Saturday, December 30, 2006

Feliz Ano Nuevo

I rarely ever make New Year’s Resolutions but this year perhaps a few would be OK as long as there is a healthy dose of humor. I hope that everyone has a wonderful celebration and upcoming year – see some of you at the Boomerang’s for the plunge. Here are some of my draft resolutions:

Don’t Drink and Blog. How is it that I can have this really wonderful day and two drinks later somebody sends a really stupid email and then the Gates of Heck are opened up? I really need to control those urges, such as maybe with Tango dancing or something.

Forget about Running for Alderman. Lori and I have both considered some very nice innuendoes from some very nice folks, asking us to run for office. After careful consideration, we think that neither of us would be good for the health, safety, and welfare of the good residents of South Padre Island, even if the dogs might like it.

Think about Quitting the Smokes. Now the dentist is on my tail in addition to the clinic doctor and about 75 percent of the citizens. I really do think about giving it up, as I am horribly addicted to Camel straights. Maybe I need to make the trip to Matamoros for memory pills and Viagra instead of the usual cigs and booze.

Start Catching More Fish. I hate to say it, but I caught more fish up in Austin than here. Not only was the trout ‘n' reds under-sized, but I caught sea robins, puffer fish, snake fish, and a weird one called the “look-down fish.” That's right, I got dissed by a fish! I caught a 4-inch triple-tail on a six-inch bait. I was the Rodney Daingerfield of fishermen, no respect. With untold millions of fish right outside my door, you’d think I’d have a few for fish tacos.

Grow Some Home-Grown Tomatoes. My ‘mater crop this year was worse than pitiful. I had ants, cutworms, fungus, and probably nematodes as well – I got exactly two and the Mockingbirds were already working on them. My new friend Don says he’ll share some secrets, which involves planting some fish (see above) in the ground for fertilizer and then grow the seeds right in the soil (what soil, Don?).

Become an Ornery Ole Semi-Retired Grump. Naw, we have too much pizzazz for that! We’ll be having dim sum parties for the Chinese New Year before you know it. Just don’t call it “dim Sam,” okay?

Have a good one, y’all.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Turtle Business

Update from January 2: please see Mary Ann Tous' site about Ila "the turtle lady."

After a whole passel of emails I decided I had to update the SPI History Channel with some more on Ila "The Turtle Lady." This shot is the current Sea Turtle Rescue Center with a fairly famous bronze sculpture or Ila hugging a Kemp's Ridley.

If you look in the archives on the left hand of this blog there was a nice article I reprinted in September, 2006 (courtesy of Sea Turtle, Inc. and a mysterious guy named Pedro). Also, there is a real sweet tribute at the Turtle Organization.

The latest turtle news: look at the underpass where Route 100 and Highway 77 meet - yep, those are turtles formed in the concrete and they are a tribute to Ila as well.

Expect to see more in the future as we plan our May Tiki Festival which is centered around saving sea turtles ... and having fun! We've been practicing for it, as you can see.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

SPI History Channel

Not to send folks all over the place, I wanted to keep a separate "SPI History" blog for our native and touring history buffs. Plus, someone asked me real nice to start posting some photographs, as part of the SPI Historical Committee. Thus, if I make goofy statements on the "other" blogs, this new one won't be guilty by association! To give it a quick road tour, click here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Oil and Gas Drilling Up

I wrote about the recent uptick in oil & gas drilling and production off our beaches in my alternative blog here.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dune Update!!!

I'll leave my last blog entry and then say I have learned of many things the Town is considering in the way of dune protection. It is amazing what a few phone calls can do. In this case it is a pleasure to eat a little crow, since I think the Town is in fact moving forward.

It just might not be Christmas trees.

The Town should probably explain all this, since they have a formal process and media dude Jason Moody. My sense is that they would like to test some small geo-tubes (my words not theirs) that are used for erosion control and are filled with hay. Interesting concept, and I was and still am supportive of any similar idea - throw them down and let's see if they work.

So we may have a high school science class coming out to the Island, some new fangled erosion control thangs, and the same good ole fun that was envisioned in the first place. It might be cool to seed some dunes and then play the Unlitter Song, complete with the Saturn Street Ukulele Band. If your haven't heard us lately, we're getting quite good!

Thanks to the Town and I hope y'all appreciate our enthusiam for the beach. So, more updates when things happen...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Trees, Dunes, and You

Calling all friends and sons of the beach! A new annual tradition is to bury a few Christmas trees (and hay bales, whatever is good) in January, although this year things are off to a very rocky start. The Beach & Dune Committee didn’t do anything specific on the topic, the Town Manager has been quiet about his intentions because he is so busy, and time is running out to plan for this kind of thing. We really need your help to make this work.

The above picture shows small coppice dunes growing three weeks after we planted some Christmas trees between the Iverness and Bahia Mar last year, a notoriously eroded stretch of beach. As you can see it seemed to work just fine. Plus, it was fun working for a few hours that day (let us remember Gabe’s funeral at this time too).

I will personally volunteer to get a beach permit, haul used trees in my pickup, and do whatever is needed to make this work. I am suggesting two dates in January: Saturday the 13th and Saturday the 20th. That gives us a rain date in case one doesn’t work. Last year we met a little after eight in the morning and were done well before noon. Remember that stakes, degradable twine, beverage water, hay bales, trailer trucks, shovels, gloves and stuff like that are really good to have. I do think the Town will help and that you can too. If you’d like a different kind of fun on the beach please join us in this endeavor.

Anyway, I think it is a good idea for the community and would like to see if we have some support. I’m going to leave this post up here for a while to see what happens. That is how strongly I feel about the Christmas tree / dune building project. For those of you who want a dose of the “regular old Sammy” I will post some other things on my alternative website, the SPI Gas Company (click the title or on the menu at the left). It is not indexed with Google courtesy of Sandy Feet but hey, who cares? The dunes are much more serious stuff.

Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Horny Manatee, Now?

Don't let this fella sneak up on ya!

Just when we were getting used to the idea that dolpin and porpoise can be "frisky" at times, it turns out that manatee are pretty horny little devils too. They even have their own website over at The Horny Manatee. While rare in Texas, we've got one more thing to worry about. As usual, it is the males causing the ruckus. The animal has become so popular FSU has adopted the manatee as their mascot. Yeah, I'm worried about their football players now, too!

Tha last sighting was up in Mansfield last summer, a little too close for comfort. However, horny manatee were also discovered way up the Mississippi and Hudson rivers in their pursuit of amour. Fortunately in the winter, most manatee make a bee-line to Florida, of places on Earth a place called Kissemee Park. I swear I am not making this up.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

So How's the Drinking Water?

How’s your drinking water on SPI today? It sure is better than back ten years ago, when it was basically undrinkable. Let’s admit it, it sucked. I’ve reviewed a few reports from 2004 and 2005 and it sure seems the stuff is good these days, much better. The problems are the same as in the old days – too much treatment with chlorine and too much total organic carbon. But if you take into consideration that we’re getting our water from the Rio Grand, a veritable toilet, it’s not such a bad report card.

Each year the EPA requires all public water systems to certify their water, known as a consumer confidence report or CCR. These reports are supposed to be available to the public and a public hearing must be held. Each year we used to see these reports in the Austin area but down here in “la-la land” I have yet to see one. They probably sneak a notice in the local newspapers and hope nobody has a magnifying lens.

One of the main offenders was disinfectants such as chlorine, which can result in high levels of halo-acetic acid (29/60 ppb) and tri-halo-methane (THM, 52/80 ppb). The latter is a pretty bad actor and is cause for concern, as it is considered as a pollutant and possible cancer cause. Halogenated compounds are never very good to see in the environment.

The other was, hate to say it, crud. Yes, the Laguna Madre Water District got blasted pretty bad for total organic carbon and total dissolved solids (819/1000 ppm), although these are “nuisance” compounds that are not regulated by the EPA or Texas. What it means is that there is a lot of dirt in the water, disinfected dirt but dirt nonetheless.

In spite of these little blips that drinking water down here seems to be very good, maybe A- or B+. That is interesting because many of the locals refuse to drink the tap water. I can tell you when I moved into this house somebody spend a thousand bucks on a water filtration system – which I intend to rip out on account it is actually poisoning my tap water. You heard it here first, folks!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Damn Barges Again

Another towboat-barge rig hit the Queen Isabella Causeway today. Fortunately the safety features such as the dolphins and safety pylons worked, and the bridge itself was not damaged. More facts should become known in the next few days - and yes it was quite the topic of town gossip tonight. My understanding from watching a crummy video was that a tugboat was pushing three large, loaded inland barges, headed north, and then lost its way and two barges broke loose. I did see one barge and the load seemed to be some kind of bulk like cotton or fertilizer covered in a huge tarp.

I stopped by a few channels and the docks in Port Isabel for a look, and immediately noticed that the tide was ripping and racing at a very good clip, maybe 5-6 knots. If you recall, extreme tides were also mentioned in conjunction with the 2001 barge incident in which eight people died. However, today’s collision occurred in broad daylight and not at night (somewhere around 4:27).

The towboat, as tugs of this kind are called, seemed to be fairly large and was not a small underpowered vessel as I could tell (underpowered towboats lack maneuverability with large loads). It seemed stuck under the bridge along with the remaining barge. Around 7:00 p.m. my wife was finally able to come home, with the Coast Guard and DOT still doing inspections and investigations.

I will say I feel bad for the towboat captain and his relief pilot. This kind of thing is never expected and they must feel horrible – at least no vehicles were plunging into the Laguna Madre as in 2001. They’ve got to pee in a bottle and have to answer the same questions 500 times, will probably lose their jobs, and possibly face the courts. The last towboat captain who hit the bridge has a nervous breakdown and is basically a vegetable.

That said, the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW) in lower Laguna Madre probably needs to remain closed to towboat traffic until something is done. Whoever said that old “S” curve from through the swing bridge and Port Isabel was good and safe was possibly the most stupid person in the entire world. The towboats need a clear shot north and south and that’s just a fact. Let the towboats take the outside passage to Mansfield or Corpus but stop playing with such high risks until we get a new extension to the ICW to the Brownsville Ship Channel.

Fortunately, nobody was hurt that we could tell, although the barge-man was probably rattled pretty badly. I have been in the marine consulting business for over seven years and I’ve never seen anything like this – I mean up in Freeport, they have as many as 50 to 75 towboats PER DAY pass under their causeway and never an accident. I hope that this time, people will wake up and do the right thing.

Monday, December 04, 2006

What's Your Favorite Taco?

Okay, okay, I'm not worth a darn as a poet! But I know a good taco when I bite on one, alright?

So let us know your favorite kinds of taco and where to get 'em. Nothing is off the table, although I do think we should stick to tacos in Texas, OK?

That said, I can always tell how good a taco joint is by ordering two crispy beef tacos. Don't tell anybody I actually like them! And if the taco is wet and greasy and the veggies are stale, well, maybe time to move on. You can tell a lot that way.

