Horses, heroes, headstones, hospitals, and history

We’ve been living here at the Fort Sam Houston RV Park for ten days. It’s not what I’d call a scenic location, but on my fitness walks and drive-abouts, I’ve seen some interesting things.

OK, some parts are scenic. It's Texas in the spring, so there are wildflowers lining the roads.

OK, some parts are scenic. It’s springtime in Texas, so there are wildflowers lining the roads.

I’m used to smiling and waving at heroes who drive by me while I’m walking. They often lift a camouflage-clad arm in greeting as they politely slow down and pull toward the center of the road to allow me plenty of safe space. Courtesy and respect as the norm: a military base bonus for sure!

But one day, I saw a different kind of hero coming toward me in the passenger seat of a sedan: dude wearing full-on Superman shirt. Not just a Superman t-shirt like you can pick up at Target. I’m talking costume. It was shiny. And he was muscle-y. I bet my ear buds he had on tights with that thing. Had I been in a car instead of on foot, I may have followed, just to see how that played out.

And right around the corner from the RV park lies the Fort Sam Equestrian Center. I’ve got friends who take their kids there for equine therapy and riding lessons, so one morning I walked over to check it out.FullSizeRender 2

This is Barry, the barn cat. Friendly chap. He trotted right up to greet me. Also, achoo!

This is Barry, the barn cat. Friendly chap. He trotted right up to greet me.
Achoo!

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Today’s walk was sunny, but somber. I chose to head over to the cemetery, thinking it would be a nice, quiet place to think and reflect as I puffed along.

But as I drew close to the gate, I heard three volleys of rifle fire, and I knew.

One of our nation’s heroes was being laid to rest.

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A hero was committed here today, with full military honors including funeral caisson.

The deceased was buried with full military honors, including a funeral caisson. Not all service members are eligible for those. If you’re into such things, and don’t mind deciphering a bit of Armyspeak, you can read about eligibility requirements here.

Things took a lighter turn on my way back home, as I passed by an old vet on the golf course. “Step it up, step it up!” he shouted with a grin. “Yes, sir,” I replied, switching from walking to marching in a hurry. He laughed. “Aww, I’m just kidding. You’re looking great!”

I heart those old guys.

And finally, here’s a story of mistaken identity, combined with history, and progress. Feels a little like a ghost story, really:

It starts when I lived in San Antonio the first time, as a college freshman in 1987. A friend had a bad asthma attack, and since he was the son of an active duty Army officer, he was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center for a few days of treatment and observation. My roommate and I took a taxi to go visit him, and I remember pulling up in front of this enormous, imposing, intimidating, straight-out-of-the-movies stone edifice — and feeling really rather afraid to go in.

We timidly asked someone in uniform how to find our friend. He’d been admitted to the pediatric ward, and if you can picture a hospital ward from a 1950’s movie, your mind’s in the right place: cavernous room with high ceilings, metal cots lining the walls, white privacy curtains, a central nurses’ desk, sepia-toned surroundings — all of it.

It was like stepping back in time, and we. were. petrified.

Flash forward nearly a quarter century, to my family’s arrival here on PCS orders in 2010, and making my first appointment for an annual exam. And finding out said exam would be performed at none other than Brooke Army Medical Center.

Gulp.

You mean… I’d have to go back to… back to that place? The haunted hospital?

I mapped it. I got in the car. And when I got there, I stared with my mouth open for who knows how long, at this:

(Photo borrowed from srmc.amedd.army.mil)

(Photo borrowed from srmc.amedd.army.mil)

OK, that was not the building I remembered. At all. And for a few years, I assumed the old hospital had been torn down, and this one built in its place.

Nope.

Turns out it’s a got too much history.

The old BAMC is still here, repurposed to serve as headquarters for US Army South (which, coincidentally, was located in Puerto Rico when we lived there, from 1999-2002).

Two days ago, I finally set out to find it.

Now that's what I remember! There's a great timeline and slide show of the hospital's history at this link.

Now that’s the building I remember!
The “old BAMC” opened in 1938. There’s a great description and slide show of the hospital’s history at this link. It’s got lots of old-timey photos, which I like.

It’s not on a part of the base one would normally just drive by, which explains why I’ve managed not to stumble upon it after nearly 6 years of schlepping over here for medical appointments and commissary shopping.

Found it! But I’m still afraid to go in.

We are literally in the hospital’s shadow, but can’t get there from here

See this map?

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This map is why we chose to stay at the Fort Sam Houston RV Park for Tim’s surgery (detailed here, if you missed it).  Brooke Army Medical Center, BAMC, is circled in purple. The RV park is circled in red. See how close they are? Doesn’t it look convenient?

