Thursday, December 26, 2019

Why Mariachis

The screen shot above was taken from the ads section of the 1983 edition of La Pitahaya.  That's the name of the Martin High School yearbook, the subject for a future blog post.  In the lower right hand corner you see the ad for El Atomico restaurant.  One of their menu choices is mariachis, what we now commonly refer to as breakfast tacos.

One of my Twitter pals recently asked if the word mariachis was particular to Laredo.  It's a question that's long been presented, to which I say: if it's even a question, then it must be so.  But what of its origin?

Another social media friendly suggested that the word mariachi was first used at El Taquito Millonario, a small restaurant that's no longer in existence.

El Taquito Millonario used to be located at the corner of Santa Ursula and Sanchez.  Another location was farther east, near Cedar Ave.

For now we can trace the word mariachis back to the early 1980s.  And it lived well into the 2000s, as you can see from the last photo.  The 'lunch stand' on Market and Hendricks advertised breakfast mariachis.  (There might be a colon missing after BREAKFAST.)  I used this photo for a 2008 blog post.

The Laredo Taco Company has set the standard in local food offerings.  They set up shop at a well-known convenience store, preparing breakfast and lunch meals for people on the go.  Lines for their breakfast tacos were predictable, and their prices were hard to beat.  Now it seems that other establishments have followed suit: Raul's BBQ, Sunrise store (Market and Meadow), Tacos Ay Carbon, etc.

But as tacos filled with bacon and eggs, or chorizo con huevo, have remained a constant, the word mariachi has not.  The term has faded in the last ten years.  Perhaps that's owed to the Laredo TACO Company.  At any rate,  this Gen Xer recalls the days when mariachis was common in local parlance.

Mariachis.  It was once a Laredo thing.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

D Lister Making Grand Claims

Two days ago, Henry Cuellar tweeted that he "secured $50 million to support critical infrastructure projects" for areas that surround military bases.  This money will assist the Defense Community Infrastructure Program (DCIP), the brainchild of Washington state Congressman Denny Heck.  The plan was born five years ago.

Because roads, and other infrastructure, leading to military bases take on an added import, they need monies to be kept at an optimal level.  It's all a part of military readiness.  Funding may go towards: gate upgrades, stormwater management, and water security. (Jeannette Garcia, San Antonio Business Journal)

The 50 million for DCIP (underlined above) is included under the OCO/GWOT section.  OCO stands for Overseas Contingency Operations; and GWOT stands for Global War On Terror.  Spending under OCO/GWOT doesn't have many restrictions.  Apparently, money is no object in our post-911 world.

Henry Cuellar may or may not have singlehandedly secured millions of dollars for grant money to benefit municipalities.  Who's to know?  He's said in the past that he's a fiscal conservative, but he's all too eager to boast about new spending for an already bloated military budget.

Monies that fall under the auspices of OCO/GWOT will also benefit Space Force and the National Guard Youth Challenge, whatever that is.

It's funny how Cuellar is able to trivialize the dissemination of tons of money for expenditures that are lumped together in an emergency category.  For now let's just note that he's part of a committee that has no discernible members of Congress in it.  Spend away, Henry.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Civic Center Grounds Are Changing

This photo is from March 1, 2019.  It shows the civic center ballroom being gutted.  It has since been demolished to make room for administrative offices for Laredo ISD officials.

I'll update this post as progress is made.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Beware The Architects

A new plan for downtown has been unveiled, courtesy of a Mexican architectural firm.  I haven't been paying close attention to all that city hall has been up to in recent months, but I thought that the empty city blocks near bridge 2 were going to be spruced up and maintained as open spaces.  I can't believe that the aim is now geared towards a string of buildings that may have a hotel, a movie theater and a park.

I don't even want to guess at the amount of money that was paid to the designers to come up with the artistic rendering pictured above.

Any plans of me writing a book about corrupt Laredo politicians have just been shelved.  Instead I'm going to develop a coffee table book about all the artist renderings that have been proposed for our downtown area.  Images to be included are of: the Kell-Munoz master plan of 2011; the convention center next to La Posada Hotel; the bulkhead/border wall along the Rio Grande; ferris wheel; and now the campus-like schematic at the I-35 terminus.

Nine years ago, a similar plan was put forward.  The same amenities are being proposed now: retail, entertainment and public space.

The city namely Roberto Balli can't get decent landscaping for the handful of blocks near bridge 2, but now we're supposed to believe that the downtown district is going to be transformed completely because an architect came up with some drawings?

