An immodest proposal

As someone from the “Island of Many Hills” — a rough English translation of the Lenape word “Mannahatta,” I tend from time to time to “go off the reservation.”

This is one of those times.

I love Kerrville. Except for about now.

k5It is 95 degrees warm as I write. And the only shady spot to sit except for inside PAX, where I rented a table for 3-1/2 hours for a delicious coffee and a deliciouser roast beef sandwich (with roasted red peppers, jack cheese, and honey dijon mustard — alas no horse radish — is on a metal bench next to the ATM in front of the Schreiner Building facing Earl Garrett.

I left PAX and walked past the comfortable diners under umbrellas at Franciscos. On Friday they’ll be having the restaurant’s famous chiles rellenos. Today they’re enjoying something else good. But that was not my mission.

My mission was to walk over to the Daughtry Pavillion overlooking the Guadalupe River. The beautiful Guadalupe River. The bountiful, the accessible, the sometimes floodable, but always enjoyable Guadalupe. I wanted to see that Guadalupe from on high. Maybe do a phone call from a bench overlooking that Guadalupe.

Nothing doing.

Closed.

Not sure why, so I Facebook Messengered City Hall. They’re usually good about replying pretty quickly.

So I walked along Water Street, recalling fondly many times sitting at the benches looking out at the street. Well, construction at the Arcadia closed some of the way. No problem (so far). Then I noticed that shop after shop had moved or closed. The only thing open (maybe?) was Humble Fork. And only one, and dusty, bench looking out at a guy moving sheetrock with a forklift from one pile to a second.

OK. Time to get resourceful.

(It was at this time, Dear Reader, that I’d decided to go off the reservation.)

To walk through the Schreiner Building and kick up some dust of my own. A forklift might come in handy.

It was no surprise to me that inside the Schreiner Building — inside the COOL, air-conditioned — did I mention “COOL”? — building, there is copious space. Doing. Absolutely. Nothing. Except being walked on and through and waiting to be rented. Exhibit A (see photos).

After snapping said photos and feeling oh-so-righteous, I found the one bench I knew of in the shade, the one I’m sitting on now and which has a perfect view of PAX and the air-conditioned interior I enjoyed not 15 minutes ago. (Maybe it was more like 30 minutes… I’ve stewed in my juices for half the time since leaving.)

So my recommendation is this: City / Downtown Kerrville / Merchants. Derive a way to use either interior space or sidewalk space in the shade where pedestrians can sit and think positive thoughts about being downtown when it’s in the mid-90s. Because if y’all don’t, we’ll just get in our cars and make traffic on I-10 and not along Earl Garrett and Water Streets.

Stewing finí.

One

The awakened pre-dawn choruses of birds sing their melodies by species.

In stereo fashion they seem to compete for attention as I stand in the morning-moist grass.

Their songs combine as one.

Wine

30EAA724-1F91-4360-A6EF-F4744D756C89_1_201_a
Meter at the abandoned Ferrellgas lot near the Loop 534 MiniMart on Bandera Highway.

 

If you are driving 45mph north on Bandera Highway past the old Ferrellgas Company building, chances are you’re going more like 50. Because you’ve either turned right from Loop 534 and are impatiently trying to get to town this way or you have been on Bandera for a while, barely made the light at the intersection — where a Papa Johns Pizza somehow stays in business despite the awful location and using what tastes like barbecue sauce instead of tomato — and in your enthusiasm you miss the building altogether. If you don’t, you think, “What an eyesore.”

You certainly don’t consider pulling off to the right onto the barely visible gravel semi-circle, where you worry about puncturing a tire.

But if you do slow your vehicle, pull over, and turn off the engine, you’ll see a building with a dilapidated terra cotta tiled roof. There’s a 20-foot high overhang, ostensibly for trucks with gas tanks to pull through, and on the right behind a chain link fence with a gap just large enough for two hands and a cellphone camera, there’s a meter, made by Neptune.

20200423 neptune meter
Neptune R900®G Gas MIU

Here’s the latest model. If it were up to me — deciding on which meter to place before my discriminating customers — I’d go with the blue one, which of course I turned into a black-and-white photo for the purposes of looking like I’m a hip blogger.

And again, if I had my druthers — and this is only my druthers; your druthers could be different yet still valid druthers — I’d wait for the R1000. I mean, it’s only one zero away, and it sounds kick-ass.

But this building, and the meter, and the lot, are some of the gems you see around town if you’re aware and looking.

If there’s a shift in my “vision-dreaming” since moving from New York City to small town Texas, it’s that I have to think more street level, diffused, and outdoor.

