Monday, February 28, 2005

A Jones for the Ocean

Were were just down on the Island in early January and already we miss the ocean and the surf. Not that we want to mix it up with the Spring Breakers, but we do miss it. Plus, all kinds of things like mold, elm, and ash are starting to bloom, giving us sneezing fits of allergies. Oh, and I suppose cleaning and repainting the house could have something to do with it - we didn't have dust bunnies under the bed, we had dust Lions & Tigers & Bears (oh my!). So we're almost ready for the realtor, with our nice beige colors and petunias.

Out thoughts privately turn to the restless sea, churning on South Padre.

At one time I wanted to be a commercial fisherman. I used to run lobster pots when I was a kid, up in Connecticut. They had a deal where if you were under 18 you could have up to 15 pots and not pay a permit. That doesn't sound like much - modern lobstermen run over 150 - but I made a small fortune off those 15 pots and we all got red from eating all that lobster (something to do with iodine?). I seined for bait, used the bait to catch larger fish, ate the flounder, and used the rest, fish heads and all, for lobster bait. My best haul was eight big lobsters in one pot, with the biggest being three and a half pounds. That's rare in Maine and unheard of in Connecticut, now.

Then after college my dad had invested in a grouper boat down in Florida. A grouper boat used long-lines or electric reels called "bandits." Some nasty folks had leased the Miss Texas from dad (a common arrangement) and had trashed it pretty bad, even throwing bably diapers in the bilge, so I showed up to help fix the boat up. I told my dad that I would be interested in running the boat on a percentage deal ... and he gave me one of those cold, eagle-eye, Yankee looks like I was completely out of my mind. Heck, I was safe, lucky, hard working, and a good waterman.

"Sam, great idea, but there aren't any more grouper or snapper," he said. "I only made money two out of the last six years. I'm selling the boat to some damn fool down in Honduras who uses handlines."

Pop went the dream. This conversation was about 1987. The days of big catches were simply over. The few success stories with recovering fish stocks, such as redfish (red drum) in Texas, were completely due to cutting off the commercial market and making it a recreational sport with slot limits. I guess my dad did the right thing. He pushed me to get a master's degree and even loaned me some money to do it.

So if you see me down at the Port Isabelle docks looking forlornly at a crappy, smelly old fishing boat, you'll know were I'm at. Those days, when fishing was an honorable and lucrative profession, are gone forever.

But hey, I can build a little "mullet boat" skiff and play all I want, which is exactly what I intend to do. I even have a big garage to cut up the plywoods and lay down the fiberglass. Like all good watermen, you don't use store-bought plans and you know exactly what you're doing. Design books? We don't need no stinkin' books for that. Lori says it's OK. Mandatory, even, maybe.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

What I do for a livin'

First said, I am not a professional Internet guru or blogger, and I have no vested interests there. I'm an environmental consultant. I used to work at the Texas Air Control Board, which was renamed at least three times, and put in about 9 years there. I was at a conference in Houston when somebody offered me a contracting position and I think it took one beer and five minutes to call the wife. The guy was rather amazed when I came back for another drink ticket ten minutes later: "Yes, hire me on." Working for the State was getting like going to junior high school every day, although the stress had taken its toll.

Over the years I had done everything from wastewater, landfills, highway emissions, construction equipment, farm crap, shit systems, and policy, but this firm tended to gravitate towards marine port emissions. We have accounts in the larger US ports such as Houston, Beaumont, New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles, which all have real bad air quality problems.

What do I actually do these days? I use computers to estimate air pollution loads, such as how much stuff comes out of a ship's stack. You can see the smoke - that's called particulate matter. There are lot's of invisible gases, too, some toxic. Were talking about engines and boilers that can be 10,000 to 50,000 horsepower. I don't know if you've seen some of them leave South Padre Island but when they fire up their engines, they can smoke half the horizon up, especially the real old boats.

Time will tell if the Port of Brownsville ever becomes a truly international port.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Spring Fever Already!