In 2012, Les Norton was really blunt about the revitalization plan that the city was pursuing.  He questioned the city's motives and the perks bestowed upon city leaders.

If by some chance this new plan were to become reality, we cannot even begin to imagine the challenges that such a construction project would pose.

(blog post contribution from June 2011)

City hall has had some dubious dealings with architects in the past.  Alas, a new one has entered the picture.  Let's not hold our breath on miracles happening in our near future.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Stay Tuned For Upgrade

I was heading home from a Thanksgiving gathering when I noticed the scene above.  It appears like the former Suzuki of Laredo facility is due for a major overhaul.  We'll see how much damage the excavator can do.

This brighter image I borrowed from Google Maps.  This side of the block-long building is facing Santa Ursula.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Photo That I Found

The Killam family has been celebrating their 100-year presence in Laredo with TV and newspaper ads.  The latest entry included a vintage photo of the Main Boys Club.  The building looks like it hasn't changed at all over the years.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Trees Will Grow If You Let Them

(Photo via FB)

City officials invited the public to a tree-planting event billed as the "Return of the 100 Acre Woods." It took place Saturday at North Central Park.  The park is ten years old, according to details released by organizers.

In 2010 I wrote about this same kind of event, back when Gene Belmares was in office.  Man, that's like two political weenasos ago.  Belmares wanted to create an environment where the 'foliage will change color in the fall, creating a true "New York Central Park" feel' for outdoor enthusiasts.

One tree that does well in this climate and has a remarkable fall foliage is the Chinese Tallow.  You can spy one at the northeast corner of Clark and Meadow.  I digress.

(Info via FB page event invitation)

I love that Laredoans help in giving public spaces some TLC.  It's a win-win for everybody.  The thing I take issue with is that outdoor settings are over-managed.  With trees, especially, only several types are planted.  Outdoor design in Laredo ends up being predictable and sparse; and locals try to create scenes that are not natural to our area.  

In the photo above, you see volunteers gladly posing next to a new planting.  (Mulch should not suffocate the base of the trunk.)  Close behind you see a small native tree, probably a mesquite.  That tree will likely be mowed down, in due time, to keep things tidy.    

A true 100 acre woods, I think, would do well by having native trees alongside hand-picked varieties.    Letting native trees mature can save a lot of energy and money.  And ten years from now, when the city hosts another 100 Acre Woods shindig, the park won't look as bare as it does in the photo above.

Our approach needs to change.  And it wouldn't hurt to have an arborist's input in all of this.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

No Fat Chicks

Paul Young's looking-for-love ad has been appearing in the newspaper for a week or more.  Man needs companionship.

Paying Off Their Donors

The City of Laredo has apparently purchased more properties in the downtown area, along Houston and Santa Maria Ave.  The rationale for doing so is to provide space for two departments that are currently housed at the Bruni Plaza library: building development and planning & zoning.

The now-former owner of the properties was a political insider.  He has made out like a bandit.

The city owns other properties downtown, but they can't be used for needed office space because they're already spoken for, according to Councilman Balli.  According to him, they've got things lined up for: the Plaza Theater, the old federal courthouse, the Southern Hotel, the Canseco house, the Slaughter house, etc.

It's been six years since the federal courthouse was donated to the city.  I have no idea what it's being used for, other than a police substation.

The Plaza Theater has sat vacant for about two decades.  It's basically laying there in waste.

It's been three years since the four vacant blocks near bridge 2 were going to be spruced up.

Property after property is acquired by the city and they just sit there.    

Saturday, November 16, 2019

A Bridge So Close

The Azteca neighborhood will never be seen in a favorable light by locals.  Its unique history and character gave rise to the barrio's sullied reputation.  The main culprit that gave the Azteca its infamy was the sewage treatment plant, situated close by, and near the Rio Grande.  The stench that came from the plant made driving through the neighborhood an unpleasant experience.  I can't imagine how residents of the area got along every day.  

Now the odor is non-existent, but challenges still remain.  The streets of the Azteca are too narrow, housing is decent to subpar and the only destination point that's available is a colorful mural situated at a busy intersection.  Traversing the area by car can be an adventure; going by foot can be even more interesting.  The neighborhood is not dangerous -- it's just that the infrastructure, for both motorists and pedestrians, has been ignored for a long time.

