Sunday, May 24, 2015

Heading North for the Summer

The cottage voice has been quiet since last fall. Soon, I’ll be back on my pier, nodding at the sunset. As a displaced Hoosier, I will miss some common Texas sights, sounds and such.
This is down south so there are southern habits like saying, “Ma’am” whenever you address a lady. It’s quite nice. I have reasons to venture onto Randolph Air Force base on a regular basis where I get a double whammy “Ma’am” as it were.

You can’t miss the military’s presence about town. Folks in fatigues are a common sight.
Another common sight: most people don’t park their cars inside their garages. This is in spite of a particular automobile injury: paint blisters and curls during the hottest part of the year. It looks to me that garages are standard doubles but most cars are NOT standard issue. We have big cars in keeping with that “Everything is bigger in Texas.” I park my car inside and we could squeeze in one more and the garage would be cozy. However, my car is just average-sized.
The largest auto I’ve seen was: an oversize truck with a back seat and an extended cab. Then, attached to the front bumper was an additional bumper, extending it at least one foot. Then in the back, there’s an attached hitching thing that extends at least 2 feet. So, that’s at least 3 feet longer. But that’s not it. On the sides, this driver installed 3 step-down stairs on each side so the truck width increased 3 or 4 feet. Of course the truck has double wheels so its designed width is more than average. I spied this vehicle in the water utility parking lot where it took up two spaces front to back plus two spaces side to side. Big truck.


The first time I ordered “fresh guacamole made at table side” I didn’t realize that in south Texas, that’s 4 extra words. It’s all fresh; you can find prepared and frozen guac but it’s relegated to the bottom shelf of the freezer, way behind Buffalo wings and frozen taquitos. If dust could settle in a freezer case, the dust would be thick.

Same thing for tortillas. As a friend up north said, “These have never met plastic.” When you walk into the local grocery, you are bathed in the scent of freshly made tortillas. You CAN purchase them uncooked, like brown and serve rolls, but why would you pass on fresh and warm? A side note: from McDonald’s to any pricy restaurant, these folks fold and wrap tortillas like it’s an art.

San Antonio’s major grocery chain is HEB, in business for 100 years. Each store has its own personality but each features a pepper bar in fresh produce. This stretches 15 feet with a visual chart above that spans from “GREEN SWEET” to “BURN ALL THE WAY DOWN.” Around town, each store adjusts to its main demographic so we have “regular HEB,” “granola HEB,” and “Gucci HEB.” In that last one, you trapse through a labyrinth of prepared, gourmet entries, exotic imported cheeses, and many mushrooms. The wine section covers half the store with an on-site sommelier, ready to answer questions even at 8:30 in the morning. And then there’s that mustard aisle. Yes, an aisle. In the photo, all of those jars are different. A rough count is 100+ varieties.

As for eating out, I did spy a Taco Bell although I cannot imagine how it stays open. Authentic Mexican or TexMex (not the same thing) restaurants line most roads. Often they are tucked into strip malls with not enough parking. Occasionally, you pass a house in a residential neighborhood which slipped past city planners and got grandfathered in. Many of these places open at a set time and close when they run out of food. This is especially true if tamales are on the menu. My sense is that they do not make extra tamales. There are no left overs.

San Antonio is a tourist spot so, especially downtown, you can find fine dining but for authentic, you hit the little places.

Pass the Rudy's
Quite a few barbecue places dot the landscape. Of those, Rudy’s may be the best. You enter and stand in line across from the brisket slicer. You order your meat (beef or turkey or beef) and your side (creamed corn) and your dessert (peach cobbler). If you order a dill pickle, an amazing guy with an amazingly shape knife slices it into tiny medallions as you blink. Your order is served on a white paper towel nestled into one of those blue plastic trays that 2 liter bottles come in. You enter the eating place, long picnic tables covered with plastic tablecloths. There are squirt bottles of sauce and stacks of white bread to sop up that sauce.

The lines at Rudy’s are long but they move along.
Also, at Rudy’s as well as many other casual places, you walk past the beer trough. That’s a 20 foot metal tub filled to the top with crushed ice. All you see of the beer in the ice is a bottle cap. You make your choice and slip it out of the ice to a nice swoosh sound.

Alcohol sales are a change from Indiana. Texas’ blue laws are different. You can purchase beer and wine on Sunday. You can sit in a bar with a child. You can take that same child into a liquor store. As for that bar, it’s a challenge to find a Cosmopolitan but there are infinite versions of Margaritas. 

Traffic and such

I’ve driven in about a dozen large cities: they all have their own version of crazy. In my opinion, nobody beats San Antonio for dangerous vehicular exhibition.

The city is laid out like a wagon wheel. Two major highways form the spoke and the tire of a wheel. Like many cities, there are rush hour traffic challenges and for those of us who don’t need to be anywhere on the clock, you plan your route at a good time. However, no matter when you are on the road, it there’s an accident, it stops traffic while police and such move the crashes to the grassy middle. At which time, you’d think that traffic flow would continue. But no. Everybody, or at least enough people to matter, ON BOTH SIDES slow down and stop to watch. Sometimes for 10 minutes or more while the cars behind just pile and pile behind each other.
A common sight: the across-five-lanes-to-turn-left. Picture a 4 lane road with a middle lane for turning. The car in question is in the farthest lane. He decides he wants to turn into a driveway on the other side of the other 4 lanes. He may (but not always) look for an opening as he edges into the next lane and then the center lane and by now, into oncoming traffic which he expects will stop and yield. He expects this because so often those cars DO stop and let the car cross over. WOE unto those who either don’t see him or just don’t think this should happen. Turning car will give you such a look!

Many of the main roads have that middle turn lane. It’s not uncommon for a driver to use it as his own private lane. Also not uncommon, pedestrians will walk in that lane. Sometimes after dark. It’s unnerving to pause in stopped traffic (accident up ahead?) and look to the left at the guy who’s out for a stroll.

Flora and Fauna

It IS lovely that in December, you find planters with petunias and peonies. And even I can coax growth from plants in Texas. They need to be ‘succulents’ meaning that they don’t require a lot of water or care. But they do, occasionally flower. 

The native wildlife is pretty exotic for this Midwestern gal: longhorn steers and oxen are as common as Hoosier moo cows. If you get away from all the traffic, you may see an armadillo, a snake or a scorpion.

And then there are the birds. You may think that ‘Snow Bird” refers to transplanted northerners and it does. However, where do all those migrating birds go? San Antonio, I’m sure. In deep winter at dusk or sunrise, the roadways remind you of those scenes from Hitchcock’s The Birds. Telephone wires which line the roads will be black with birds.

So I’ll be 1350 miles away for the summer when the heat will blister those cars, the birds will be back north and flowers will wilt if they don’t get a drink. But it will be waiting for me in late August.