Houston is a very dope place. I've been there for more than a decade now. My wife is from there. All three of my sons were born there. My job is there. Lots of wonderful things have happened for me there, like the time that I found $10 in the street while walking to the corner store or the time I saw Patrick Ewing at Best Buy or the time that I saw Clyde Drexler at Best Buy. It's cool. Cool enough. It's a hip and interesting and busy city. But it's not mine. It’s not San Antonio.
At this very moment, I am sitting at my mom's kitchen table in San Antonio typing this up on a computer that I think was the first computer ever made and trying not to stream any music or videos because my dad said to me, and I quote, "Don't watch videos on YouTube because we don't have that much Internet left." THEY DON'T HAVE THAT MUCH INTERNET LEFT.
In my immediate sight line is a refrigerator that I know to be full of tortillas and beans and rice, and also in my view are the feet of an uncle of mine. The feet are attached to the rest of him. He is sleeping on a couch in the living room. He's probably full of of tortillas and beans and rice, too.
I lived in San Antonio for basically all of my early life, from the time I was born until two months after I turned 18 and left to go to college. There are a lot of new people here right now for the NBA Finals, which is a thing that seems to happen more than it should. If you are new and here, that's neat. San Antonio will love you. Go do some tourist-y stuff. Go to the Riverwalk. Go to the Alamo. Date a Mexican. Whatever. Do some stuff that will always remind you of the time that you went to San Antonio. I've been gone long enough that I need that, too; I need the stuff that always reminds me of San Antonio. Some of those things:
Playing basketball at Sun Valley
Sun Valley is the elementary school in the neighborhood in which I grew up. The school has outdoor basketball courts on the campus, and it also has a security gate that is very easy to crawl under, so it’s a place that I spent a lot of time as a kid. The best part, though: Since it's an elementary school, the rims on the courts are only eight feet high. The rims are only eight feet high! You can dunk there. I can dunk there. America can dunk there. Have you ever dunked a basketball before? It's the most amazing thing of your whole life, I promise.
I still remember the very first person I dunked on. His name was Joshua. He was the younger brother of a guy who I hung out with. We were playing two-on-two -- a guy named Jesse and me versus Josh and his older brother.
I jabbed out toward the 3-point line we'd drawn on the court with a rock; Jesse faked a pass to me. Josh's brother jumped the lane, then I cut back door to the rim. Josh, a smart enough kid, recognized what was happening. He charged over to prepare for the two-on-one that he knew was coming. Only it didn't. Jesse lobbed the ball up toward the rim from where he was standing, Josh jumped for it and I jumped for it and I got it because I was about a foot taller than him. I caught it in the air, felt his tiny chest at my stomach, then slammed it home with a ferocity that I don't think I've ever matched again.
Poor Joshua exploded into a burst of light. It was just like that LeBron dunk over Jason Terry, except like 1,000 percent cornier. #ripJoshua
Buying candy apples from a guy at a stoplight
Candy apples are so dope. Gas has gone up by, like, 400 percent from 1997 to now, but candy apples are still only $1. The candy apple man is impervious to inflation. Obama should give him a call to see how he does it.
Going on a middle school field trip to the Alamo
I don't know why they make everyone go to the Alamo in elementary and middle school; I just know that they do. I guess they want us to gain some better perspective of history or whatever. I never did, though. Mostly I just tried to (A) put boogers on things (elementary) or (B) talk to girls from other schools (middle school).
Making some Mexican papel picado banners
Those are those colorful tissue paper things that you see hanging up in Mexican restaurants. There was like a whole week or month or year of school when that's basically all that you did. You don't have to know how to read to pass fourth grade. You just need to know how to make a very beautiful papel picado banner. That's a little thing called culture.
Get very drunk and then eat a bowl of menudo the next morning
It's just a thing you do. I can't think of very many things better than a warm house that smells like menudo on a cold winter morning.
Riding up and down SW Military
SW Military is a popular street in southwest San Antonio. So what you do is, say, on a Friday or Saturday or Sunday evening, you just ride in your car up and down with your friends, over and over and over again.
It's great if you have a very nice car, but it's still fun even if you have a lunchbox on wheels. The first and most important goal is to look as cool as possible (I was never very good at this one). The second goal is to not get shot or stabbed (I was the best at this one). Sometimes, it's hard to do both, but when you can you're basically a king. What a joy.
This one is very much a rite of passage, comparable to the first time you go to a house party in high school or getting into a fist fight in the parking lot of a night club. I'm bringing my sons back here to do this when they turn 16.
Buying your girlfriend a bootleg pink Spurs jersey from the flea market
How else is she going to know that you love her?
Looking at the Tower of Americas
The Tower of Americas was built as part of the World's Fair that was held in San Antonio in 1968. It's a fine enough attraction (it stands something like more than 700 feet high and there's a restaurant in it), but mostly, it's important by association. Everyone seems to have a thing they remember the Tower of Americas for that isn't specifically about the Tower of Americas. Mine:
When I was little, back before the Spurs drafted David Robinson, they were a bad team. I think they won, like, four games in 10 seasons or something. The bus company my dad works at used to literally give tickets away because that's how bad the Spurs were. So that's how my dad and I used to go to the games -- on account of their crappiness.
For a time, the Spurs played in a place called the HemisFair Arena, which was built at the same time as the Tower. One of my fondest, most meaningful memories took place at the HemisFair Arena. I was just a tiny dude, so I don't remember the day of the week that it was or who the Spurs were playing or any of that. But I remember the important part: There was a point in the game when the Spurs were on offense and the ball got knocked far into the backcourt toward the other team's goal. One of the Spurs players shot off after it. He moved at warp speed. It was to no real result, though, because the ball was too far ahead. When it became clear he wasn't going to get there in time by traditional means, he full-body dove for it. He stretched as far as his body could and then maybe even a few more inches after that. No matter. He missed it by a good two feet. But, still, everyone in the arena just exploded with cheers. I was dumbfounded.
I looked at my dad and asked why they were cheering. I'm sure I said something snide like, "He didn't even get it. What a chump." But I asked him why they cheered for him and my dad, in his perfectly Stoic Dad manner, didn't even flinch. He just very stately responded, "Because he tried, son."
That's like the most profound thing anyone has ever said to a 7-year-old. It stuck in my head then, and it's still there now. More than 25 years it's been there, resonating, vibrating, played on a loop for all of time. It's a thing that, if revisionism is OK, maybe shaped my whole life. I mean, can you even imagine that? My dad has said like 100 million words to me. Those four are him to me.
So that happened there, at the HemisFair Arena. And whenever we used to leave a game from there, we'd walk past this water fountain thing and then past the Tower of Americas, and, man, I'd always look up at and think it was the biggest thing in the world.
The Tower of Americas is still up and still operational. You can see it from miles and miles out. And every time I do, every time I look at it, I think of being a kid and gawking up at it. I think of the Spurs. I think of my dad.
There's a Best Buy in Houston, but there's no Tower of Americas.
This is my city.