Day Four and Day Five.
San Antonio and El Paso.
In efforts to catch up on my blogging, I am lumping Texas into one big blog.
There exists a certain Texas pride that I wish I understood. I wasn’t off the bus for more than an hour when I heard my first proclamation of loyalty to Texas. Indeed, I have enjoyed both stops in Texas, but it is hard to ignore that this was one of the first places that I didn’t initially feel that sense of common identity under the umbrella of being an American.
San Antonio is beautiful. I was rather impressed with San Antonio’s River Walk and its efforts in new urbanism downtown. It seemed to balance the old with the new. Walking into the center of town you see a lot of public art, the San Fernando Cathedral (the oldest Catholic Cathedral in the U.S.), the Alamo, and brilliant architecture on several buildings.
The Alamo provided similar experience to the Clinton Presidential Library and Graceland. It hinted at history, but offered only a snapshot. I had to laugh at the irony of a particular sign that proclaimed that they wanted to keep it from being commercialized. That sign was located about 30 yards from a gift shop, 40 yards from a Ripley’s Museum, and 50 yards from a Wax Museum. It was like they stole Gatlinburg and dropped it off across from the Alamo. It was only missing a place to get an airbrushed t-shirt. I must say that I was a little put off by the creeping commercialism that exists so closely to the historic site. The grounds of the Alamo are beautiful, but the Ripley’s Museum or the Haagen Das that stood just a few feet across the street kind of offends my sense of history. I am not anti-progress, or capitalism or consumption. However, should we protect and preserve bits of our past. I always have mixed feelings when a former Church becomes someone’s house, or becomes a nightclub of some sort.
We had a special guest when we were visited from Dr Pepper (interesting side note… the Dr in Dr Pepper never has a “.”). Dr Pepper is made in Waco, Texas and as we were sitting in the gazebo outside of the Alamo holding class, Matt Burchette and his wife Holly, came around the corner with cold bottles of Dr Pepper to cool us in the hot Texas sun. Matt and I plotted out this class on Cinco de Mayo in 2007 (we had conversations about it for about 4 months prior). In any case, Matt and Holly drove 200 miles to meet up with us and discuss Texas history. They are both native Texans and helped shed a bit of light on Texas pride. I am still not certain that I understand it, but I am getting closer.
El Paso was an unexpected gem. In their downtown area they have several museums. They are smaller than many of the museums that I have been to, but they are all of great quality and located within a block of each other.
We had our second shower of the trip. All in all I am feeling pretty clean. We showered at UTEP in the morning. I am trying to mention all of the folks that have helped us out along they way. We have been very fortunate that many people have opened their doors to us, have went out of their way to accommodate us, or made special opportunities available. I interpret that as part of the spirit of this country. We have worked with a lot of other colleges, family members and friends of the all of us have taken time to meet up, and generally people across this land have been more than willing to engage in conversations with us.
One of the questions that we ask everyone is what does it mean to be an American? And what I have found is that everyone is willing to talk about it, even if they are not quite sure what it means to them. It seems that we through around the words like freedom and patriotic but most have not thought about what those words entail, of what they are free from (or to do). Are we becoming a bullet point culture? We speak in bullets. We think in bullets. Most of the people we have asked to this point say that they have never been asked that question before. So if any of you are reading this, I hope you stop and think of what it means to you.
I say this because we drove along the fence on the border. El Paso (which I am told is the second safest big city in the U.S.) is right across the Rio Grande (a river that is maybe 50 feet wide) from Juarez, Mexico (which seems to be one of the most dangerous places at the moment). Immigration is very much a hot topic in places like Tennessee and Kentucky. Interestingly, it is not an issue in El Paso. The white population is in the minority in El Paso, and it seems that everyone gets along quite well. In many ways I thought El Paso was more like Mexico than Cancun. But as we hear about immigration and think why people want to come into the United States, I think it is important to reflect on our own privilege.
We also visited Fort Bliss, which included lunch at a mess hall, trips to the Old Fort Bliss Museum, the Air Defense Museum (complete with the gift shop – I wish I though about it sooner, but the key chain, magnet and shot glass collection I could have would be incredible). The Air Defense Museum painted an interesting picture of our conflict and relations with other countries throughout history. Fort Bliss as a whole is a city inside of El Paso. It is completely self-sufficient and tax-free and has all of the fast food chains that one could hope for (I suppose some actually do hope for fast food).
On our way out of town we were paid one last visit from some friendly Texans as the Border Patrol stopped us and asked to board our bus. Apparently illegal immigrants are traveling in style these days. In any case, I thought it was a very fitting way to cap the Texas experience.
On to Roswell.