I once had a dream (a literal dream) of a rooftop bar and bistro, perhaps on the 30th or so floor of a downtown office building. You enter by elevator into a triple-height+ lobby with a waterfall. The building is capped with a large cube of thick glass, much like the original Apple Store on Fifth Avenue. In the restaurant lobby there are overstuffed leather chairs and glass coffee tables. Greenery and vines frame the gentle waterfall, so you have the feel of being in a garden, but without humidity. You walk through that space and, taking a 180-degree turn, you ascend on a short escalator to the upper level, where first there is a bar. The bar itself has inlaid Spanish tiles. At night this place is stunning. After your sangria you walk to the right of the bar, up three steps, and you enter the restaurant area, pausing at the hostess stand. She leads you and your lover to a corner table, covered with a crisp white tablecloth, glass all around you, overlooking the pin-prick lights many stories below.

You order wine.

“Our” space

GreedvCharity

Greed actually may work.

Maybe not in the way Gordon Gekko envisioned in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street.” But it might just serve a purpose. Like light without dark, perhaps greed gives charity context. Not that it’s “good,” as Gekko claims first. But greed is real, and therefore, it may work.

I am not the target audience for Schreiner Goods downtown. In fact, the one time — yes, nary two, but one — I entered, a couple years ago when looking for a birthday present for Karen, I was greeted by a saleslady so elegant, so gentile, and so very unlikely to wear or even countenance my wearing a snap shirt, that I probably cast a cursory glance at the jewelry section –I can’t even recall if there is a jewelry section — smiled back at her, and quickly relocated myself across the street to inhale an Angry Rita Taco in a single bite.

If you’ve read this for some time, you’ll know that shopping stresses me out like nothing else. (Grocery shopping is the exception. That feels like pure creativity waiting to happen.)

But here’s my point — because amidst the movie reference, italics, and em dashes it was also eluding meKerrville has retail store windows that are interesting to look at. Even a snap-shirt-wearing scoundrel like me enjoys them!

There is indeed a long-awaited and much-needed renaissance downtown and nearby. Not that longstanding restaurants and stores aren’t valued, but they need a supporting cast. Along come Schreiner Goods and PAX the brain siblings of the creative Keri Kropp; the being-refurbished Arcadia by a group including Robert Earl Keen; the nearby Clay Street corridor development with 1962 Barber Company, Pint & Plow (owners Jeremy and Maya Walther have led this movement), and POP Hair Art, punctuated by the Friday afternoon farmer’s market on Water Street.

We haven’t even mentioned the “East End.” Nor that it’s got a name of its own. (Although it’s technically more like the “south-southeast end” of the city.) And we all know that when a neighborhood gets a name, it sets it apart for realtors to direct people to invest there. And that’s all cool. Those decrying NIMBY! (Not In My Back Yard) will have to take their MBYs elsewhere. A good-fences-make-good-neighbors place.

Back to charity and greed.

NIMBY.

Greed.

“My” directly threatens sustainable urban growth. (And Kerrville is an “urb.”) In fact, in an urb, “my” backyard often abuts or even overlaps with “your” backyard. If “we” don’t help each other take care of that overlap, both our homes lose value and the city gets less in taxes and can’t offer as much in the way of municipal services, including services to those who can’t afford them.

Charity.

Three cheers to Downtown Kerrville and the other merchants groups who are establishing a “my space” that contributes to a better and longer lasting “our space.”

Leading the steer in sideways

As I do often, especially in the early morning, I look to my right as I pass over the Loop 534 bridge between Bandera Highway and Memorial Boulevard.

Today the surface of the Guadalupe was calm and reflective, like a mirror, waiting for a fickle sky to react with an expression. I looked forward again, and the plum-colored silhouette of the VA Hospital stood in relief against a sky that was pink and powder blue.

Further along the loop connector between Memorial and Sidney Baker, I accelerate to the allowed 55 mph at the top of the hill. The smell of sulfur announces the water treatment plant to the right and, behind it, the mountainous landfill — almost the largest hills in this part of the Hill Country. With the exception of the hill with the Empty Cross on top. Kerrville’s top attraction according to Trip Advisor.

In New York we outsource our water treatment plants and landfills and incinerators to Staten Island, where most of the NYC cops and firefighters seem to live. (Perhaps that’s just where we outsource our first responders.) Or we send these unsightly facilities to the fringes of the Bronx along with the food delivery companies, whose trucks emit exhaust that the residents complain cause asthma and other health problems. And maybe they do. Living in a city causes health problems. Living itself causes health problems. I’ve heard it said that the number one cause of death is birth.

That said, you won’t find a water treatment plant at the intersection of Earl Garrett and Water Street, either.

As I collected my laundered shirts from Local Dry Cleaners — even though I could work from home in t-shirts most days, each dress shirt I soil and have cleaned and pressed puts a little food on someone else’s table — I turned east again, toward the increasing sun. It will be 89 degrees today.

