This was an exercise for my Skillshare class - Narrative Travel Writing: Capturing a Sense of Place taught by: Christopher Clark, Travel Writer & Wanderer
“Ten dollars for this shit. Each.” John says as he sits down beside me, placing two lowball glasses on the cold metal table in front of us. The drinks look pretty but there is obviously more ice than liquid in them. “Cheers,” I say flatly as I reach out to take a drink. The drink is cold and taste more sweet than anything. “I guess this is what rakia is.” I’m careful not drink too much of the apricot brandy cocktail all at once as we don’t have the money to be buying more. Around our table groups of friends and couples mill about the patio. Some hover around waiting for us to leave. Lauren arrives and slaps her own cocktail on the table. “This cost me $12. It better be fucking amazing.” She takes the two thin black straws in her mouth, gulping down a big sip. I see her swallow and wait for her response. “Nope, not worth it.”
The Lone Star District sits ten minutes south of San Antonio’s downtown. The focal point and namesake is the now defunct brewery that was named after the pride and joy of Texas - its flag. When the brewery was operational, the neighborhood housed factory workers who would partake in their yeasty product after clocking out. It was a working, middle to low class neighborhood full of Mexican immigrants who worked at the brewery or opened their own businesses: mechanic shops, bakeries, hair salons, restaurants.
When John and I first moved back to our childhood neighborhood three years ago, it was very much as we had left it. The bakery I remember walking to when I was younger was still there on the corner of our block. It brought back memories of the mornings my mom would stop before dropping me off at school for a sweet treat. Now, the smell of baking conchas and galletas was enough to make me stop before work for a totally unhealthy, albeit delicious, breakfast. The same laundromat was still there - the oversized washers and dryers broken more often than not. Its only change was the color of the building and the graffiti on its dumpster.
About a year after our move, we slowly started to notice small changes to our neighborhood. A once vacant warehouse was suddenly painted red. New shiny bicycles were parked outside while indie music blared from speakers somewhere within. A raw organic juice bar popped up where once used to be a spray paint shop. The chalkboard sign out front always exclaiming “Free Shots!” hoping to guilt the money out of those gullible enough to think they were referring to liquor.
At first the changes weren’t enough to warrant a real reaction from either John or me. Rather, we’d joke or place bets on how long it would be before they realized their business was in the wrong location, location, location. But as we sit drinking our expensive raika cocktails, at a bar we couldn’t pronounce, there was no denying that the dynamic of our neighborhood was changing. In fact even from our position on the patio you could see The Bottom Bracket Bicycle Club and the expensive bikes parked in a rack and secured with a heavy duty lock and chain. There were people out in front enjoying the winter night. They wore nice wool or tweed coats. Their jeans were dark blue and rolled up so as not to get caught in their gleaming bike chains. A few were eating overpriced Mexican street tacos from a nearby food truck, talking and laughing.
“So, what do you know about this place?” Lauren asks as she takes in the open warehouse doors displaying the brass silos used to create the expensive brandy. “Not much,” I told her. “I do know how to pronounce it now though.” Lauren looks quizzically at me as John laughs quietly. “Apparently it is not called dor-cull as I’ve been telling everyone but rather dor-shull,” I emphasize and accent the last syllable. “A super nice asshat corrected me the other day,” I say sarcastically. “I think it’s special pronunciation is how they weed out the posers from the high-and-mighty. It’s amazing we got in at all.”
The night is getting colder and there is no more pretending anything but ice cubes are left in our glasses. Those who have been standing waiting for our table side-eye us harder. The DJ stands over his Mac but doesn’t seem to be too into his song choice. From our table we can see the bus stopping at the railroad tracks to ensure a train is not speeding past the barriers. As it passes our patio, those sitting inside can be seen. They are mostly people getting off their late night shifts, returning home for a few hours sleep before they get up and tackle household chores tomorrow. The bus’s brake lights turn on as it pulls over a block away from us to let some passengers off. A man goes to the front of the bus to get his bike from the rack. It is clear, even from this distance, that his bike is old. Its paint is chipped and you can tell it only works at all due to the rider’s need to keep it so. He throws his leg over and rides off the other way, turning down a road with a busted streetlamp.
“You ready to go?” Lauren asks shivering slightly. “Yup,” I respond. The three of us get up, our metal chairs scraping loudly against the concrete. Those who have been standing swivel their heads to see how many seats we are vacating while calculating how fast they’ll have to sprint to secure the table for themselves. “Wanna go back to our house?” John asks Lauren, “We have some Lone Star.”