This year the National Society of Tax Professionals' annual conference was held in San Antonio, Texas (August 26-31, 2004) at the Marriott San Antonio Rivercenter, not to be confused with the Marriott San Antonio Riverwalk, which is across the street.
This was my third visit to the great state of Texas. A relocated client had flown me down to a suburb of Houston to do a tax return in the early 1980s, and I attended the NATP national conference in Corpus Christi in 1997.
I was indeed pleased to find that my Continental flight to San Antone was empty. For a change I had the entire 3-seat row to myself.
As expected, the weather in South Texas was truly "brutal", with 92-96 degree days. I was fortunate that my hotel was attached to the Rivercenter Mall, 125 shops and restaurants sandwiched between the Foley's and Dilliard's department stores. Not because of anything to do with shopping, which in my case was limited to visiting the "Cats Cats Cats" pet-themed specialty store, but because it allowed me to remain in air conditioned comfort as long as possible!
When I heard that the convention was to be held along the San Antonio "Riverwalk" (El Paseo de Rio), I assumed that it would be a developed waterfront similar to ones I had been to in Norfolk, Savannah, and New Orleans. I was surprised to discover that it was more like Venice, with a very narrow river winding through the city. The Riverwalk, a WPA project completed in 1941, is 3 miles of pathway along the banks of the river that is 20 feet below street level and features unique footbridges, lush green foliage, and unique retail shops and restaurants.
After settling in and walking through the Mall, I enjoyed a "Bellini" frozen cocktail, lobster ravioli and cheesecake at "Luciano on the River" on the River Level of the mall next to the entrance to the Marriott. After dinner I saw "Alamo...The Price of Freedom", a 45-minute film about the 13-day siege and fall of the Alamo at the IMAX Theatre in the Rivercenter Mall.
Friday morning I had breakfast at a "Denny's" across the street from my hotel, avoiding the long line waiting for a table by eating at the counter, and signed up for the San Antonio City Tours' half-day "Highlights of San Antonio" at the Alamo Visitor Center in the lobby of the Menger Hotel.
The "Highlights of San Antonio" began with a "self-guided" tour of the Alamo. Originally established in 1718 as "Mission San Antonio d Valero", the city's first mission, the Alamo is the most famous spot in Texas. It is where Davie Crockett, Jim Bowie and 188 others died fighting for independence during a 13-day siege by the army of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana that began on February 23, 1836.
As per instructions received when I signed up for the tour, I met the tour bus outside the Alamo at 2:15 pm and was surprised to learn that there were only two other people on the tour, a couple from Westchester County NY who had signed up for the all-day "Grand Tour". During the morning they had visited the Japanese Sunken Gardens, taken the River Cruise, seen the Alamo film at the IMAX Theatre, and lunched at the Rivercenter Mall. We made stops at two of the city's five missions, Mission San Jose and Mission Concepcion, and Market Square, home of the 32-shop El Mercado and the 80-shop Farmers' Market Plaza. I had a frozen Margherita at El Mercado.
San Antonio City Tours also operates the Alamo Trolley, which does a one-hour tour of the city. As with similar trolley operations in other cities, one can hop-on and hop-off the trolley at various locations throughout the day.
After registering for the convention, and changing clothes, I visited the historic Menger Hotel, built in 1856, which is located next to the Mall. I had a cocktail in the hotel's bar, where it is said that Teddy Roosevelt recruited his "Rough Riders". Dinner was pizza from "Sbarro's" in the Mall's food court.
Saturday morning started with a free continental breakfast at the convention, followed by a full day of educational sessions. For dinner I had hot dogs from "A+W" and ice cream from "Marble Slab Ice Cream" in the Mall while listening to the Peruvian band "Andean Fusion" perform at the outdoor "lagoon".
While educational "break-out" sessions were scheduled for Sunday afternoon, I decided to take the day off. I returned to "Denny's", even more crowded this morning, for breakfast. Later I enjoyed a 35-minute narrated Rio San Antonio Cruise on an open-air flat-bottom boat, which I boarded just outside the River Level entrance to the hotel. After cooling off with a "smoothie" at the lagoon, I ventured off along the Riverwalk, this time via "Shank's mare", taking a brief detour through the "La Villita" historic arts and crafts district. I had another Italian dinner that night at "Pieca d'Italia" along the Riverwalk under the Crocket Street Bridge.
Monday repeated Saturday's schedule, with a free continental breakfast and a full day of educational sessions. I returned to the food court for dinner, pizza from "Cento and Fanti" and ice cream from "Marble Slab Ice Cream".
Walking home from dinner on Sunday I found that San Antonio has a "Pat O'Brien's" (a "branch" of the original New Orleans bar and restaurant) across the street from the Alamo. After dinner I headed there hoping to find dueling pianos in the bar (like New Orleans), but was disappointed to learn that the bar was only open on Thursday through Saturday nights.
On the cruise I had learned that the river is drained every January, during which time the annual "Mud Festival", complete with a Mud King and Queen, is held. Apparently this is the best time to visit San Antonio, as the hotel room rates are at their lowest and the daytime temperature drops to between 40 and 50 degrees.
My return flight on Tuesday was in the afternoon, so I "slept in". For the first time since the increased airport security measures were put into place, my checked bag was opened and searched at the San Antonio Airport; it apparently was not a random search. Unfortunately, unlike my flight in from Newark, the one home was a full one.