Jimmie Draper: Rain, shine, sleet, heat


This post needs a soundtrack. Nothing would be more fitting than San Antonio high school students belting out mariachi music, so please play this while you read. For Jimmie.

1968. I think James Miller Draper, Jr., was there when the Paseo del Rio Association started, raising his hand to volunteer to do whatever it took to get attention for the River Walk.

It might be hard to imagine now, but the few businesses opening along the river were desperate. There were times when the only live things walking down the sidewalk in the heart of the river bend were pigeons. Things were so dull, there was even a night when some bored unnamed river operators shot fish. With guns.

Jimmie served as president of Paseo del Rio Association twice, in 1975 and 1984. But assumption of that responsibility is minor compared to his continual presence through thick and thin for more than four decades.

The coldest mornings in December always were the Fridays we placed luminarias along the river’s banks. Bob Buchanan made the coffee, and Jimmie brought the doughnuts. Without fail. For decades. Nancy Hunt, current executive director of Paseo del Rio Association, said that even last year Jimmie rode the bus downtown to deliver sweets to those delivering bags to the river’s banks.

No weather forecaster was more accurate than the first night of the annual Great Country River Festival the first weekend in February. Guaranteed sleet. Jimmie was always there.

The event closest to his heart always, though, was the Fiesta Mariachi Festival. It was his. I believe he was the first and only chair of the festival for more than 40 years. He threatened to retire one year. Paseo even threw him a party to recognize chairing the event 25 years or so. That just made him sentimental and mushy about the whole thing, so he kept coming back. Every year, he gave up four nights of Fiesta to meet the high school students boarding the barges. Without fail. Until this past year. Being 86 is a pretty good excuse for easing up a bit.

Generally Jimmie had the patience of Job. The time he really lost it, although not publicly, was at City Hall. The Paseo’s contract with the city in the late ’70s required we continually appear before Council to request approval for each event.

It should have been routine, but poor Mayor Lila Cockrell had a rather rowdy bunch to try to keep corralled. Those were colorful times.

I could almost see the hairs on the back of Jimmie’s neck bristle as a councilman went off on a rant about gringos being in charge of putting on a mariachi festival.

Then there was without a doubt the most incredible remark I ever heard at City Hall. Councilman Joe Webb interrupted the diatribe: “Mariachis. Cucarachas. What’s the difference? They’re all the same to me.”

Councilman Bernardo Eureste leapt to his feet and challenged Councilman Webb to duke it out. The scuffling councilmen went out in the hall to settle things, but were restrained before striking any serious blows.

Permission to stage the admission-free festival was granted, but, on the way out of City Hall, Jimmie said that was it. He would never go back there and be insulted like that again.

But he kept on volunteering again and again and again. Rain, shine, sleet, heat. No matter.

Gringo Jimmie might not have been known for shouting loud gritos in public, but, in those early years working with Belle San Miguel, his belief in bolstering the talents of young musicians gave fledgling programs in public schools a stage on which to shine. Before there were statewide competitions, the Mariachi Festival was the event inspiring students to strive for professionalism in their performances. Jimmie loved to see students board the barges, proudly wearing their festival medals from each year they had participated.

This spring will bring the 44th annual Fiesta Mariachi Festival. Jimmie was there for 42.


Light a luminaria for Jimmie this holiday season. If it goes up in flame, it’s his unselfish and generous soul flying up to heaven.

Mudslinging Season along the River Walk

There are so many trucks, cranes and workers in the muddy river bottom this week it looks more like Loop 410 than the river bend.  The silt-removal effort is a major (de-)construction project. 

When the river bend was drained for its annual maintenance in “the old days” – back in 1985 when we staged the First Maybe Annual River Bottom Festival and Mud Parade and votes for mud royalty had to be paid in cash, literally a nickel at a time – only a handful of Parks and Recreation employees would be spotted in waders in the mud, fishing out chairs, glassware and utensils tossed in by river revelers.  Workers might patch a crumbling wall or two, but that was it. 

