Don Messerli’s Blog |

An exercise in self-indulgence.

Texas Trip Part I - San Antonio

Tuesday Apr 15, 2008

The AlamoWe arrived around 1:00 PM on Thursday. Our flight from Houston to San Antonio was delayed because the plane we were supposed to board was late arriving from Austin. Might have had to do with the bad weather. We didn’t get any of the bad weather. The pilot from Nashville to Houston deliberately flew south of the usual route to avoid it.

We got our rental car and went to a place I had found on the Internet for lunch. It was called the Madhatter’s Tea House. They had great sandwiches and 50 different kinds of tea. They also had about 6 kinds of gourmet iced tea. That’s what I had. Some kind of green tea with ginseng. Then we went to our hotel. It was the Wyndham St. Anthony which is downtown. It’s within walking distance of the Alamo and Riverwalk. The hotel was nice. Small rooms; but then again, we were only really using it for sleeping. We relaxed for about 30 minutes before setting out.

We went to a town called Gruene (pronounced “Green”) which is about 39 miles from San Antonio. We noticed that there are a bunch of streets and towns with German names in this part of Texas. New Braunfels, Gruene, Shertz and Schumannsville to name a few. Gruene has a little historic district with antique and craft shops and some interesting little restaurants. We only stayed there about an hour. The drive took longer than we thought because we hit a lot of traffic.

Back to the hotel to wash up and put on some nice clothes. We had a reservation at the Chart House restaurant which is on top of the Tower of the Americas, a 750-foot tall tower with observation deck, revolving restaurant and 4-D theater ride. Regine’s mother told us we had to eat there; so we did. The management of the restaurant has recently changed ownership after more than 30 years. The restaurant was under the previous ownership when Regine’s mother ate there. The food was fantastic and the prices were a bit high. The rotating restaurant was cool. It takes about an hour and a half to make a single rotation. It gave us a great opportunity to see the entire skyline at night. When I needed to go to the men’s room, I had to ask a server where it was. I said, “Can you tell me where the men’s room is? It keeps moving.”

The next morning we slept in a little bit and had pop tarts in the room. Went to the Alamo. Couldn’t find the basement.

Younger people may be more familiar with “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” in which the goofy man-child in the too-small suit embarks on a cross-country odyssey to the Alamo to retrieve his lost bicycle from its basement. Once here, he gets the bad news: “There’s no basement in the Alamo!”

David Stewart, the Alamo’s director, says he hears the Pee Wee question all the time, and that by now he can tell when someone is about to bring it up again.

“They get this little smile on their face and say ‘You know what I’m going to ask,’” he said. “And I always say, ‘No, we don’t have a basement.’”

It was interesting. Don’t remember the whole story. I hate reading all those little information cards below the exhibits. Unfortunately, they don’t allow you to take any photos inside the buildings.

Next was lunch. I’d done my research ahead of time and picked a Mexican restaurant that is very highly rated. Made sure they had “Enchiladas Mole Poblano” which is my favorite. Haven’t had it since moving to Nashville. None of the Mexican restaurants here have it. The restaurant was called La Fogata and was a little outside the city. The parking lot was rather large and I know why. This place draws them in from miles around. The food and service were both excellent.

We headed back toward town and stopped at Market Square. “El Mercado is the the largest Mexican market outside of Mexico. The outdoor market sells all types of Mexican crafts, including pottery and ceramics, turquoise jewelry, leather goods and colorfully embroidered clothing. The plaza has restaurants, pastry shops, specialty shops and craft galleries.” We bought a bunch of little things.

The next stop was La Villita which is right next to Riverwalk. “In the center of downtown San Antonio sits the preserved and restored remnants of the original “Little Village” of San Antonio, La Villita. Built by the Spanish in the 1700s, the historic riverside settlement is now home to artisans, small shops, and restaurants.” There was a lot of cool stuff. We bought two small watercolors at a coop for local artists. Talked to the ladies there for quite a while. Was fun.

Went back to the hotel and freshened up before walking to and around Riverwalk. Sure has been built up since my family and I were there in 1971. Not sure it’s for the better. Ate at an Irish pub on Riverwalk. Food was good; service was terrible. Went back to the hotel; we had to be up at 6:00 AM the next morning for the 2 hour drive to Cuero.

Hyundai Sonata? Probably not!

Monday Apr 14, 2008

This is the first of what will probably be many posts that come as a result of our trip to San Antonio this past weekend.

My Mini Cooper S is approaching 100,000 miles and, although it’s not ready to be replaced, I’ve been thinking far in advance about what make and model of car I want to replace it with. Don’t get me wrong. The Mini is one of the best cars I’ve ever owned. I WOULD replace it with another; but change is good. I’ve been thinking much more conservatively about cars lately.

I’ve always liked Hondas and owned a CRX in the 80s. It was great car. Only one minor problem I can think of. I sometimes kick myself for not replacing it with another Honda; like an Accord.

I’ve always liked the Accord, so it is a logical choice to consider for “the replacement”. But then the part of me that doubts my gut feelings kicked in and told me I should look at the Hyundai Sonata. Same price range as the Accord; but with a much better warranty. Hyundais have been considered good cars for years.

Well, on our recent trip to Texas, our rental happened to be a Hyundai Sonata. I really liked the car. Nice fit and finish. Comfortable. Easy to drive. Enough power for my needs. I could drive one of these on a long-term basis. On the third day, I found a few annoying things. First of all, the car has a tire pressure monitoring system like my Mini has. When we picked up the car at the rental agency, I noticed the light was on; indicating that one of the tires was low. I checked all four tires and they were fine. I asked the attendant if he knew how to reset the light and he said he didn’t; but as long as the tires seem OK, I shouldn’t worry about it. I didn’t worry about it until the third day when Regine had to check the manual for some other annoyance and found that the light cannot be reset in the field. You have to take it to the dealer and have them do it. On my Mini, there’s a button you can press when the car is idle that “calibrates” the system and tells it that the current tire pressures are optimal and should be used as a baseline. Yes, I’m over-simplifying; the system actually works based on the rotation speed of the wheels and not the actual tire pressure. That’s a subject for another blog post which I assure you I’ll never write.

I’m sure Hyundai has good intentions and since the car has a very long warranty (I think it’s 10 years/10,000 miles) it probably wouldn’t cost anything to take the car to the dealer to have them reset the light. But the auto manufacturers don’t seem to realize that people’s time is also very valuable; just like money.

The other annoyance was why Regine cracked the manual in the first place. There is a light in the dash between the climate control and the radio that tells you that the passenger airbag has been disabled. The manual states that the car basically makes a decision to disable the airbag based on the weight of whatever/whoever is in the seat when the car is started. It further states that if this light comes on by mistake, to stop the car, shut it off, have the passenger sit properly in the seat, and then restart the car. Rinse and repeat if necessary. There is no switch to manually turn on/off the passenger airbag. The car has made the decision. You, the driver, are too dumb to make the right decision. No airbag for you!

These are really more than just annoyances. They are instances of where Hyundai thought I was too stupid to make my own decisions and the dealer or the car are smarter than I could ever be. Basically, insulting my intelligence. I know a lot of people would think these are really cool features. To these people, ignorance is truly bliss.

The whole thing made me wonder. If I found this many annoyances in less than three days, how many others will there be with this car?

Now, the Honda Accord might have the same exact annoyances; you’ll be sure I’m going to check for them when the time comes.