Saturday, January 29, 2005

Things I Won't Miss About Austin

To tell the truth, the weather is cold and wet, and we're burned out on all the cleaning, so hey, let's take a break. I just checked the Island websites and it's 72 and partly sunny (sounds better than partly cloudy, right?). Anyhoo, what will I not miss about Austin?

Well, the traffic, for starters. Dallas and Houston might seem worse, but in generally what we have here is a rolling parking lot. Because of years of no planning, the old highways are being ripped up and they're putting in new super-duper flyover systems, which adds to the problem because of the construction. To pay for all this discomfort, of course we really need those tollways, toll booths, and one-armed bandits to lighten our pockets from all that spare change. And, because the ozone is getting worse from all those cars stuck in traffic, we'll have those vehicle smog checks within a year or so. I'm all for clean air but I don't see the need to give my car the prostate exam every year.

How about allergies? Austin is the allergy capital of Texas. Every season is dominated by evils plant that all decide to poof their pollen up your nose. The worst is what we call "cedar fever," which is really from the male Mountain Juniper bushes. The cedar season is also the longest, from November to mid-February. The flu season was not bad around this year here but everyone has a nasty cough from the cedar, some with bronchitis. I think the folks who make Claratin should give us a little rebate because we're spending hundreds of bucks on it, at twenty bucks a wop.

[Brief interlude while I talked on the phone with my parents on Abaco in the Bahamas. I mentioned that South Padre Island was maybe a "poor man's Bahamas." This would be like saying Vermont is a poor man's Colorado. My dad said "You're wrong, Sam. Everything is a mess from all the hurricanes and you don't get any big ones down there, for some reason. Everything here is double expensive and then the Bahamian Customs charges seven percent on top of that. The dock fell down again and we patched it back up but the pile drivers are only working on big commercial jobs. The ants have gone nuts and bite everything. The poisonwood is taking over everything. We are quite envious of you."]

The growth around here is nothing short of astronomical. When we moved to our little burg of Leander, northwest of Austin, it has a population of maybe 2,500. Now we have about 10,000 residents, ten years later. The average size of the new developments is about 100 to 500 acres. Little places like Jonestown (my favorite), Dripping Springs, Liberty Hill, and all the way out to Marble Falls are being bulldozed in two ways: checkerboard or completely flat. The creeks all run brown now. It is quite depressing.

Finally, nobody can agree to anything around here in Austin. It is quite frustrating. You think you have a compromise and someone files a lawsuit, lobbies a bill in Legislature, and hires a PR firm to do some major airing of dirty laundry. Even on good things, like having a commemorative party with music and food, people will fight to the death over agonizingly trivial details.

'Nuff said.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Resolved: More Sportz

I don't believe in New Year's resolutions but it had crossed my mind I could be in better shape. One of the reasons to move down there was not only the great beach lifestyle but also that I might crawl out from behind the computer and actually get some exersize. I have to use the computer for my environmental consulting business, and when not working I'm doing proposals, waiting for an email with work in it, or during the meantime fooling with blogs and webs and ordering on-line. There's nothing like a big move to make you come out of your shell, so to speak.

Beach walking, building a deck, body surfing, and swimming sound good for starters. Easy, low-impact stuff. After slow-walking a mile for a while I'll probably pick up the pace and start speed walking for two; never know, I might break into a slacker jog or something. That'll help give me those sexy calf muscles that all the locals seem to have down there.

I must say I have a love-hate relationship with sports, though, so count me out. I played tennis and got tennis elbow. I swam in the summer league and whacked my head doing the backstroke. I ran track in high school and got shin splints. I played soccer and got kicked real bad in the "technicals." I played football as a 125-pound tackle and got whacked by green giants from a 5-A team. I tried wrestling but got beat up by skinny bantam boxers. I got to hate all organized sports such as football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, and even bowling. Even today, just don't ask me to play those kinds of hooey. You can't blame me entirely; I was getting steam-rolled every time.

Sailing, now that wasn't even a sport but I sure liked that one.