(courtesy photo)

One of my Twitter followers - one who also appreciates historical facts about Laredo - recently shared the photo of a rusty fence that's been abandoned alongside the Iturbide St. bridge, which sits above the tail end of the Zacate Creek.  (Destination*)

Iturbide cuts the Azteca neighborhood in half.  The street connects the 3 Points and Montrose barrios, in the eastern part of Laredo, with Laredo's downtown and St. Peter's neighborhood in the west.  The bridge on Iturbide, in the Azteca, is the thing that ties neighbors together.

The bridge in the Azteca is pretty understated.  It's a two-lane span, with walkways on each side and an unremarkable barrier that helps to keep pedestrians from falling into the creek below.

More than a century ago, the bridge looked entirely different.  There were rail lines on the structure and its path was unpaved, it seems.  By the way, my Twitter buddy made the connection between the vintage scene and the accompanying iron fence.  (The Laredo Electric Railway Company operated from December 1889 to December 1935.)

On the left side of the photo, next to the light poles, you can see the iron fencing that once stood proud.  Part of it is still present on the north side of Iturbide, but it's a remnant of days past.  The oxidized frame is a souvenir from another era, sitting idly by and neglected.

This photo, with my shadow at the bottom, was taken in July.  You get a view towards the west.  The previous photo, the one in black and white, is of the observer looking east.

The plaque on the current bridge's fencing is dated 1928.  Albert Martin was the mayor.  Sound familiar?

Three years ago I wrote about a two-story building that was destroyed by a fire.  The structure was eventually demolished.  That building was something I noticed every time I drove by.  I never photographed it, though.  The image above, which I included in the 2016 blog post, I borrowed from Google Maps.  What was staring me in the face then was the iron fence that I'm writing about now.  That thing has been there since before my parents were born.  It's been steadfast through the better part of three generations.  Today it's clinging to dear life, with the help of the terra firma and foliage that surrounds it.

To me the fence is a reminder of the way we treat Laredo's history: it's neglected to the point of being pushed aside.

The Azteca is full of historical architecture -- housing templates that point to different periods in time.  The facades are worth an occasional viewing.  The creek that straddles the old neighborhood has its own potential.  It could be a sanctuary for native plants and trees that can be more inviting for birds and butterflies.  Alas, it's only use is for the diversion of excess water.

On the north side of the Azteca, you can see a giant flag pole that sits of the cemented grounds of a drive-thru banking facility.  That whole scene is a sign of progress.  The bank is located where "la escuela amarilla" used to be.

On the other side of the Azteca is an ignored fence, a piece of metal that has lost its usefulness.  It's the lowly counterpart to the soaring flag pole.  Each piece has a story.  Unfortunately for the fence, it's fading from our consciousness, as is Laredo's history.      

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Racism Courtesy Of The Sheriff's Office

(The title of this post is pointed in order to counter the grave ignorance of this community and its leaders.)

The photo above appeared in the Laredo Times last week.  It was apparently taken, and shared, by staff of the Webb County Sheriff's Office.  The image appeared on social media a day before I saw it in the newspaper.  The topic of controversy is the person who chose to wear blackface for the costume party.

As of this writing, there seems to be a small group of Laredoans who see this as a major lapse in judgement.  Going through the countless comments posted on Facebook feeds, I get the feeling that people in this town aren't that smart.  Many don't see this as a racist act.  Instead it's viewed as a harmless portrayal of an iconic black character, and to make more out of it is to be foolish.

Sheriff Cuellar, who hosted the costume party, replied to the brouhaha by defending the woman's appearance and dismissing any ill will toward others.  But he insinuated that the lady had an intellectual disability.  He stood firm against the supposed attacks on the defenseless party participant, ignoring the fact that he put his name, and that of Webb County, on an image that is racist.  He didn't take any responsibility for the moment.  And why should he, when nobody else has a clue about this.  (The sheriff's comments appeared in Sunday's paper.)

Luckily there was an editorial entry on the same page that countered the sheriff's idiocy, COURTESY OF Marco Guajardo.

We are the least ethnically diverse large city in the country.  As a result of this segregation, many are simply blind to the offensive and racist implications that come from not being exposed to people that do not look or talk like us.  A person wearing blackface for a costume contest would command high levels of scrutiny and attention in a city like Austin, Los Angeles, Detroit, or New York City. 

Bravo! to Mr. Guajardo!  His thoughts on the matter are more lucid than those of Sheriff Martin.