Oooh, and then then there's the salsa, pico, and toppin's. Let 'er rip, folks, I've got a big Jones for some good tacos here. /Sam

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Dark Winter Silhouettes

Lights from the neighbor’s house
Shine dimly on my winter windows
Dimmed by the cold night wind

Trees cast intricate shadows on my windows
Swaying in the gusts you can hear
Appearing like crazy monsters of your childhood

The house shivers and creaks in a gale force blow
As the trees branches flail twenty times
Sending me a message as if in Morse code

I watch the lights of the neighbor’s house
And the whipping trees
And the strange dark forms cast upon my windows

Mesmerized, I watch for some signal or some sign
Then off go the neighbor’s lights
Obviously they went up to bed

The wind calms
The shrieks and monsters go away
But deep inside the effect is still there.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Seven Tacos of Desire

I’ve been doing some research on dinner tacos, since I can’t seem to find a decent one on the Island here, although some are alright. There are seven kinds of tacos and being here so close to Mexico, you’d expect to at least see a few of them. Perhaps some kinds are more regional to places in Mexico, but here it goes. Let’s start with the easy ones:

TACOS AL CARBON. These are the grilled beef strips that we know and love as fajitas. I am not sure where the hot cast-iron plate idea came from, other than it is not mentioned in most cook books about Mexico. Onions are typically grilled separately and then added at the end. Strangely, the fajita beef is not chopped finely but often comes in large cunbersome strips. If you can afford them, the best are at the Sheraton's outside grill. Also called Carne Asada.

TACOS DORADOS. For some reason these are called flautas, which as fried tacos stuffed with shredded meat. Not my favorite, but good Valley standby.

TACOS DE PESCADO. Fish tacos are increasingly becoming popular although traditionally the battered fish is fried and you build your own taco instead of somebody else adding all the stuffing – and what’s with these four inch taco shells, anyway?

TACOS DE CAZUELA. We know this as carne guisada, where the latter word simply means “stew.” However, tacos de cazuela can be made out of anything including seafood, and the real thing can have nopales, mushrooms, chilis, and squash blossoms.

TACOS DE CARNITAS. This is basically pork that has been cooked in lard and orange rind, an interesting concept for the adventurous. What they call carnitas in the Valley is apparently nothing like the real thing in Mexico. Beware: some rather interesting parts of the animal are used unless you specify exactly what you want.

TACOS DE FRITANGAS. Rare in the US, these are fried foods such as chorizo and other interesting goodies. It is often served with a large platter of chopped cilantro and onions and some very hot salsa. Not to be confused with chorizo and egg breakfast tacos.

TACOS AL PASTOR. These are a knock-off on Arabian cuisine owed mainly to a large population of Lebanese who migrated to Mexico many years ago. Here a large chunk of meat, lamb but these days port, is roasted on a vertical spit and the meat is carved off the sides, not unlike how a real Greek gyro is made. It is served with spicy chipotle pepper sauce, however.

It all sounds good to me. Yes you can get some OK tacos on the Island but they are mainly for breakfast or either too small (fish tacos) or way too large (8-9 inch long breakfast tacos). Sadly, the best tacos on the Island are at the new Circle K convenience store.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Warm Day, Blue Mist

While freeze warnings are posted tonight for a good part of the Upper US including the Texas Hill Country, I thought a nice picture of my favorite critters and plants would be nice. These are of course Monarch butterflies rampant on a large cluster of South Padre Island Blue Mist - the only biological thing named after our island, may I add. My camera is not so hot and there were dozens of butterflies but you get the sense of it. By late Thursday all this will be blown to smithereens, the butterflies gone on their way to the mountains in Mexico, and the plant will die back until next year.

Oh, and please help save the endangered South Padre Island Blue Mist. These guys were hungry and want more!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Egotistical Monsters ...

After reading my last blog and today's op-ed article in the Washington Post I suppose I must stop and reflect. The web can make somebody appear as an egotistical monster, hyper-opinionated and dogmatic. There was a great cartoon in the New Yorker with a picture of a dog that said "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."

Or a fuzzy, friendly chimp.

Some background is maybe needed. For one I make no claim to be a journalist. Secondly there is the "Kerry Factor." It is hard to sound convincing if you flip-flop, make minor points, and talk in phrases such as "on one hand ... on the other hand ... So to make a point in a blog or article you often have to resort to WMD technology. You REALLY have to hammer home a point. It can appear like a bad case of hubris.

So I suppose my best articles are about moving to SPI, catching bizarre looking fish, and being observant of all the strange happenings. One I dea I had was an article about all the puff-ball looking flowers on the Island. I mean we got gold puff balls (Huisache), pink puff balls (the Pink Puffball of course!), yellow puff balls (small low plants, unknown to me), white/pink puff balls (Tepeguaje), dandelions, and many more I could list if I had a good book and some time.

By the way, my folks did name me "Sam" before the famous chimp of the same name was blasted into space, I think in 1961. My Chinese horoscope does say I was born in the Year of the Fire Monkey, however. What can I say?

Sunday, November 26, 2006


I getting a little confused about the whole Comprehensive Plan thing now. My wife is on the committee and probably won’t like me saying this, but what the consultant recently put out was a complete crock of hooey. Entitled “Land Use Planning” it relies on a whole bunch of ten dollar concepts and questionable density factors … but goes on to say the actual land use planning will be done in the ordinances at some later date. I am fairly well outraged by now.

My wife would also tell me to “shush” because they’ve had to rewrite everything so far.

But I simply can’t resist. Folks, we can sit around and talk about all the theory and potential issues you want. We need a plan to help guide growth on the Island. That growth comes from residential and commercial building. It is plain and simple as that.

In case you have been hibernating the last two years, the concept of managed growth was extremely unpopular with the real estate, developer, and construction industries. A group known as Laguna Madre Business Association was formed to elect town leaders who would not pursue any comprehensive plan – the reason being that they like things just fine as they are today. I look at this as a very simple problem to solve: “What is wrong with the rules on the books today?”

