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Thursday
Sep292016

San Antonio Meltdown

(This is a non fitness post, a rejected story for the travel magazine I write for. The thing about getting sent places to write about them is there's an expectation that what you write is gonna make the reader want to visit the place. That should be all the set up you need to see why this won't see print)


I hated San Antonio, but it really wasn’t the place’s fault. A drink set me off, a drink at what purported to be a ‘British’ bar, though the place was clearly conflicted, draped and plastered with as many shamrocks and Irish tricolours as union flags. I was there with English friends who had just arrived from Austin and we made a big joke of it. How we’re probably all the same to them. They just file us under ‘alcoholics from some damp European island.’


I’d landed late and met up with my London friends that afternoon, so ours had been catch up beers, the fast forward bonding beers you have on the first day of a holiday. We’d wandered from the hotel pool to the river that meanders through downtown san Antonio. Plastic beer palaces dressed up like the Alamo and raucous Mexican restaurants lined the winding riverside. Mariachi bands pumped out La Cucarraha to sunburnt idiots. We sat and ordered pitchers of margaritas, nachos gloopy with radioactive cheese and steaming enchiladas washed down with ice-cold beer. Then we staggered on, which is where we found the British bar.

…And a drink on the menu called a Black and Tan. In brief; ‘The black and tans’ was the nickname of the Royal Irish Constabulary Force, who were a military unit sent into Ireland by then secretary for defence Winston Churchill in 1919 in an effort to quell the Irish uprising. They were a violent bunch of assholes, let’s leave it at that. And with the heat and the jet lag and the afternoon beers in my belly, I had a brief but total sense of humour failure. I announced that the place made my skin crawl, stood up and grandly demanded that we leave.

We decamped to The Alamo, the real one, where the pivotal Tex-Mex battle happened in 1836. It was a scorching day and a stroll through a cool building where an insane massacre happened was just the ticket. We saw Davey Crockett’s raccoon hat and the original Bowie knife used by Bowie himself (not that one). We ran our hands along thick stone walls where unimaginable carnage went down a couple of hundred years ago and found it all eerily calming. And so, having given our livers a brief head start on metabolizing the alcohol, we moved on to our final stop of the day, a basketball game.


If you go to America - anywhere in America - go and see a sport - any sport. You don’t have to understand it. Certainly, if the sport is baseball and you’re not the dude from A Beautiful Mind, understanding it won’t be an option. But that doesn’t matter because it’s all about the spectacle. They just do it right; the pageantry, the theatre, the hyper-capitalism. These things are America in a microcosm and it is fascinating.

The stadium was encircled by concentric shopping levels selling hot dogs and big foam hands and beers and t-shirts and endless overpriced crap. A never-ending circle, a Bataan march of consumption which we strolled through goggle eyed, arms around each other so as not to get lost in the mob.

The San Antonio spurs are really good by the way. They'd had an unbroken run of 42 wins at home and would actually be the best team of all time if the Golden State Warriors, tonight’s visiting team, didn't happen to be on their own era defining run.

Even from our nosebleed-section seats, the languid grace of the athletes was remarkable. Occasionally one of them would crash into a fan sitting courtside and it seemed to be universally accepted as an honour when it happened.

Every square inch of free time was filled with either advertising or blaring 80’s rock music. In between quarters they wheeled out one mad distraction after another; cheerleaders, fans shooting hoops from a couch, someone in a fox suit doing backflips. There were endless timeouts, half of which are apparently purely for commercials; literally if the natural flow of the game doesn’t allow enough ads they call a timeout because god forbid someone hasn’t urged you to buy Viagra or insurance enough already today. The MC constantly admonished us to make some noise and raise the roof and have a great time, a constant word salad of inane catchphrases that we ended up getting sucked into.

And then just when it couldn't get any more insane, the mascot, the backflipping fox, appeared with a machine gun and started firing T-shirts into the crowd. In my disoriented, over stimulated, dehydrated state, a fox firing a machine gun into a crowd of cheering people, in this country, in this demented place, where cops are gunning down citizens and kids are spraying bullets across the school yards and a racist psychopath is looking for all the world like he’s going to become the next fucking president, it was all a bit much. The whole thing took on the quality of a horrifying fever dream and I just started laughing like a lunatic.

With thirty seconds to go, the losing team realized they couldn’t get enough points to win so they just dropped the ball, let the clock run out and wandered off. Which could probably be a metaphor for something, something profound about a certain kind of American pragmatism. But I was too busy thinking about the machine gun.

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