Posts Tagged ‘Texas’

The Thinker

The good life on the 30th floor

Someone must have mistaken me for someone important. I am thirty floors up, living in this enormous hotel suite (which I calculate must at least be a thousand square feet) looking down on the breadth of San Antonio, Texas. To be specific, I am in the Marriott Rivercenter hotel. Perhaps my Marriott Silver Elite status entitled me to this free upgrade. In any event, I feel more than a bit flabbergasted. I have spent my share of time in four star hotels and in suite hotels. I have never had such an upscale hotel room as before. You could fit four standard Courtyard Inn hotel rooms (another Marriott brand) into this hotel suite.

All this space was purchased at a government rate, which is not much over a hundred dollars a night. I have to assume I won the Marriott lottery or something, or someone on our convention planning committee highlighted my name and told the hotel to make sure I got a really nice room. While probably higher graded than most of the attendees, there are plenty attending this convention that make more money that I do. This makes me curious: what are their rooms are like?

How do you make a luxury room more luxurious than the competition’s? To some extent you go to silly extremes. For example, my clock radio has dual stereo speakers and also comes complete with a MP3 docking port. The floor lamp has a foot control that you use to vary the light level. You make sure the toilet has two push buttons instead of a handle, a number one (which delivers a half flush) and a number two (which delivers a full flush). Presumably you use the number one for going Number 1, and the number two for going Number 2. I haven’t looked at my local Lowes to see if this model of toilet is available there. I am guessing not. In any event, press either button and you get a huge, instant whoosh that quickly carries away any excrement.

The room also comes complete with a high definition 42-inch television. Plain wooden furniture won’t do. The dresser has to have a marble top on it, and the drawers have to be on metal rails. The coffee and end tables appear to be brushed metal. The sofas and chairs have pillows for lumbar support. The bed, oddly, is much lower than my regular bed but like all four star hotels these days it comes with six enormously stuffed pillows, far more than any couple could possibly use on this king sized bed.

Alas, I am here alone. However, had I known I would have gotten a room this nice, I would have insisted that my wife accompany me. She could spend her days ambling up and down San Antonio’s lovely River Walk, which you can get to from a shopping mall on one side of the hotel. Moreover, with this magnificent view it seems kind of a waste for me to be here all alone. This is the sort of room where you should definitely include some romantic cardiovascular exercise, preferably with the curtains wide open and the lights off. I am betting the rear entry position while gazing out the window would never feel more ecstatic than here thirty floors up and with the city of San Antonio splayed like a postcard out my window.

In any event, this room has pretty much anything I could want except a whirlpool bath and a comely woman between the sheets. No matter, there is a large pool and Jacuzzi on the fourth floor, and I intend to try it out later tonight and perhaps some comely females in tight bathing suits will be there. I need the exercise from the pool, although I did at least amble a mile or so this evening along River Walk.  On the River Walk, the birds fearlessly grub for food among the tightly packed ambling humans. Motorized tourist boats chug down the small river (at best no more than three dozen feet across), and visitors can choose from literally hundreds of restaurants, many with live musicians and servers anxious to make eye contact so they can invite you to dine.

I haven’t found it yet, but somewhere near the River Walk is The Alamo, where occupying Texan soldiers were slaughtered by a much larger Mexican army some hundred and seventy plus years ago. As with most things, the Battle at The Alamo has been made to sound far nobler than it was. Vastly overwhelmed by the Mexican army, they could have easily been routed in a day, but Santa Anna wanted to play with the defenders, much like a cat will play with a mouse before killing it. While the battle does not deserve its overblown hype, it, plus the nearby River Walk helps bring in a lot of tourists, which makes the merchants, restaurant owners and hoteliers in San Antonio very happy.

San Antonio in May is quite warm and humid but still lovely. The River Walk is a strangely beautiful experience, but is somewhat marred by its many restaurants and shops that are clustered so close to its banks. It is full of paths and bridges, artificial waterfalls and limestone masonry. The city exists largely above it, which explains why I could not see it from my hotel room. This latitude has never agreed with me: it is too hot and humid overall, but at least along the River Walk you can forget the inch and a half long cockroaches and other scaly things you occasionally see here. Instead you can revel in the experience, which is sort of like the flume ride at Disney World without the flume, just the last bit before they haul you out of the boat on their artificial river. The San Antonio River is real enough, just smaller than I envisioned, with much of its water now able to be diverted along underground tunnels carved through the limestone. This is needed in the event of flooding, which happens periodically.  I learned today that San Antonio still holds the world’s record for the largest volume of rainfall delivered in less than twenty four hours.

Three more days of meetings in conference rooms await, with one day already behind me. Today I just listened and took notes. Tomorrow I speak for twenty minutes or so to sixty people or so signed up for our workshop. Down on the conference level the internet is free, but up here on the 30th floor, Marriott wants you to spend $12.95 a day for the privilege. It is too pricey for me to indulge, so instead I will take a quick ride down to the third floor to post this.

I expect during my week here to be charmed by San Antonio as well as eat a lot of great Mexican food, something I don’t do back home as my wife dislikes Mexican food. I expect to feel a little hot under the collar when I venture outdoors, which suggests I should first put on a T-shirt. This hotel, like most here in Texas, is a big believer in excessive air conditioning. Likely I will glad to be heading back to Northern Virginia on Friday.

