February 11, 2013

The Road To Mexico

My second D-League game of the week is all the way down in Hidalgo, right on the border with Mexico. The trip from Frisco to Hidalgo is 540 miles, which Google Maps calculates as an 8 hour, 19 minute drive. While I've certainly driven that far in a day before, that's just too much for me to take on this trip by myself. Fortunately, San Antonio sits pretty much midway between the two cities so I decided to take a day off from basketball and stop there for a night, although I hoped to find a sports bar somewhere that would allow me to watch at least the end of the Wizards game against the Milwaukee Bucks that night.

I had visited San Antonio once before for an overnight business trip in 2008. There was enough time on that trip for me to make sure my presentation to my client the next day was finalized; see a little bit of the Riverwalk (which I detested - I hate urban interventions that separate pedestrians from the street grid); stroll around the city enough to know how to get back to my hotel; and grab some Jack In The Box on the way back to the airport. So I was excited on this vacation to finally spend almost a whole day exploring the city. I was especially excited because the two things on my agenda scream Texas to me: the Alamo and the Rodeo.

Of all the people in the United States, no state's population seems to be prouder of their home state than Texians are. I don't get it at all and probably never will but there's no denying it; just check out the DMWT (Don't Mess With Texas - yes, they no longer even spell it out) t-shirts at the airport when you arrive in Dallas if you need proof. The siege at the Alamo during the Texas Revolution seems to me to embody that Texian spirit: an outnumbered, ill-trained bunch of ordinary citizens willing to lay down their life with no guaranteed commensurate reward just to get Texas free of Mexican control.

The Texas Revolution was the first of two wars in a span of 16 years that took Texas from Mexican control to a part of the United States. In 1824, the Mexican government decided the best way to maintain control of Texas (then Tejas) was to allow colonization of the territory by anyone who wanted to settle there. Offers of cheap land with promises of credit extensions led to an influx of settlers from the United States. In 1830, just six years later, there were enough United States citizens living there that it seemed more like a state of the U.S. rather than a part of Mexico. Fearing this might lead to a struggle for control of the territory with the very people who they allowed to move there, Mexico closed the border that year, which ironically sparked revolution, the very thing it was supposed to prevent. On March 2, 1836, a group of Texas settlers attacked a fort at Velasco on the Gulf of Mexico and the revolution was on.

The legendary spot of the supposed line on the ground General Travis drew to inspire his men.
The Battle of Velasco was the first skirmish in a four year long war that ended in an independent Republic of Texas. The signature battle occurred at the Alamo, the former Mission San Antonio de Valera which had been converted to a makeshift fort to house a garrison of soldiers. Construction of the Alamo had begun in 1724 by Spanish missionaries sent to convert the native populations to Christianity. In 1793, the mission was secularized and its lands were returned to the native populations. Forty three years later, on March 6, 1836, a vastly outnumbered group of Texians repelled two attacks by the well trained and equipped Mexican army before yielding to the third and final attack, resulting in the death of everyone inside. Despite the victory, the battle took a huge toll on the Mexican forces led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and less than two months later, on April 21, 1836, that army was defeated for good by Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto. The independent Republic of Texas was born although Mexico never recognized the Republic. It took until the U.S.-Mexican War a little more than a decade later for Mexico to agree that Texas was no longer part of Mexican territory.

Today the Alamo looks nothing like it did in 1836. The mission church is still in the same spot it was during the battle, although the roof that was missing in 1836 is now completed. The remainder of the property is vastly different than it was when it fell to Santa Anna. The church now occupies the western part of the property whereas in 1836 it stood on the eastern part of the fort. The enclosed courtyard of the original mission is now mostly occupied by the Alamo Plaza to the west and office buildings actually encroach on what was the original property. Visiting the Alamo today gives a good historical overview of what happened during the Texas Revolution. The models in the exhibit halls and gift store show pretty effectively what sort of challenge the Texians had during the battle.