The Hoegemeyer Animal Clinic building to the left could double as a gun shop — simple beige exterior with few windows — and a movie scout would do well to cut a deal with the Reno Realty Group a little farther up Sidney Baker and whose dark, rough-hewn façade could as easily be the backdrop for cowboys sporting spurs as for brokers with cellphones.

YOAt the light, before the turn back onto Loop 534, is of course The YO Ranch Hotel and Conference Center.

Karen tells me the story of when she worked there 30-something years ago and there was a cattle auction. Leading the cattle into the hotel, they had to remove the double doors to the main banquet room and turn a longhorn steer sideways to get him through.

And so we went?

While it was only around 70 degrees when my friend Roger and I rode the subway to Yankee Stadium to see our team play the Royals in the 1976 playoffs, the subway system itself always added between 10 and 20 degrees to any trip. But it was on that ride that I experienced one of my fondest moments of adolescence. And one of my fondest moments of living in New York.

A girl, about my age, skin like cocoa, and sporting a reluctant smile, was smashed up against Roger and me and the rest of us — all of us like the proverbial sardines, none of us holding onto anything; there was no need — and she was sweating. I was sweating. Roger was sweating. We were all… you get the picture. But the ride was a teen romance from start to finish. Heavy on imagination and light on action. It started at 86th Street in Manhattan and ended at 161st Street in the Bronx.

One of my least fond memories — and, yes, these vignettes are going somewhere — was not long before we moved from New York to Texas. We lived in a 4th floor walk-up brownstone, cooled and heated by a forced air system through which the neighbor above and below could hear each other fairly easily and with floors that were permeable by sound even if not by grace.

As the tenants on the top floor, we never had to bother with loud neighbors above but rather had to be aware of our noise and its effects on those below. Starting in late 2007, we had in succession three wonderful neighbors below us, who were the epitome of patience. The first was a family of four. The man was an actor, the wife a former Rockette and then Irish dance studio owner. Their son played the violin (and not so poorly), and their daughter, the piano. The only confrontation, if you could even call it that, was when I was putting together our boys’ bunk beds with a electric drill at around 10pm one school night in advance of my family moving from Massachusetts in a few days. My neighbor, having heard the noise through aforementioned forced air vents and tissue-thin floors, rang my doorbell.

I twisted free the deadbolt and opened the metal door and there was a handsome and obviously in-shape man in a white “wife-beater” t-shirt, with his hands on either side of my doorframe. His biceps introduced him.

“Hey, um,” he started. “My kids are trying to sleep”–I learned then both that there were kids living below us and that sounds could be heard–“and I wonder if you could hold off on the drilling until tomorrow?” I of course obliged, and Peter’s family and mine became quite amiable in our several years of living so closely together. You could say we became amiable because of living so closely together.

After the first three tenants came another.

He apparently told the broker he wanted “quiet,” but as Karen later described it–accurately–what he really wanted was silence. This, promised by a broker who knew that a family of five, including three growing boys, was living on the floor above. And, yes, the broker got paid for this. Our new tenant had lived in big cities before, but never in New York. For whatever reason, living in a dense urban environment didn’t suit him, at least not in this brownstone. He stayed less than a year and then moved to another apartment in New York, one in which, I trust, tenants were not allowed to procreate or walk on floors past 8pm. After him we had another tenant who we got along with favorably, until we moved.

And now I come to the point of this sermon.

Living in a dense environment teaches one a lot about oneself, and it foists upon us certain capacities. Capacities that none of us perfects, including the person typing this. God knows full well that as I have tried to write down a fearless moral inventory, my judgmental attitude toward others and its concomitant resentment are clear and present dangers to me. They are obstacles between me and God that I need to ask God to remove daily, because I often can’t see them clearly. I grew up in a small bedroom with a roommate (my younger brother) for 16 years. I learned not to run up and down the hall in our apartment over our neighbor below us. I also learned that if I was in the hall by the elevator and kicked the soccer ball past the goalie (said brother) and scored against the door of apartment 6D, that Mr. Gorman would be out momentarily to scold us. We had to calculate the risk-reward of my winning a soccer game over being chewed out by an old Irish guy with an attitude. I learned that Mrs. Ziffer, a Jewish lady in the apartment next to us and who had escaped from Poland to London in 1939, just in time to get bombed by the Nazis before moving to the States, always had candy. She became like a grandmother who was always a knock away. So when I went to college and shared a dorm room slightly smaller than my bedroom, it was no sweat. When I moved back to New York and had two roommates in an apartment, it was no sweat. When I rode the subway to work and sweated with the other commuters, it was no sweat.

But here in Kerrville, Texas–as elsewhere, especially in dense urban environments–we are told to stay home as much as possible due to the pandemic or, when venturing out we are asked to take precautions like social distancing, wearing masks, and using hand sanitizer, people on Facebook start posting copies of the Constitution and talking about individual rights.

