I feel I was just getting to know San Marcos. It is in South Texas, in “hill country” about thirty miles south of Austin and about forty five miles north east of San Antonio.
Impossible not to think of one of my favourite country-rock songs “Guitar Town” (Steve Earle)
” I’m just outta Austin bound for San Antone”.
We are in Hayes County, named for Texas settlor and later Texas Ranger Jack Hayes. A statue dedicated to him is in the City Square outside the old City Hall. The Square and the handful of commercial streets are a bit like the back lot of a Hollywood Movie Studio.
Porches and balconies. And fittingly it likes its own history. There is the LBJ Museum, dedicated to former Vice President Lyndon Johnson and a plaque across the street named for him tells the story of the controversy surrounding it. Another plaque tells the story of the “Telephone War” between two phone companies in the 1920s. The Old Bank building has a plaque claiming it was robbed by Machine Gun Kelly.
But mostly it is symbolism of the Old West which strikes me. An old style barbers shop…with the very modern sign requesting patrons not to answer cell phones while having a hair cut. An old movie theatre straight from “The Last Picture Show”is now a music venue, three or four bars all have signs stating that it’s a felony to enter the premises with a weapon.
One of the bars is Sean Patricks …”Irish Pub…Texas Grub”. And it showed the Real Madrid-Manchester United match. My observation was that there were slightly more United fans than Real fans. Something odd about watching a European match at 2pm.
Most signs are bi-lingual…in a matter of fact sort of way.
This is a “liberal” town…in a “liberal” part of Texas….in part due to the influence of Texas State University.
A very modern campus. Amazing facilities. Amazing ambience. “Old Main” is unfortunately under renovation and covered in scaffolding.
Three statues dominate. One is Lyndon Baines Johnson, who graduated in 1930. LBJ is something of a hero around this part of Texas. I tend to think of him as the President who was sworn into office alongside a grieving and blood-stained Jackie Kennedy….and for the chant “hey hey LBJ…how many kids did you kill today.?” But in this part of Texas he is fondly remembered as a man who worked tirelessly to advance the Latino community.
One statue is a Bobcat….
because Texas State University is “Bobcat Country” and on any given day about five per cent of the students are wearing bobcat Tshirts…in the maroon and gold colours of the College.
The third statue, near the library is simply known as the “Two Horses With the Big Balls”.
The temperatures are in the 70s and outside there are stalls mostly run by students….for charities like the Special Olympics, religion (donuts for Jesus) or simply Profit making…
Things we won’t see on a campus….uniformed students from the ROTC…Reserve Officer Training Corps….a police station with armed officers….friendly …I asked a young lady cop aif she would mind me taking a photograph. “no problem…just let me pull in to the side of the road”. Turns out her grandmother is Irish.
As you might expect, Religion is a big thing on Campus…large chaplaincies for all the religions and all neatly together. Abortion, never really a touchstone of Religion in Ireland is
referenced a lot.
The LBJ Student Centre is a bit like the Students Union at Queens University. The Store/shop is massive. Text books…computer accessories, stationery, and loadsa Bobcat stuff…pennants, Tshirts, “bobcat dad”, “bobcat brother”, “bobcat sister” etc.
The “campus” really is a campus…unlike say Queens University…with overflow buildings all around South Belfast. There are dorms scattered around San Marcos.
There is a steady flow of coaches coming in and out of the university linking dorms to the campus. At first I thought these were municipal coaches…but they are free …university coaches paid thru tuition fees.
But here’s the odd thing . There is no public transport system. None. I suppose a bus service necessarily loses money. It is social rather than for profit. That was a downside.
The Campus ends where Downtown begins. The stores around the university are heavily dependent on students…pizza places, skateboard place, party shop, quirky places.
And another thing…the Post Office closed a month ago. It has relocated…out of town….somehow that doesn’t feel right. We worry about out-of-town shopping but out-of-town post office is a whole new dimension.
The CAR is everything. At the downtown intersections, the traffic lights seem to favour the Driver rather than the Pedestrian. The “Green Man” appears rarely and at a few intersections, there is no “press the button” facility. it’s controlled on a Timer.
After a day or so, it becomes obvious that the Downtown area is…as I expected a very small part of the real commercial life of San Marcos…Walmart, HEB, are along a road that includes Hobby Lobby ( great store), Wallgreen etc.
The background music in Hobby Lobby is Christian and a sign on the door says that the store closes on Sunday…to allow employees time to spend with their families and “for Worship”.
The banks are drive thru…Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
A cluster of modern buildings, the Activity Centre, City Hall, Library are just outside the immediate downtown area.
This cluster of buildings includes St Johns Catholic Church and a memorial to War Veterans, which is quite moving….not least because it flies a flag for those Missing in Action.
And the Memorial is one of several places which has been funded by the generosity of benefactors.
Yet there is a quirkiness to the place. “Bums Billiards” (no wife beaters….but this sign on the door refers to a type of Tshirt)and “Mothers Auto Alarms” There are clusters of auto shops…and clusters of food outlets…Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Dairy Queen, International House of Pancakes, Krispy Kreme, Shipleys Donuts, Arbys.
I like Cracker Barrell…wholesome food, attached to a store selling retro gifts.
As the days draw on, it becomes clear that there is more to San Marcos. More out-of-town retail….JC Penney (isn’t that Primark?) is actually very upmarket….it has a hair salon.
Petsmart is the best pet shop I have seen…you can adopt a rescued cat for (mostly) a hundred dollars. But sad too that the “oldest resident” can be adopted for just fifty dollars.
And The Outlet Centre!!!!….even more upmarket stores and people come from out of state just to shop there.
Yet oddly, the shopping malls…all outdoors, not covered as Castle Court Belfast or the Admiral in Bangor…are the only places where the CAR takes second place to the PEDESTRIAN and they slow down to facilitate.
Frankly I loved it all. It is easy to be cynical about “have a nice day” culture, especially in a service industry where tips are an issue.
But actually it’s mostly sincere.
The pretty jogger who runs past a tired old man like me and shouts out “good morning Sir” is a decent person.
“Justin” on campus catches up with me to say “hi”. I assume he was at the lecture. Nope he just thought I looked happy and saw GOD in me…and I won’t be cynical about that. Because Justin is a decent person too.
When all is said and done…I am a pretty decent person myself. And I am in favour of a place like San Marcos, Texas….where it thrives.