This isn't to say I wasn't fit, at least there for a good while. I used to have a fancy 10-speed bicycle and could out-run the cops anywhere downtown by UT; I could pull a "wheely" for at least five strokes; I was Lance in cut-off pants. I could row like the devil in a real rowboat, although these new skinny "shells" seemed dangerous to me. I was in construction for years and could hang a 4 x 8 sheet of 5/8 sheetrock on the ceiling by myself - and put up a stack of about 75 to 100 a day, at that. Oh, and I guess being a pretty darn-tootin' tuba player did something for me, too.

What happened, Sammy

Well we all know the answer to that. Some night between age 40 and 45 your bod says "I wanna go this direction" and boom, there's a tummy sticking out like a stranger in a strange land. You wake up one morning and say "what da ... who are you?" At least the good Lord lets you sleep when it happens. Can you imagine being awake when it happens? Fooom!

Be it resolved ... to get down to the beach every day I can.

Thursday, January 27, 2005


Time for some clean-up. Literally, that's the first one. Not too bad, either.

Second, I signed the original house papers and yes we have a deal. If you can remember, you're basically signing papers forever, in this case some amendments and then ... oh, we're moving and that is that, even if we have to lease our house near Austin. As a funnier moment, does anyone recall the following: "Sign zee papers, old man, sign zee papers." It was on a record or something ... I don't think it was Monty Python but maybe it was. A little foggy back then, it was.

Third I wanted to talk about Global Warming and what it meant for SPI and, bless my wife Lori's heart, she said "Get over it, Sam. Be happy."

She's right, you know. The House Detective (love that name) we hired found a few minor things but we can catch those later. I haven't quite approached the age where people would call me a "piddler" that has nothing to do but fix the house. In fact, the word can become a verb, as in "Hey Sam, whatchya piddlin' on?" As long as you don't say "My feet" any answer is basically acceptable.

One thing we want to do is build a big back porch, which would hang precariously off the north end of a south-facing house. I figure for less than $1,800 I can build a wooden deck over the existing concrete slab and make it semi-hurricane proof. No steel or iron allowed, so I'll have to find good but cheap fasteners (the salt air eats metal for lunch).

The last thing I want is pronounced "zero-scape" but the word starts with an "X". Xeriscape? Anyway, it means low or no watering and where now there is pure mowed carpet grass in the back yard I'm putting in plumeria, firewheels, salvia, lantana, passion vine, and all kinds of flowering schtuff, hopefully more native than not. Naturally I'll have to "Call Betty." Have y'all called Betty lately? That's the number for getting folks to mark your underground pipes and wires and such. They put down some really cool spray paint and you don't dig there - at least that's the concept.

Oh, and I have a digging bar I should put on eBay. What is a digging bar, you ask? Well, you'll have to guess - but let me tell you, I needed to resharpen it twice and then I slightly bent it, I mean customized it! Pure cast and fullered iron, it is. Something like $25, if you need one. I truly look forward to getting rid of the Some Beach.

Zero digging bar scape, that is.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

House Contract Signed!

Well I guess all this blogging is not for naught - the real estate guru called to say the contract was signed for buying a house on South Padre! Now all I need is to sell this ole house, make sure I have oodles of cash, get Lori a job down there in the school district, and don't go completely bonkers before June 17th. It will be a close race ...

Lessee, its an older two-level house on stilts with all garage underneath and lots of remodeling done up top, 2 BR 2 BA. What sold us was the living room and kitchen. The kitchen has one of the fancy-schmancy island thingies with built-ins and what's that called, Corianne instead of formica, something like that? Duh, I'm so happy I'm brain dead.

Oh yeah, and roof beams and a big fat ship's light in front, the real thing like off a 100-year old ship. The house detective does his thing early this week, and will inspect the roof, electrical, A/C, etc.


Pitstops on the Road to Padre

Most folks have a good idea about how to get to South Padre Island - coming from the north, you'd hook up the Highway 77 south of Corpus Christi and drive forever, hit Route 100 south of Harlingen and San Benito, and you're there. Coming from Austin, you could follow I-35 to San Antonio and then take #37 to Corpus Christi, although we always take the route from San Marcos to Seguin, Karnes City, Kennedy, Stockton, and then #37. Less traffic, more fun ... and importantly, some great pit-stops.

