Jim has now been fitted with a new air chamber and replacement brake pads at American Equipment at Pflugerville. Not only were they willing to work on him when many garages weren't interested, but the work was done at an extremely reasonable price and we were seen at a days notice each time we visited. The work was straightforward, although I am glad that I and the mechanic had access to the Mercedes service manual. The replacement of the air chamber was very simple, and replacing the brake pads was like most other brake callipers, but the automatic adjuster on the Mercedes/Knorr callipers needs to be reset when the brake pads are replaced, using a tool that comes in the kit of parts. Whacking a spanner on the adjuster can easily ruin the calliper through over torque. The only complication was finding two M16 locknuts to replace the damaged nuts from the old chamber, it turned into a bit of a saga in a country still working with archaic units.
Mercedes migrated away from paper service manuals many years ago, and now all of the maintenance and repair instructions for all Mercedes vehicles are accessed via the WIS (workshop information system) portion of the larger Mercedes Xentry system. In some ways it’s a pain as you can no longer buy a cheap copy of the book issued to authorised Mercedes mechanics, but in most other ways it is fantastic. On a laptop equipped with the Xentry software, I have access the service manuals and parts catalogues of every Mercedes vehicle made for at least three decades, and with the addition of the Multiplexer gizmo, I can plug the laptop into the truck to identify fault codes, monitor engine and drivetrain sensors in real time, and reprogramme various features. At £750, the laptop was a lot more expensive than a scanned copy of a ropey old service manual bought from eBay, but it does a lot more stuff, and can probably be resold for the price I paid for it. To be clear, £750 gets you a dodgy copy of the Mercedes software, on a second hand laptop, with a Chinese knockoff of the multiplexer; the authentic Mercedes kit is only issued to authorised service centres and probably costs 100 times what I paid.
We had been in Austin for two weeks by the time the repairs had been completed and so we were keen to get back on the road and cover some distance. The more time we spent in Austin, the more great stuff we found to do, but we were getting itchy to get moving and head into Mexico. This plan started well, we left Austin the same day that the repairs were completed, and we got on the interstate (something we don’t do too often). As dark was approaching we arrived in San Antonio, approximately 100 miles south of Austin, and found a spot to park for the night on a residential street about 3 miles north of downtown.
Our plan was to spend a day at the Rodeo, and another visiting the touristy centre, spending two days in town before hitting the road again. The following day was spent doing the tourist thing visiting the river walk and the Alamo in the centre; but having just spent two weeks in Austin, it was a bit of a disappointment. There is no real cluster of interesting bars, restaurants, museums or galleries, and the centre is dominated by a shopping mall and a convention centre. The main attraction for most visitors is the Alamo; I hope that I’m not offending any Texan readers but as a tourist attraction it’s pretty lame. The Alamo consists of a number of buildings which are basically modern recreations of what used to be there, commemorating a battle which Texas lost, and which turned out not to be the turning point in the battle for independence anyway. After a day spent wondering what San Antonians do with their time, we had an early night and got up early the following morning to buy tickets for the Rodeo.
At the ticket office, we were convinced that the following day was a better day to visit the rodeo and so we agreed to spend an extra day in town before leaving. We spent our spare day in the south of the city, walking several miles south of the downtown area on the beautiful river walk. What San Antonio lacks in some areas, is made up for on the river walk. It is a beautiful ten mile stretch of river, with a well maintained path, some beautiful parks, and a number of historic Spanish mission buildings. If colonial architecture isn't your thing, there are a lot of great cars to admire in San Antonio; in a city where you can rent rims by the day, you're sure to see some blinging metal.
The next day was spent at the AT&T centre, on the penultimate day of the San Antonio Rodeo. I don’t know what most rodeos are like, but I found this one hilarious and had a great time there. I had expected to see a few gruffly men standing around an area of dirt, fenced off with galvanised steel stock pens, watching their friends riding a bull around for ten minutes before they fell off. The reality was a 20,000 seat basketball stadium with a laser show and major touring country singer, with a panel of judges scoring the riders for style in the eight second period they have to ride the horse/bull for. In addition the stock show was not a swift procession of animal getting traded for a few hundred dollars, but a charity auction during which major Texan companies and rich philanthropists pay huge sums of money for animal raised by children, to help them pay for college. I watched a pretty ordinary looking pig change hands for $85,000; for that some of money I would definitely want it to have wings. The horses were smaller than I remembered from my time in the English countryside.
Having already spent a day longer than we’d intended in San Antonio we were preparing to leave when the real delays started. The area that we’d chosen to park in turned out to be full of some of the most interesting, most friendly and most generous people that we’ve met so far, and we were offered a number of opportunities which no sane person would turn down. Every time we were ready to leave, we made another friend and were given another great reason to delay leaving. We were treated with kindness that I don’t get from my closest friends very often and I can’t really believe how lucky we were over the next few days. Special thanks go to Laura and Casandra for giving Naomi and me some of the best seats in the house for the Spurs game, including access to the owners lounge off of the players entrance tunnel, to John for taking us to the beautiful ranch that he works at on the banks of the Guadalupe River and for taking us out for two fantastic meals, to Frank for taking us to the Hotrod shows, cooking us a delicious Puerto Rican meal and for taking us out for dinner, to Rick, Joe, Dee and Fielding for being the friendliest neighbours ever, and to Fielding for allowing us to fill up our water tank with his tap and for cooking a delicious breakfast of tacos.
Our two day stay in San Antonio turned into eleven day and we could have stayed many days longer without running out of things to do or people to hang out with. I felt guilty leaving San Antonio having accepted so much generosity and having been unable to repay any it; I honestly I hope that some of the friends we made can come to London in the future so that we can return their kindness. I feel embarrassed now thinking back about how quick I was to judge San Antonio; it is certainly not the easiest city to 'discover' but it is not short of great things to do and I would encourage anyone visiting Texas to spend some time there. None of the opportunities that we were given would have presented themselves if we hadn’t left the door of our truck open so that anyone passing could look in and strike up a conversation. When living in a motorhome it’s easy to become an isolated bubble shut off from the outside, and a simple act like leaving the door open, or spending more time outside, allows many more prospects to turn up. Travelling with a dog is another way to make sure that you spend more time outside meeting people.
With sadness we eventually left San Antonio, and drove the 250 miles south to the McAllen/Reynosa crossing into Mexico. The closest border crossing to San Antonio is the Laredo/Nueva Laredo crossing, but on advice from people that we met, and in the Church bible to Mexican Camping, we decided against using it as it is busy and awkward. We parked overnight at a municipal park in Hidalgo, and got up early the following morning to beat the queues at the border.