James Rodriguez looked confident and clean as he sat down for lunch yesterday – albeit a bit hot from walking several blocks in a dark suit from the courthouse to meet me at Restaurant Gwendolyn. He’s a civil lawyer with an office on South St. Mary’s Street and a couple days a week he serves as a municipal judge in Von Ormy, a small town on the outskirts of San Antonio’s Southside. He doesn’t wear a pin or emblem or have any tattoos that I could see that would give him away as a 33rd Degree Scottish Rite Freemason.
Not that you have to have a tattoo or be rich, politically ambitious, white, religious, perform ritualistic sacrifices, undermine global peace strategies, wear a robe or even be sworn to secrecy about the “secret,” historical fraternity of Freemasons in order to be a member. In fact, Rodriguez tells me, “No political or religious discussion is allowed in a lodge. The idea (behind Freemasonry) is to get as many people together as possible – when you remove politics and religion, people tend to get a long much better.”
You basically just have to be 18 or older, a man (it’s still pretty male-centric, but there are other organizations within the Masonic family that allow co-ed members, Rodriguez said), and ask to become a member. In most cases – after a probationary/training period – if they like you, you’re in. Rules, regulations, and even purpose varies from lodge to lodge. Traditionally, Masons are educated men of “high moral character,” socialization and philanthropy are usually the two main priorities – which one comes first is up to each individual lodge/membership.
“It’s the most public secret in the world,” Rodriguez says, smiling as he gives me a crash course in Masonic history and the different lodges in downtown San Antonio. Many famous figures were also Masons: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Will Rodgers, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, and General Antonio López de Santa Anna – it’s rumored that his status is what saved him from execution, Rodriguez said. (Then again, there are a lot of rumors about Freemasons.)
When Rodriguez became an official Mason, after joining a Masonic youth group at the age of 15, he joined an estimated six million Masons worldwide, two million in the U.S., “You can travel all over the world and be met with open arms at any lodge,” Rodriguez said, who has done just that.
For this week’s Something Monday (SM) – a jointly organized educational and social bike ride by The Rivard Report and San Antonio B-cycle – participants will get a similar crash course (without any real crashes). Following the SM tradition, all ages and cycling experience levels are welcome to the fourth edition as this tour will only take about an hour before we decide on which local watering (beering?) hole to patronize. [Click here to read about past Something Monday rides on the Mission Reach, to the Spanish Missions, and to Brackenridge Park.]
Here’s the plan:
- We’ll start to gather at 6:15 p.m. at San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA)‘s B-cycle station at 827 South Main St..
- At 6:30 p.m. we’ll promptly take off for the first of two Masonic lodges in the neighborhood, the Nat M. Washer Lodge at 212 City St. just one block away. James will ride with us and give a brief overview of Freemasonry, national and local organizations, let us know what to look for while riding, and answer any questions curious riders may have.
- From there, we’ll ride North: crossing the river via the Arsenal Street Bridge, ride by Texas Lodge No. 8 at 122 Washington St., and take E. Cesar Chavez Boulevard and South Alamo Street to Alamo Plaza’s B-cycle station. There, anyone riding B-cycles can dock and ride or walk the three blocks to the large Scottish Rite Cathedral at Avenue E and Fourth Street.
- I must pass this building twice a month while riding around downtown on my bike or scooter and I’ve never noticed it. Curious … perhaps the work of a Masonic cloaking spell?
- At 7 p.m. James will take us on a half-hour tour of the temple, a.k.a. San Antonio Scottish Rite Museum and Library, operated by a Masonic nonprofit of the same name.
- At 8 p.m., we’ll be looking for a good place to accommodate our thirsts and hungers. Some suggestions include Alamo Street Eat Bar, La Tuna Ice House and Grill, Friendly Spot, etc. – I’ll leave it up to group consensus after the tour.
I had to confess almost immediately upon meeting Rodriguez for lunch that I was completely in the dark as far as what Mason Lodges do, where they come from, and who really are Freemasons are. All I had “on file” in my brain about Masons was a weird protractor symbol thing, dead and mysterious middle-aged white men in dark caves with robes and candles, and maybe a few scenes from “The Da Vinci Code” movie with Tom Hanks. Rodriguez speaks openly about the conspiracy theories and stereotypes.
“They haven’t assassinated anyone for, like, 12 years,” said Rodriguez’ companion Charlotte Luongo, laughing. The couple attended the second Something Monday tour of Mission Concepción and Mission San José and answered the call for ride suggestions last week.
[Read her story on the Rivard Report: On Becoming a B-cyclist: A Cautionary Tale.]
Though she also knows very little about the rituals, traditions, and structures of this fraternity started in the United Kingdom during the late 1300s, she’s also curious to learn more and to go on the tour of the downtown Scottish Rite Cathedral, home of The San Antonio Bodies of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry – the official name of Rodriguez’ lodge.
“The costume room is probably the coolest,” Luongo said. Freemason ritual and historical storytelling often involves elaborate regalia, building an auditorium speaks to their theatrical storytelling traditions.
The cathedral was built by local Masons with local money ($1.5 million) and the cornerstone was laid by the Grand Lodge of Texas in 1922. The building includes an auditorium, library, museum, banquet hall, office and ladies lounge. According to the cathedral’s website, “The auditorium is one of the hidden jewels of San Antonio, and is one of the most acoustically perfect rooms in the city.”
It’s also home to the Scottish Rite Learning Center of South Texas, a nonprofit charitable foundation that tutors children with dyslexia, funded 100% by Masons. Approximately 50-70 low-income students attend the program.
During Monday evening, you’ll get to talk and ride a bicycle (or B-cycle) with a local, real-life, not devil-worshipping Master Mason. “All questions will answered, mysteries with be revealed,” Rodriguez said, smiling somewhat ominously.
We hope you’ll follow your curiosity and meet up with us for Something Monday – see you at 6:30 p.m.!