The Little Church at La Villita, in San Antonio, is a gem. Built in 1879, its clean lines, stone walls, and modestly proportioned stained glass window create a setting of simple beauty. It’s well suited for quiet contemplation after a stroll on the River Walk — and it’s cool inside, too.
We were in a small neighborhood bar in San Antonio on a Saturday afternoon in November, sipping beers and getting ready for the kickoff of the Ohio State-Michigan game. There were only the three of us in the place with the bartender. The door to the bar opened and a guy in his 20s walked in.
He looked at us and began talking . . . and talking, and talking. Was that our car right outside the door? Where were we from? Columbus? Hey, he was from Whitehall! Watching the Buckeyes? Well, he was a Buckeye fan, too. What did we think of Jim Tressel? Who did we think was the best Ohio State quarterback during the last ten years? What did we do for a living? Where did Russell go to school? How did Russell like being an artist? Kish left to do some shopping, and still the questions and running commentary kept coming. What were we going to do while we were in San Antonio? Did we know that we were there during the San Antonio bad weather period?
For brief instants the guy would watch the game and root for the Buckeyes, but for the most part he was a chatterbox who simply would not stop talking or let us just watch the game in peace. We answered his direct questions politely because that’s what people are supposed to do, but also because I didn’t want to do anything to provoke him. My guard was up, because people don’t normally walk into a bar and begin a rapid-fire conversation with complete strangers. Was the guy on drugs? Was he getting ready to ask us for money? What was his angle, really?
Halftime came, and the guy got a call on his cell phone. When he took the call he walked around, seemingly agitated, and talked loudly to the person at the other end of the conversation. A minute or two later he ended the call and announced he was leaving, and after we said goodbye he vanished into the rainy San Antonio afternoon without incident. I admit that I breathed a sigh of relief.
We looked over at the bartender, and I asked if he knew the guy. He said no, he’d never seen him before. Then he shook his head sadly and said, “PTSD.” The bartender explained that the San Antonio area is home to a lot of different military bases, and therefore to a lot of returning veterans who were dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, there was a Veterans Administration facility across the street, and he suspected the guy had come from there.
The bartender himself was a veteran, he said, and he’d seen the guy’s kind of behavior before. He said that when he returned from overseas, struggling with what he had seen and done, the VA’s first response was drugs, because “drugs are easy.” So he took the drugs the doctors gave him, but he later decided that the drugs he was prescribed, and the kinds of mood swings they provoked, were just too much, so he stopped. The talker’s behavior, the bartender explained, was showing the signs of the drugs he was prescribed for his PTSD. His behavior wasn’t his fault.
We had no way of knowing for sure, of course, whether the talker in fact had PTSD as a result of his military service, because he hadn’t talked about it — but the bartender’s comments had the obvious ring of truth. It turns out that the bartender’s view of the VA’s actions isn’t unique; it’s not hard to find news stories that talk about the VA’s approach to prescribing drugs to returning veterans and question its value.
I felt bad for doubting a guy who had served his country, been scarred by the experience, and wasn’t getting the help he really needed to deal with his issues and return to civilian society. And I wondered just how many returning veterans deal with PTSD and why the government that sent them over to fight hasn’t come up with an effective approach to a common problem.
It’s just not right.
Richard has a good story in the San Antonio Express-News about a cheap scam that is plaguing San Antonio hotels. It involves people sneaking into the establishments, slipping fliers for local pizza under the doors of hotel guest rooms, and then when hungry and unsuspecting visitors order a pie, they frequently get inedible crap. Richard did some digging, found some people who were victimized by the scheme, and even got to try one of the awful pizzas — which look terrible — in the process.
Only a real crook would make a scam out of pizza. Why, that’s unAmerican!
Richard’s last day at the Florida Times-Union was Friday. He’s left Jacksonville and, as we speak, is driving across the southern rim of the United States, skirting the Gulf of Mexico. After a stop in New Orleans to visit a friend he’ll make his way to San Antonio, Texas, where he will be starting a job with the San Antonio Express-News.
Richard enjoyed his job at the Times-Union and gained some great experience there — but the opportunity presented at the Express-News was just too good to pass up. The career of a young journalist tends to be an itinerant one, where moves from one paper to another are common. Already Richard has worked for four dailies, in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, and San Antonio. And his move back to San Antonio is a return trip, because he worked there several years ago as an intern. Richard’s experience shows the value of internships, because the Express-News staff remembered him from his intern days and sought him out for this new position.
So it’s so long to Jacksonville, and hello again to hot and bustling San Antonio, where Richard will be doing special business reporting and investigative reporting.
San Antonio and its environs are home to four of the early Spanish missions — or at least, what remains of them. From an historical preservation standpoint, the centuries have not been kind.
Yesterday I had a chance to visit two of the four missions, San Jose and Concepcion. San Jose is the most complete mission, with its outer wall intact and the small rooms where Indian converts and visitors lived available for a look. They are spartan, but practical — about what you would expect in a development that was intended to be an outpost of civilization in an untamed land. Some of the outbuildings and outdoor ovens also may be found there, as well as the ruins of a convent.
The centerpiece of the missions, of course, was the cathedral, and the church at San Jose Mission is striking — with a beautiful facade that features statuary of the saints and renderings of hearts, shells, and other meaningful symbols. I wasn’t able to see the interior of the cathedral, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute. At one time the church was covered with brightly colored tile that must have presented a dazzling sight for weary travelers on the dusty Texas plains, but most of the tiles are gone and the church now stands as a stone monument.
Mission Concepcion, which is found in the middle of a neighborhood, is much less complete. It consists of a church, a well, some ruins, and a prayer area. The church itself is simple, and what you would expect to find at a Spanish mission, with whitewashed interior walls. Some signs of the former frescoes in the church may be seen, but for the most part the church interior has been decorated with modern paintings and furnishings.
The two missions must be popular wedding options. When I visited yesterday, both were busy hosting nuptial ceremonies — which is why I was unable to see the interior of the church at San Jose. That was disappointing, but I found myself feeling good about the fact that the churches were still being used as churches. A lot of work went into building these missions, which served as agents of colonialism but also as a testament to the power of religious faith. It’s nice to see that, centuries later, that part of the mission is still being served.