Sunday, July 16, 2017

Old Building On Bartlett

Former pawn shop on the corner of Bartlett Ave. and Lyon looks vacant.  It's seen better days.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Sucker For Nostalgia

For old times sake, I took a turn into Lake Casa Blanca on Sunday.  It was late in the afternoon.  I was a little exhausted from tending to menial things at my place and at my mother's vacant house.  Some heavy lifting was involved but nothing that broke my back.

I stopped for something to drink because my mouth was so dry.  My body was telling me I was behind on fluids.  All I had strength for was sitting behind the wheel of my pickup.

As I drove east on Saunders, I played in my mind the many times we got on the old lake road, the one just west of the county golf course.  That was the only way we knew of how to get to the lake.  The curving road had a low wooden fence between us and the greens.  That fence ended at some point, giving way to a nondescript park sign.

There was no entry fee in the days of my youth.

The grounds surrounding the lake look the same, with the exception of some add-ons and replacements.  I can't help but think that on a day like this the lake would've been packed with outdoor types and cruisers out to pass the time.  Times change, however, and the tired park has lost its allure.  The area near the shuttered swimming pool was deserted.  If it wasn't for the noise coming from Loop 20, you could sit alone in silence.


And old bench sits broken near the pool house.

1981 is a long time ago.  Only the vestiges and vague memories remain.  What was once a favorite spot for many Laredoans to partake in leisure activities is now a shell of its former self.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

One Big Mess: Old Hospital

A blaze was put out by the fire department at the old Mercy Hospital on June 26, 2017.  No major damage was reported.  I don't know how you can tell; the whole facility is in a state of major disrepair.

KGNS reporter Yocelin Gallardo quoted the owner of the building, Andrew Carranco, as saying, "the building has tight security and (he) does not know how this happened."

The report goes on to say that the building has no electricity.

The abandoned hospital does have chain link fencing around the entire perimeter.  But from the photo above, you can see that a big gap is there for anyone to trespass onto the property.  Not exactly what you would call a deterrent for ne'er-do-wells.  Tight security this is not.  (view is from Hendricks Ave. looking west.)

If the building doesn't have any electricity, how can it have any type of monitoring system?

Everything about this location stinks.  I can only imagine what the people who live nearby have to put up with.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Disappearing Laredo

The image above I pulled off of Google Maps.  You can tell it's from there by how some of the pieces don't align with each other, and by the blurred-out spots that show at different places.  I tweeted this photo 2 years ago: June 15, 2015.  

The reason I saved a shot of this location is because the auto parts store, at least, had some yellow tape blocking off its parking area at one point, and the store looked vacant.  I thought it was due for demolition.  Both buildings were located on the corner of Convent Ave. and Matamoros.  They're gone now.  They were demolished a week ago today.    

This image, which features the old Southern Hotel and the Hamilton Hotel in the background, is one of my own photos.

Meg Guerra wrote about the location last week in her online reboot of LareDOS.

In 2011, around the time of downtown revitalization talks, and Kell-Munoz/City of Laredo relationships, the centro corner site was going to take on a 'Marketplace' design.  But it looks like that destination hub for a renewed downtown will turn out to be a mere parking lot owned by the city.

Courtesy photo of Que Fregados blogger entitled: Rubble after the rain.

The white and red-colored building in the background will be used for low-income housing for the elderly.  At least that's the plan right now.  I remember the place being a pool hall in the 1990s.  Way before that it used to be home to the KGNS studios.

The demolished sites in downtown Laredo keep racking up:

Blanquitas restaurant
Sanchez Auto World of Laredo
Tex-Mex building (vacant lot)
County Courthouse Annex (filled-up hole in the ground)
Riverdrive Mall (outlet mall)
Jitney Jungle (Siete Banderas)
El Centro Motel (parking lot)
Lamar Bruni Vergara Home (duty free shop)
Betos Music store (parking)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Laredo Institutions Now Gone

Holloway's Bakery closed for good one week ago.  The closing came without warning, aside from a statement posted on the front door.  The photo of the door/flier was shared on Facebook.

