ll be back,” in her outdoor voice. I want you to know I do not hold this episode against the Microtel. They can’t help who walks in the front door and they had a policy in place to keep that kind of stuff at bay.
The clerk was very nice to us and very helpful with suggestions and directions to the Riverwalk. It also wasn’t the hotel’s fault that I don’t drive those luggage carts real well. Deb helped me load our bags and walked ahead to open the door. Unfortunately, the cart decided it was more interested in the swimming pool than it was the interior of the hotel. Nice clerk person appeared out of nowhere and got me going in the right direction.
The clerk had given us the very first room past the lobby, so that gave me a pretty secure feeling. Deb stuck her card in the door, but it took both of us to shove the door open. Whoever chose the carpet, which was still pretty new, had selected a style that was too deep for the door. Each trip in and out was like a tiny weight resistance session.
We didn’t pay much attention to anything else, because we were ready to head to the Riverwalk. More about that later, but coming back to the hotel AFTER the Riverwalk, now that was an adventure. The hotel is in a sort or industrial area, which is part of the reason it’s so hard to reach. The GPS on my phone discovered another way to get there on the return trip. We exited and the GPS told us to take a street that on any other occasion we would have avoided, but the GPS showed that it was the most direct route. We feared a repeat of our earlier around the world experience, so we ignored those little voices in our head and crossed into no man’s land – or maybe I should say no-woman’s land.
The narrow two lane street had thick vegetation on each side and at a certain point the vegetation gave way to junk yards and re-cycling centers wrapped in chain link fences – or at least that’s what it looked like. The road got very rough and suddenly it felt like the car had fallen into the Grand Canyon. Deb kept right on driving and said, “If we get a flat, I’m gonna keep on driving. We’ll just worry about it in the morning.”
We didn’t have a flat and, with the exception of that too-thick carpet, had no other troubles getting to our beds. We were soon happily asleep. Now I know the Microtel can’t be responsible for the condition of the streets around it, especially small back-roads the GPS decides you should take and they certainly can’t help who walks in the front door, but the odds were starting to stack up against them nonetheless.
Mornings for me mean a bubble bath and that’s when the real trouble started – nasty tub corners. When it comes to the hotels and motels of this world, I consider cleanliness my primary concern. I laugh my way through bad decor, small rooms, rude desk clerks – in fact most of the foibles that you can run into, but you better be clean. This is where the Microtel missed the mark.
Then there was the hair dryer. I guess they must have a problem with losing hair dryers, so now they hard-wire them in place. I can understand that, but did they have to cover up the other plug. I had to wander around the room looking for another plug with a line of sight to a mirror, because I needed some curling iron therapy to cope with my wild hair. (I don’t blame the Microtel for my wild hair either. I explained all that a few posts ago.)
The nasty tub corners sort of ruined my stay, but I got cleaned up and we headed to the breakfast bar for a bite, anyway. Like most of the things we’d experienced at the Microtel, the breakfast bar was more than decent. They had boiled eggs, which I like, and an assortment of other things, so it more than satisfied the need at hand. The morning clerk was a grandmotherly sort and that really made me want to like this hotel better, but the specter of the nasty tub corners couldn’t be erased.
Deb and I have a certain cure for everything. It’s called laughter. We started to enjoy all the little quirks we found. We even went outside and shot these pictures so you too could enjoy our stay.
Come back next week and I’ll tell you all about our dinner at the Tower of the Americas – but don’t stay at Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham San Antonio Northeast, unless grime is your friend.
PRIMARILY PRESIDENTIAL DESTINATIONS: THE LBJ RANCH
Welcome to number two in a series about presidential homes, libraries and other sites. Last week I talked about the LBJ Library which was the first presidential library I ever visited. By coincidence, on my last vacation we visited the LBJ Ranch, so that seems like it should be next.
The area is full of great little bed and breakfast accommodations, but my favorite place to sleep is the 4 Sixes Pullman Train Car. In fact, of all the hotels, motels and other places I’ve called my temporary home on the road, the 4 Sixes is one of my current favorites. Usually when I stay somewhere I enjoy, I’m eager to recommend it, but if I go back to the area I’ll want to check out something else. No chance of that in Fredericksburg. This great big, huge train car, complete with sitting room, two bathrooms, a dressing room, bedroom, dining room and kitchen is all yours. It’s cute and quaint, but it’s also historical. Quanah Parker and Theodore Roosevelt are just a couple of the famous people who slept there. But on to The Ranch
Visiting The Ranch
The LBJ National Historic Park actually has several different areas. You can visit his boyhood home, the Ranch and the Johnson Settlement, which traces the history of the Johnson family back to a log cabin. I recommend it all, but if you only have a limited time, the Ranch is what you want to see.
At the Ranch, you’ll need to stop at the Visitor’s Center. It wasn’t so long ago that you could only see the ranch through the windows of a bus boarded at the Johnson Settlement, but now you can drive through on your own. You must have a pass to tool around the premises and they’ll give you some goodies, like a CD, to enhance your visit. Just past the visitor center, we stopped at the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, which actually had nothing to do with LBJ, but was an interesting interpretation of farm life at the turn of the 20th century.
Then it was all LBJ – a Head Start School, Trinity Lutheran Church and a reconstruction of his birthplace. Bill and I lingered in the private cemetery contemplating the public and private man who lay beneath the pink granite monument. Not far past his grandparent’s house we made a left turn and drove along next to his private airstrip. Turning left again we arrived at his show barn and made a brief stop to better understand the Rancher President. Finally we arrived at the Texas White House Complex.
The Air Force One Jet which used to bring LBJ to Texas was parked next to the house. We took a tour through the large, yet modest, home of the 36th president. Comfortable, but not opulent, the house was obviously a well-loved family home, not a showplace for foreign dignitaries, though it certainly entertained a whole herd of them. Back in our car, we could understand why a man would say, “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party as your President,” so he could be home in a place like the LBJ Ranch.
Have you been to the LBJ Ranch? Did your visit change your impressions of the president? I’d like to hear what you think.