That was actually an easy thing to identify, since a majority of the zoning and planning ordinances were created by Cameron County after being granted special legislation. All the concepts about setbacks, height limitations, use, and so forth were created in the 1970’s and have only been tinkered with since that time. Even many prominent developers on the Island note that in many cases, the existing ordinances make absolutely no sense (do I have to build a pyramid to comply with setbacks way up in the air?).

Yee-haw, we’re starting to agree on something here already!

Most will agree that the commercial zones look OK and that the residential zone boundaries seem OK, except when they abut each other in some awkward situations. But that Zone B “mixed use” concept by the beach was a real turkey, a brain fart. Basically, when you allow residential single family, multi-family, and commercial entities to exist together you have ABSOLUTELY NO LAND USE DEFINTION AT ALL.

Well ain’t that something. Zone B has been a time-bomb waiting to explode ever since John L. Tompkins’ visionary platting in the 1950’s and the 1970 articles of incorporation. People are starting to complain because their once residential streets are being invaded by commercial high-rise structures having the horrible, ugly architecture and no parking. I mean some structures are so ugly they would make a freight train take a dirt road! The concept of having a huge commercial building next to a charming Island two-story is indeed perplexing.

But wait, the Town decided to piecemeal the parking study to yet another consultant so they couldn’t get together on adequate parking, a major beef in Zone B. One can make all the excuses in the world about how and why this happened, but the fact remains that parking became a separate issue not linked to growth. The results, my friends, could be devastating, especially in Zone B and the Gulf side.

Many of us are getting tired of fighting such bureaucratic snafus and over-opinionated back seat drivers. If you want to fix a problem, I am sure we didn’t need to hire two consultants to not talk with each other and screw up everything as a result. There is a lot more brain-power on this Island than folks give credit for – we simply needed a very good moderator to keep us on track. Remember, even the developer lobby wants to fix some rules, too. It might be messy but as long as we stay out of court and act nice to each other, I think we can do it ourselves just fine.

One just has to act like it is no big deal, there are trades and swaps for the good, and as Texans (honorary or born here) we can fix it right here and right now.

Just a really good, strong, and independent moderator: that’s all we need.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Attracting Zoomers?

I can’t resist a small amount of satire, but when I read an update on the last Town Hall meeting I had to chuckle: “In the meantime, we could take action to attract more affluent permanent residents, particularly baby boomer retirees, who tend to work telemarketing/consulting businesses from their homes.” Thus the picture I downloaded from something or other. Maybe we should have about ten of these positioned on the road to SPI, with cardboard signs saying “SPI or bust”?

OK moving RIGHT along, Nancy would love to know that the President is practicing for the next Tiki Festival by wearing a muumuu in of all places, Vietnam. This should attract a fairly good crowd down here on SPI and I’m sure folks would move here just from the sheer notoriety, especially if he helps sing the Turtle Call and Song.

Of course, to attract all these … HEY NO WEIRDOS, OK … nice folks down here we need to help clean this place up. As Sandy Feet and Amazing Walter say, we need to un-litter. We’ll be recording our ukulele version of “Unlitter” sometime soon here whenever we get up the gumption, the unofficial Town Song, but there is much work to be done. Below, here’s a poster from the 1971 Earth Day. Have a great Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Resturant Review: Daddy's

Lori and I went to Daddy's, which used to be Kahuna and then Gulf Coast Oyster Bar before that. The kids over at Dirty Al's bought the joint and let me say, it has quite the experience never seen on the Island in a while. Lot's of Cajun and seafood. We had a wonderful time.

Now I don't want to say anything bad about Kahuna's because they were simply the nicest people in the world, and we know the owner and many of the staff. And true, Dirty Al comes along with the karaoke machine ... but it was worth it. More on that in a minute.

So we ordered shrimp gumbo, which is about as authentic as New Orleans. For the main course we split a thirteen dollar plate having yellowfin tuna, shrimp, veggies, and rice. Now that was divine but the for life of us, we can't remember the menu entry. Whisky something, with options for mahi-mahi, tuna, or something else. Whisky Sam's?

But let me say this was so good I've never had yellowfin tuna that fresh. It was like candy! Nobody comes close to it on the Island, not even B&A Seafood or the institutional freezer stuff over at South Padre Brewing Company.

The first thing you notice about Daddy's is that there are actually a bunch of cars in the parking lot. The second thing you notice is that karaoke sometimes, well, happens. But it was rather cool, since they didn't pound out country songs at such a high volume. But damn I hate karaoke.

Remember, the Winter Texans are arriving and this place ought to be a hit. The DJ actually did a bunch of Al Green oldies and some of the quests were singing Dean Martin and some great old stuff. So here we were singing along and clapping and having a geat time. When I'm 70 I hope I can belt 'em out like that. Ok, without the darned belt!

Like Dirty Al's, don't expect too much in the way of exotic beer or fine china plates. But that tuna was to die for, the most expensive menu item on the list. We didn't check out the line of burgers and fried stuff because we were so full. The tab was about $22, less drinkies.

I mean, this place has staying potential.

Monday, November 13, 2006

What's Bad: Gambling

Today was the first day to pre-file bills for the 80th Texas Legislature. Starting off the blocks is Norma Chavez (El Paso) with a bill (H.B. 10) to allow gambling and casinos at certain Indian tribes. She has already written a House Joint Resolution (just just love the way that sounds SO hippie) which calls for a vote on a consitutional amendment on November 6, 2007. Pretty forward thinking, eh?

I expect at least a half dozen competing bills related to casinos, gaming, gambling, horse races, and dog races. So far, the pre-filed bills do not seem to affect SPI, as the last Karankawa died here many years ago. Name that Indian for a bronzed oak-leaf cluster pin. Hint: his last name was "Joe."

