Thursday, 8 September 2016

Telly & Poo

I'm cycling along the Tobin Trail, the stretch between Holbrook Road and the Austin Highway, and there's some bloke stood at the side of the path with a camera and a tripod. He waves me down and introduces himself as a reporter - John Salazar for Time Warner Cable News. It's just him with the camera, but he has one of those huge microphones embellished with a square collar sporting the company logo, the kind of thing you usually see thrust into the faces of murderers or politicians as we try to get to the truth of the facts.

'Do you live along the creek?' he asks me.


'But you use the trail?'

'I ride along this way every day.'

This makes him happy, and he explains that he's doing a feature on improvements the water company are supposed to be making to the sewerage system. The pipes come close to the trail in several places, and the trail follows Salado Creek. San Antonio is one of the most flood-prone cities in the United States, and the flooding usually pops one or two of the pipes every so often, mainly when the weather turns particularly Biblical and prone to dramatic subtropical storms. This means we occasionally get sewage spilling across the trail or into the creek, ominous black water smelling of toilets in Wigan. The worst I've seen affected a section of the creek which widens out into a semi-permanent lake just past Los Patios. I gather a subterranean pipe of some description burst below the lake bed, resulting in a fountain at the centre of the water. It went on for days and days, looking very much as though it were about to bloom into some aquatic horror from a Godzilla film or one of Gerry Anderson's combined spaceship-submarine jobbies.

John asks me if I've seen any evidence of similar problems with the sewer system. We're standing next to a drainage outlet full of smelly black water, and there's a sign stuck into the earth, informing us of the hazard and promising that a clean-up operation is progress.

'Just back there on Holbrook.' I point in the direction from which I've come. 'It was gushing up out of the manhole and across the road, but it wasn't that bad, I suppose. It's been worse.'

'Is it still that way?'

'It was fine just now. They've put up one of those signs.'

This doesn't seem to be the environmental disaster he's looking for. 'Have you seen it that way in other places?'

A few months back there was a big one on the other side of the Austin Highway, I suppose behind Oakwell Farms riding stable where they have all the horses. It stunk worse than I've ever smelled it, so bad that the trail became briefly impassable for about a week and the air was full of mosquitoes; but they got it sorted out in the end. I tell all this to John, adding that so far as I can tell, none of it seems to be chemical waste, which would trouble me a lot more.

John asks what I think of what SAWS are doing to deal with the problem of poo on the trail - SAWS standing for San Antonio Water System. I get a feeling he maybe wants me to say that I'm disgusted, outraged, flabbergasted, mystified, and all that good stuff; but the truth is, I don't know what they're doing beyond that I suppose they must be doing something, so I don't know whether they're doing it well or not. My understanding of San Antonio's sewer system is rudimentary at best, so I have no idea what it would take to make it work better so as to prevent further poo spillage, if that's even possible.

'I'm sure they're doing their best,' I tell him.

He asks where I'm from and how long I've been here. He seems an amiable and friendly guy. He sets up the camera for a shot which will establish my credentials as a cyclist, just in case any viewers don't know what that is, and so I ride back the way I came, then come around the corner - not looking at the camera - and off towards the Austin Highway.

Twenty-four hours later and I've been on the news. The kid has seen it at his grandmother's house so now I'm famous. The clip is on the Time Warner website, using snatches of my speech to construct a narrative, but the recording of my voice came with a certain level of background noise which cuts in and out as I deliver my lines, emphasising the editing process.

'It's not the worst that I've smelt,' I tell the viewers, implying further aromatic secrets I'm keeping to myself. The pick of the crop of my complaints are followed by footage of a SAWS official explaining what they're going to do about all the poo, then cut back to me as though I've just been told the news.

'If they are, that's good,' eventually concluding with a Pinteresque declaration that, 'sometimes it's worse than others.'

I'm introduced as a San Antonio newcomer, and I look like a fat old sack of shite on the screen. These days my face seems to consist entirely of jowls, so that's how I speak - a bubble of noises escaping like farts from big bollocky drapes of flesh swinging back and forth. This is why I don't like to see or hear myself on film, because it reminds me that I'm turning into Richard Nixon. It's not that I suffer from a dearth of self-esteem or anything, but that's mainly because I tend to avoid all evidence of my long having ceased to resemble Johnny Depp because it's not like I need reminding.

Last time anyone I knew made it onto San Antonio news it was Chun, a Chinese woman who worked with my wife. She was involved in a traffic accident so traumatic that she forgot how to speak English and was only able to converse in Chinese, which never happened, and to this day no-one has been able to work out quite how such a detail found its way into the story.

I suppose I shouldn't complain.


  1. Lawrence, did you not notice the cue card they were helpfully holding up for you with 'WON'T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?' written on it?

  2. How long do you have to live there for before you're no longer a "newcomer"?