And here’s the view of the hospital from our site.

I am standing at the end of our parking spot. No zoom.

I am standing at the end of our parking spot. No zoom.

Looks like we could walk there — easily. But no. Thanks to fences, train tracks, and barbed wire, it ain’t happening. And because of random road blocks, base security, construction, and mystifying Army logic, we can’t even drive there the quick way.

Instead, the trip takes 9 different turns; exiting one gate and entering another (with the customary armed sentries, ID card check, and slalom course of barriers); and a total drive time of anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on whether or not we have to wait for troop formations to cross the street.

By comparison? When we lived in our house, I could get to BAMC in 30 minutes, from 22 miles away.

Strike 1: shitty commute

Strike 1: shitty commute

But let’s get back to those train tracks. They are active. Very active. Perhaps the most active train tracks on the planet, with locomotives passing by at least once every hour, day and night. And at night, they’re a bazillion times louder, and the sadistic engineers seem to enjoy pulling on the horn for nice, long, ear-shattering blasts. Every hour. All night. It’s really not conducive to sleep at all, much less a peaceful recovery from major surgery, even with regular doses of narcotic pain relievers.

Strike 2: loud fucking trains

Strike 2: loud fucking trains

And to top it all off, no wifi or cable. None.

Strike 3: electronic dark ages

Strike 3: electronic dark ages

Yyyyep. Three strikes and we’re out. We’d originally planned to stay for the 30-day maximum, but that has really become an unattractive — and probably unhealthy — option. If Tim gets the all-clear from the surgeon at his follow-up appointment on Monday, we’re moving out on Tuesday. Hell, I’ll take 0630 reveille at the Air Force base over this business any day. And every day, as it were.

On the positive side of this coin, Tim’s adrenalectomy was a success, and although he had a rough ride coming out of anesthesia, he was able to eat normally and walk around the next day, and had to spend only one overnight in the hospital.

Yes, they called him "Sir," even when he was puking into an emesis basin. Care was top notch, with only one issue. "Just once, I'd like a tech who is over 12."

Yes, they called him “Sir,” even when he was puking into an emesis basin.
Care was top notch, with only one issue.
“Just once, could I get a corpsman who looks older than 12?”

And here at home in the Toad, Nurse Lola is on duty. And by “on duty,” I mean trying to beat me to Tim’s side every damn time, and sneaking into the bedroom when he’s supposed to be resting.

"See? You turned your back for that one second, and I walked in here to stand guard. I win."

“See? You turned your back for that one second, and I walked in here to serve as guard dog and charge nurse. I win.”

But this human nurse has purple streaks in her hair, not to mention opposable thumbs. Pretty sure I win.

But this here human nurse now has sassy purple streaks in her hair, not to mention opposable thumbs.
Pretty sure that means I win.

The other half of Castroville — this time via pedal power

As promised yesterday, in this post, we rode our bicycles 5 miles into town to finish exploring today.

(Note: we are not cyclists. We ride our bikes on the right side of the road, we wear helmets, and we use turn signals, but any similarities to serious, or even knowledgeable bikers, end there. I am simply too nervous and uncoordinated to make anything other than a leisure activity out of it. You know what I hear in my head when I ride my bike? The theme music for Mrs. Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz”. The whole time. Tim’s a better rider, and he knows how to fix a fair amount of bicycle-related stuff, but really, they’re just alternate forms of transportation for us.)

And now that you know that it takes every bit of focus I have just to stay upright and moving forward on the thing, you’ll understand why I was unable to juggle my phone into my hands and get a photo of Tim riding in front of me on our way home, when a cowboy came out of his driveway a little too quickly, and Tim spooked his horse.

That’s right.

Dude was on horseback, and horsie-poo apparently has bigger issues with bicycles than I do. It was a true “Wow are we ever in the country” moment.

Anyway, the north side of Castroville included antique store finds, more historic homes and wildflowers, a gourmet shop with free samples (!), and lunch at a locally owned restaurant.

Not a piggy bank. A Miss Piggy bank! Unfortunate coin slot placement, but still a steal at $9.95. (Breakable. We left her there.)

Not a piggy bank. A Miss Piggy bank! Unfortunate coin slot placement, but still a steal at $9.95. (Breakable. We left her at the antique store.)

The original 1845 homestead of Castroville's founder, Henri Castro, is now a guest cottage.

The original 1845 homestead of Castroville’s founder, Henri Castro, is now a guest cottage.

This place is abloom!