In the rather strange and always comical political climate in Texas, most of the pre-filed bills want to kick butt on immigration, sex, crime, sex criminals, and abortions. None serve to solve any problems but hey, this is butt-kicking time in Texas, at least up there in the La-La-Land of Austin. No telling what these monkeys will do.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

SPI: It's All Good

After reading all the bummer stuff about politics, wars, environmental disasters, casinos, beach disasters, and rampant development, it is easy to see how one could be labeled as being “negative.” So maybe it’s high time to accentuate the positive.

We just had another crop of visitors up for last week’s kite festival and let me tell you, these guys in their 40‘s and 50’s had a blast. I don’t think we ever had company when they had a bad time, come to think of it now. After about two days you can see the stress just melt away from their bodies. That’s why I always recommend more than two days, since it takes that long to decompress from that Big City life.

And why some people say there’s nothing to do on the Island seem rather strange to me. Never have I had folks complete their whole list of things to do. And one day when it rained right after Sand Castle Days a fellow from San Marcos said “you know, just watching the wind, waves, and rain on the beach, right from the condo sliding glass door, was just perfect – probably with the best nap of my life!”

Now let me tell you the only drawback about being a consultant working on the Island. I could work anywhere but this place is really great … except when the water calls. I have a view from my “office” porch and I can tell when it is time to hit the surf, wet a fishing line, check out the birds and butterflies, or go fly a kite. Of course, as anyone in the consulting trade knows, this always happens when the work is loaded up to the rafters. Why don’t they call when it is miserable outside? But not to fear, I just burn a little of the midnight oil because you just can’t keep this old dog off the water.

And the neatest thing is that Island has possibly the nicest people in the world. I never would have given a thought to becoming involved in community projects up near Austin. Those folks were political hacks, cold and calculating, and nobody ever said so much as hello on the streets (except for some wonderful neighbors who we still love). Next thing you know I’m on a town committee, doing historical preservation, going to fundraisers of at least a dozen kinds, and doing crazy stuff like planting butterfly gardens. Normally I’m not even close to being a “joiner.” Who would have thunk it?

There is so much to do, and I still want to build a surf boat dory. I’m home.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Samantha Is OK!

Yesterday my daughter Samantha, who calls herself Sam, got into a bad accident up in Austin. She called from an ambulance on the way to the hospital. Hi mom, hi dad, guess where's I'd going? Saint David's Hospital!

Yikes, that'll give any parent the shakes right then and there. So Lori makes a bazillion phone calls and then heads up to Austin in a whirlwind.

Today I heard Samantha is alright, with just a cracked collar bone and a sore neck. The car seems totalled. Thanks to all that asked.


My alter ego has posted something about Robert Gates here.

SPI Gas Company

Monday, November 06, 2006

Apolitical Blues

You know I'm getting tired of all these darned politics. Maybe it is Election Day or something but my opinion of the whole mess is somewhere … OK, down like to a 30% approval rating. I am just sick and tired of it all. Folks, vote if you want - but good luck, as it is more like gambling than you think. Did I win? Did I vote right? Screw that pork-for-brains who ran for office; I want to know if my gamble was right! Where’s the pay-off?

Maybe the back-stabbing local SPI politics isn’t as bad, although there are local no elections here because they’re done in May, but otherwise to heck with politics. Does the Texas Governor’s race really mean anything? He’s got about as much power as I have over my lunch box, speaking of the current clown with the “good hair.”

Meanwhile we have a President who is obviously showing signs of severe mental illness. If you can get any lower than his approval ratings, throw in the nut-cases in the US Congress. It is rather obvious their idea of a “party” is a lot more expensive than ours. Let’s fly to Qatar on the taxpayer’s dole and party hearty on a luxury yacht, folks!

I got to talking with some engineer types here on the Island and they all said that politics was a serious no-no for them. Sure, providing some technical help and facts might help the locals, and you can’t beat the local Island scene for exercise, parties, and fun. Screw the politics.

Sorry, like the Little Feat song says, “I got them apolitical blues.”

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

SPI Retail - Stuck in First Gear?

During the SPI Board of Aldermen meeting there was an update from Dan Quant of the Convention Center. Results from a vacationer satisfaction survey were available, and its chief points were outlined. For example, over 90% of the responders said they thought SPI was a wonderful, clean place, a big increase since the last report done several years ago (about 66%).

One of the negatives was perceived as being lack of places to shop and eat. On a 1-to-10 scale this one came in at about 7, not bad, but the BOA jumped on the issue ferociously. “Who is responsible to helping small retail business on the Island?”

It turns out that pretty much nobody is. The EDC does some large-scale projects. The Chamber of Commerce does … hey what do they do, anyway? I am sure the Chamber is composed of nice people but we were confused. The Convention Center was also tarred with the goal of really trying to do something for promoting Island retail, as that would help raise sales tax revenues and increase tourism satisfaction. Oh, the business incubator over at the university (UTB) was also mentioned.

I think all this is a grant thing and a wonderful concept which should be supported. Then again, a little voice was saying things in my ear – maybe things most folks don’t want to hear.

Unfortunately, most small retail and restaurant businesses don’t have a business model that only allows them about three months of great profits, followed by nine months of the pure-D pits. One can understand how family arrangements (Lantern Inn, Gulf Oyster Bar), poor business plan (a few old pizza shops), and some gas stations went out of business. But golly, if you knew all the fine upscale places being sold because of lack of people, money and paying too much taxes, it would indeed be pretty frightening. How about the Brown Pelican, an internationally known B&B? How about Antonio’s rental and car repair facility on Oleander and Padre? They’re leaving in crowds.