In 2010, the owners made a declaration for all to see: here to stay!  That was when the Guadalupe overpass was being erected directly behind the bakery.  They weren't budging; the overpass would have to bypass them.  Unfortunately, all things come to an end.  The owners of Holloway's realized it was now time to move on.  

For the residents of the Heights, 3 Points and El Chacon, the nearest bakery now is Quickie Bakery on Corpus and Malinche.  The natives will make the necessary adjustments, but what will become of the iconic Holloway's location?  My fear is that it will become a gambling joint like other Laredo institutions that have gone the way of the buffalo, if you will.

I don't know when it was that Roli's dance hall closed and became a casino.  On McPherson, Cotulla Style Pit BBQ was razed in 2012.  A new building came and part of it was leased for use of gambling machines (photo below). 

Another joint that was turned into a casino was Pelican's Wharf.  Remember that one?  Kelly's Western Wear (formerly Shakey's Pizza) is on the verge of closing.  Could gambling machines be in its future?  

Friday, May 26, 2017

Is She A Fraud?

Two weeks ago, Patricia Barrera made heads turn when she announced that she paid her employees out of her own pocket, because Webb County did not issue them their paychecks.  KGNS reported that 40 of Barrera's employees were not using the county-mandated biometric system for punching in.  As a result, pay checks were not issued and then there was the matter of them not accumulating sick leave and annual leave.

(statement released by Webb Co. today)

Barrera pressed on with the only recourse she found appropriate: filing a restraining order against the commissioners court.  Instead of getting her house in order, she went at the county dads (term used by Odie Arambula) with a legal fight.

According to a county spokesperson, the Time Clock Plus (biometric system) machines were introduced by the county 3 years ago.  Commissioners opted to make the system THE apparatus of choice for Webb Co. late last year.  Barrera decided not to climb on board with the punch-in system, and that brings us to now, with another Patricia Barrera scandal.

The word fraud has come up with this case.  It's unknown whether any intentional malfeasance has taken place at the tax assessors office.  The only thing we know is that Barrera doesn't intend to let this go.  She may fight some more.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Street In Laredo

How many landmarks can you spot in this photo?

Changes A Major

Full disclosure:  I worked in the Health Services Department.  And then I was fired; Or better yet, my contract was selected for non-renewal, and my department was eliminated.

Major changes were instituted at LCC, thanks to the new president and an accommodating board of trustees.  The president of the college thought the organization had too many chiefs, so the natural response, of course, is to let several of them go.  But why would you do that when you want to start up four new programs, including a cyber security program, and a program for drones, whatever that is.

The new president, in making bold moves for the college, is also up for an award.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Labor Force Need

There are jobs that need to be filled.  Guest workers fill that need.  The demand is real.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Same Old Drivel

South Texas jerk off Jay St. John is back in town.  The loutish sexagenarian appeared alongside Sergio Mora in a Facebook live broadcast Friday evening.  Mora and John used to be regulars on morning drive radio.  Laredo's lack of public radio outlets and political talk drove me to tune in to the show, which will have a nightly presence online on weekdays.

My thoughts on Friday's preview: how can I get that hour and a half back?

Sergio and Jay laid out their plans for the show, noting that they'll shoot for having their voices on social media and terrestrial radio, simultaneously.  They're embracing what technology has to offer.  The downside is that Jay St. John brings back the tired tropes he was known for: insulting everyone and offering little proof of anything.  He brings no new information to the fold and I feel like I lose IQ points every time I listen to him.

Listen at your own peril.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Lemurs Done In Laredo

Photo of KGNS story from May 3, 2017.  The big scoop:

The city of Laredo has confirmed that Lemurs owner, Arianna Torres has withdrawn Laredo's team from membership in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball League.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

And That's

A nice canopy, benches, and bike rack were the featured items during a press conference held by Councilman Rodriguez on Thursday.  It's called a Bike & Ride Plaza, and it's supposed to encourage citizens to ride their bike and use the El Metro bus when going on about their business.

