Sunday, March 29, 2015

Remember The Alamo -- but don't forget where you parked!

Monday, March 23, 2015 began as a special day for us. First, and most importantly, it marked the 14th anniversary of the day Sharon and I got married. It was also the release date for my fourth novel, Red Eyes.

Flashback to Sunday. We left Beaumont, Texas after driving all day Saturday from our home in Pontotoc, Mississippi. We arrived in San Antonio in the early afternoon without hotel reservations (our version of free-ranging) and drove downtown for a glimpse of Monday's destination, The Alamo and Riverwalk. I'm a huge fan of history, so visualizing myself standing in the mission where Davy Crockett died, along with so many other brave men, had me excited.

Downtown San Antonio, for those of you who have never experienced it, is a traffic nightmare. I've driven in my share of big cities, but I quickly found myself flustered and grouchy. It was like being thrown into a giant maze with hundreds of other vehicles all fighting for a way out. Not a problem, I told myself, because Monday will be all about walking. Just park the car and set out on foot.

Now back to Monday.

The weather in Texas was beautiful. Spring had popped out all around us. Birds sang and warbled, and darted from ground to branch and down again with little regard for the humans around them. I parked the car in the first public parking area we came to once we exited the freeway onto Alamo Drive. No way was I going to ruin my mood so early by throwing us back into the maze just to save a few steps. As we left the parking lot, I told Logan and Sharon, in a half-hearted manner, to remember where we parked. Logan looked up and saw Marriott on a tall building to our right and said we could just look for that. It seemed logical enough to me. The only other thing that registered with me was that the parking lot belonged to a Presbyterian church. I remember thinking it was a good way for a church to make money by renting out their parking lot during the week.

First let me say I was somewhat disappointed in The Alamo. At the risk of offending Texans, I found it to be severely lacking in historical upkeep. Pictures weren't allowed inside the mission (I gave them the benefit of the doubt that there is some valid reason for that). Inside the mission were display cases of old guns, and a lot of tourists. So many tourists you couldn't really stop and reflect on the historical significance of the place. What disappointed me most, however, was the lack of information about the battle. Other than a row of markers bearing the names of the fallen, I didn't see anything about the battle. Nothing.

Upon exiting the mission, we entered a beautiful garden with flowers and benches and birds (lots of birds). What I had expected to see was some authenticity. The garden made for a nice relaxing stroll, but it truly disappointed this history buff.

Not to be daunted, we bought a few souvenirs and headed for the Riverwalk to spend the remainder of the day strolling along the San Antonio River, not knowing that, though the Riverwalk is every bit as beautiful as the brochures make it out to be, navigating it is a bit like driving the streets downtown. A person can easily walk in circles. One thing Logan noticed first was that the maps posted along the way all had the "You Are Here" red dot in the legend, but not a single one we saw had the red dot on the map, so we had to try and figure out where we were by looking around and finding intersecting streets (which was not always easy to do). Still, walking in circles wasn't so bad because we had no particular destination in mind. Our goal for the day was to relax and enjoy.

We ate a nice lunch at a steakhouse, then took a riverboat tour. The boats looked crowded, and let me tell you they were. We were packed in like sardines, making it impossible for me to fully enjoy the ride. What could have been a very relaxing hour was made uncomfortable because the people running the tour shoved us in knee-to-knee, shoulder-to-shoulder, back-to-back, while other boats sat empty. For someone who dislikes crowds, it was hard to pay attention to the beautiful surroundings while trying to keep my knees from rubbing against those of the man sitting across from me. All was not lost, however, because our tour guide was a delightful man named Alfred, who intertwined bits of his history with that of the city. Alfred was one of those people born to interact with strangers. As we twisted and turned along the
San Antonio
river, we learned that Alfred was born and raised in San Antonio. He personally witnessed many of the buildings being built, or remodeled. His pride in both the city and his job left no doubt he absolutely loved what he was doing. I remember looking back at Alfred and thinking, it doesn't matter how much money a person has, or how much they have traveled the world, as long as they are happy.

