Arts Beginner Mind

What not to do with a hangover? Attend opening day of “Dinosaurus Tex” with two toddlers.

We all have to play tour guide at one time or another. I did it on Labor Day weekend when my college roommate, her husband, and 4-year-old son, Griffin, paid us a visit from Denver. I’ve called San Antonio home for only a year, so driving the proverbial tour bus is a fairly new thing for me. Actually, I don’t always call SA home; I tend to call New York City home because that’s where I lived for the past 18 years and old habits die hard.

But I consider myself a decent guide because I’m a seasoned San Antonio tourist, regularly visiting my in-laws here since 1989. You know, back when the Quarry was still a quarry and Central Market was merely an H-E-B. When Brackenridge had horses and roadie cups were legal. Sigh. The good ol’ days.

Anyway, I’m hell-bent on showing all of my houseguests a damn good time so they’ll stop questioning my decision to relocate from the acknowledged Center of the Universe. Granted, this is no small challenge when it’s early September and “weather” is just another way of saying “Please help me, God, I’m wrapped in a damp mohair blanket infested with fire ants and I want to die.”

The good news is that 4-year-old boys aren’t overly concerned with humidity, and parents are happy when their 4-year-olds are happy and the endless San Antonio summer offers plenty of diversions: the banana spider hanging out by the pool, the horned lizards loitering by the back door. Oh, and Dinosauraus Tex, the traveling model dino exhibit that conveniently opened at the San Antonio Botanical Garden on Labor Day weekend.

See, my friend’s son Griffin is some kind of preschool paleontologist. I guess a lot of little boys are, judging by the heated arguments we overheard between men of science (or at least men of khakis with many pockets) and erudite boys regarding the real reason for the dinosaurs’ demise (comet? humidity?). It seems they’re all experts in Dinosaur before they become experts in Xbox or whatever it is boys like I have a 2-year-old girl, so I can’t speak on the topic with any authority. My daughter Dale’s dinosaur knowledge is limited to a Laurie Berkner song from which we’ve learned that dinosaurs “stop and eat their food when they’re in the mood” and that dinosaur marching is what “makes the earth flat.”

Griffin, meanwhile, played “dino bingo” at one of the activity tents and had to correct the bingo mistress’s pronunciation of “diplodocus.” I felt for her, really, since I’m only familiar with tyrannosaurus, brontosaurus, triceratops, stegosaurus, and velociraptors (and for a long time I thought Stephen Spielberg had made those last guys up).

One of the first model beasts we encountered was Brachiosuar Sauropod, Pleurocoelus, the official state dinosaur of Texas. I’d read somewhere that a passionate faction was lobbying for the Dutch Oven to become the state cooking utensil, but the dinosaur was news to me. I learned from my visiting friends that stegosaurus is the state dinosaur of Colorado (a much catchier dinosaur; the official-state-dinosaur-naming people should consider at least shortening ours to “BSP”). I declared the hangover the state malaise of Texas. My friends informed me that Denver was named America’s drunkest city in 2004.

I demanded a recount.

As we gawked at a khaki-clad gentleman on stilts, a wholesome young man offered the kids tiny fossils in tiny plastic bags. Then he gave us a spiel, which I couldn’t quite grasp, because the paranoid New Yorker in me was busy bracing for his point and formulating a response he was going to ask me for money, right? After years of being accosted by strangers on subways and street corners, I awaited the inevitable “Excuse me, ma’am, I’m a paleontologist on a dig and we’re about to make a really important discovery regarding the carboniferous period but we’ve run out of funding and if you can just spare a dollar or a quarter or a nickel then I might be able to name a dinosaur after you.” But the nice young man was simply spreading the fossil gospel, informing us that great finds are just waiting to be uncovered all over San Antonio and the most important thing is to write down their location.

Eventually, the Jurassic humidity got to be too much for us. Griffin got a little misty when the puppet show ended. Dale agitated noisily for lunch. The grown-ups had staggering hangovers (margaritas are served on this proverbial tour bus), and the “singing zoologist” had just about sent us over the edge. But we couldn’t leave until we’d seen the highly touted, foot-long prehistoric cockroaches. I didn’t think they were all that. (I’ve seen bigger ones milling around in my pantry.) We herded the kids through the gate and off to my favorite stop on the tour the takeout window at Earl Abel’s. Lunch for six for $14? Hey, that’s the kind of bargain that might drive a girl to abandon the Center of the Universe.

By Gillian Fassel