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Fiest-aah!: Will 18 days of party madness kill us or make us stronger?

Photo: Chelsea Wise, License: N/A

Chelsea Wise

Big crowds at last year’s Battle of Flowers parade

I had just moved to San Antonio when one day I noticed a bunch of bleachers stacked beneath the highway underpasses near Downtown. I asked my roommate if she knew what they were for. “Probably Fiesta-related,” she answered. “Fiesta?” I asked, “What’s that?” My roommate, originally from New Orleans, home of multi-day party standard-bearer Mardi Gras, rolled her eyes and proceeded to recite a list of the annual celebration’s crimes against culture, beginning with the crush of humanity at Night in Old San Antonio (“Don’t even go downtown in April if you can avoid it”) and mentioning raw oysters consumed outdoors in the hot sun, tacky flip-flops and the river of muck and confetti and beer that flows alongside each major parade.

None of my newfound friends or colleagues particularly stood up for Fiesta, either—with the exception of the notably laid-back King William Fair, which everyone agreed was worthwhile. I went for years without experiencing the Flambeau Night Parade, the Battle of Flowers Parade, NIOSA, etc … I took my roomie’s advice and stayed away from Downtown, and I hardly noticed.

Then, last year, I finally Fiesta-d, hard. My cousin and dad planned to visit me the last weekend of Fiesta and I decided to get as serious as possible, which meant NIOSA Friday night, the King William Fair and Parade the next morning and the Flambeau Parade at night. There may have been some Gartenfest in there, too. It was so much fun that, in the midst of writing this, I received a text message from my cousin asking if we were still on for a Fiesta weekend this year. Yes, yes we are.

But does that make me a true believer and exultant in Fiesta’s new Easter-related extended schedule bringing us 18 days of revelry compared to the previous 11? Not really.

First of all, rewinding back to last year, I happened to take a long bike ride along the river reaches with my dad the last day of Fiesta, right after a torrential downpour had washed several days of Fiesta trash into the river. It was truly a disgusting spectacle, and now when I think of Fiesta, I think of all that litter needlessly flowing into our water system, and that it’s essentially sanctioned by the City and not responsibly addressed afterward. While it’s great the City is focusing on a bigger recycling presence during Fiesta, it doesn’t solve this litter problem.

Secondly, we went to NIOSA right when it opened, and had a great time until suddenly we couldn’t move anymore because of all the people. It was so crowded that we spent 45 minutes slowly making our way to the nearest exit, which was about 800 feet away. I think overcrowding at Fiesta events in general is a disaster waiting to happen; indeed there was the 1979 shooting spree at the Battle of Flowers parade and the rape and murder of a little girl who got separated from her family during a Fiesta event in Market Square in 1999. Some organizations should compare their events’ popularity with the necessity of its historic location and make a call whether to search out a larger venue or put a more realistic cap on attendance.

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