Friday, July 29, 2005

Dead End Streets

This is about many of the bayside streets on South Padre, which is where I live. My question is "What happens when all the lots are sold? See, these empty lots are used for big trucks to turn around, the the power company to service the telephone poles, and so forth. The easement for water, sewer, electricity, cable, and telephone is out back. But there's no alley there. So what happens when a transformer blows up and you need a 6-ton truck with a boom crane back there? Bulldoze down a house?

I got to thinking about this because there were some electrical failures and one pole was totally out of the way because of some new fancy houses - it took all day (with no power for me) while they figured out how to put a new pole in the ground. Most residential service re-do's should only take 2-3 hours! I'm starting to wonder about how the island was laid out a little.

And the real estate is so hot down here there's a continual procession of prospective home buyers ... turning around in our driveways. Gosh, some of our concrete driveways are getting black from all the tire wear. I don't mind it too much, including the dog-walkers that crap all over (hehe, I didn't quite say that right, did I?). But when all the houses are sold and all the driveways are full I think we'll have a problem with big cars, SUV, and trucks backing up all the way to Laguna Drive. The garbage truck has to do that some of the time already.

I won't even go into plans for access to the bay at the end of the street. But there are locals who wind surf and kayak (me too!) and their kids play down there so it would be nice to fix it up a little. It's pretty much a construction landfill right now. Maybe our little dead-end road is the exception to the rule rather than the norm, but it's got my attention now.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Citizen Sam

Well call me Citizen Sam now, the mayor of our small banana republic just appointed me to the Ad Hoc Bay Area Task Force. I told my wife Lori it was more appropriate as the Bay & Bait Committee, but she said to chill and not make no waves. Heck she’s right, there aren’t even any pisser clams like up in the Northeast. But there’s plenty to do and I’ll let y’all know what shakes. [Note: those kind of clams are called "steamers" and that is an ancient Yankee term for them.] Not bad for being here only three weeks, eh? Moving, a hurricane, and now this: life is good. I'll get a haircut and meet some folks and see what good I can try to do.

Monday, July 25, 2005


My heart goes out to the folks down in Mexico just south of here that bore the brunt of the storm named Emily. It hit square on San Fernando, a city of about 60,000, and took out three fishing villages closer to the coast. According to our local paper, little has been done since then except for some ham sandwiches - apparantly, the US is not allowed to help down there unless you donate to the Mexican Red Cross or something like that. Since that time, several large thunderstorms and then tropical storm Gert went over the same track, making things worse.

Sure, here in lucky South Padre Island we had a little rock'n'roll when Emily came on, but it was nothing like what happened 80 miles to the south: twice the wind, five times as much rain, and a storm surge of at least ten feet.

That's yet another reason why I don't write momentous tales about what happened here on our lucky little sand spit of an island, during a hurricane warning.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Fishing Before Emily

I’m sitting here watching the leavings of Hurricane Emily and am now thoroughly bored. So I’m not going to write about storms, but about the hilarious boat trip my brother and I took a few days ago, when he was down from Louisiana. I’ll tell you what, right off the bat, those fishes know to stay away from Matt’s boat or they’re dead meat. That plus the impending hurricane are our main excuses, although we did give it the ole college try: the fish simply went deep and weren’t hungry.

We set out on a nice, sunny, South Padre Island day. We push off from the dilapidated dock and head out to sea in a 24-foot muscle boat. Lots of prelims like getting the CD player on, getting beers, lighting cigars, futzing around, not paying any attention to where you’re going. This is important, to appear nonchalant and unconcerned. “Oops, we’d better not take out Louie’s, Matt,” I helpfully offer. So he let me drive the boat out the jetties because he was looking for the Intracoastal Waterway on his GPS, thoroughly baffled, while I simply headed out like the charter boys do.

Along the way he nailed the boat, I mean hit the throttle and went like over 45 MPH. Scientifically, this is called the “bibbety-bibbety effect.” The beer blows sideways out of your can. Your kidneys want to migrate somewhere in the Deep South. Your brain bounces. Now, this is part of the male ritual, too, like if you can’t handle it you’re supposed to fuss and complain. So I hung on for dear life, and wondered where the life jackets were. Fortunately, he slowed the boat off the jetties when he took over. That was because there were eight-foot waves coming from all different directions going up and down like monkeys.