Why are many hotel rates less than 40 bucks? The same exact hotel chains in San Antonio or Austin charge double that or more. I can tell you why, because there are only about 5,000 people on the Island, and most of them already have a place to sleep. The only reason most stay open is to pick up a few conventions, holidays, and Winter Texans.

Now hotels aren’t the small retail businesses we had in mind, but it shows what is happening on the Island. The numbers of businesses on the Island is also, at least according to the State Comptroller, has been flat-lined since 2001. One moves in and another pulls out. The Island Pharmacy moves out and some half-dead hippie shop moves in. Great – we sure could use a pharmacy over here instead of that horrible Wal-Mart over the Casueway.

I have a theory about why tourists find the Island a little boring on the shopping side. Except for a few funky places like the Cat House, most all of the T-shirt shops stock exactly the same crap. It might be another God-awful, butt- ugly building but it has the same exact stuff. One can only ponder about why some have gelato stands or tattoo parlors associated with them, as neither is makes a bit a sense. I give up!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Couch Potatoes Successfully Grown

One of the more interesting things we had at the Saturday Plant Swap was some couch potatoes. Many Islanders do not have the time and inspiration to grow them, since most folks are so active running about, but this was like "cold fusion." Anyway, it turns out that couch potatoes are fairly easy to grow, with the major ingredient being of course a couch. They do not require sunlight, other than some exposure to the television rays. We don't water ours, although the occassional spill from a drink seems to be followed by a major growth spurt. Fertilizer seems to only be crumbs from bags of chips, Cheetos, dust balls, and stuff like that.

An analysis by the urban foresters from Weslaco and Brownsville revealed that couch potatoes are not edible, although pretty darned neat. You just throw a couple of these honeys under the couch and watch 'em grow! With American's lazy habits and slovenly eating habits, and if the potato was engineered to be edible, the potential could be limitless. Note that these are actually climbing vines, so be careful they don't grow all over you.

To actually discover the couch potato on South Padre was fairly remarkable, since like I said most folks are furiously running about, travelling, getting exersize, and raising money for this week's fundraiser. Perhaps the jungle-like humidity has something to do with it. I'd like to name the new species "Couch bulbifera americanus boobus" although perhaps a tribute to South Padre Island would be more in order.

[Editor's Note: Sam, those are the air potato, the cinnamon vine or 'Dioscorea bulbifera.' They belong to the tropical yam family. Thanks to the folks that brought them to the plant show.]

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

SPI plant swap this Saturday!

Oct. 28 -- SPI Gardens Fall Plant Swap/Plant Sale from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Turtle Park (E. Morningside Dr.) Everyone is invited to bring plants to swap. Plants will also be available for purchase.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sand Castle Days 2006

Sand Castle Days was a great success this year. I've posted eight of my favorite shots, as there were a ton of fine entries. Above, Amazing Walter, the guy who helped start this event 19 years ago, finishes his award-winning castle.

It wasn't just about the international experts. A tent was set up for the "future masters" to learn the craft. Here, Cate, our Town Planner, helps out with some, err, 40 year-old kids. Everyone needs a planner with skills like this!

Sandy Feets, another founding Sons of the Beach, did a wonderful castle after a major collapse on Friday. The weather on Thursday and Friday was horrenously wet and windy, but Saturday was a beautiful day.

A former town council member, "Alderdude Fred," is shown above with another fine entry. Judges said they had great difficulty in selecting winners, and the final tally was delayed for over 30 minutes.

Here's the work the 2006 Grand Master Champion, Karen of Canada. That castle is maybe about 10-12 feet tall. Actually, this is the backside, but my camera glitched on other shots of her masterpiece. It was truly awesome.

Above, here's another winner, Joo Heng from Singapore. Joo was a delight for all who got to know him. This Buddist inspiration is apparently very popular in his part of the world. We hope to see him again next year!

The amateur divisions were equally impressive, especially since they only had 7 hours to pound up a castle, while the experts had 3 days. I suppose I'm being biased towards the "Monkeys" here, one of the amateur award-winning teams that included my lovely wife, Lori (above right) and Diana from Chicago.

Corporate sponsors also built castles. Here's one for the Brownsville Airport showing ... what is that, a jumbo jet plowing into the sand? Too funny! All in all, it was a very good, sunny day on the Island, with kites, banners, and flags flying everywhere.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Port Isabel loses annexation appeal

According to out little local paper down here, Port Isabel lost its appeal about trying to seize vast stretches of South Padre Island. The 'Island Breeze' (October 20) reported that Mayor Pinkerton said "it was just as expected." The attorney for the Pinnell Estate said that Port Isabel never acted in good faith to even consider a proposed settlement. Thus, the 13th State District Court denied all annexation claims and said that Port Isabel had to pay over a quarter million dollars in attorney fees. That's some cool beans, man.

Now this was the best news since Doyle Wells got his butt kicked out of Isla Blanca Park.

I suppose if Port Isabel still has a case of the red-ass, it could appeal to the Texas Supreme Court to waste even more taxpayer money, which seems to be their forte. Hey, shouldn't we be working together for a change? Last I checked you had to take the causeway from Port Isabel to South Padre Island. Heck, we don't even have a football team to have a rivalry out here. What's their team's name again, the Fighting Tampons?