OK, you're not going to see panaoramic views of the Grand Canyon or the Shenendoah Mountains, but we like the back way. The drive from Austin to Padre is a little over 6 hours if you stay less than 4 miles over the speed limit. Chances are you're going to get thirsty and, if logic holds, you'll be needing a pit-stop after a couple bevvies - and if you're traveling with ladies, they will let you know, if not in English then with international distress signals.

The first rule of thumb is that all McDonalds and Dairy Queens are handy candidates. Watch out for the McDonalds in Robstown just south of Corpus Christi - it might turn you around towards McAllen if you're not careful. The first fast-pee joint we hit on the way down from Austin is the one in San Marcos. Not too bad, although the food has been an issue sometimes (which is why we pack snacks now).

We usually make it through Seguin although they have some fairly good BBQ there from what I've heard. Our next stop is a little Chevron convenience store in Karnes City. As far as convenience stores, this one is good, with clean facilities and some great fried chicken in case you have the munchies too. You could go further to Kennedy (the two towns are intense rivals) where they have a "sawsage farm," a roadhouse and a Walmart with a McDonalds in it.

There aren't many places from here south to Beeville, except for a Shamrock in Pettus. The facilities in Pettus get an "A" but the muchie bags we bought there have all been stale. Beeville used to be "Pee-Ville" to us until they closed the one on Charco road and another closer to town on the access road; the guys at the exit to the main drag were surly last time so I avoid it like the plague now.

I also avoid Skidmore, the next town to the south, unless you're desperate - in that case, check out the Dairy Queen and don't look the manager in the eye. Mathis, on the corner of #37, is only about 20 miles further. The station at Mathis was really upgraded to a full Shell station but last I checked the rest rooms were the same-o-same-o "art dreco." I'd give it a C-.

It's a relatively short haul to Robstown, which has a giant truck stop on the south side. Now this place is good, safe, and clean. You're over half way to Padre now. I'd refrain from talking with the truckers, though, since they're a tough bunch.

From here going south your pit stop potential goes way down. Get some gas soom if you lave less than a half of a tank, since it takes about 80 miles to get through King Ranch County, where there's nothing but cows. Bishop, Driscoll, and Kingsville are acceptable but watch out, the cops seem to like the revenue from speeding tickets along here.

There's one mention of note in Kingsville, the L&M Superette. The cops go here; the post office trucks stop here; and Border Patrol stops here; the truckers stop there. But this place had the most god-awful restrooms I have ever seen. People were running out the front door with the hands over their mouths. Hopefully, the new owner is fixing up the poor place.

We always stop at the Department of Transportation rest stop south of Sarita, which is a few miles north of the Border Patrol check-stop. You'll see a lot of people stopping there after going through the check-point on their way north ... and trying real hard to look cool! Some were pretty darned close to being deported or busted. Just remember YOU have to go back through the same check-point if you drive back from the beach. Fortunately, you get a bye and there's no K-9 Border Check headed south. Sorta needed to stop, didn't, and need to turn back? I'd suggest it because this place, while it has high traffic, is very clean and there's nothing until Raymondville, unless you do the boy-thing along the side of the road (not recommended). Use the turn-arounds, which were built for silly people just like you and me.

Yup, there's the McDonalds in Raymondville and the further south you go the better the options get. The construction on #77 is real bad so be careful, stay on the main road (don't end up going to McAllen), drive slow, and keep going if at all possible. When you see the Valley Distribution Company on the right, the purveyors of most all the local beer products (hee-haw!), it is time to hook up with Route 100.

Just as you hang a louie (a left) you'll see a citrus fruit stand. Now this place is good and we usually make it all the way to the Island from here. Very clean. Plus, they have beer, ice cream, and ... oh I forgot, tons of oranges, grapefruits, lemons and fresh juices. Hey, a little vitamin C isn't going to hurt you. Try mixing their fresh juices with the booze of your choice and you'll notice the difference right away.