The nifty bus stop is located on Zacatecas, near the fire station and recreation center.  (Cigarroa HS is within walking distance.)

The building that used to house the former Santo Nino branch library is across the street from the Bike & Ride Plaza.  It was renovated last year.  The district's councilman said, during Thursday's presser, that the facility would be used as a WIC clinic.  For now it sits empty.

And that's south Laredo for you.  

Monday, May 1, 2017

It'll Be A While

Jerry Garza and Ann Hutyra spoke to local attorney David Almaraz on 'Beyond the Headlines' (KGNS) yesterday.  Mr. Almaraz is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney.  He added some context to the FBI raids that occurred last week:  

Initially, the federal agencies, in this case the FBI, get information that something, possibly illegal, is going on.  So they send some agents to start working on it.  In this case, probably, if you go back six months and maybe even a year, it's very possible that the agents talked to somebody, maybe a whistle blower.  And many times, in cases like this, they will actually bring in somebody and interview them.  They'll take them to the Shiloh building, and say, 'look, we have information that we think shows that you've been doing something illegal.  You want to tell us about it?'  And at that point they become what they call cooperating individuals.  They'll start telling the FBI what they know, what they suspect.  

This doesn't happen just overnight.

By the time they got to this search warrant, they had to have an affidavit signed by, probably, an FBI agent.  I've seen these affidavits; they could be five, ten, fifteen pages long.  In that affidavit, the federal agent tries to tell the federal judge, the magistrate who's going to sign the search warrant, a little bit about him, or her, what their experience is with this type of alleged public corruption case.  And at some point, they have to prove to a judge - a judge is not going to sign a search warrant on city hall or the county judge or the county courthouse based on hearsay.  They have to be pretty sure what they're looking for.  And so, that is how I believe this search warrant was issued.

They have to have probable cause in front of you.  And the judge will say, I need to have very good probable cause before I sign this.  Why?  Because it's very unusual for agents to actually raid a city hall anywhere, or a county courthouse anywhere, and actually shut down business for that day.

I have not seen or heard of anything like this before, at least here in Texas.  It's possible it has happened, but for them to hit two entities, a city and a county place of business, the heart of the county and the heart of the city, it's not common at all.

Mr. Almaraz found it odd that the names of local elected officials were released to the media.  Right now they are just "target subjects."  It's not until an actual indictment is handed down, or an arrest is made, that names are revealed to the public.  It may be that the charges filed by the FBI, and list of public officials, was leaked.

The next step, according to Almaraz, is for the FBI to present their findings to the Department of Justice.  But first they have to sift through the evidence they've collected.  This process may take months.  The FBI has to build their case, and then decide which officials to focus their attention on.  It may be that only several of those on the FBI's case will actually face an indictment.

It could be years before we see any arrests.

(Photo courtesy of El Manana)

Beyond the Headlines contributor Sergio Mora pointed to the powerful image of the FBI truck parked outside city hall on Wednesday.  Mayor Pete Saenz called the situation embarrassing.  The downtown facility, among other places, was locked down that day.  Agents were seen going back and forth, taking what they needed.

The same scene was playing out at Dannenbaum Engineering offices in Laredo and throughout Texas.

Local leaders addressed the matter on Wednesday afternoon.  List of names or not, Laredoans would've suspected the worst.  What we do now is just sit and wait until the investigation is carried out.  We have a better sense of what transpired last week, but it'll be a long while before the truth comes out.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Too Much Uncertainty And Anxiety

City council had a meeting on April 17, 2017, where they discussed the future of the vacant/abandoned Mercy Hospital in the Heights area.  Councilman Alex Perez does not want the old building to be used as a detention center by the federal government.  I can understand the neighborhood's residents not wanting a detention facility in their backyard.  The Heights is a mix of residential and business establishments.  But a public eyesore with trespassers who do god-knows-what is okay?

The Carranco family, who owns the old building, has said that they've had offers in the past, but nothing has panned out.

