Down by the River

Contributing Editor Andrew Nelson rounds out his week-long tour of San Antonio’s Fiesta with the big shebang: the River Parade.

The ambulance chasers and personal injury lawyers must love the River Walk, San Antonio’s spectacularly successful network of leafy, landscaped pathways lacing its river flowing through downtown.

Few barriers, rails or poles separate pedestrians from the river. Any one can fall in. And sometimes, after a few margaritas from the many restaurants clustered along its banks, they do. I’ve heard they retrieve a mountain of muddy cell phones from the depths each year when they drain and clean it.

It’s really unique. My hotel room at the Riverwalk Vista, a 17-room inn housed in a 19th century grocer’s building, frames the river with its huge, 8-foot-tall windows. I spent more than a few minutes gazing down below at the meandering crowds and the tourist barges passing by. It’s better than movies-on-demand, with nothing added to your bill at checkout.

So I’m a little nervous when my friends and I arrive at a crowded private party to view the floats at the River Parade at San Antonio’s Fiesta. We’re part of the 250,000-strong crowd hanging off bridges and along the promenades hoping for a glimpse of a Texas Cavalier.

What’s a Texas Cavalier?  (find out after the jump…)

“A banker in a powder blue marching band uniform,” someone tells me.

Sort of. The Texas Cavaliers are San Antonio business leaders who have been sponsoring the parade since the 1920s. Sure, they look like that guy from The Music Man, but their efforts go to charity. The night is hot. I’m a bit under-dressed. My friends, Justin and Cristina, native San Antonians are styling.

People, especially the ladies, like to look sharp – call it Fiesta casual – they put garlands of flowers in their hair and wear bright colored dresses and tops. But no one really cares how you look, as long as you have fun.

It’s easy to do – there’s a groaning board of food – enchiladas, gorditos, ceviche – and drink. This town can eat. A few years back it was known as the “Fat Capital of America,” prompting a few reporters

to check it out. No one is worried too much about the calories tonight, but when the parade starts everyone sets down their plates (they still keep their glasses) and heads for the river, where they’ve set up rows of folding chairs. We get front row. And I grow worried. One over exuberant elbow or hip check and we’d be dodging the boat traffic.

It’s getting dark (the floats are lit up), and we await their arrival.

There’s a cheer and applause as the first one comes chugging up the river.

Each one is sponsored, mostly by a community organization, with a Cavalier at the helm and a rock band, to boot, pumping out music.

The floats aren’t like those at Mardis Gras – huge, with complicated mechanics and elaborate decor. These look homemade, which makes them all the more accessible. And they float so close to the banks you can even reach out and shake the hand of someone on them. You just have to remember, in the excitement, to let go. Otherwise it’s into the drink you go, and I’ll bet when they haul you back to dry land the first guy handing you a towel will be that personal injury lawyer.

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For more information about Fiesta visit www.fiesta-sa.org. For visiting San Antonio head to www.visitsanantonio.com.

This ends Andrew Nelson’s series of entries from Fiesta. Want to hear more about San Antonio? Send us an e-mail and let us know.

Photo: Above, San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau; Below, Andrew Nelson

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