Texan Trilogy, Act III: The Wonder Kid in San Antonio

A tea drinker himself, the Wonder Kid was vulnerable to coffee machine conspiracies. While inspecting a suspicious smelling batch of hazelnut flavoured coffee, the Tall Doctor and I plotted to make him responsible for organising a day trip to San Antonio. Once back to our huddle room, we put the matter to a referendum. The results were unmistakable and unappealable: two votes in favour and one vote against meant that the Wonder Kid was now our master of ceremonies for San Antonio.

This is the third act of a trilogy about the three months I spent in Texas. Read the first act here and the second one here.

He kept his plan secret, but hinted there would be music, a pop quiz and Margaritas if we got a respectful amount of questions right. The Tall Doctor wasn’t too happy with the prospect of Mariachi music, but I saw an opportunity to escape another road trip listening to German pop songs (I myself had fell prey to an earlier referendum) and enthusiastically sided with the Wonder Kid on the matter.

Early Saturday morning we headed to San Antonio. The sound of guitarróns and vihuelas echoed through the car, competing with the slightly exasperated GPS voice that tried to guide us out of Houston. In the back seat the Wonder Kid dangled a laptop, preparing our pop quiz. The Tall Doctor and I, both snotty little teacher’s pets in school, were feeling the pressure and behaving like annoying siblings. She snapped that being Portuguese gave me an advantage, since San Antonio’s history is rooted in the Spanish expansion. Irked by being lumped together with Spaniards, I shot back asking if Bulgarians spoke Russian.

As it often happens, I was wrong and she was right. San Antonio is named after Saint Anthony of Padua, the same Portuguese priest that gives his name to Lisbon’s annual feast. The region, called Yanaguana (‘refreshing waters’) by the Payaya Indians that lived there long before, was settled by the Spanish in the 18th century. Many of San Antonio’s most iconic buildings are from that period, including The Alamo (a mission) and the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar (a fort). The Wonder Kid’s plan started on another of the city’s landmarks: the River Walk, a series of canals and flood gates built in the 1920s after a deluge that killed 50 people. We left the car in the outskirts and headed towards downtown, walking alongside the canal.

The Wonder Kid and the Tall Doctor were a few steps ahead of me, yapping away in German. Out of respect for my pitiful attempts (apparently knowing how to order a beer and a pretzel is not very useful outside of Germany) they always switched to English when I was around, but this time they assumed I had wandered off again taking pictures. On the surface, their personalities seemed as contrasting as their outfits. She was intense and fiery, he was lighthearted and cheerful. She was tempestuous, he was sunny.

But, beyond that outer layer, I found in both the exact same characteristics that draw me the closest to someone. They are trustful as only someone that never considers taking advantage of others can be. They have enough confidence in their strengths to be able to openly discuss their flaws. They talk proudly about what they do, always driven by passion and never by a need to impress. I had glanced at the Wonder Kid’s résumé, so I knew he had been awarded with one of Germany’s most elusive scholarships and had been top of his class in college. Yet he didn’t mention that once. He would rather reminisce about the electrical appliances he had dissected (and occasionally revived) at his parent’s basement in Germany, about the heart monitor for horses he had created in London, about the three-dimensional display he was building in his hotel room.

Halfway down the river we came up to a modern art exhibition. One exhibit used an old overhead projector to screen transparencies. The Wonder Kid took out a fresh transparency paper and filled out where his mind, soul, heart and body were. His mind was in Silicon Valley, where he hoped to work one day. His soul was in London, a city he fell in love with. His heart was in Rome, a city where he fell in love. And his body was now in Houston, with us. The spirit of a poet, the brains of a scientist and the looks of an actor: there had to be something wrong with him. The Tall Doctor and I often wondered if he could be a serial killer out a of Bret Easton Ellis novel. He vehemently denied it, but we kept sharps objects away from him, just in case.

When we finally reached downtown it was lunchtime. The Wonder Kid suggested Tex-Mex and caved in to Margaritas, despite our sufferable performance in the pop quiz. The discussion gravitated towards a topic that we had brushed on a few days before but had to interrupt for a meeting: the Wonder Kid’s experiences with hypnosis. After reading a German book on the subject, he managed to hypnotise his girlfriend. Fuelled by the Margaritas and our chronic tendency to steer conversations south of virtue, the Tall Doctor and I pressed him to know what sort of things he had instructed his hypnotised girlfriend to do. To our disappointment, he had behaved like a perfect gentleman and asked nothing beyond a chicken dance.

My memories of San Antonio are lighthearted, cheerful and sunny, while my recollection of Austin is intense, fiery and tempestuous. How much of those characteristics are from the cities themselves, and how much has spilled over from the Wonder Kid and the Tall Doctor’s own personalities? As in a good play, the stage and the characters have meddled together into my own unique interpretation of Texas. And how memorable it is.

To the Tall Doctor and the Wonder Kid,
Verne*

30 thoughts on “Texan Trilogy, Act III: The Wonder Kid in San Antonio

  1. Love your play on words. Our experiences of a place are so closely tied to the people we share those experiences with, it is impossible to compartmentalize the two. Thank you to the Tall Doctor and the Wonder Kid as well for a very memorable post about San Antonio.

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    1. That close relationship was exactly what drew me to your blog in the first place (on a post about Angkor Wat, if my memory doesn’t fail me). Since then it has been a source of inspiration: thank you for that and for your kind words!

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  2. I’m from Houston, it’s very close to me, very personal, it is home (although I no longer live there). But San Antonio is my bliss. I love the history of San Antonio, and the unique architecture. The ghost stories fascinate me, and the rhythm of the crowds are far more inviting.

    Austin is terrible pretentious (though Dallas already had that title) so we will just call Austin Hipster Haven. I’m not a fan, but those who are, really are. I find it alienating, and not as warm and welcoming as San Antone. 🙂

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to read the full trilogy! It’s great to hear back from people that know these cities well, as it grounds my fleeting impressions. Funny you mention ghosts: I remember looking at the Emily Morgan Hotel and thinking there was something eerie about it, even before hearing about the dead Alamo defenders that live in the 9th floor 🙂

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      1. well in honesty it’s not the alamo offenders, but the fact that hotel was once a hospital. It’s one of the most haunted spots in town, and the 8th floor is not for the faint of heart. Although I had eerie experiences when I stayed on the tenth about a decade ago. And then again when I stayed in the honeymoon sweet on the top floor in few years later. 🙂 Then I refused to stay there again after our car was broken into and robbed under their valet’s care and they refused to help about three years ago.

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  3. Another wonderful set of travel stories. Always a pleasure to read your keen perspectives. I am heading out to Austin and San Antonio for a few days soon so this reading comes in great timing!

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  4. Great post. I sometimes wonder whether there is any point in knowing German outside of Germany – I don’t seem to have any use of it. I sometimes feel that I am torn between multiple places as well, though it is usually between Australia and Europe.

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    1. Thank you! In my case German would had been very handy when I lived in Switzerland. Probably not the best place to learn it though: even my German friends had a hard time understanding Swiss German 🙂

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  5. Thanks for posting this entry which brought to mind fond memories of a most significant time when I was stationed in San Antonio at Fort Sam Houston during my two-year stint in the Army in the late 60s, way back in the day.

    Thanks also for the like on my blog Dr. J’s Apothecary Shoppe.

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  6. Great post. I think your assessment of the two cities’ characteristics is fairly spot on. Austin tends to be more intense, but San Antonio is eager for tourists. I think their personalities reflect what the citizens of each cities’ interest are.

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