That’s when it’s time to “rig up,” which is a gentlemanly way of saying to select a lure or bait, tie some strange knots – and try not to get hooked in an embarrassing place. Somehow I passed the test, after being admonished for grabbing the frozen bait and selecting a particularly dangerous looking artificial lure which was pink. Some brother. In fact, this guy has suitcases of lures, maybe a bazillion bucks a bag, having everything except for dynamite – which we wished we had. Crank up the CD, put the engine into slow forward, and troll. Man, we grazed those jetties up and down, with no luck.

So, my brother decides it’s time to head out to sea, like blue water and 80 feet deep, maybe 10 miles. I tried to explain the Gulf was basically a desert and we had to find a canyon or reef. Heck, he just headed out to the northeast. Fortunately, there were a few shrimp boats anchored out there and I wisely suggested fishing off their sterns. So we picked one and circled it several times, with a good hit on my ballyhoo bait. We got real close (the crew appeared to be asleep) and we saw some ling or shark under the stern so I chunked the pink lure – and caught the shrimp boat. Circle again, and this time I got the 20# test line caught in the propeller, which was a neat way of really catching a shrimp boat. Matt frowned, but I pulled and the bait popped into the boat and the out of the propeller at the same time. I was grinning ear to ear.

But then I looked up and a huge thunderstorm had blown up from little fluffy clouds in no time. “We’d better head back in, Matt.” So he steers for Florida, using his little GPS. “No Matt, Padre is that way.” After a few more circles I gave him a nice pink cloud to steer for and we were on our way in … into a freaking hailstorm. “I think that could be hail,” says Matt. “It is,” I respond, shaking with the cold ice. One thing I found was that sunglasses are great at keeping the hail out of your eye holes. So we got out of the storm and warmed up and then Matt started looking for “dirty water” near the breakwater. We trolled, chunked, jigged, and did everything right. Nothing. “I think we’re beating a dead horse,” as Matt fires up all 225 horsepower.

Matt did good on the way in, just like the charter boys do. We even slowed for the No Wake zones. But I had to pee and Matt got to working on the several radios, GPS, and CD loaders again, a big mistake on both our parts. We sort of ended up in 4 inches of water and three feet of mud. “Shit, I let her get away for one minute,” Matt says. So he raises the outboard and gives her a good blast. “No kidding, that’s some serious shit, bro!” The entire back end of the boat and most of us are now brown with mud. After a few more strategic bursts we were clear, having learned a lesson about South Padre at dead low tide.

So managed to get back into the right slip, after a few feeble tries elsewhere, and began the ritual of cleaning the boat, which was yellow and white but looked a tad poopy shade by now. So I’m offloading a case of empty beer cans and this Mexican dude walks up and said something like “Basura,” flashing his hand three times to indicate it would cost $15. Matt and I didn’t know what in heaven he was talking about, thinking maybe he wanted to have sex with our boat for 15 bucks. We nodded neutrally, a little worried he might be fetching a donkey or something, being so close to old Mexico and all. He shows up with a scrub brush, some cleaner, and some serious sponges. “Oh, no, amigo, no basura today” I offer, finally figuring out we weren’t going to get a Boys Town show today.

But as I was talking I not only hosed Matt but all those bazillion-dollar fishing bags, which were conveniently open. I wasn’t going to quibble about details, since HE put the brown shit all over them, anyway. So I lay out what must have been hundreds of dollars of fishing equipment on the dock, having to swim for some because of the darned high wind that blew packages into the drink. By golly, we hosed that boat and all that gear back to their proper colors in something like an hour. No fish, but it sure was a heck of an adventure!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Really Digging It

The plumerias are back. In fact, Chris from Fort Worth who saw this blog helped us unload them … he just popped by and we had a beer. Lori had just driven back from Austin with a load of ten; I think we gave away another ten but kept the good ones. So, now they go in the ground, which is basically dirty sand. Hey, we are on a sand-spit in the ocean, right? Daughter Samantha drove down last night with her two pit bulls (sweetest things, they are), and will help. So off they go to Wally World for some things for her and some mulch for the plumerias. And maybe some stakes in case the wind gets up.