Fortunately, the water will be returned to the river by January 11.  In the mean time, it’s actually entertaining to watch the big trucks get stuck in the muck and it all just means another excuse to party for the Paseo del Rio Association.

Maybe if the city elected not to refill the river, the owner of the Riverwalk Plaza Hotel would not be forced to erase the lime green paint from the wall that assaults pedestrians as they head into downtown from King William.  Then he could even remove “Riverwalk” from the hotel’s name.  If he does not want to be governed by the standards that apply in the district, why market the property that way?  It also would be so convenient to reserve the river bed for overflow parking (Sorry, but that wall just invites mudslinging).

Update on January 6:  Learn who is campaigning to serve as Mud Queen and King and how you can join in the festivities.

Update on January 7:  Mud news in USA Today

Update on June 5: Finally, the lime green wall of the Riverwalk Inn has been painted a more subtle tan, blending in with the brick of the nearby Granada and Tower Life Building.

Downtowners Dutifully Delve into Duck Doody*

In “The Two Stories,” a video installation commissioned by artpace, Alenjandro Cesarco describes the state of a statue of a women who possibly succumbed to the same fate that awaits the heads of virtually all outdoor sculptures:

Perhaps it just stopped taking itself as seriously as it used to and now was just playing with the pigeons.

But in San Antonio, pigeons don’t restrict their discharge to statues, they endanger the fragile ecosystem of the San Antonio River.  River Walk Watershed Alliance, or RWWA (Should that be pronounced Rah-Wah?), to the rescue! 

Representatives of the Paseo del Rio Association, Downtown Alliance, Downtown Residents’ Association, Bexar County, City of San Antonio, San Antonio Water System and San Antonio River Authority have forged this powerful alliance to reduce bacteria levels in the River Walk area. 

It is true San Antonio still smarts from the 2006 sting reiterated by WOAI’s Randy Beamer

Who can forget this Mark Cuban line? “We can kick their butts all the way back to that muddy *%$ thing they call a River Walk.”

But this is no knee-jerk reaction to ongoing insults slung against our river by the owner of the Dallas Mavericks.  (Shh!  Don’t let Mark Cuban know that someone let their year-long lock on ifellintotheriver.com expire last month.)

Certainly Bob Buchanan, the Paseo del Rio Association’s representative for the alliance, has been crying “pigeon poop pollutes” for years.  Nothing used to set his blood pressure percolating faster than watching patrons at The Kangaroo Court crumble their complimentary Saltines into pigeon feed.  Pigeons would brazenly strut right into the restaurant as though waiting to be shown to their table.  And I don’t think anyone has ever computed the annual loss to River Walk restaurants caused by replacing drinks successfully targeted by flying pigeons or grackles, but it is probably a significant figure.

Rah-Wah is not targeting grackles at this time.  Although grackles are prodigious poopers, they dine elsewhere, in fields outside of the city.  Huge flocks gather on telephone wires west of the Express-News in the mornings, as though waiting for the morning edition or to find out what the Star says about Brad and Angelina before heading north on Broadway.  Years ago, Dick’s Last Resort had targets printed on graduation caps to protect patrons, but that was before Park Rangers fired blanks at dusk to encourage grackle relocation. 

We recently found the Plaza Mayor in Merida experiences a similar grackle problem every evening, but having police fire blanks in a park in Mexico would not be wise.  If we return to Merida, we were thinking of adapting Dick’s idea to market to plaza peddlers.  Only we would improve the coverage to protect the shoulder, back and chest areas by attaching gameboards to the top of the caps.  The whole thing could then be folded up for tidily carrying under one’s arm to be cleansed at home and recycled another evening. 

Someone really needs to come up with a campaign to convince grackles that they could shorten their commute by sleeping in trees closer to the fields where they eat.  That would probably prove simpler than convincing humans to end urban sprawl by living near where they work (Whoops, yet another digression). 

