26: Game Of Cones


Brantley Saying that summers in Texas are hot is like saying water is wet. It is true but it’s not groundbreaking news. This past summer was no exception. June was hot. July was hotter and August was… well let’s just not talk about August.

One place where it was especially warm this summer was the plaza that sits in front of the Alamo in downtown San Antonio.  When I visited a few weeks ago the plaza was filled with sweaty and sunburnt tourists trying to squeeze in one final vacation before the end of the summer. 

About 1.7 million people visit the Alamo every year. In addition to the pivotal role it's basement played in the 1985 film, “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”, the 300-year old Spanish mission was of course also the site of the infamous battle of the Texas Revolution. But it’s easy to forget all that on an August afternoon when temperatures are in the triple digits and the sun is bearing down from above. Although the plaza may be lacking in shade it has an abundance of snow cone stands. On a typical summer day you can find a half dozen small carts selling $5 cups of flavored ice to tourists seeking relief from the Texas heat.

That’s what we’re going to talk about on this, the twenty-sixth episode of The Works: a podcast about the world we build around us.  

I’m Brantley Hightower.

Vendors begin to arrive around 9:30 every morning. They unload their carts on Crockett Street and then roll them to their designated spots around the plaza.

Lucy Eight minutes we’re in and we’re out. We pull up, we unload,   we drop it off we roll, set it up and they’re gone. And then here we’re left here to clean up all the syrups, put them on top, set up the umbrellas and we’re good to go.

Brantley I spoke with with Lucy Treviño on a Wednesday morning as she was setting up her snow cone stand for the day.

Lucy Wednesday is very slow. It’s a transition period. A lot of tourists they leave on Tuesday and a lot of tourists come in on Wednesday/Thursday… So it’s really, really slow. Everybody’s just getting in so they’re going to want to be in their hotels. They want to take a nap. They don’t really don’t come out.

And so Thursday - tomorrow - is going to be really, really busy. It’s been like that for years. My mom and my dad they would come out here and they would sell their snow cones and I kept going downtown is where home is so I keep coming downtown every year. Every year as long as the city allow us to.

I’ve been doing this for twenty years I suppose you could say. Since I was eighteen was when I got my license and now I’m 45, so… oh, long time. Why did I say that. Don’t put that in there…

My snow cone cart she’s beautiful. She’s white with blue, light baby blue trim and on the front she has a big snow cone with bubbles on it… Back in the day we used to hand paint all the carts. And one day I just got a cup and put a circle on it and my dad goes, “Oh, you have bubbles.” And he goes, “You’re bubbly just like your cart.” And so ever since then it’s been bubbles.  And when my Dad passed away three years ago I kept the bubble tradition going.

We’ve got eighteen flavors and one sugar-free strawberry. Strawberry is number one. But raspberry is the second best right behind it because raspberry’s been flying off the shelf this year. This year I ordered 52 cases of strawberry and and 45 cases of raspberry.

So what I do on a daily basis is I mix different flavors to see what I get. So if you mix the three reds you get a Jolly Rancher flavor. If you mix raspberry and mango you get a gummy bear flavor. If you mix tamarind with mango you get like a root beer flavor. Yeah, it’s really cool. Tiger’s blood is coconut strawberry with a shot of sherry. Really good.

My favorite is raspberry with lemonade. So refreshing. Everybody is so used to piña colada but if you mix banana with coconut it takes it to a different level. It just knocks it out of the sky.

This is the only job that allows me bring my son with me, keep an eye on him. And also encourage him to learn how to work how to talk to people and how to be customer service all the time. How to be people friendly because I think this is what the world forgets - how to interact with each other.

I’m right in front of the Alamo today. We have a six week term. We start out on the side of the Alamo and we rotate all the way around every Saturday is a new week and we get a new spot. The sixth week is actually the best spot of them all because you’re right in front of the Alamo as the tourists exit the Alamo or enter the Alamo and the first thing they see is you. And they’re hot. They’re not used to the Texas heat and they get a snow cone. 

1976 I want to say - that’s when the program first started. When they first started it was first come/first serve. You had to put a table in your location and we would sell off a table. And it became a war against the people who would get here - some people would just camp out and the city said, “We can’t have that.” So then they implemented the carts. So then after they implemented the carts they were still just fighting to be right here. So then the city said, “No, we’re going to do this right.”

Jamie Everybody wants those summer dates. Those that get the winter… yeah it’s not going to work out so good for them… It’s too cold and people aren’t really into getting a snow cone - getting a raspa when it’s fifty degrees outside.  

Jaime My name is Jim Hernandez. I work with City Center Development and Operations.

The idea was implemented to have the lottery because there was a lot of  arguing going on for the locations in Alamo Plaza - verbally, physically - and so because of this they put into place a lottery. At this point in time we have twenty grandfathered vendors and we have twelve vendors who apply for annual spots. The lottery usually happens in April. So we start taking applications in March and we hold the lottery in April…  So we go through all thirty-two vendors and all thirty-two vendors will select a number. And we have a specific schedule where we put those numbers into their assigned spot. So each vendor gets a total of nine weeks throughout the entire year. 

I would like to think that someone comes here and they’re looking forward to seeing the Alamo and all of a sudden they stop and, “Oh, raspa vendors!” And they stop and get themselves a snow cone. They’re going to take away from here, “Remember that snow cone we got back in San Antonio?”

Brantley And how many calories is this?

Lucy Never checked!

Everywhere, all around the world this is beautiful - everybody comes here from all around the world. I know how to say “snow cone” in many different forms. Let’s see, “snow cones”, “raspas”, “gulah” is ice in India, “minutas”, “colitas”.

I’m a cosmetologist, gemologist - I’m a little bit of everything. Daddy always called me a Jack of all trades, master of nothing. I used to own my own bakery but this is where home is: my snow cone cart.

Brantley Thanks today to Lucy Treveño, Jaime Hernandez, Rachel Stevens and Lucas Belury. Lucas was a student of mine back in 2013 and his site analysis of Alamo Plaza focused on its snow cone stands. I shamelessly stole that idea for this episode. 

The Works is a production of HiWorks and you can find more information about it and everything we’ve talked about today at Hi dot Works.

Until next time, I’m Brantley Hightower.