To be fair, even if we did have a football team it would probably be called the Stinking Sargassum or something. But the annexation wars seem to be over. Now the Town can proceed with establishing Home Rule without having all that going on. In the works are some limited SPI annexes to the South and North of town, along with a suggestion to annex Tomkins Channel to provide for water safety. Things are looking up again. Cheers,

Friday, October 13, 2006


Here’s a shot of my porch ceiling with its new paint job. It is close to the traditional old-time "porch color." The light wasn’t quite right – that color is supposed to the close to South Padre Island sandy blue-green. So I’ve been busy remodeling, and extreme sport related to “piddling” and “oh goodie, break time!” The outside hasn’t been painted in years and years, from what I can tell – and the ceilings maybe once (FYI, that’s real asbestos Hardy Board up there). I’m a little sore from all the unused muscles but things are starting to look better.

This weekend is “roar by the shore” for the Harley crowd. By the evening, after a Mexico trip and a visit to the complimentary Budweiser table, they should be doing wheel burns – you know, open the throttle, make a big noise, and then let out the clutch and smoke the back tire. Hah, it is a sight to behold, and even more on the ears.

The latest rumor is that big bull sharks have been feeding off the beaches near Isla Blanca. According to local surfer and artist Sharon Campbell, “it was feeding in the wave he was riding on, he fell and I'll bet the shark ran into him. They swim parallel thru the wave, mouths open, scooping up mullet.” Yikes! I think I’ll give surf fishing a rest for a few days – there has indeed been a ton of baitfish out there.

What else it happening? Next weekend is Sand Castle Days. The electricity has been good lately (a true wonder) but now the water mains have been breaking. With all this construction they seem to average about a break a week. Back in my old hometown, Leander, it was like that but at least they’d sanitize and air bleed the line – down here I think their idea of “sanitizing” is to pee on it! Off to do some more caulking and scraping,

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

No Longer a Confused Fisherman

Man I don't know why it happened, but those guys at the Coalition of Confused Coastal Fishermen pissed me off today. That's a bunch of old rednecks up by Houston way. So they had a "do" up by Surfside, darn near to Louisiana, and I said I couldn't make it. My mistake was adding some lame excuses, namely that Lori didn't want no part of it (the tranny problem was exaggerated a little). So these rednecks "call me out" and say I'm a fool and an idiot. Heck, I've been called worse but a grown man just doesn't "get called out" without having a fight.

For you gals, "getting called out" means you have to "put up your dukes."

So I'm out of there. I never did like Houston - life's too short to live there. I though Surfside was a hell-hole dump next to DOW Chemical, which it is. The air pollution is intense and at night you can read the newspaper just from the light given off from the refinery flares. Screw that; no need to even "answer the call."

And you know, having folks like Randy Rogers and Fred Mallet and some other really good local fishermen, well I just don't feel all that confused anymore. I feel confident. I like the lower coast and especially right near South Padre Island.

No, I didn't leave any nasty mesages or threaten to open a can o' Whup Ass, which we all know is really Cheese Whiz. I just moved on. Maybe I'm growing up ... for a change. /Sammy

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Taco Curtain

I entitled this the ‘Taco Curtain’ because of all the political hand-wringing about constructing a 700-mile border fence, a good part of it right here in the Valley. This was supposedly a major victory for the conservative party – it was interesting because nobody wanted it down here and all the supporters were inland folks who didn’t have a clue.

Well good news comes in all different shapes. First Congress authorized 700 miles of fencing and estimated its down payment at about 1.2 billion dollars. So far so bad.

But in last-minute appropriations for the Homeland Security Agency, the Taco Curtain is nowhere specifically funded as a line item (source: New York Times online, September 6, 2006). Instead, border security could take such forms as a “virtual fence” with electronics, roadways, and … no real fence to speak of. The appropriations bill allows Homeland Security to spend its budget as it sees fit and includes measures to consult with the affected states, Indian tribes, and local governments as to the best solutions.

In fact, my understanding is that various kinds of “fence” will be tested before even being designed and constructed in any meaningful way. It could take years to even get a good start. This sounds much more like the federal bureaucracy we know and love.

For those of you who think the Taco Curtain, 700 miles long and 1.2 billion dollars, will be constructed within 18 months as the authorization bill says, you have been hornswoggled, bamboozled, and sorely misled. Yay!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sam Stokes the Fire

Here’s a picture of our beach bonfire in August courtesy of Sandy Feet. Pretty abstract, eh? Not bad for a cell phone camera, though. It has become something of a tradition to have a small bonfire on a full moon – the next one is Saturday October 7th.

So I’m ready, thanks to Fred the ex-Alderdude and his old driftwood collection. According to the Farmer’s Almanac this would be the Hunter’s Moon, but I like the Chinese version which calls it the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. I didn’t know this, but it is a huge celebration in China and they eat lots of Moon Cakes.

So I have quite a ritual about making a beach bonfire. No I don’t throw down a huge pile and use a gallon of gasoline. How gauche! You have to do it Indian style but newspapers are OK, and yes matches or a lighter are acceptable. But with the wind blowing 10-20 knots, it all starts with the pit.

So I show up with a shovel and a 5-gallon bucket. The bucket has some newspaper and kindling and is used later for dousing the fire. People think I really lost my marbles but a pit really helps. So I figure out the wind direction, usually honking from the Southeast, and dig a trench in line with the wind. The extra sand goes in a pile on the upwind side as a wind break. The trench is sloped from shallow at the back to very deep at the windward end. So the front is maybe 14-16 inches deep and the sand is piled and another 14-16 inches high.

This allows longer boards and timber to be put in the bonfire because due to the design, the flames actually flow in reverse into the wind (until the wind whips it the other way). Using the trusty shovel, one can then scootch up the lumber into the fire pit as it is consumed.

