Visiting the River Walk while it's being drained is actually the most-interesting time for locals to go
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The eye of storm can be liminal, and so can a Megabus hurtling from Austin to San Antonio. Or the commercially transitional outpost that is the Wonderland of the America's Mall, filled with anime stores, offices, and a vacant food court, no doubt has the same energy.
The River Walk becomes a strange liminal space during the drain — a temporary zone in-between the post-card perfect San Antonio of legend and something cleaner. During the filtration process, when for a short while the river is not quite the river and before it becomes the river again, it seems to beckon — to everyone who dares to peer down at its shallow nastiness — for a little introspective.
Or at least, this is the effect it had on me.
It's a novel experience to witness the River Walk in a gutted state, especially when we are so used to experiencing it as a crowded tourist center. With a deficit of tourists on a mission to snap River Walk pictures, the path was mostly filled with restaurant hosts waiting for diners that weren't coming, hobbling pigeons, and construction crews wheeling barrows of silt.6
The drain catches San Antonio in late January, during a post-Christmas, pre-convention season lull. For a brief moment in time, the process renders the River Walk, which is so vital to the city's colorful tourism industry, a grey post-apocalyptic zone.
On the second day of the great week-long drain, I immediately spotted a tangle of corroding dollar store parade beads washed up on a mucky embankment. The necklaces appeared next to a line of fresh duck tracks, beside a collection of severed Dos Equis bottlenecks. Further down my stroll, I spotted crushed holiday light bulbs, remnants of critters, something that looked like a floppy disk, and some restaurant supplies.
I stared down at the half-empty channel of sludge. What's the human version of getting drained? A haircut? A long and desperate transformative hike? A particularly thorough journal entry?
Not sure what I was looking for, I embarked on a long walk along the half-empty River Walk. It was relatively misty outside and the river looked grey and rocky, like a Medieval moat scattered with bits of plastic. It was almost unrecognizable, especially in stark contrast to the colorful Christmas lights hanging from the trees less than a month ago.
I sent some pictures to a friend.
"Lol, where are you," they asked.
I thought it would be the perfect time to have a solitary downtown margarita with chips at a place like Mad Dogs or The River's Edge, though I didn't stop.
You may not think twice about it, but the biannual river drain is a significant San Antonio event.
Once, a local ghost tour guide told me that bodies of water are energetically powerful. Places defined by a large body of water, like San Antonio which is cut by a prominent river, often draw all sorts of paranormal activity.
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, something feels true about the San Antonio River radiating a powerful energy that impacts the rest of us. When they drain the river, it's like the city itself is in a holding pattern, waiting to be cleansed.
I'm convinced that seeing the River Walk during the drain is the best time to visit as a local. Not only is it a fascinating to witness, it makes you take a look around at all the forces operating around you. It's a uniting city-wide event with the power to make you take stock of your own life in the Alamo City (this just coincidentally is the name of a store in River Center Mall).
Plus, you should have no problem finding a table at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.