Happy Wednesday. Gonna veer off the usual path here a bit for a special occasion. The Alamo City is turning 300 this week. (This is SA. We probably don’t know the exact date, right?, so we’ll just party for a week, that should do.)
You don’t have to like San Antonio. That is fine: you’re not going to alienate us. Put a Dallasite and a Houstonian in a room together, and they’ll argue until they’re blue in the face about which city is better. Throw a San Antonian into the mix and within five minutes everyone’s talking about their favorite taco spot. You can argue about who’s got the vastest network of faceless suburbs. We’ve got barbacoa on demand. (And not that we’re counting, but San Antonio has over 120 years on both Dallas and Houston.)
This is a bustling, vibrant, growing city. It’s also sleepy. Sprawling. Diverse: in population (the city has been majority Hispanic for several decades now) and in natural landscapes. At any given point within the city limits you’ll see rocky hills with cactus and yucca, rolling brush coastal plains, humid and low-lying river valleys, upland savanna parkland, cedar forests, oak forests, grass prairies, and all of the variants in between. It’s a green city: a vast carpet of various oak (and other, less allergen-heavy) trees that still surprises you each time you fly into the airport. And the history of the place is as melting pot as they come. Downtown historic buildings are a mishmash of German industrial, Spanish, and Southern Gothic architecture.
Take one of the myriad spoke roads named after their old destinations, and head out of town: Fredericksburg, Old Pearsall, Bandera, Nacogdoches. There are fast-food joints and box stores, yes, but there are also hundreds of tire shops, muffler shops, repair shops, diners, cafes, car washes, old storefronts. Americana cruising roads, the business end of thousands of quiet residential streets.
We are friendly, but won’t beat you about the head and shoulders with it. A sort of quiet common courtesy is still mostly alive, and breakfast foods are the universal workplace bribe. (Valero is still giving away free coffee after each Spurs playoff win, a promotion that has been going on for well over a decade.) Bring a dozen donuts if you want people to like you for a couple hours. Bring a dozen tacos if you want them to move mountains to help you make your deadline.
I have a friend who used to say “everywhere you go, you meet someone from Michigan.” He is from Michigan. Everyone here probably knows someone from Michigan. Or Minnesota. Or New Jersey. Shuffled through the city as part of the Air Force, or the Army, or just the usual reaches of life’s journeys, and they just decided to stay. Couldn’t fully explain it to the folks back home, but they sure don’t mind visiting.
These are the transplant San Antonians. There are others, from closer by: Houston, Dallas, El Paso. There are those like me who grew up on the outskirts and get drawn in like moths to the flame. There are second-and third-generation San Antonians. Old-line families who have been here for centuries. Others from all over the hemisphere who have just arrived. They all know someone here who told them it was a place worth living, and they believed in it enough to settle here. It works because we all respect the delicate balance enough to mind our own business and let everyone do their thing.
For 300 years now, San Antonio has been a place where people end up because they’re drawn to the edge of the map: the gateway to the Old West, perched right above Mexico and a short couple hours to the Gulf. There’s an inexplicable comfort in knowing you can jump off and explore just as easily as you can fully return to the more stately and refined settlements of the interior.
I didn’t grow up in the city. My dad did, as did his parents, and theirs. I did grow up just outside of it, and watching it slowly grow larger and larger throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. I’ve lived here now for 14 years and the spread of the city has become mutedly exponential. The all-encompassing suburban tentacles are coating vast swaths of the hills to the north. Roads are slowly and quietly upgraded. New shopping centers go up. The rest of the blanks get filled in quietly and industriously. The city’s interior undergoes pockets of redefinition to keep pace.
But it still doesn’t feel big. All the suburbs still rely on the city for their identity. You can get almost anywhere you need to go (except the Medical Center, probably) in under an hour at most times. Go downtown to a Fiesta event, and you’ll probably run into someone you know. Go to your local H-E-B and you won’t get out without stopping and talking to at least three people. It’s not a small-town feel, per se, but more like one giant neighborhood.
300 years is a hell of a milestone. There’s a longer-lasting tribute in the works: the city’s most famous landmark is working on an overhaul that will help preserve the entire grounds as well as restore a bit of dignity to it. But that’s still playing out. This week we’re celebrating. Order the moonbounce and put down the deposit on the keg, because our baby’s turning 300.
OPEN: What’s your favorite San Antonio memory?
This poll is closed
share in the comments