San Antonio is many cities within one big city. The dynamics in culture and diversity of people can be seen in the space of one hour on a daily bus route from point A to point B. Along my bus route, education turns from a luxury into a right within minutes of time. The number of popular stores increases, and the types of people change as they venture on and off the bus.
My bus route is 36 S. Presa, which turns into 90 Woodlawn. The route stretches across a good swath of the city, from Military Drive at Brooks City Base to South Presa Street into Downtown through Main Avenue, and to Woodlawn Avenue all the way to Ingram Park Mall. Ride this route with me for a few days and you will watch an entire city go by. I see all of life’s dichotomies: the rich and the poor, the privileged and the struggling, the young and the old, those who dream and those who dare to dream.
This is San Antonio. This is where I live. I live seven minutes from downtown in what I like to call a forgotten pocket of town. Despite the close proximity to downtown, wireless signals drop, popular attractions decrease, and access to cable providers remains an unexperienced luxury. As a bus commuter who leaves this part of the city every day, I finding myself learning more and more about the people of San Antonio just by sitting on the bus and observing.
This city is filled with non-bus riders who carry around stereotypes of people who do ride the bus. But there is far more than one kind of person who uses the bus route for his or her daily routines. It’s true that most people who ride the bus are doing it, not out of choice, but because there is no alternative. I suppose that’s where stereotypes come in to play. But if you were to ride the bus, you’d see young mothers with their children, the elderly, couples in love, the occasional tourist, and students. They are people like you and me: with heart and the intent to make something of themselves by clocking in shifts at a job or at a local restaurant. I’ve observed one couple that rides the bus every morning. They are the first to give up their seats to someone who may need it. They always wish the bus driver a nice day. I see elderly women who join each other for a little chit-chat on the bus, sharing their plans are for the day, talking about their volunteer service as hospice workers at a local hospice on Main Avenue.
For the most part, the 90-36 is a quiet route. It follows quiet streets with traffic intent to pass by for the new attractions of Brooks City Base or to venture into the excitement of downtown. The second favorite part of my route is passing through Southtown into downtown. My favorite part is passing through the grand houses on Woodlawn Avenue. Unlike the houses closest to mine, these renovated Victorian-style houses stand tall and proud of the kind attention and care they have received through the years. In my neighborhood, after Vance Street, the cool Southtown vibe ends and a lost city emerges in a setting sun. Imagine a time when business is booming and people, not just tourists, could come to this area. That time did exist in my little forgotten pocket of South Presa, and it existed in the form of the Hot Wells Hotel and Spa in the early 1900s. Now there remains just a skeleton of a lost city, yet within easy distance to the heart of downtown.
My San Antonio remains stuck in a different time. Everywhere else has moved on and grown tremendously but the connection that has become a staple for San Antonio’s cultural identity is somehow forgotten in this little pocket. It’s not because no one lives between Brooks City Base and downtown, in fact, around 49,000 people live in the area.
Unfortunately, my little pocket is not the only forgotten part of San Antonio. I’ve seen others that have the same sad or neglected look. What constitutes growth and development in the city of San Antonio? Is it the distinction of household name companies establishing roots in your backyard? Or is it the access to major highways? Is it the opportunity to meet people at local coffee shops with access to shared Wi-Fi and shared ideas? Is it access to shared communal spaces that are distinctly San Antonio? The only things shared in my neighborhood are a raspa stand or two and the pavement beneath our feet.
The city of San Antonio won’t grow unless these forgotten parts of the city are given some love and attention. You don’t need a mini mall to attract businesses or people. I’ve heard the argument that San Antonio is only dreaming of things that Austin has had in place for years. As a native Austinite, I think it’s unfair because it discredits the achievements San Antonio has made and will make in the future.
San Antonio’s success comes from its deep roots, its rich history and Latino culture. That doesn’t mean you have to be Latino, but you are in a city where the Latino influence is inescapable. No one should want to escape it. While the whole enchilada may not satisfy the tastes of all, it will satisfy those who remain connected to San Antonio at the roots level loyal and believe in the city for its uniqueness and understand it can develop and evolve without emulating other places or surrendering its identity. Despite the city’s different social classes and standings, there is one unifying factor that connects us all: we are residents of this young and growing city called San Antonio. You can see the big picture on a bus ride. I do, every day.
*Featured/top image: A home on Woodlawn Avenue. Photo by Anna-Alizette Ruiz.