and and third floors of the Express building, sometimes on down to the first floor to stop the presses from disseminating some awful blooper, I became a sports writer. When I was 14 and he 15, Larry Goodwyn and I worked together on the sports staff and shot pool in a basement joint across the street from the paper. I will not speak now for Duke University’s distinguished historian who has just written the definitive new book on American populism, but down in the pool hall I occasionally placed bets, usually unwisely, on nags. I grew on up, then, walking to school, downtown to work and church, on the winding, cowpath streets of the city. I was well on my way to wealth, too, for while the Express had started me at $12 a week, they raised my pay frequently, in $2 increments, until after three years I was receiving the munificent sum of $26. When I decided to go off to college, the management at once offered to raise me to $60. I believe this may have been the moment when certain unfortunate and dangerous ideas about social justice began to lodge themselves in my mind. River walk At first, when I walked these same streets upon my return this year, the familiar buildings all seemed smaller, but then I realized it was I who was taller. I have come now to the opinion that San Antonio has the best downtown in America for walking, better than the Quarter in New Orleans, better than San Francisco, better than Manhattan. The River Walk, two and a half miles of sidewalks along the river banks, is one of the urban wonders of the world. Bridges, foliage, bends, waterfalls, the open-air theaterall these were attractive when I was growing up. But now, in the last ten years, much has been addedcafes, bars, places to dance, open-air tables along the river and on balconies overlooking it. For ten days in April there is the big river celebration, but I have found since returning that whenever I am tired and out of sorts, I can go to the river, find a fiesta there, and be recharged. This past spring while at lunch with University of Virginia architect Fred Nichols in Charlottesville, where I was then teaching, I advanced the proposition that the San Antonio River Walk is one of the four or five best designs of space for human use and appreciation in the United States. The others, I thought, might be the Jefferson Memorial, the Lawn at the University of Virginia, and St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. Off the top of his head, Nichols added Savannah. La Villita, the little Mexican village that was saved and restored by the New Deal’s National Youth Administration, is a labyrinth of craft shops and plazas, delightful to drift in. The acreage on which HemisFair was conducted in 1968, while still harboring a few active establishments and the Institute of Texan Cultures, is pretty much a wasteland and ought to be turned back to middleand low-income housing. With 46 percent of San Antonio’s Mexican-American teenagers unemployed, the city could run its own New Deal. I am prepared to believe, if shown, that urban renewal funds have made life better for poor and middle-income San Antonians, but all I am sure of is that Mexican-Americans have a superb new civic center, El Mercado. Many a night there’s music, food and dancing in the open there. Built around the farmers’ market and Mi Mercado, adjacent to the West Side, is the chicanos’ Alamo Plaza, their rival civic center. A full-scale Mexican market like those in border towns has been opened, but unfortunately most of the merchandise is the same junk that fills the border markets; members of the West Side aristocracy, who take their afternoon libations at Karam’s Cafe in El Mercado, should see to it that the quality of the imports from Mexico is improved. Nevertheless, El Mercado is genuine civic enhancement, a place of public celebration that Mexican-Americans can feel is their own, a place where Anglos are welcome, but as visitors. I cannot yet tell you much first-hand, in the first of these occasional letters from San Antonio, about the cultural life. The civic museum, the Witte, has good and substantial exhibits \(including the most luminous and transfixing Dufy I’ve on San Antonio that is a model of balance and social sophistication. I found the people at the McNay Art Institute a little stand-offish and even suspicious, but that may be because they’ve been robbed of art treasures twice recently. For two hours I walked slowly past the paintings and what-not offered for sale at the last River Art Show, and I must say it was as if nearly all the participating artists had fastened their imaginations into a master network of mirrors focused forever on bluebonnets and Hill Country rivers. Yet I discovered, at “Art Jamboree” on the grounds of the McNay, the pottery of Walt Glass, who usually sells his work at Villita Pottery, upstairs in a house on Villita Street. According to the first-class magazine San Antonio \(or the San Antonio Symphony hovers around the bottom of the top 30 symphony orchestras in the United States. For his part, Express-News classical music critic David Anthony Richelieu seems to believe the orchestra would be headquartered more suitably in Dime Box. On this topic I cannot yet speak with much authority. For a time I relied on an FM radio station for my classical music, but it’s disappeared from the air. For several weeks beforehand, the lady who was evidently in charge enunciated clearly, again and again, the same recorded message, the gist of which was “San Antonians, from whom we expected adequate support, you are ratfinks.” Since then, silence. Enough problems I shall write later about the city’s social problems. There should be much to report. As of 1970, 160,000 San Antonians lived below the poverty line, about one out of six of the people in the metropolitan area. It’s estimated that 50,000 illegal aliens live here. The loan sharks have reoccupied their old haunts on Navarro Street. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, San Antonio has 6,100 heroin addicts and the seventh highest per capita rate of heroin addiction among 24 of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas: 657 heroin addicts per 100,000 people. Since the military, tourism, and farming and ranching are the main sources of business, there is not much air pollution, but National _ Geographic goes a bit far in calling the San Antonio River “a lovely green ribbon of water.” The effluent coming into the river from three of the city’s sewage treatment plants endangers the fish in the 40-mile stretch between Floresville and Falls City. The city council has for all intents and purposes halted new construction on the aquifer that is the city’s main source of water, and city sewerage charges are being increased steeply to underwrite the city’s effort to bring itself into compliance with federal water quality standards. There are enough problems. For the time being, though, I shall content myself with the observation, calculated to elicit from the local chamber of commerce a plaque or at least a note of appreciation, that San Antonio is a good place to visit and a good place to live. If this conclusion doesn’t seem to fit in with the tone of most Observer articles, blame it on the holiday season. THE TEXAS OBSERVER
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