The last few days have been in the 80's, very nice. The birds are chirping, the butterflies are flying, and a few redbuds and pears are thinking about making buds. Yes, that was a robin over there, catching a real earthworm. Hopefully it won't be like the last few years in Austin, when nice weather was interrupted by killer freezes in late February and early March.

False spring is a dangerous time but also one of hope. So far, I've painted two thirds of the inside of the house and almost all the outside, in anticipation of selling this ole house and moving down to South Padre Island - where we've got a contract on a nice bungalow. I'm exhausted but it's a good, clean kind of tired. For those of you following this blog, which is perhaps counting on one hand, the outside color is Monarch "Colonial," a nice cream pukey yellow that realtors seem to like. I think it's an alternative to contractor's beige.

Lori has her pins out of her foot on Friday - screws, I should say. More surgery, and more crappy weather to follow. We sure wish we were already down on Padre and didn't have to do all this hospital and house boogie, but that's life, I guess.

I can't wait to see all the hummingbirds and butterflies when we finally move down there, though, even in the false Texas spring.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Glad that Bad Moon Is History

I consulted the Farmer's Almanac you you know, things are going to get better now. Some terrible stuff happened on the 8th and 9th of February but between now and the 23rd, the next full moon, things will start improving real fast. Happens every year with all this Lenten thing, which is a very old, pagan celebration. The ash-marking thing at church is based on pre-Old Testament and Hindu lore. Some folks wore a hair shirt (hair?) and didn't eat meat for the 40 days of Lent, but if you expect me to wear an itchy shirt and stop stuff like drinking and smoking you're out of your damned skull. I've been fighting the flu and bronchitis and I think that'll go away too. Ever heard of Maitake mushroom vitamins? Must be doing something right...

The house is still a "go," after being challenged on some minor BS, only a minor heart attack. I hope nobody else got hurt with all the mental bad weather we've been having. Some kids stole my daughter's baby puppy and she found it today ... and you've never seen such a big smile on someone's face. My baby! Her baby! My baby and her baby! Lots of "oh baby" have been omitted. That dog was so happy he was doing the Eagle Rock, like walking on his back legs and trying to kiss everyone but falling down. Quite a sight. I really do think this puppy dog could do a good impersonation of Bill Clinton.

I'm no freak of the occult or anything, but things will improve until the 23rd of February and, well, hold on because the stars say that Spring Break starts then. Practical booger, aren't I? Enjoy the full moon then. Wish I was there on the beach right now. Cheers, y'all.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Mr. Hairy Cane

The last thing I want down here is a Hairy Cane, especially when I'm just buying a new house. Yes, a hurricane, and no, I don't want one. Lori and I actually looked at many places on South Padre Island and we always wanted to be interior, not on the Gulf or bay. That's where the wave action is the worst. We were going to sign on one property that was right in line with a blow-out (land cut) zone and I'm glad it didn't work out. You can see from a map or an aerial picture where these blow-through areas are: there are no dunes in front of the beach and there is wetland channel behind on the bayside created by a former hurricane. We were smart this time, we went with a house constructed with massive pilings and was not in the hurricane blow-out or land cut.

Still, we're only about 4-5 feet above sea level and the water table (interesting factoid: many places on South Padre have a freshwater down there). So of the water raises 4-5 feet we're going to have some issues. I reckon my house couldn't take more than 70 MPH winds, a mere tropical storm, without losing some trim woods and so forth, until I can move in and beef her up good. Fortunately, the bottom story is all garage so flooding is not the bummer issue. The problem is the top story and how to keep it from blowing away. Fortunately, the climatology seems to spare South Texas from major hurricanes and we're counting on that.

I think it was 1967 when Beulah came to South Padre the last Category 4 storm down here. Carla was in 1961. That's it, although Celia (the most damaging ever in Texas) came home to north of Corpus Christi in 1970. That's over 35 years ago since we had anything big. Most hurricanes follow a track to the right towards Houston and Florida instead of to the left into the Rio Grande or the Laguna Madre [more typical for early season hurricanes in June and July, although these three big named storms all came in the Fall]. Some weather folks say South Padre is well nigh due for a Big Hairy Cane. I think not.