On the KGNS morning show recently, I saw Elizabeth Millner speak out against the use of blackface.  She was assertive and direct as the camera stayed on her for the commentary.  I applauded her for lending her voice to this issue, and to KGNS for giving her the air time to do so.  Millner is black.  And she's a transplant.  And her input was vital for a community that is majority Hispanic.

But today's feature by KGNS was less heroic.  And to top it off, it was voiced by Millner herself.  What made the story less savory was the inclusion of Facebook comments by those who don't have a problem with blackface.  It's obvious that KGNS didn't want to take sides in this matter, unfortunately.

I want to think that this is being used as a teaching moment by some of us.  There may be many Marco Guajardos among us that are passing on some sense to our friends and family.  Let's educate ourselves on things that have a bigger impact beyond our borders.

We should decry racist acts.  I hope you're listening, elected officials, the media, and the public at large.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Your Thoughts Please

There were a couple of interesting things recently.  One was a half-hour show on KGNS last Saturday night called Texas Border Chronicles.  I came across it while channel surfing, waiting for Saturday Night Live to come on.

The program included local luminaries* in a roundtable discussion setting, talking about issues related to Laredo and Webb County.  There's also Beyond the Headlines (also on KGNS), Frontera Radio on Facebook, video podcasts by Our Laredo, and Miguel Amante playing local contrarian on Spanish social media.  We're not in short supply of local commentary.  

The oddball in Border Chronicles is former judge Jesus Garza (pictured 2nd from left).  He was arrested more than 2 years ago for alleged influence peddling.

Via the Laredo Times (2017):

On Feb. 16, Garza pleaded not guilty to one count of gift to a public servant by a person subject to his jurisdiction, a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

An indictment alleges that in January 2015, Garza asked local attorney Shirley Mathis for a $3,000 loan in exchange for appointing her to represent the wealthy Carlos Y. Benavides Jr. estate in a civil dispute. The loan was intended for Christopher Casarez, one of Garza's court coordinators, the indictment states.

Casarez died by suicide in mid-December, a day before he was set to meet with authorities about the investigation into Garza.
The case against judge Garza was dismissed, with the condition that he resign from the State Bar of Texas.
So there's that.

The other thing that happened this week was talk of naming Laredo's city hall after Aldo Tatangelo.  KGNS took a poll and the results were clear: a resounding no!
The people of Laredo don't show up to the polls during election time, but those that can take part in an online survey have their minds made up: they don't like city officials and their trivial ideas. 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Laredo's Run On Water

Yesterday evening, city officials alerted residents of south Laredo that they needed to boil the water that was intended for consumption.  The news was disseminated through social media and word quickly spread.  Before the night was over, all Laredoans were being asked to take precautions: boil your tap water for 3 minutes or use bottled water.

The emergency notice was made public because of low chlorine levels in the water supply.  City leaders tried to reassure people that no bacteria was present in the water; they were just following the recommendations set forth by the TCEQ.

There are no newscasts on Saturday nights in Laredo; so the only news report that I came across was a live video that was posted on Facebook by a local Univision reporter.  Dr. Hector Gonzalez from the health department was the only face anywhere, telling citizens of what was happening.  All other city officials were M.I.A.

It wasn't until Sunday afternoon, a whole day after, that city and county leaders held a press conference.  (See top photo, FB snapshot)  Mayor ProTem Balli explained that they were communicating their findings with state leaders and TCEQ officials in order to arrive at the best possible outcome.  They reminded viewers that no bacteria was found in the local water supply, but that chlorine levels were low.

(courtesy photo)

Laredoans weren't taking any chances: they were out early Sunday morning looking for bottled water.  Shelves at local stores were left empty by lunch time.  There was no bottled water to be had.

Tonight HEB was limiting cases of water to 2 per person.  The jugs pictured above had no limit.

The events of the last 24 hours are remarkable for what happened and for what didn't.  The response by city officials and local media was predictable: the most minimal of efforts were utilized.

The public reacted just as was expected, even though the situation was ostensibly under control.  In the mad rush for water at local stores, I only hope that citizens shared what they got with those who needed extra help.

We may be wiser now.  Next time may not be as pretty.  Let's all take note of what occurred today so that we can be better prepared in the future.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Thoughts On El Paso Shooting

On August 3, a racist individual went into a Wal-Mart in El Paso and killed 22 people with a high-powered rifle.  The attack is unique in that the killer traveled hundreds of miles, from north Texas to El Paso, to kill brown people.  Local attorney David Almaraz penned an OpEd for the Times.  I'll leave it here without any further comment.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Plans Put Out

In early July we heard of the brilliant plan of placing a ferris wheel next to the Outlet Shoppes downtown.

