Along the King William Reach

King William – San Antonio

by Celia Hayes

We had reason to go downtown the weekend before last; we were baffled of our intent to park in the big lot opposite the federal building on Durango/Cesar Chavez. It is most usually free and only a short walk into Exposition Park, the Alamo Plaza and La Villita from there, but the beer festival in Exposition Park baffled us of that intent, and so we parked in the structure at Commerce and North Presa. At $12 for three hours we decided to make a day of it, and do something daring and reckless so that my daughter could cross it off her bucket list. She has always wanted to go in and eat at Schilo’s Delicatessen, but every time before, we were defeated by a wait for a table 45 minutes long, or a tight schedule, or something. We had often looked longingly into the amazing period interior; yes, this is what these old turn-of-the-last century places looked like; tall ceiling (covered with stamped tin) high windows, a multi-colored tile floor made of those nickel-sized hexagonal tiles, old wooden pastry cases and booths with a hat-and-coat hook on the end of every bench. There was a time when every chop-house, delicatessen or restaurant looked just like this.

We had our chance this last Saturday; Schilos was about three-quarters full. Another cause for amazement is that the prices are extremely affordable, especially considered for downtown, and competitive with the McDonalds’ just across the street. Third thing – the staff are friendly and attentive. My daughter went all-out and had one of their signature sandwiches – a Reuben, while I tried out the patty-melt, which came with a very generous helping of potato chips. Almost too generous; the couple at the table next to us had two small children with them, and I considered offering them the chips to keep the kinds distracted while their order was being prepared. We tried out the home-made root beer, which was absolutely perfect; not too sweet and not to fizzy, and came in an ice-cold mug. At the very end of our sandwiches, the waitress suggested dessert, which we hardly ever eat – but she talked up the pumpkin cheesecake, a new offering. (Their other popular dessert seems to be bread pudding.) We split a piece – and like the root-beer – it was perfect. Not to sweet, but perfectly flavored – and we were going to be walking it off, anyway.

Walking it off – that meant a meander along the Riverwalk. This time, we parked at the Blue Star Arts complex and walked back towards King William. The cool fall weather was just perfect for this excursion; not a cloud in the sky, the grass still summer-green, and those trees given to dropping leaves not dropping them as yet. I am still marveling at how close everything actually is in San Antonio, and how very close a residential neighborhood can be to an industrial one – like the Pioneer Flour mill is to King William. My daughter loves the old Victorian cottages and mansions, although we could neither of us afford to live in one yet – and I am not quite certain that I would want to, knowing what I know about antique plumbing, peculiarities of electrification and nonexistent HVAC systems. I suppose the ideal solution would be a modern house with all of that, but built to 19th century plans. We did see one house under construction where this was being tried, but it didn’t look quite right to us. The porches weren’t deep enough, and the windows and porch columns themselves weren’t quite there. And that was my weekend – yours?

Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market

The Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market

by Celia Hayes

It’s one of my habits – established when we lived in Athens in the early 1980s – going to the local street or farmer’s market. It was the custom of the country that every neighborhood had a day of the week, when a three or four-block length of one of the main streets in the suburb would be blocked off, and the local vendors and farmers would set up two rows of booths and sell to the community, beginning just before dawn and continuing through midday. It was usually seasonal fruits and vegetables, and each little booth pretty much specialized in one item – lemons, or artichokes on long stalks, or potatoes with patches of the damp soil they had been grown in still clinging to them. There was an egg-vendor, who sold the eggs in cones made up of newspaper, and a storekeeper with a larger trailer who had a variety of dried beans and macaroni, and often a crate of live snails, rustling and clicking their shells together. All was absolutely fresh, straight from the farm and cheaper than cheap.

I’ve always hoped that our farmer’s markets here could duplicate that experience; and the goods are fresh and straight from the farm, but alas, not as inexpensive as they were in Greece. The farmer’s markets here do have their advantages though; the one held every Sunday morning save Easter in the parking lot of the Quarry Market is a perfect example; as half the venders seem to do the traditional fruits and vegetables, the other half a wide assortment of prepared gourmet foods. [Curious though, I didn’t find the Quarry Market on the GoTexan Farmers Market list. (They probably should be listed.)] Cheese and chocolates and pies, oh, my! Imagine a pie made with fruit or nuts from Nanette Watson’s Frio Farm, with their own eggs, butter churned by Nanette herself, and with her very own home-brewed flavoring extracts. That is a piece of pie that it is a delight to savor.

We cruised the two rows of booths – threatened rain didn’t seem to hamper turnout at all, though there were some vendors on the Quarry Market Farmer’s Market list who didn’t seem to be there because of it. Most everyone had samples on offer – and scrumptious they were. La Panadaria’s chocolate bread was absolutely scrumptious, and the chocolate samples from High Street Chocolate were out of this world. Peggy at High Street (she lives in Comfort, of course) is adventurous with flavoring, too – she has one flavor of chocolate, called Spicy Aztec which features … well, red pepper, among others. That is a chocolate with an interesting burn, which sneaks up on you. My favorite is a thin expresso-flavored chocolate, which I believe would be absolutely divine as the chocolate element in gourmet chocolate-chip ice cream … and if Peggy could work with Nanette at Frio Farm, and combine home-made ice-cream from Frio Farm’s eggs, cream and vanilla … I believe they would have something which would make Ben and Jerry’s finest taste like something from Tasty-Freeze.

The final booth that we visited was – I think – the Lemonade Company, purveyors of fresh-squeezed lemonade and orange juice. The scent of the oranges teased me from three booths away. There is nothing so evocative to someone who grew up in Southern California as the scent of fresh oranges and lemons – and the sublime flavor of the juice freshly squeezed. Nothing like it in the world, and it has spoiled me ever since for supermarket orange juice. And that was my Sunday morning – yours?