Noooo. We want those big hurricanes going to Florida to give us some nice fat waves, while we're surfing in the sun, like always. You just have to remember to be careful of the rip current, which can be quite intense. Flippers do help if you're crazy and into body-surfing, like myself. I've been stuck "in the washing machine" for up to 20 minutes before and beleive me, I come in to the beach to rest for a while. It is truly awesome, the power of the waves. We gladly will welcome any tropical storms below 40 MPH. You wait 12 hours and go, go, go.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Real Estate Beige

Lord, I have a confesion to make. I thought I would never do this, but our realtor we have to sell out house in Austin suggested that "the house will sell easy" if we painted it beige. All over, inside and out. No accents colors, maybe a wee little white trim. That's what sells.

So on her recommendation, I go down to the local Monarch paint store, the cheapest crap you can get, and buy a few five-gallon buckets of Model Home Beige. If you buy Monarch, this color is called "Summertime," its only saving grace. Summertime! It is about 70 bucks for a big huge pail but I weasled a contractor's discount - probably because he felt bad about me. "Oh, man, dude, lemme see if I can do discount something for ya here." Wink, wink. I think I lost a little soul just then.

So nobody says this kind of thing but if you paint a lot of ceilings and walls, you're basically wearing a lot of that lovely shade of beige. I think I actually ate some of the stuff. It was all in my hair, too. You've heard of "Burning Man" and other wierdness, but I became "Beige Man." How does that paint get in places like THAT?

I'll have to admit, it took some real hard work some cover over the interesting colors I had before, like minty, purple-ish, pecan brown, scarlet red, and some "antique" white that was basically recycled latex from whatever - antique means lots and lots of yellow, I think. Not sure. It's brand new beige now.

Hey, it covered up the dirt and smelled good, everything a realtor could want. I just can't wait to be over Summertime and move down to South Padre. Give me some colors. Happy Semana Santa, y'all! Happy Easter.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Idiot Tax

Gambling, the idiot tax. Many folks just can't see why gambling on Keno and other video gambling games would make any sense - especially here on South Padre Island. Sure, there have been rumors that a lot of the structures such as t-shirt shops were constructed just for such purposes. And yes there are folks that want big-time gambling in Isla Blanca and new developments ... perhaps with Tigua indians running virtual craps down by the Schlitterbaun ... gambling shacks on every corner ... there's lot's of hooey out there on the books. The last straw the broke the camel's back was a newspaper report that bills would be filed next week to do exactly this. What the heck would you think if the town you just were moving to just went berzerk for gambling?

So I got all in a dither and called my brother Matt over in Shreveport. Matt manages a good part of the Isle of Capri and has been in the casino business over 20 years. So I asked him for the straight skinny.

Basically,he says, a major casino will not move into a region unless it has full gambling, from 25 cent one-arm-bandits to unlimited stakes poker. Nobody [a big international casino] would ever come in for just Keno and some off-track betting, which are two of the really big losers. You need the rooms, the shows, the food, and the floor, says Matt. It's a big package deal, and there's nothing in between.

Then I popped the question: "Well, is your company considering a big move here in Texas?"

"Hell yeah," he sez, "I'd give us about 2-4 years unless you guys get a state income tax."

This about floored me. If we don't get a state income tax we'll end up with what Matt calls "the Idiot Tax." We talked about us moving down to SPI, the new house, and him coming down with his 24-foot boat for some fishing and then rang off.

Then I started to think about previous conversations I have with the old boy. Apparently the industry (as he calls it) used to be run by questionable mob influences but is now pretty much a straight-laced MBA thing. The problem are the politicians and lobbyists and developers who want to make tons of illegal kickback money on the deal, which can be over a hundred million dollars. In fact, these sorts are a continuing source of embarassment in places like Tahoe, Louisiana, and Atlanta. The inference was that the casino industry is pretty darned honest by itself; small operators such as bingo, Keno, and OTB "shacks" were the most likely to be corrupt. He didn't mention anything about his contacts in Texas, though. Smart guy, my bro'.

I tend to believe Matt in all these ponderings. It's a different perspective. What he told me was that either way, gambling would totally ruin the island.