Although at one point, David Uhler of the Express-News mistakenly lay blame for the river’s pollution on the rhinoceros, the guilty hippopotami of the San Antonio Zoo no longer relieve themselves riverside.  The zoo’s Africa Live section includes a hippo house right next to a 24-hour filtration house servicing the hippos and the neighboring crocodiles. 

The zoo’s website also mentions the residency of the mighty dung beetle in its Africa Live exhibit.  According to A&M entomologists, one species of the appropriately-named beetle:

Onthophagus gazella Fabricius, was introduced by USDA scientists in the 1970s and is now common throughout the state.  In parts of Texas, they remove 80 percent of the cattle droppings.

Removing the hippos’ contribution to river pollution must be a major step forward.  But Rah-Wah now is targeting the birds – pigeons, ducks and (please not them) even herons – and the enablers, the families who joyfully feed them – via a major public relations campaign that is far from subtle:

The birds in the River Walk area are there because people feed them.  Unfortunately, too many birds mean too much bird poop in the river.  The River Walk Watershed Alliance (RWWA) asks you to please not feed the birds while you’re enjoying the River Walk.

The mallard population in the bend has exploded, and I know from experience what ducks do.  During my brief experimentation with trying to be a country girl, we had ducks.  And everywhere we walked, the ducks were sure to go.  They would follow us onto the front porch as we tried to enjoy a margarita and the sunset, and we had to hose the whole thing down five minutes later.  They were cute poopers, though, and I always have been haunted by the possibility their relocation to a tank on Curtis Gunn‘s ranch might have made them raccoon food.

Rah-Wah’s battle is uphill because the ducks and their continual production of more ducklings are so, so cute.  And the food is right there, readily available at every table – a basket of bread, a warmer full of flour tortillas and more tostadas than anyone could possible eat (Okay, except me.  I never leave a chip untouched unless they have shorted me on the hot sauce.). 

It is not just tourists.  Even away from the fish and duck food supplied by the restaurants, River Walk Watershed residents can be spotted toting their stale leftovers to feed the cute little ducks.  A favorite spot for King William families is the landing off of Guenther, right under the window of the River Authority’s jefe, Suzanne Scott, a Mud Queen actually charged with a message to deliver to her constituents.  The ducks waddle right up the ramp to get the goods.  Good luck stopping this tradition.

But I beg Rah-Wah:  You can pick on the pigeons and the cute ducks, but please let us keep the herons.  They make morning river walks amazing, as they crack open our river’s giant crawdads for breakfast.  And the herons politely sleep in their “apartment trees,” located just before the Blue Star spillway that aerates the water.   I have convinced myself the herons are only here because the water quality has improved. 

Captain Kangaroo, please take the herons out of the ads!

*Doody, the present favorite scatological term of Sarah Silverman, who instigated a spoof that goofed to get May Kadoody elected Mayor of her tv-land.

March 26 Update:  Your chance to affect the battle plans of the Rah-Wah’s Duck Doody Defenders is on Monday, March 29, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 5 to 7 p.m. at the Central Library.  Rah-Wah is seeking public  input on “education outreach campaign concepts” (Does this post count?) and draft BMPs (Bumps?), translated for non-bureaucrats as Best Management Practices, within the River Walk Watershed.

Note Added June 12:  San Antonians certainly have endured worse than hippo-sized pollution in the San Antonio River.  The San Antonio Public Library’s Texana Collection remembers this through a July 1937 news story:

Pollution of San Antonio’s drinking water through a faulty plumbing connection, which permitted waste water from the bear pit and monkey island in Brackenridge Zoo to flow into the mains, has been corrected.

Update Added on July 15:  Rah-Wah launches campaign.

Update Added on July 25Express-News editorial:  “Tossing food into the river attracts wildlife….”  Pretty tempting, particularly when baskets of bread and chips are on the table in front of you.  But editorial urges restraint to attain goal of a river safe for swimming.

Update Added on March 23, 2011: River’s getting cleaner. Swimming in the future?