(photo courtesy of KGNS: Beyond the Headlines)

Alex Perez has floated the idea about the city buying the former hospital.  I believe he wants to do that so the City of Laredo has more control over what is developed at the site.  The Carrancos, for their part, can just sell the property and its new owners can turn the place into a bingo hall or a flea market.  But if the city buys it, they can possibly lease it out, and perhaps rake in some revenue; or they can just flatten the structure and install a park.  That would be ideal for Alex Perez, y quedaba bien con sus Heights constituents.

But before the city can entertain the notion of buying Mercy, they have to crunch the numbers, with the help of the federal government.  Councilman Alex Perez:

What the EPA is going to do is, uh, provide us exact numbers as to what's wrong with it, uuhhh, how much is it gonna cost to clean, and uuhh, they're going to provide us a roadmap as to...(pause).. uh I guess you can say, the best roadmap, uh, the best way to go.  (end quote)

Councilman Perez has his own anxiety roadmap, if you will, for the abandoned building.  But he's been through this before.  In the spring of 2011 he even reassured the public that the city would not take ownership of the building.

Perez has about a couple of years left in his second term.  The clock is ticking and it's still hard to tell what will happen with the public nuisance that has sat empty in Las Lomas since 1999.

(another courtesy photo, albeit unflattering for one person) 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Nixon's Changed

I got this photo from Google Maps to show the church that used to be on the corner of Lyon and Malinche.  I never got around to photographing it, and then it was demolished to make room for the LISD music magnet school.

Another photo I grabbed from the internets here.  Plum, the street between the band hall and Nixon's main buildings, once was once accessible.  It's not anymore.  It now belongs to the high school.

Last photo.  A lot of parking off of Malinche.  The open space in the background is now occupied by the magnet school.  Things change.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Site is Different

Yes, I still update my blog.  It's usually when I get inspired to write.  The URL to my site is different, so that probably throws people off.  After a year-long leave that started in 2013, I had to change my blog's address -- it's a long story.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Barrio Power

Something I saw when I took a walk in my neighborhood.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

They See Some

During city council's meeting two weeks ago, CM Nelly Vielma introduced her motion to start each meeting with a prayer.  She referred to it as having a secular invocation, the way it's done at the state and federal level.  Dr. Carlos Valle, who spoke at the meeting against the idea, submitted a letter to the Laredo Times' Op/Ed page Sunday.  I'm waiting to see if more people speak out on the issue.

Several terms were used during the council member's discussion: non-denominational invocation, sectarian prayer, and ecumenical prayer.  Apart from the suggested moment of silence, the offerings from those pushing for some kind of invocation cited God.  To a non-believer like me, the proposition is not insulting, but it does have the potential for creating a wedge between interested parties.  Ms. Vielma's reasoning for promoting an invocation was to help unify the council before their meetings started.  A noble precept; however, I don't think you necessarily need a prayer to help bring members together to do the business of the city.

It should be understood that, as soon as you walk into council chambers, everyone is held to the standard of working for the best interest of the City of Laredo as a whole.

An interesting aspect of the discussion was how each council member prefaced their remarks with a declaration of their own faith.  Alex Perez didn't utter a word; he just sat there like the stump he is, glazed look and all.

Councilman Roberto Balli spoke out against any kind of invocation at council meetings.   But apart from wanting to keep church and state separate, he lamented the fact that the idea of prayer was what council, Nelly Vielma especially, took away from their recent trips to Austin and Washington, D.C.

He went further and stated that some council members didn't take part in all meetings when they went to Washington.  A source tipped him off to that.  Apparently, Balli didn't go to our nation's capital because he thought the traveling group was too large.  Judging from the photos that were provided to me, I'll take him at his word that council members made themselves scarce.  Local politicians are obsessed with photo ops.  The fact that they're missing from the shots the city released to the media is very telling.  (The photos above are from Day 1 in D.C. )

This set of photos is from Day 2.  They include both the mayor of Laredo and the mayor of Nuevo Laredo, along with our two TX senators.  And that's it.