Let me close with these words of Jesus from Luke 9:23. “If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me, being ready upon my command to bring down that heavy cross on the head of any numbskull dumb enough to try and stop us. ‘GIT YER GUNS UP!’ ”

Wait. No. That doesn’t sound right. Better check me on that.

Eighty years ago, people were asked to “Go. Leave your home and fight. Be willing to die.” And so they went.

Today, people are asked to “Stay. Sit on your couch and watch Netflix. Be patient.”

And so we…

Netflix

The evidence of things not seen

This is not a “problem” so far as problems go. This is not a threat by any stretch. At best, on the worst days, it’s an inconvenience. But it gives me something to write about when not able to sleep after 4:37am on a Saturday. A Saturday, no less!

The pandemic has kept me–or, more accurately, my fear–my atypical fear–associated with the pandemic–from going more often to H-E-B and spending time poring over produce and sauntering through the salsa section. There was a time when I might loiter near the horseshoe-shaped live food demo island adjacent to the Meat Market, not so much watching the store associate make whatever they were making as listening to his or her narrative, sensing and enjoying the other shoppers move past me–almost like we were in a Walt Whitman poem, where rubbing flesh together is good–or being aware of them stopping by for a taste. All senses engaged. Time has less authority.

If there’s an effect of the pandemic that I mourn the (perhaps only temporary but-who-knows) loss of, it’s the community aspect of shopping.

Food shopping is in fact the only kind of shopping I can tolerate. When I shop for dress shirts, for instance, it’s a precise and pre-planned in-and-out military-like extraction. Intel has identified that at Belk in the markdown racks there is a specific 100% cotton shirt–probably a Michael Kors or Ben Sherman–with french cuffs, 17-inch neck and 33/34-inch sleeve. In a 1-man unit, I move through the double glass doors, to the left and down the aisle 30 clicks (actually 30 yards, but clicks sounds better), find the shirt and pay for it in approximately 5 to 7 minutes.

No one gets hurt.

My father-in-law used to joke that he’d “rather be stabbed in the eye with a stick than go shopping.” We used to kid him when he’d leave the house with my mother-in-law to go to La Cantera or The Rim: “Got your shopping stick?”

Food shopping, however, is an experience.

Were I to play the Navy S.E.A.L. at the grocery store, I’d be using the self-checkout (10 items or less) with nary an item besides a gallon of milk and maybe a box of PopTarts. (For the boys, don’t you know.)

No.

When parking at the “Big H-E-B” on Main Street was still possible and not Mad Max Goes To Kerrville, that was my usual choice. I’d enter on the produce end and immediately sweep left. Perhaps organic lemons were on the list. Almost always there is a deal on blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries. But what’s the best value? One must stop, consider, remember last time, think about pricing trends…will one fruit be more expensive or cheaper next time? Perhaps today it’s about blackberries and none of the above. Yet any of them will do nicely in some Fage Total 2% Low-Fat Plain Greek Yogurt with a splash of organic blue agave. We go with blueberries. And maybe strawberries, too, since one of my sons eats those like candy. 

 

We shall not detail here–though we could–the shopper’s admiration of the different vinegars in Aisle 1, even if none is purchased; the near foot-by-foot temptation he feels at the other end of the store, on Aisle 28, deciding between raw almonds and yogurt-covered raisins, and whether to get 4 ounces of the former or 2 pounds of the latter; nor shall we even mention the slight frustration that unlike the Little H-E-B, the Big one doesn’t appear to sell SafeCatch tuna. I’m talking plain style, not “Elite Garlic” or “Elite Chili Lime.” (Yet, now I see on my H-E-B app that even the Little one appears to have no stock whatever.) Karen did, however, find me a package of tuna from One World Protein, based in Weatherford, Texas. The point is, that H-E-B has these kinds of things, and one wants to spend time to find them. And that’s half the trip: spending one’s time there.

The loss surrounding the pandemic is not insignificant when it comes to food shopping. Or any retail shopping. And the loss conjures a hackneyed word: community. Yet the word’s connotation is never hackneyed.

My father-in-law, a local surgeon specializing in colonoscopies and endoscopies, would walk H-E-B’s aisles with my mother-in-law, and people would greet him with a “Hi, Dr.____!” He’d smile back and say a big “Hello!” (Probably wishing they would turn around and drop their trousers so he could ID them more definitively.)

Shopping is by necessity less friendly now. And it must be. For now.

Zoom calls are a blessing. And not in any way, my opinion, a curse. Were it not for Zoom, texting, email, the Internet, and overall modern technology including TV, we all might be sheltered in place and going nuts.

And we wouldn’t have heard the news telling us about the coronavirus.

And the year would be 1917.