OK, I played the girls too hard in the surf today, 3-4 foot waves on the second bar (wish I had my new Blaster 45” body board). They well, fell asleep for a big nap about 5:00. Tomorrow for planting, then. There’s a law you can’t mulch after 5:00, right?

In the meantime I dug four holes in the ground for the largest plumerias. It was hot and heavy going, with not much progress. The soil was hard as concrete. Here I come all the way from Limestone City and gave away my six-foot digging bar and I wished it back sorely. I darn near passed out making four starter holes about 5-8 inches deep. “What the f@&$#!,” says I to myself, “this was supposed to be pure sand.” I was dripping with sweat.

OK, there was some heavy clay in there, like bay silt or Rio Grand Mud. So I got smart and watered each hole with the hose, all the way to the top and then more again. Time for a relaxer brewsky and a cool-down. So after the break I go back out there with my sharp-shooter shovel, on the attack. “Baby I’m a-comin’ home” I yell as I plunge the shovel … almost halfway up the handle. I’m trying to extract said shovel out of the hole, which is now buried in like gluey quick-mud, when the neighbor who is a house builder drives down the street.

What else to do but lean on the shovel just like a state highway worker? Yup, I buried this shovel on purpose, dude! He gave me a friendly wave and looked as if to say “Wow, nice shovel plant you got there, son.” Using the other shovel to get the first one out of the hole I quickly saved face and scooped the poopy mud out of the holes in no time at all.

It turns out it hasn’t rained here since May. I can see why the landscape looks a little fried. And nope, my son can keep that darned digging bar!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Settling In

The R&R lasted a few more days, and swimming in the surf healed all my cuts, bruises, and aching muscles and bones. Then we started doing things, like putting in a dog run, getting more services like satellite TV, getting a spare bed for guests, having a newspaper delivered and so on. Gosh, we already have folks wanting dibs on the guest room: the son, the daughter, and my brother from Louisiana with the boat. I even painted the front doors, since they were magenta red, like a Boy’s Town whorehouse or something; now they’re Army Camo Green (wife’s orders, not mine).

All these early-season hurricanes made me wander into the first floor garage to examine things in more detail. Basically, the house was built in 1970 on large telephone poles set 20 feet into the sand. There are garage doors in front and hardy board walls on three sides, looking suspiciously weak. “Oh,” says the fence builder who knew the house well, “that’s so the walls can blow off in high winds and floods.” Gee, what a concept, I bought an exploding house. All the other houses have cement block walls downstairs. But other than some boxes and a washer & drier, there’s not much to lose down there. OK, so I’ll think about putting in a little concrete reinforcement around the bottom of the walls, at least so it won’t IMPLODE in a high wind. I just couldn’t handle that.

Then I got to looking at the upper part of the house and noted many cracks not sealed, so I’m off to the local hardware store for a bunch of tubes of exterior caulk. It looked in pretty good shape except for the front and rear overhangs – hey is that stuff asbestos? So if I caulk everything I guess that is foreplay to a paint job, if you can call that foreplay. Didn’t I already do this at the last house we sold? Hah! But you have to seal the cracks or the water will blow right through the walls and around the windows. One local tells a story of “hurricane dust” which I guess is micro-fine sand that gets in every crack and corner of the house. Sounds like Lubbock in a sandstorm. Um, you do not want to experience either Lubbock or a sandstorm there, by the way.

Fortunately, the inside of the house is real fine, the main selling point. Nice tile, new double glass windows, glass blocks (over $20 per), generous trim, and a new-fangled kitchen island with a reverse osmosis water maker (they tend to over-chlorinate the water down here). The previous owners stopped short of finishing the master bedroom, but that’s a down-the-road project. It is perfectly fine right now. One thing I noticed is that the guy put in over 15 light switches in just the living room. It truly is baffling, since one switch turns things on but go across the room and another can turn it off – or halfway dim. You never know what will come on if you play with those light switches; I always brace myself in case something goes “boom.” Perhaps I need an electrician with a little college psychology background?