On Day 3, our leaders came together and listened to several Washington peeps speak.

I applaud the carpetbagging Councilman Balli for having the gumption to call out his colleagues.  It's apparent that city leaders treat the trip to Washington as a sight-seeing venture more than anything.  It doesn't take hordes of people going to Washington to get Laredo's priorities across.  It doesn't have to be that they ask for private donations so they can booze it up outside of Laredo.  Family members have never needed to tag along either.  And them staying in luxury hotels is simply disgusting.

We're wiser now, thanks to somebody speaking up.  Their jig is up.  Oh, and yeah, no prayer at meetings.

Monday, April 3, 2017

On This Day: April Edition

April 1, 2014 Nvo Laredo Mayor Galvan found dead

April 1, 1978 Aldo Tatangelo elected mayor
April 1, 1952 Base reactivated, renamed Laredo Air Force Base
April 1, 2008 House next to gym on Guadalupe. (blog photo)
April 3, 2016 Tex-Mex Railway building being torn down. County owns building.
April 3, 2012 Chihuahua St. overpass opened to eastbound traffic.
April 4, 1972  ZZ Top release “Rio Grande Mud”
April 4, 2016 Esteban Rangel attended last council meeting. Recommended pay raises for mayor and council.
April 5, 2009 Train derails in Chacon neighborhood.
April 5, 2010 1490 AM in Laredo now broadcasts as ESPN The Zone
April 6, 2015 City council rename part of Del Mar as Bulldog Blvd.
April 6, 1954 J.C. Martin Jr. elected mayor.  Succeeded Hugh S. Cluck.
April 7, 1886 Botas march in victory, promise to bury a Guarache in effigy. Leads to Laredo Election Riot.  About 30 dead.

April 7, 2015 Kevin Hart in a Laredo bar (First Draft) to take selfie with crowd.

April 8, 1947 Tom Delay born in Laredo.
April 9, 1999 Fastball plays at Yucatan Club on Santa Maria. Miles Zuniga, guitarist, is from Laredo.
April 9, 2015 Boy dies after ingesting car cleaner at local car wash.
April 10, 2015 Pizza Hut on Guadalupe re-opens. Remodeled after fire.
April 10, 2015 Lazy Mex Bar demolished as part of Operation Crackdown.
April 11, 2015 Mud Run at North Central Park canceled because of rain.
April 11, 2006 Runoff between Danny Valdez and CY Benavides.
April 11, 2013 McDonald’s on Santa Ursula being torn down. New one coming.
April 12, 2012 Mayor Salinas rambles on local FOX newscast debut.
April 13, 2013 Inside Out Project posts large pictures on base of Rio Grande Hotel.
April 13, 2017 Ground breaking ceremony for Pla-Mor in far north Laredo. 
April 16, 2004 LCC has dedication ceremony at its new south campus facility.
April 16, 2015 TAMIU opens KLRN studio on campus.
April 16, 2015 Ramiro Veliz III appeared before Civil Service Commission to appeal his termination. His termination was upheld.
April 17, 1997 Jorge Gutierrez and Tomas Izaguirre bought Sames-Moore Bldg, now The Rialto.
April 17, 1973 Pilot training at Laredo base terminated. Base deactivated in Sept. Closes in December.
April 17, 2016 Sirloin Stockade’s last day of business.
April 17, 2017 Councilman Balli motioned to name 7 Flags Park after Johnny Amaya. 
April 18, 2011 Local pastors complain to city council about drive-thrus with scantily clad attendants.
April 18, 2017 LCC breaks ground for Allied Health building at south campus.
April 19, 2009 Las Flautitas Restaurant. (blog photo)
April 20, 2016 Former Santo Nino branch library re-construction in progress.
April 22, 2016 Moving Laredo forward turned in 10,000 signatures to city hall.
April 25, 2015 George Altgelt elected District 7 council member, 173 days after Jorge Vera recalled.
April 26, 2015 Taco Co. prices increase. Two egg tacos used to be $1.61. (photo)
April 26, 2017 FBI raids city hall, county courthouse, offices, and Dannenbaum Engineering office on McPherson.  
April 27 Richard “Heatwave” Berler’s birthday!
April 28, 1905 Tornado hits Laredo & Nvo.Laredo. 40 people die.
April 29, 1979  J.C. Martin Jr. finishes jail sentence (30 weekends in jail for mail fraud).
April 29, 2016 Bridge 1 northbound car traffic halted for major port renovation.
April 30, 1957 Construction bids made public for Russell Terrace housing project.
April 30, 2015 Plastic bag ban takes effect.  Not enforced due to ongoing litigation.