Back on solid ground again, we continued walking in search of nothing but the joy of strolling as a family one story beneath the busy streets of downtown San Antonio. There's a certain peacefulness in not having a destination, especially when your daily routine so often revolves around scheduled places to be and deadlines to meet. We found humor in the fact that a man approached us and told us there were restaurants all around us, then frowned that he normally gets $1.25 for that information. I mean, how could we not know we were surrounded by restaurants?

Carriage Ride
As I said in the opening paragraph, Sharon and I were celebrating our anniversary, so a carriage ride seemed the perfect way to top off a day of walking. Neither of us had ever ridden in a horse-drawn carriage before, so that made it even more special. Our driver was very nice. He told us bits of history as we wound along the streets, but he didn't bombard us with talk. Those several minutes of sitting beside my wife, listening to the clop of the horse's hooves on the pavement, was truly the highlight of my day.

Remember that part about me telling Logan and Sharon not to forget where we parked? After the carriage ride, we set out in search of our car. It was getting late and the streets were mostly empty. Logan reminded us of the Marriott hotel, so we found that word in the skyline and headed toward it. Nothing looked
familiar, then we saw another Marriott in another direction, and had no idea which one was which. Walking the streets proved as confusing as driving them. Our feet hurt. We were exhausted. We walked toward one Marriott and realized it couldn't be the right one, so we headed toward the other one, only to find that it didn't look right either. I remembered the part about the parking lot belonging to a church. A Presbyterian church. Out comes my iPhone and Google Maps. To my dismay, there were about five Presbyterian churches in the area, all in different directions. I was starting to get concerned.

Let me pause here to say that I have a few recurring nightmares, one of which is that I leave some event and can't find my car. In the dream, I walk in every direction, trying to remember where I parked, frantically searching. I never find my car in that dream. As we walked the streets, tired and aching, I feared that dream might become reality. I tried to put up a brave front for my wife and son. They depended on me to protect them. We walked.

When I tell you this next part, it's important for you to understand how adverse I am to asking directions, or for help. I'm more likely to leave a store empty-handed than to ask someone if they have what I'm looking for. I'll drive and drive, refusing to stop and ask someone for directions far longer than I should.

As we walked down yet another empty street, Sharon told me she smelled fresh paint. So did I, though I hadn't realized it until that moment. We glanced to our right and saw freshly painted graffiti on the side of a box truck parked at the curb just feet from where we stood. At that moment it hit me how vulnerable we were. Hundreds of miles from home, lost and afoot.

One thing I had noticed all day was the almost total lack of a police presence in the Alamo Plaza. I had made up my mind to flag down the first police officer I saw long before we spotted him coming toward us. He turned into a parking lot and parked with his lights off. I approached him and told him our plight. At first he seemed disinterested to the point that I thought he wasn't going to offer to help at all. Yes, I had noticed his hand move to his holstered gun, but that didn't bother me. He had every right to be suspicious of someone approaching his car in a dark parking lot so late at night. He asked me a few questions, such as what street did I park on, how did I enter the downtown area, which direction did I arrive from. In the end he basically told me he didn't know. I left dejected, feeling almost hopeless. My last resort had been to ask a policeman for help, and here he was sending me away with only a point in a direction toward where there might be a church.

I collected Sharon and Logan and we started out again. I saw the concern in her face when she asked if he was going to help us and I told her no. We walked less than half a block before the police car appeared beside us. The officer called me over and told me he had located a Presbyterian church on Alamo Drive (he was looking at google Maps on his phone). He told me which streets to take, then drove away.

Roughly ten minutes later, Sharon spotted the church. Nothing about it looked familiar, but there appeared to be a parking lot about two blocks to the rear. It was dark, so we couldn't tell for sure. As we walked, things began to look familiar. We entered the parking lot and Logan noticed the Marriott sign in big red letters high above. A few steps later we saw a black car with a Nissan emblem in the grill, but I tried not to get my hopes up in case it proved to be another dead end. Not until we reached the car and I saw all of our clutter inside did I breathe that sigh of relief. Few things have ever felt so good in my life as pressing the button on that door handle and hearing the thunk of the lock disengaging.

As we drove away, I thought about the homeless people we had seen earlier in the day, especially the one I had given money to, and thanked God to be as fortunate as I am.

March 23, 2015 was indeed a special day. My anniversary. The release of my new book, and the day I hopefully put one of my recurring nightmares to rest. Been there, done that.

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