This place is simply abloom!

We bought these two items, pear & fennel butter and a delicious fresh salsa, after sampling them at Taste Elevated. We also learned that they quadruple in weight on a 5-mile bike ride back home, uphill, in the Texas afternoon sunshine. Next time? Tim wears the backpack.

We bought these two items, pear & fennel butter and a delicious fresh salsa, after sampling them at Taste Elevated, a local success story of the “hometown girl makes it big” sort. (Whole Foods carries her stuff, y’all. Whole Foods.)
Then I learned that full jars quadruple in weight on a 5-mile bike ride back home, uphill, in the Texas afternoon sunshine.
Next time? Either Tim wears the backpack or we stop and eat our stuff at the halfway point, because I’m pretty sure I came across as uncharitable when I shouted, with a mile still left to go, “Oh my god, how many fucking jars of salsa did we buy???”

Lunch at Nemo's Seafood Grill. The fried oyster po'boy was tasty, but became not-such-a-good-choice on that steamy ride home afterwards. Urp.

We ate lunch at Nemo’s Seafood Grill, a little later than planned, because I followed the wrong GPS coordinates, which took us a mile and a half in the opposite direction. I swear I don’t know why Tim continues to let me navigate. I’m 47. I am not going to get any better at it. Anyway, the fried oyster po’boy was tasty, but became not-such-a-good-choice on that steamy uphill ride home afterwards.
Urp.

Tomorrow’s adventure: Golf for Tim, laundry for me. There will be no photo essay.

You know you’re lazy when you explore only half a small town

Yeah, so we waited until noon to head out today, by which time it was 90+ degrees, which is way too hot for a walking tour of historic homes, so we drove by them in the BFT with the AC blasting, tried not to think about our carbon footprint, and then went to a bakery.

Castroville, known as the Little Alsace of Texas, is neatly bisected by Highway 90. We checked out the south side today.

Castroville, known as the Little Alsace of Texas, is neatly bisected by US Highway 90. We checked out the south side today.

First stop, Castroville Regional Park, for a hike up Cross Hill, so named for, well, you'll see.

First stop, Castroville Regional Park, for a hike up Cross Hill, so named for, well, you’ll see.

Something took a hell of a bite out of this cross.

Something took a hell of a bite out of that cross.

The view from Cross Hill (Per castroville.com: It is an old European custom for a village to proclaim its faith by erecting a cross in a prominent place, and the Alsatians brought the tradition with them when they came to the Medina Valley. Since then it has been called Cross Hill and was used by the Catholics in earlier times for pilgrimages and prayer petitions, such as Rogation Days. Today you can walk a path up to Cross Hill to enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of Castroville.)

The view from Cross Hill
(Per castroville.com: It is an old European custom for a village to proclaim its faith by erecting a cross in a prominent place, and the Alsatians brought the tradition with them when they came to the Medina Valley. Since then it has been called Cross Hill and was used by the Catholics in earlier times for pilgrimages and prayer petitions, such as Rogation Days. Today you can walk a path up to Cross Hill to enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of Castroville.)

I don't know who else would be up here, other than perhaps a grammar nazi who really wished she had some white paint in her pocket.

I don’t know who else would be up here, other than perhaps a grammar queen who really wished she’d had some white paint stashed in her pocket.

I do believe we are here at the peak of poppy season!

I do believe we are here at the peak of poppy season!

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Look. I tried three times for a poppy selfie. First shot: frowning Second shot: crooked Third shot: cleavage overload You're welcome.

Look. I tried three times for a poppy selfie.
First shot: frowning
Second shot: crooked
Third shot: cleavage overload
You’re welcome.

We stopped by the famous Steinbach Haus, built in France in the 17th century, shipped to Castroville and rebuilt in the early part of this century. It now serves as the town's welcome center.

We stopped by the famous Steinbach Haus, built in France in the 17th century, shipped to Castroville and rebuilt in the early part of this century. It now serves as the town’s welcome center.

Final stop of the day: Haby's Alsatian Bakery. It's kind of a big deal in these parts. That brown sphere on the right is a chocolate filled chocolate cupcake dipped in chocolate. The clerk made us buy it. I love how people in small towns look out for each other, don't you?

Final stop of the day: Haby’s Alsatian Bakery. It’s kind of a big deal in these parts. That brown sphere on the right is a chocolate filled chocolate cupcake dipped in chocolate. The clerk made us buy it. I love how people in small towns look out for each other, don’t you?

Tomorrow we’ll make up for both the auto emissions and the calorie count by starting earlier and biking the 4 miles into town to investigate the north side.