April 30, 2015 UISD breaks ground on United HS 9th grade campus.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

He's Fresh And He's Okay

The commissioners court thought Villarreal was a swell guy and that's why they all voted for him.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Influence Peddling

Last month, the Laredo Times raised the question of why a local attorney was pimping himself out to local officials, and to a private legal professional who happens to be married to Senator Judith Zaffirini.  The unknown attorney and the Zaffirinis dismissed any and all concerns about the communication, saying that it's normal procedure for a candidate to introduce him/herself to the world when a selection process is about to take place.  A coveted seat needed to be filled and any mention of impropriety was to be brushed aside.

The Webb County Court at Law II had a vacancy.  Judge Jesus Garza resigned in January, and is currently facing an indictment of soliciting a loan.

Enter Victor Villarreal, the person who nobody has ever heard of before, but apparently had the Zaffirinis on speed dial, so to speak.  Everyone will know the name Victor Villarreal now, for he's been chosen by the all-wise Commissioners Court to lead the County Court at Law II.  He will restore order to Jesus Garza's beleaguered court and all will be good in the world.  But, in what should've been an appointment devoid of any political influence, and an office regaining its integrity, instead has turned into a mockery of the local judicial system.

Hell, what am I saying?  This is Webb County.  It wouldn't be Webb Co. if it all wasn't a sham.

The Zaffirini's meddling in this matter is a joke.  Judith Zaffirini acknowledged that it was the Commissioners Court's ultimate responsibility to select a person to succeed Jesus Garza; But she saw it fit to influence the court's decision by making a case against the former judge.  Our state senator chimed in with what she thought was best for the Court at Law II, all while her husband had business with that same court.  Carlos Z. would stand to benefit in that court with the help of Judith Z.'s influence.

But there's no conflict here, right?  Judith Zaffirini just happens to have buildings named after her in Webb County, but her influence is tempered.  Victor Villarreal emailed Mr. Zaffirini with his qualifications in January.  No biggie.  But in today's Times, Judith Zaffirini was quoted  as saying that she's known Villarreal since he was a law student at the University of Texas.  There is no appearance of questionable behavior here; everyone is beyond reproach.  They are all so far separated from the interests of the Court at Law II.  Except that they aren't.

The Commissioners Court selected Mr. Villarreal yesterday.  I could say that they had no knowledge of the relationship between the Zaffirinis and Villarreal, and of Mr. Zaffirini's matters before the Court at Law II.  But we won't know because, as Julia Wallace (LMT) wrote, the commissioners and the county judge selected Victor Villarreal "unanimously and without public discussion."  County Judge Tijerina said that "Everything was taken into consideration."  But will we ever know?

From my point of view, this all sounds like the old lament: it's not who you are, it's who you know.

People get ahead in this town by the company they keep.  They'll smile and wave to the cameras.  When we're not looking, the favors that were granted to them will have to be returned, and none of us will be none the wiser.  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Will It Spill Over?

Julia Wallace writing for the Laredo Times today:

This would be a secular prayer, she said, not catering to any particular religion.  Vielma said this idea was inspired by City Council's recent trips to Washington, D.C. and Austin, where meetings typically begin with an invocation.  

Ms. Vielma was sworn in as council member in late December 2016.  Three months in and she proposes starting city council meetings with a prayer.  Charlie San Migeul, who sits next to Nelly Vielma, was almost a year into his first term when he suggested prayer before meetings.  That was in 2011.  San Miguel mentioned, as Ms. Vielma is doing now, that prayer was used at the state capitol.