 
The Thinker

The shadows of racism

If you had to pick one word almost guaranteed to raise people’s dander here in the United States, I would pick “reparations”. Almost everyone acknowledges that bad and misguided policies in our past caused the oppression, enslavement, relocation if not deaths of millions of Native and African Americans. However, almost every white person today feels that while these things happened long ago, they didn’t cause them so they should be held harmless. In addition, since discrimination by race is now illegal, the problem of racism is solved! Discussion over!

Arizona is attempting to deal with illegal immigration through essentially legislating ethnic profiling, which of course is just legislated racism. Just imagine the ruckus if roles were reversed and whites were judged likely of not being a citizen because they were white. That this is happening in Arizona of all places is more than a little ironic. Whites settled states like Arizona largely by pushing Native Americans and Hispanics off the land where they were the natives. Moreover, the vast majority of Hispanics living in Arizona are legal residents, and native born. But since Hispanics coming from Mexico illegally are considered a pervasive problem, sure, just write a law saying it’s okay to ethnically profile all Hispanics in Arizona!

They say the victors write the history books, and this is true particularly here in the United States. Here our history books give short shrift to issues like the forced relocation of Native Americans but plenty of puffing up how special and blessed our republic is. While Americans certainly enjoy an extraordinary amount of freedom compared with most countries, our history books and our history teachers have omitted a whole lot of pertinent facts that would present a more balanced picture of our history. While I was aware of the general problem, I did not understand the full extent of the problem until I started reading Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen, a historian, sociologist, professor and scholar.

Loewen’s in depth research is both fascinating and depressing. Most students studying history have little idea of our real history because, like in the old Soviet Union, so much of it has been airbrushed away. For example, few know that Christopher Columbus and the policies of the colonial Spanish government exterminated the natives of Haiti. Most of us have no idea that more than ninety five percent of the Native Americans living in what is now the United States died from diseases we brought over from Europe.

It’s all there and more, and it’s a sad, sorry but interesting story. For the most part, we know that Patrick Henry would accept only liberty or death, but don’t know that Patrick Henry was also a slaveholder and believed that negroes were intellectually inferior, a common view among whites at the time. We may have heard that Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder as well. Yet, the handfuls of slaves that he freed upon death were related to him by blood. He actually increased the number of slaves in his household as he aged. His father owned slaves too, which accounted for his relative wealth, but Jefferson’s wealth, his fabulous Monticello estate (which I visited recently), not to mention his huge collection of books, most of which went to the University of Virginia that he founded came from wealth generated by human beings that he enslaved.

Nor are we aware that the first settled colony in what is now the United States was not Jamestown, but one populated by rebellious slaves in what is now South Carolina, slaves who were aided and assisted by inclusive Native Americans. I had no idea that many whites that came to this country joined Native American tribes, finding with them a much freer and inclusive life than was available in their colonies, where they were often oppressed or indentured. I had no idea that in 1864 at Democratic Party rallies people gleefully sang (to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy”) the “Nigger Doodle Dandy” with lyrics like:

Yankee Doodle is no more,
Sunk his name and station;
Nigger Doodle takes his place,
And favors amalgamation.

The sad truth is that we were a largely segregated society because the whites would have it no other way. For much of our history, the United States emulated South Africa under Apartheid. The Civil War solved the issue of slavery, but it did not change that many hearts. Hearts change slowly, over many generations, and racism never seems to die out completely.

In my last post, I mentioned my recent trip to Richmond, Virginia and the proud, almost obnoxious way it clings to its Confederate past. Our governor Bob McDonnell made the national news recently by proclaiming Confederate History Month in Virginia. In his proclamation he left out any reference to the evils of slavery, an omission, he says that was entirely accidental. Umm, right. If it weren’t for the discord between North and South on slavery, there would have been no Civil War. Curiously, only recent Republican governors bother to proclaim Confederate History Month. Democratic governors seem to realize that the Confederacy was a terrible mistake and slavery, the animus that started the Civil War, was a great wrong.

The truth is that even in the 21st century we are still at best only beginning to emerge into a post racial society. Professor Loewen though does an exquisitely professional job of documenting just how pervasive the racism was, why and how it still exists today. It exists due in part to the victors writing the history books. Moreover, selective rewriting our textbooks to fit our current political state of mind is still going on. Perhaps you read about misguided efforts by the Texas Education Board to rewrite history by discounting the role of Thomas Jefferson in the founding of our Republic. Perhaps Texas could start by telling the truth about its own history. White ranchers who craved the land held for generations by Hispanics who inconveniently lived there already formed the short lived Republic of Texas. Not surprisingly, they also considered the Hispanics to be intellectually inferior. The Battle of the Alamo in what is now San Antonio (and which I expect to visit in a few weeks) was a pivotal event in this lost cause. It was one of the reasons Texas decided to join the United States. There was strength in numbers and the United States was acknowledged as a white people’s country.

Much of the animus behind The Tea Party comes from largely unacknowledged racism. The party is overwhelmingly white, Republican and a majority believes crazy things like President Obama was born in Kenya.

What would real reparations look like? It is hard for me to really envision, but it would be justice if all profits earned at the Monticello estates went to scholarships for African Americans. That might make some small amends for Jefferson’s racism and enslavement of over two hundred human beings. It would be a start. In truth, we’ve got a long road ahead of us if we want to be post racial in fact, as well as in law.

 

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