On Tuesday, city officials got to talking about plans for a water park.

These two public amenities are, for now, just wishful thinking.  Them becoming reality is too far off.  The mere mention of a ferris wheel near the Rio Grande and a water park next the arena sounds promising.  What the public should put more thought into, though, is the completion of the detox center and the veterans museum.  It can't all be about the sexy.  

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Ship Of Torpes

Last weekend, word began to spread about a certain social media somebody that was thinking about running for city council, District 5.  She, who I don't follow on Facebook, is toying with the idea of running against incumbent Nelly Vielma.  Decent and mediocre candidates have always been drawn to public service in our area.  This aspiring politician, however, does not even rise to that level.  She's crass, toils in gossip and sensationalism, and has admitted to having no actual knowledge of the inner workings of municipal government.

The only currency she has to her name is the ignominy related to her past and present legal problems.  The numerous stains on her reputation would make her one of the guys with the rest of city council.

For those unfamiliar with local politics, city hall has seen its fair share of bad actors: pols who have been busted with drugs and those who push people around.  And let's not forget the FBI raid of city offices that may or may not see the indictments of elected officials.  It's a pool of ne'erdowells at 1110 Houston St.  Candidate X would fit right in if she decided to jump in.


Julia Wallace wrote about the possible amending of one city charter item -- the one dealing with asshole elected officials who commit some type of wrongdoing.  Those that crime it up will be guilty of moral turpitude.  This official language became part of our lexicon, thanks to the twice-elected council person that made one hell of a boneheaded mistake as a candidate, Vidal Rodriguez.  He's one who, despite his failings, convinced his voting public that he was the right man for the job.

The new baldheaded contender, the one who has Vielma in her sights, might do the same: convince several thousand people that she's the better candidate.  She may have a huge following on social media, but how many of her District 5 followers will actually cast a vote for her?  It's all hypothetical at this point.  We hardly know if she's going to take a crack at local office.  She should take into consideration the current discussion being had, that of torpes committing moral turpitude and the potential for their disqualification from office.  I doubt she's privy to what's currently being discussed, in terms of city charter amendments.  I don't see her as a page 1 peruser.  She deals more with the police blotter section, an area that she's personally close to.

2020 is going to be a hoot.

(Image via


Saturday, August 17, 2019

Let's Make Amendments

Image from The Politica of Laredo Facebook page.

Early last month, the Laredo Times reported that George Altgelt would not seek re-election in 2020.  I thought the issue was a non-starter since he was elected twice to the same post.

Altgelt was elected to serve as councilman of District 7 when he won a runoff race on April 25, 2015.  Results above courtesy of  Altgelt replaced Jorge Vera, who was recalled from office in the fall of 2014.

In the November 2016 race, Altgelt beat challenger Juan Chavez.

There was some language added to the city charter, relating to the Terms and Limits of a council member.  That resulted from Jose Valdez Jr. deciding to regain control of his District 7 seat after having quit his position to run for mayor.  He didn't win in that venture.

Valdez Jr. was elected a third time, to serve as city alderman, on May of 2008.  He would only get to serve out two years from his incomplete 2nd term, after a judge ruled on the matter.

Altget's case is different, given the extraordinary circumstances that preceded his first win.  He was elected to the same position twice, though.  The city charter may have to be amended one more time, seeing as how kooky things are around here.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Border Crossing Like Never Before

Photo above appeared on the front page of the Laredo Times yesterday.

Tents and portable buildings are being put in place in a site near bridge 1.  Once ready, federal officials plan to expedite the asylum claims of immigrants coming from Central America.  CBP agents have been overwhelmed with the wave of people trying to set foot on U.S. land -- so much so that officials have been stationed at mid-bridge to prevent that from happening.  People seeking asylum are being told to wait in Mexico in the meantime, a process referred to as metering.

(courtesy photo: Jose M. Reyes - July 12, 2019)

All sorts of impediments have been placed on bridge 1, both for drivers and pedestrians heading north.  I have never seen anything like this.  These are truly extraordinary tactics, all because of the current Administration in Washington, D.C.

It's been several years that I have crossed into Nuevo Laredo.  I wouldn't dare do that now, for fear that I may run into severe pushback from bridge employees.  I just hope I don't need any emergency dental care anytime soon.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Evelyn For Sale

This ad for the sale of the Evelyn Motor Inn has been appearing in the Times for a couple of weeks now.