Then-Mayor Raul Salinas approved of praying at city hall, but deferred to the legal department to acknowledge the limitations of doing so.  The practice was started at one point, but it proved to be more of a distraction for city council.  Some people didn't want to take part in it, and at least one person who led the invocation was met with disdain.

Some people came out in support of prayer, and some did not.

At Monday's meeting it was agreed by council to start meetings with a moment of silence.  I'll see if Ms. Vielma's item spills over into the editorial pages of the Times, like it did six years ago.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

We're In There

From "On The Road" by Jack Kerouac -

Laredo was a sinister town that morning.  All kinds of cab drivers and border rats wandered around, looking for opportunities.  There weren't many; it was too late.  It was the bottom and dregs of America where all the heavy villains sink, where disoriented people have to go to be near a specific elsewhere they can slip into unnoticed.  Contraband brooded in the heavy syrup air.  Cops were red-faced and sullen and sweaty, no swagger.  Waitresses were dirty and disgusted.  Just beyond, you could feel the enormous presence of whole great Mexico and almost smell the billion tortillas frying and smoking in the night.  We had no idea what Mexico would really be like.  We were at sea level again, and when we tried to eat a snack we could hardly swallow it.  I wrapped it up in napkins for the trip anyway.  We felt awful and sad.  But everything changed when we crossed the mysterious bridge over the river and our wheels rolled on official Mexican soil, thought it wasn't anything but carway for border inspection.

Our hot, dusty hamlet is mentioned in this 1950s classic.  (Thanks to Maximiliano of Laredo Tejas fame for the tip.)  All I knew about On The Road, apart from its literary standing, is what I'd heard in an episode of "Freaks and Geeks."  The students were not impressed with the book, and the teacher was disappointed with their assessment.

Kerouac doesn't exactly shine a flattering light on Laredo.  Granted, it's an era before my time, and he describes our small town after a hazy stop before moving on into our sister city.

I was so exhausted by now I slept all the way through Dilley and Encinal to Laredo and didn't wake up till they were parking the car in front of a lunchroom at two o'clock in the morning.  "Ah," sighed Dean, "the end of Texas, the end of America, and we don't know no more."  It was tremendously hot: we were all sweating buckets.  There was no night dew, not a breath of air, nothing except billions of moths smashing at bulbs everywhere and the low, rank smell of hot river in the night nearby - the Rio Grande, that begins in cool Rocky Mountain dales and ends up fashioning  world-valleys to mingle its heats with the Mississippi muds in the great Gulf.

A brutal experience for Kerouac, but I can relate.  Our surroundings can be unforgiving; Just ask Sara Walls.  Laredo, I've thought, is a sort of pit stop for many -- a waystation with limited opportunities.  But for all its faults, the gateway to Mexico does manage to hold its own with all its unique history.  It's not one of the great cities of the world, but we made the fuckin' pages of On The Road!  How 'bout that?  

It's not saying much, but I'll take it.

Friday, March 10, 2017

It's Always Been

KGNS interviewed a local member of the Kickapoo tribe, Santos Polendo.  He founded the Native American Student Association at TAMIU.  Polendo takes issue with the authenticity of Laredo's Pocahontas celebration and its organizers.

The Princess Pocahontas Council responded with a written statement. (excerpts)

As a symbol of natural beauty and simplicity, Pocahontas epitomizes the virtues of those first Americans.  Dressed in traditional costume and accompanied by her court of Indian Princesses, Pocahontas is presented with the key to the city and rides on horseback in the parade.
The group which formed in October 1980, gathered initially as a result of Ms. Velia Uribe's interest in the role which Pocahontas played in the annual celebration.

The group said that they've never had any issues up until now.  I think there's a reason for that and it has to do with our community's complacency.  Nobody questions why we do the things we do, and the public is clueless as to how the whole WBCA event started.  Why do we celebrate George Washington?  Quien sabe!  What's the significance of Pocahontas in the parade?  Sepa la bola!

