I was walking towards the Alamo on a warm February night in San Antonio thinking about horses that pull carriages, as one does.
It was the sandwich night of my second trip to the Dad 2.0 Summit, where writers, bloggers, parents, and brands come together to celebrate fatherhood and the crushing realities of the freelance economy. It was a long first day of speeches, discussions, coffee, and cocktails. Many interesting facts. Lots of learning and camaraderie. A stirring keynote by fitness mogul Shaun T. But, all that could wait. I needed to figure out what the deal was with these horses.
First off, at least one of the horses that pulls carriages through the streets of downtown San Antonio wears cute little wings. This seemed odd and unnatural to me. Horses don’t usually wear wings. And I don’t usually leave my family behind for three days to network and schmooze. In some ways, the winged horse and I are similar, but perhaps I’m selling the equine short. It was certainly more natural and at ease trotting along the streets than I was in crowded rooms at happy hour and propped up against a podium during the panel I moderated on humor writing.
I did a bit of research on the San Antonio carriage horses and, as you would expect, there is some controversy, mostly revolving around animal treatment and sanitation. I’m no horse expert, but my winged friend did seem a little melancholy. Meanwhile, I was having a great time. While I did interact more with other humans at this year’s conference than I did in New Orleans, I still carved out a little solo time to stroll the streets of San Antonio after dark like an 80s pop star in a music video.
I remembered the Alamo and even took a picture to prove it.
And, I found out what they mean when they say don’t mess with Texas.
The conference was great once again. Two full days of interesting programming and great people. I got to hang out with some of my favorite dad writers and I had at least three margaritas on National Margarita Day. (Great timing on that one.)
Of course, because most of my life is defined by parenting small children, I’m never relaxed when I travel without my kids. Obviously, I’m never relaxed when I travel with my kids either, but when they’re not around there’s always that phantom limb feeling of something missing. I only travel solo once a year at most, but frankly, that’s more than enough for me.
A few days to recharge and reconnect with the world outside my home. To spend time with people who share many of my values, sensibilities, interests, and experiences. That’s really all I need.
Well, all that and a late-night barge ride along the San Antonio Riverwalk. One of my new dad friends and I squeezed onto one of the touristy, lighted barges on Saturday night. Several of the other passengers were drunk. Sipping from gaudy, ridiculously shaped plastic cups. The cups made me uncomfortable and self-conscious and I wasn’t even the one holding them. The seating quarters were tight on the barge and my friend and I sat knee to knee with a couple and their son who was probably around five. The man looked rugged. Like he knew his way around a pick-up truck or a tractor. The woman looked like she knew how to make a mean pie. The boy was cute and immediately informed us that this was his first boat ride.
We cruised along the tiny river. Taking in the sights that consisted mainly of people walking around or sitting and eating at kitschy restaurants and bars. There were also a few older looking buildings that were nice, I guess. It was really quite romantic, except for the fact that my wife wasn’t there, and I couldn’t shake the feeling the It’s a Small World ride had come to life around me.
The music was much better—covers of 90s alternative songs seems to be the soundtrack of the Riverwalk—but the vibe was strikingly similar. The river itself seemed like a body of water at a theme park: small, winding, and lined with drunk people. And I can’t be sure, but I think I saw a little Dutch boy in clogs and a Japanese girl wearing a kimono joining hands and singing in the spirit of international unity and peace. Oddly, I think they were singing The Kids Aren’t Alright by The Offspring, which was weird because their beaming, possibly plastic faces appeared to be alright. It was all very confusing.
Perhaps it was fortunate that I didn’t spend more than a few days away from my children. Who knows what might have happened next? I might have found that San Antonio also has a mall with Zoorollers and never returned home. That would have been problematic, not least because it would have been very off brand for the Dad 2.0 Summit community. But, I managed to find my way home. Surviving a five-a.m. flight, a short connection in Charlotte, and an ongoing battle with my new hard contact lenses. I was reunited with my family by lunch time on Sunday. It was great to be home and we quickly fell back into our regular routine of Roblox and chicken nuggets. I’m looking forward to doing it again next year. This year a horse with wings and a Disney ride come to life. Next year, who knows what I’ll see?