Following my trip to the Alamo, it was time to see my first, and probably last, rodeo. Every year in early February, the San Antonio Spurs embark on the NBA's longest road trip of the season because the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo is in town. The three week long event started in 1950 and is now one of the top five Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (or PRCA for those more familiar with the acronym!?) events of the year. The rodeo is held nightly and features, in order, bareback riding, steer wrestling, mutton bustin', team roping, saddle bronc riding, calf scramble, tie down roping, barrel racing and bull riding. The rodeo is then followed by musical entertainment. The night I went featured Reba McEntire (or just Reba as I guess it is now) but I didn't stick around for that. I felt out of place enough already!

The opening equestrian flag presentation.
Translating all of the above into something someone north and east of Texas can understand, here's what goes on put into English, or "yankee" if you prefer.

Bareback Riding: Dude on a horse with no saddle basically getting tossed around like a rag doll until he is either forcibly ejected by the horse or elects to get off after the eight second count. This event has the second highest potential for major injury in my uneducated opinion. One rider got stepped on by a horse and one dismounted but his wrist didn't unattach from the horse. They both looked painful. The guy who got stepped on won a $100 gift certificate from Brake Check for his trouble. Apparently the person who gets maimed the worst wins this gift certificate each night.

Steer Wrestling: Dude riding alongside a cow and jumping off his horse while at full gallop onto the cow's neck, then twisting the cow's neck until it falls down beside him. Why anyone wants to do this is beyond me but it's fun to watch.

Mutton Bustin': Four to six year old kids (boys and girls) riding sheep. That's pretty much it. The one who stays on longest seems to win this one.

A successful team roping.
Team Roping: Two guys riding horses chasing a cow down with lassos. One guy ropes the head (pretty easy) while the other guy gets the hind legs (not so easy, since you somehow have to get the lasso underneath the target). Only the teams who get both ends wrapped up get scores that count. This event actually takes skill and I guess I can appreciate it.

Saddle Bronc Riding: Pretty much the same as bareback riding but not as good because the rider seems to have way more control. They should put this before bareback riding in my opinion.

Calf Scramble: This is a little messed up. Basically a bunch of calves are turned loose on the floor with a bunch of teenagers and they spend the next 15 minutes or so trying to put ropes around their heads. Not very exciting.

Tie Down Roping: This one is pretty complicated. The point of the exercise is to rope a calf but the way they do it is complicated. The calf and rider on horse are released simultaneously. The rider ropes the calf's neck with a lasso while stopping his horse dead and dismounting in one smooth motion. The calf, still running, is yanked backwards by the rope which is attached to the now stationary horse (horse weighs more than the calf) and then grabbed by the rider, who ties the calf's four legs together. If the calf stays down for six seconds, the task is considered complete.

Barrel Racing: Woman on a horse racing around three barrels (duh...) in a timed contest. This one is actually pretty exciting. It's clear that if you take anything more than the tightest turn around the barrel, you are not winning this event. Two thumbs up for this event!

The blurry quadruped is a bull trying to dislodge a rider.
Bull Riding: Pretty much the same as bareback riding except with a bull, not a horse, so way more dangerous and way more possibility of bodily harm. These animals are massive. I'm adding bull rider to the very long list of jobs I never want. During the bareback riding, the rider is assisted off the horse by two other riders on horses which they cannot do with the bull. So after the eight second count, it's up to the rider to  get off and the rodeo clowns (also on the list of jobs I don't want) to distract the bull so he doesn't gore the rider. One dude got tossed into the wall by a bull but somehow hopped right up.

I have to say the rodeo was worth the trip to Texas and the trip's only halfway over! It was a blast and I'd do it again (although I probably won't) despite the VERY long prayer we had to endure at the beginning of the thing and missing the entire Wizards game against the Bucks (a fourth win in a row by the way). I also got to gaze with envy on the Spurs' trophy case. Someday, maybe.

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