The whole reasoning for the WBCA's cosplay events is that that's how it's always been done.

Apparently it's okay with the natives - the Mexican-Americans, I mean - to promote distorted images of historical figures, spend outrageous amounts of money doing so, participate in a parade where they are followed by the local Border Patrol outfit, and then not question any of it.

I applaud Mr. Olendo for speaking out.  There is a lot to be said for cultural authenticity, both for his tribe and for ours.  It's okay to absorb the rituals of this great country, but we can't totally shed ours and become something that we're not.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Opens Next Thursday

When my mom took us to the Riverdrive Mall, she would drive down Main Ave. to get there.  The route probably helped her avoid much of the traffic on Laredo's other, much busier streets, but Main also took us straight to the J.C. Penney parking lot entrance. (see photo above)

El Penney had good stuff, and they had lay-away, a valuable service for a single, working mother.  

When we accessed the mall's lower level parking lot, our exit route was usually the Davis St. thru-way.  That took us back towards the St. Peters neighborhood.  My mom also shopped at the stores downtown, like Bealls, Richters, Sears, and so on, but I don't recall if we toured the entire business district all at once to make our purchases every weekend or so.  

Just as we came in, we had to go out through the narrow streets of downtown.

The new outlet mall, which opens next Thursday, will have access roads on its periphery, but only one direct road that looks to serve as an entrance: Santa Maria Ave.

We'll find out next week if Santa Maria will have the capacity for egress, and whether it will provide access for motorists heading to bridge 1, into Nuevo Laredo.  Stay tuned.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Texas Association of Realtors Flier

I got this flier in the mail a couple of weeks ago.  It was sent by the Texas Association of Realtors.  If you want more information, you can go to:

Local politicians have bragged repeatedly that they've avoided raising taxes.  Yet, from what I've noticed, they're collecting a little more revenue every year from property owners.  This happens because home and property valuations are raised, thanks to the appraisal district, and we end up paying that little extra.

Thanks for the T.A.R. for confirming my suspicions.  

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Logistics Are A Bitch

The city manager asked council to consider scrapping the finance, and operations committees because they've had a hard time convening a quorum.  From last week's meeting, and I quote:  

The Finance, and Operations Committee meetings, we've not been able to make.  We've had a lot of cancellations.  We see that there's been a change in the council; everybody's busy working.  Possibly this is not a viable route anymore, like it was before.  Staff is having to produce agendas, two, three times, every time we meet.  Then we don't have a quorum, so staff has to come to city hall, back and forth.  My recommendation, if council is willing, is to possibly implement a consent agenda that all of you are familiar with.

City Manager Jesus Olivares highlighted Charlie San Miguel's business obligations that take him out of town.  CSM is absent a lot from committee, apparently.  To avoid their brain trust responsibilities, Mr. City Manager thinks it's best to just do away with the committees and their dumb meetings.

Let's take a look at the composition of the finance and operations boards.

Nelly Vielma made a comment after the city manager spoke, but her words were inaudible.  The councilwoman's mic may have been off.  Councilman Torres also made a comment, but all I heard in their exchange was Mr. Olivares saying, yes, other cities do it.  And that seems to be the depth with which any subject is handled at city hall, how other cities handle their business so we can follow their lead.

It's probably a good idea that we do away with the committees.  I mean, it seems like the foxes are minding the hen house, so to speak.  So really, what's the use?  And from what I've seen and heard recently, each committee has resulted in the formation of cliques.  The Operations Committee's band of brothers seem to have each other's back when things get tense at council meetings.

When it comes to the city's finances and its operations, I figure it's a good thing to hash things out a few times, maybe even have fresh, independent eyes go over things in order to legitimize them.  Alas, I'm just a bystander and city hall would likely not like me going over their financials.  They're the elected ones and they know best.  

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

It's Okay

This sign is up at the Mami Chulas doorstep on south Meadow.  It's been in place for several weeks.  Apparently the owners are okay with the spelling.