Learning How Fiesta Rolls at My Very First River Parade

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I approached the Texas Cavaliers River Parade on Monday evening with apprehension, and not without a reporter’s trademark skepticism.

Several San Antonians had advised fleeing Fiesta altogether – the crowds, the trash on the streets, the drunkenness. The snaking, interminable lines in parking garages. The same events, players, sounds, and smells, year after year after year. One becomes inured.

Their world-weary warnings came with a caveat: Private parties – now there’s the ticket!

But Fiesta parades?

“Well. You should try it.” At least once, they allowed.

I’m glad I did.

Otherwise I wouldn’t have met Jennifer Hernandez. Or the friendly cop who preferred not to give his name.

Or Jim Travis, a Cavalier stationed at the Houston Street River Walk entrance, working his 24th River Parade.

I pointed to Travis’ nametag. “Any relation to?”

“I go back to his brother, who was an infant at the time he was at the Alamo,” Travis said.

Texas Cavalier Jim Travis
Texas Cavalier Jim Travis

“He” being William B. Travis, defender of the Alamo, author of a letter my mother taught her fifth graders in Alice, Karnes City, and McQueeney, Texas, for decades, snippets of which she could still recite when Alzheimer’s had mostly ravaged her brain.

“Travis had an infant brother?” I asked.

“He did, or I wouldn’t be here now, would I?”

Jim Travis had a point.

He wore the emblematic red pants, the somewhere-between-powder-and-cornflower blue jacket, the deep red braided shoulder cords, and a chest full of Fiesta medals.

“Tell me about the uniforms,” I asked, seeking history, tradition.

“They’re hot.”

Again, Jim Travis had a point.

What does he do when he’s not being a Cavalier? “Ranching and investments.” An answer non-Texans expect of Texans. At least the ranching part.

He waved me down to the River Walk, to thread through crowds of patient parade watchers and private parties. It was a cool night, redolent with the wafting smoke of grilled fajitas and barbecue, faint whiffs of perfume, beer and margaritas, and, near the waterfalls, the fecund plant smell of the river.

Jennifer Hernandez wasn’t on the River Walk, but above, street level, with the crowds who wore no colored wristbands, held no tickets for the numbered folding chairs below along the river bank.

Jennifer Hernandez.

Beth Frerking / Rivard Report

Jennifer Hernandez

Hernandez worked her wheeled basket of bejeweled baby headbands and bright cloth flowers – sunflower yellows and Caribbean aquas and Indian paintbrush orange – alongside the crowds. She walked near the teen couples who, entwined, draped over the stone bridges, watching the floats below. Near the young parents who held their toddlers high enough, but not too close, to watch. Grandparents who sat in canvas camp chairs, rubbing their feet, sipping from plastic beer cups.

Hernandez said her creations were a family legacy. “I learned it from my mom.”

She lives on the Westside, works six days a week caring for the elderly. Monday was her one day off. “I said, I have to go downtown!” It was a chance for a little extra money. But that seemed secondary. “It’s Fiesta,” she said, with no further explanation.

Jennifer Hernandez had a point.

So, too, did the friendly cop, who stood with his female partner doing duty on Commerce Street. I asked if they’d been trained for any scary situations. A Las Vegas, for example.

He allowed they had, but offered no details.

I told him I’d been prepared for rowdy, loud, pushing crowds. Unpleasantness, generally.

He shrugged, gave a short laugh as he glanced up at the parents and toddlers, the teens, the families strolling by. People having fun. Happy.

“Nahhh, this is San Antonio,” he said, shaking his head in a friendly “no.”

“This is how we roll.”


This story was originally published on April 23. 

9 thoughts on “Learning How Fiesta Rolls at My Very First River Parade

  1. Ms Frerking:

    I love your writing.

    You should try everything Fiesta~once.

    The Art Fest @ SW Art Institute and The King William Fair are two which will likely delight you….

    Now, give NIOSA a go :} Everyone needs to do it~ONCE!



    • Bob, you mean the Fiesta Arts Fair at the Southwest School of Art. The 2018 version was wonderful as ever but, sadly for you and Beth, it always occurs the first weekend of Fiesta. I’ll bet you were there, Beth. Mike Greenberg, once of the Express-News, calls it the most civilized event of Fiesta.

  2. Brings back memories. Charlie Gonzalez just sent Kelsay a Fiesta medal in honor of Congressman Gonzalez.

    Hope to see you in San Antonio our next trip.


    • Kay, delighted you’re a reader! Please let me know when you and Kelsay visit. We’ll give you a tour of the Rivard Report!

  3. I’m glad you gave Fiesta a try! Truth is, just like anything else, there are good and bad aspects. Yes, there are some events that are crowded and have too much drinking but there are other events that are small, family-friendly and charming. It might be too late for this year (or maybe not?) but it would be awesome if your staff wrote articles on lesser known, smaller events. It would be great to be able to tell people who complain about the few events they know that there are other events that they could potentially find quite enjoyable. It’s a shame people miss out on some things because they aren’t willing to look into the available options more carefully.

  4. You happened upon a wonderful Cavalier in Jim Travis. A true gentleman. Great read. I hope you will attend many more Fiesta events and report on them.

  5. Beethoven is one of those lesser known but truly wonderful Fiesta events. German bands and dancing, German food, low prices, smaller crowds, picnic tables under pecan trees…what’s not to love? Last year Spurs Jesus was there. He doesn’t sell his medals but he’ll trade if you have a really good one. Kartoffel puffers and Spurs Jesus–does it get any more Puro San Antonio than that?

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