You'll be passing Los Fresnos and some other town with OK pit-stop potential; we always plug further on down the road watch that speedomoter like a hawk. Yes, this is Speed Trap City. Sometimes we get so excited after leaving Los Fresnos in the rear-view mirror we crack open some brewskies ... so by the time we get to Port Isabelle, mama's bladder if doing the wild thing again. There are plenty of alternatives but our favorite is B&A Seafood, on the left just before the bridges. We really like B&A and to their credit, this restroom is consistently the cleanest of any we have ever seen on any of our trips. Get freaky and buy a pound or two of shrimp - ya gotta be pretty lame if you can't boil water, right? Head up the towards the bridge and smile. Relax: you're on the island now.

I hope you liked my little pit-stop guide. Over the years, many have gone out of business and you'll see their dinosaur bones on the side of the road. It is almost like time-traveling.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Skeptical Mama Relents

Well. My wife did not like the first page at all. We made up and she went to bed. See here's the deal. She wants to move to South Padre Island like a duck after a june bug. I'm like 50/50, stuck in the middle, like hangin' my goolies on the barbed wire fence. So I say "yeah OK" and we get notice of a possible contract on a house down there in South Padre and all is cool. We make up. She still thinks my blog thingy here sucks for air, though.

As a Gemini "air sign" I think I'm always sucking for air. So let's cut to the chase. Why would I, as a normally rational person, want to leave a town having so much cool art, food, and music to go to a backwater that doesn't have dookie? No Strauss, no Greater Tuna, no Willy, no Vietnamese, no nothin'? What really sucks is that South Padre Island itself doesn't even have a real taco joint - it is all fake Mexican plop. To add insult to injury, the selection of fine wine and beer is like "hey, like Bud Lite?" Surely, a nice guy like me would die down there without any jones.

The answer, my friends, is that I am slightly insane. Not a bad kind of insanity or a clinical kind; more like a Willy Nelson kind of craziness. I figure that 50 percent of the US voters voted for George Bush, so about 50 percent of the US is completely off their bonkers already (you could have said the other way around too, think about it). This here Internet thingy comes in handy for ordering things, too. I can rationalize about everything I'm going to do except for getting in a big honking hurricane. You're not all that crazy if you're worried about protecting your family against hurricanes. Nuts, yes; mack-daddy crazy, no.

So the move is still on and if the weather holds, Lori's storm clouds will clear out to sunny skies and slightly over 70 degrees. Do all girls think boys are doing kinky things on the web? Ewww. Maybe that was it.

Some Background

My Dad went to Yale; George Bush went to Yale; John Kerry went to Yale. They all turned up different, that's for sure. One thing all three would agree is that the Yale Glee Club was the "big mack daddy" back then. Yup, the Wiffenpoofs, an all-male singing club, a capella, barbershop-style. Quite a history there.

Well I went to University of Texas in Austin and then Southwest in San Marcos for my master's and no way am I fixated on Yale. I can't sing worth a hoot either and frankly I don't like their swag. I just liked the transposition of Wiffenpoofs to "Poof'n'whiffs." If you have a nose for detecting bullshit or genuine nugets of occassional spastic truth, well maybe Poof'n'Whiffs might be a cool place to stop by every now and then.

Over the next year or so I'll be making - just maybe - the transition from Austin down to South Padre Island in Texas. That ought to be fun, although I'm not looking forward to painting, cleaning, packing, driving 6-7 hours several times, unpacking, and so forth. But I'm no mountain man, I'm more of a surfer dude, and I liked what I saw down there. Hey it's one of the last semi-unspoiled beaches in America.

As Frank Zappa once said in his 'Mudshark' song, you can open your window and catch fish at the proverbial Edgewater Inn. If you don't like artists like Zappa and like the Wiffenpoofs better, well, I tried. Poof'n'whiffs don't do politics, sex, sports, national commentary, satire, and humor, but when mixed all together in one big melting pot it ought to be sorta fun.

OK, exaggeration is good sometimes but there's no window fishing on South Padre and Zappa was a little tough to digest, but having fun along the way is exactly what I intend to do. I see a bongo band in the future, too. The Poof'n'Whiffs, of course.

Dark Clouds on the horizon: the wife is whiffing skeptical!