Mission Reach

River Fun Down the Mission Reach

by Celia Hayes

It is one of those grand civic plans to extend the Riverwalk from downtown towards the north and south – especially to the south to connect up all the ancient missions once established on the banks of the San Antonio River. The original section of the Riverwalk, which together with the Alamo itself is San Antonio’s primary claim to touristic fame, was just the very beginning. After all, San Antonio was established where it was because of the river… and for a long while in the last century, the river itself – aside from the landscaped stretch in downtown – was little better than a storm drain, running through industrial areas or at the back of commercial establishments.

But the Riverwalk extension to the north – the Museum Reach has now gone almost as far as Breckenridge Park. Some time ago we walked it from the Pearl Brewery well into downtown – and this last weekend we hiked a length of the new Mission Reach, between the Riverside Golf Course and Padre Park. It had just opened with some ceremony and celebration the day before, but Saturday was hot and presumably crowded, and Sunday was not. We went venturing, armed with a map of the new reach and were most pleasantly surprised. The Riverside Golf Course is most astonishingly upscale, green and manicured. All the new park pavilions along the way were newer than brand spanking new, the finished trail was wide and beautifully finished, every turn of the trail with a pleasing aspect was furnished with an assortment of benches and picnic tables positioned for best effect. There are not so many trees shading the path, though – although there are some groves of tall pecan trees off on either side. The pecan trees along the river provided sustenance to the Indians from the earliest days; I wish there were more of them, but as one of the ladies whom we talked to said – it’s still a work in progress.

It is all very new, though – and although there were enough people venturing on it – by foot, bicycle and kayak, there were not as many as we thought would have been there if the Mission Reach was more well-known, and if the various establishments on either side were more orientated towards it. If this was Europe, my daughter ventured – there would have been families picnicking at every table, and children playing on the various greenswards. Men would have been trying their luck at fishing in the river – and contra the warning signs here and there, there would have been people swimming and wading in it. There would have been ice cream vendors on bicycles towing little coolers after them, selling cold drinks and ice cream cones to all. Commercial establishments with an eye towards the view would have had outdoor dining areas looking toward the riverbanks – and those people sufficiently fortunate to have houses with back yards overlooking it would be building their gardens with an eye towards the view. A couple of mobile home parks that we spotted would also have made their Riverwalk-Mission Reach location a major feature of their appeal. Very likely the rejuvenation of the old Hot Wells Resort will play into this. The old tourist cabins on the ground – overgrown in thickets of small trees – are as ruinous as ever, but looking through the fence at the edge of the main property, we could see that work is being done. There is even a new roof on part of the old bathhouse building.

We walked more than four miles today – and consequently are pleasantly exhausted and somewhat sunburned. That was my weekend – yours?

Urban Critters

Critters in the City

by Celia Hayes

A good few years ago I had a project for a college class in ecology, a topic that I already knew a good bit about, thanks to Dad. Yea, my bretheren and sisteren, at that time, the whole concept of ecology was a brand new and shiny one, with that nice fresh concept smell to it. Dad, being the working research biologist, had introduced us it ages before – when we were in grade school, as a matter of fact. My class project involved finding out about nominally wild animals living in the city. In that pre-internet and search-engine day this involved a daisy chain of phone calls, beginning with the city animal control office, until I wound up talking to (IIRC) a gentlemen at the Bureau of Land Management, who kept saying that really, he didn’t know all that much about it, but talked for nearly an hour telling me of all kinds of examples and incidents involving wild animals settling down rather happily in suburbia, and even deep in city high-rises.

At the time, we lived in the hills, on the far fringes of a suburb nestled against a national forest; miles and miles of chaparral-covered hills and semi-dry creeks, so that we were already acquainted with coyotes and foxes, and once we had even found the tracks of a mountain lion, deep in the canyon on the muddy bank of a creek. I thought that I had left that kind of untrammeled wild-life far behind upon moving into a fairly built-up suburb in San Antonio, but no… there is plenty of wildlife, happily roaming in or flying over the neighborhoods.

There are enough fingers of woodland along the creeks and parks connecting them to support quantities of deer. In Hollywood Park the resident deer herd is seen as sort of community pet and the main campus of USAA also supports their own herd. The only surprising thing is that there are no apex predators preying on the deer save automobiles … yet, anyway. A couple of years ago one of my neighbors nailed a deer with his car, on Nacogdoches between Judson and O’Connor. The deer was killed – so was his radiator. I presume that there are coyotes and foxes prowling some of the denser thickets, although I have not seen or heard any – and believe me, although coyotes may be shy, they are not quiet.

The suburban critters that I have seen – and sometimes up close and personal are possums and raccoons. Just this very week I have had a young raccoon removed from where it had been making a messy nest under the eaves of the back porch. One morning when I came out to get the newspaper, I surprised some skunk kittens on my front porch. A neighbor had just demolished the deck at the back of her house, evicting them. I had a family of opossum kittens living in my garden for a while; four of them, who seemed to like the cat food that I put out for the timid semi-feral cat that I was trying to tame. I was eventually successful with the cat, but not the opossums.

Birds now – egrets in the creek bottomlands, rails and ducks in plenty, and wherever squirrels are in plenty, there will be hawks. There are several nesting pairs in my neighborhood alone, performing the office of chlorine in the squirrel gene pool – in two instances, sitting in the mulberry tree in the back yard, chowing down a nice bit of tender squirrel al la plein air. The wild kingdom is all around us, even in the middle of the city.