Mayor Lila Cockrell was to be a guest on my public service Sunday morning show. I was excited to meet her; a strong woman who ran my favorite city, San Antonio. She regally walked into the studio, and Queen Cockrell had no interest in her host or the fact that her host, that was me, had invited her, and that this time on air was a gift of her host, that would be me again. She didn’t look at me when she spoke and talked at me, not to me. I explained how the taping was to be executed and thus began our 60 minute journey together, though I am certain she felt alone on her throne, engulfed in her earphones and surrounded by fur and her big purse. I started the interview with the station call letters then introduced myself and tried to introduce my guest, “…and today in studio,” was as far as I got. Queen Cockrell interjected, “I am Lila Cocrell and I am here to talk about Jazz Alive!” She went on and on, telling all the details of the event and about all the good the money was going to do for San Antonio’s city parks. When I did try and ask a question, she rolled her eyes, and she seemed bothered by any question. I then catered to her ego and she began to respond to me as though I was indeed human. Okay, no she didn’t, I just don’t want to sound too pathetic.
“All of the money from the Jazz Alive festival goes to maintaining our city parks. San Pedro park is newly renovated, and we (the royal we) are so proud of our accomplishments!”
I had enough of the pompous Cockrell. “What about Valley Hi, Ms. Cockrell? The city bought the park and then immediately closed it down. The park, the baseball fields, the POOL! The families in Valley Hi now have no place to play, picnic or SWIM! Question Ms. Cockrell, why did the city choose to close down this park and what can you do help? The families of Valley Hi want the park back, and it was the city that took it away.”
Queen Princess Cockrell glared at me. I bet she was thinking, “I thought I smelled Valley Hi when I came in here.” She gave me a number to call and a time when the park committee would meet and said the good people of Valley Hi could call and come to the meeting.
She gave me a fake number. I cut her 60 minute spot to five and that was the end of our relationship.
Anyone who grew up in the Valley Hi area in the 60’s and 70’s remembers the park and the pool. Kids lived there in the summer. The ice cream man would sell his wares through the fence. Guys met girls, girls met guys and I got to hang out with my friends every day at the pool. The park was adjacent to the pool and had little league games in progress from spring through fall, and the BBQ pits were busy with family parties. Across the street, the drive in theater rose up from the ground. I think I only paid once to go to a movie, the rest of the time I was brought in through a trunk or crawled under the fence.
It was the wonder years in Valley-Hi! The streets were full of kids playing stick ball or hide and go seek. Bicycles were more populous than cars. And the road to the pool heavy with traffic. It was a safe time, in a safe neighborhood. Kids had a place to play; teenagers had a place to make out. It was suburban perfect.
The developer, Ray Ellison, who built his homes to self-destruct in 10 years, sold the park to the city of San Antonio. The city promptly bulldozed the pool, filling it in with dirt, covering the place where so many children played, and a few pooped. It was always a sad time when we had to clear the pool because some stupid kid popped a turd. Did the city know about that? Was that the reason for its demise? Or was it that Valley Hi was not important, and the families, now low-income and mostly renters, were not worthy?
Now, the streets of my old neighborhood are scary. There is a gang problem (which translates that there is a parent problem) and the streets are no longer safe for stick ball or bicycles. I blame the parents and the park committee. Kids need a place to play ball, and swim and run. The city took it away the day they bought it. Now the land just sits, decaying. I wonder if it is haunted by laughter, and sounds of home runs and cards clipped on wheels of banana seat bikes. San Pedro park is finished and brought back to its glory. It is Valley Hi’s turn at bat. The park committee should be ashamed of their decision and dive into a new plan to rebuild the park and the fields.
Valley-Hi is not what she once was. The Wonder Years are over. But I believe the kids there now deserve a place to swim and play and hit a few home runs of their own.
If you have any pictures of the pool, park, fields or drive-in let me know and I will post them!