Lori is in Austin this weekend attending a wedding and getting the last of the plumerias and tropical plants. We were going to rent a Chevy van but the silly folks (not to mention names, but a national chain) rented it to someone else, so we’ll see how many leaves and flowers make it down here in the back of my pickup truck. Hey, didn’t I just pay my son to deliver that pickup down here? Oh well, the beach heals all wounds, and time does not. Until next time!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

On The Beach

As predicted, we made the drive just fine, although it was more like 8 hours instead of a little less than 7. Lori had three pets, two of which made it just fine – Sweetie the iguana decided to play escape artist so we only had one MIA. I drove a six-ton Budget rental truck. I was a little nervous at first put it actually drove better than my pickup truck. With such a big load and a strong SE headwind I could only push about 60 MPH. You had to be careful to watch the road because the wind could cause you to change lanes real fast, considering the truck was 13 feet tall. So, I couldn’t watch for Mexican eagles, javalena, or chupacabras unless they were in the middle of the road. I guess sight of an obviously overloaded truck made everyone and everything get out of the way.

Packing and unloading the truck was a different matter. I’m still sore four days after those ordeals. Some real nice friends helped us cram the last of the house into the truck, saying I resembled a ghost by midnight. Well, they made me toast every room in the old house with champagne and beer so I was a little loopy by then. The bed went on last, first to come off when we hit South Padre Island. Best idea we ever had, that and the idea of packing a suitcase with some clean clothes and toothbrushes and whatnot. The realtor met us at the new house with keys and had already turned down the A/C, a true godsend.

It took two days to load the truck and about 6 hours to unload it, not including the bed. I had gravity and a giant first-floor garage, maybe about 1,100 square feet. Ninety percent of our goodies are still down there. Returning the truck was a trip … a trip to Brownsville, Texas, which is more like driving in Matamoros or East LA. The darned Budget Truck rental place didn’t have a sign so I burned another 10 bucks of diesel ($2.29 a gallon) looking for it – it turned out to be a blue shack with no sign. The clue was two little teensie, rusted trucks with the Budget logo.

Driving back to the Island put me in a better mood, after getting rid of six tons of diesel truck. I could actually look around without having traffic tunnel vision. My thoughts about Brownsville improved. The Port seemed to be real busy, with quite a few ships being unloaded and jack-up rigs being repaired. The shrimp boat fleet was all at dock, a bad sign since they should all be fishing for brown shrimp these days but the diesel is too high and the shrimp prices are too low. We drove past an incredible dust storm on the flats in between the Port and the Island; apparently the Corps of Engineers decided that draining the huge swamp was a bad idea and they’re going to flood it soon. We made it home, ate some dinner and passed out, sore and tired as heck.

Since then we’ve been on R&R. We’ve been swimming, surfing, walking, and saw the Friday night fireworks. A little shopping, some minor things like arranging for postal delivery and trash, shopping for some food, as all we’ve really done. We found out a little about how permitting works, since we wanted a small dog run installed with cyclone fencing. Gosh, how many agencies had to review this? There was only 75 feet of fence, for goodness sakes, but it had to be licensed, bonded, approved twice, stamped, sealed, and platted. You’d think I was building a restaurant in a downtown Block Island or Nantucket historical district or something! And no, I’m not putting up white Colonial picket fencing for some stinky ole mutts in the back yard.

The neighbors are great, even the old man next door who staged a fall in order to get some attention. More on Arnold later as that’s a different story. Everyone’s looking for Sweetie the iguana but I need some more kids and rewards to sweeten the deal. There are lots of realtor signs on the street. I can’t blame them, since they probably doubled their investment in five years. But we’re happy. My son is driving down my pickup truck today and it will be good to see both. Well, I’ve got to put on my makeup (lots of sunscreen) and head to the beach.