Ah, the moonrise, and nice small bonfire, a chair, and a cool beverage. You never know, folks might break out the guitars, ukuleles, and fiddle – we had a bazooki there last time, some strange Turkish contraption. Our SOB ukulele band has already learned such famous songs such as ‘Your are my sunshine’ and ‘Shit makes the flowers grow.’
See ya,

Friday, September 22, 2006

Lori Plays the Blue Uke

Here's a nice shot of my lovely wife taken by none other than sand castle wiz Sandy Feet. It was very fun, about five ukelele instruments going at once. Mahalo, baby.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Save the Old Fish Camps

My sense of local history is still growing, but it wasn’t until the 1930’s and 1940’s that people started coming out South Padre Island in any large numbers. Most folks went to Boca Chica, which was really the king of the local beach scene until the Hurricane of 1933. After then, especially with the first causeway constructed in the 1940’s, South Padre took over. So I’m doing some research and my point is that maybe we need to preserve some of the cultural history of South Padre Island: the fish camps.

My suspicion is that the commercial fishermen kept a few stilt houses and wharves on the bayside of South Padre, such as for gear, salt, nets, and the occasional tarpon fisherman or as a ferry landing for the few locals and ranchers. I will check with local historians such as Ron Bates and Steve Hathcock.

It wasn’t until a guy named Jim Ghilain bought some property from John Tompkins that things really took off – we know this place as Jim’s Pier. That area between Fisherman’s and Louie’s was I suspect where the old time commercial fishermen camped. In fact, one photograph I saw of the first Jim’s Pier looked like, well, a fish camp and a small pier.

I wish I had some photographs taken of the area before and after Jim Ghilain started, with updates as he expanded or had to rebuild after another hurricane. For all of you that may want to contribute any photos on this theme, my email address is

Anyway, Hurricane Beulah blew through in 1967 and after that a major rebuilding occurred in the 1970’s, with bulkheads being put in so as to prevent the loss of sand. Today, it is a hard sight to imagine the old fish camps, since things have changed so much. But those old fish camps are still there, their wooden bones deep in the sand and muck, such as hearty oak and cypress.

My purpose in writing is to not only elevate the history of South Padre Island, which included not only the nicely appointed hotels down by Dolphin Cove but the fish camps down by Jim’s, too. Soon, these lands may be converted into huge condominiums due to escalating land prices.

Folks, this doesn’t have to happen. If there is some semblance of a waterfront heritage, just like Maine is so proud of its, well, now you know the exact places. Put that together with some historical pictures, a vision for a comprehensive plan, and work with (and not against) the developers and I think it can be done. It is your call.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ann Richards Dies

Today Ann Richards Died. I don't care what you think about her politics but she was one hell of a lady. She loved to fish, especially down here on South Padre Island. Anyone who can say "that dog won't hunt" is cool, although one of her best was "you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig." She fought the good ole boy system up in Austin, tore them up, and got more state hiring for women and minorities.

She was 73 years old. We'll miss ya, Guv.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Body Surfing: The Zone

We just got out of the water and wow how relaxing. Sure, the water’s a little warm but that means we’ll still be body surfing when it is October. For what was predicted as 1-2 foot waves we did have some 4-foot stand-ups with rides of up to 60 feet.

Sure, we’re a little jealous because Florence is just beginning to bring in some swell to the East Coast. So far the waves are 4-6 feet and no big deal, but better than nothing. They say the surfers are flocking to Florida, the Carolina outer banks, and Guana Cay, Bahamas.

But with body surfing, who cares about extreme action? I suppose someday I must get a waterproof camera and GPS to prove these incredibly long rides because of the gentle sloping beach we have. But something about all that expensive gear takes the spirit away though: it’s just you, a swimsuit, and a wave. Having a thousand bucks of stuff would definitely ruin it.

And who do I have to prove to, anyway? We know the long rides, the ones that almost leave you gasping for breath. We know what the wave looked like and how funny it looked when you’re buried in the snout of a large breaking wave. That’s why there’s no picture today because folks, since the ya-ya’s are all inside your head, how happy you feel when you come home smiling.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Ban on Carry-On Luggage

This is actually the storyline from an opinion article in the New York Times. Heck man, ban all of those carry-on suitcases and bags, please. It makes sense, The waiting line would go faster and yuck, do you really want to see people dumping ookie things into the trash bucket? Ban all laptop computers for that matter - we know some can explode or flame out. And those yackers with cell phones and noisy PDA's, lose 'em, baby, put them in the checked-in luggage.

I didn't mean to cover up some great articles below, but after a few flights this summer I decided heck, you folks are trying to keep your luggage close to you so it isn't re-routed to Newark or Nome, Alaska. That is not fair. Get used to it, baby, these luggage handlers are some real devils and will try the "stomp and mash" on anything at a given moment, and have no regard for the routing tickets no matter if they have colors or say HRL for "Harlingen." We're talking monkeys here.

Plus, there's a growing work force that depends on a steady source of mis-routed airline luggage. Since the airlines downsized, right-sized, and went half bankrupt, well these delivery folks are doing pretty good as independent contractors. Cynthia up there serves a good part of the northern Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine area. She said she's been booking 60 hours a week just off her Continental account. Fuel surcharges are extra and she's bought a second, larger "econo" van.

Cynthia and I had lots of conversations because we were well off the beaten path, and of course the stuff had to be sent to three airports before ending up in her van. "I'm sorry Sam, but I'll get you your stuff." This went on for three days until it mysteriously showed up. "Just be sure to leave me a piece of paper on the door in case you're gone - I have to have a signed thingy before I get paid."

It turns out that my errant luggage delivery cost Incontinental over $100, since it was way up old Route 1 in Maine, not to mention the share in flying the stuff to Nome and Newark. I called Cynthia back to say thanks and ask about that. She said "Sam I don't mean to cut you off, but I have five more drop-offs and have to turn in $8,000 in tickets; I let it get a little out of hand. See you again, honey."

Friday, September 08, 2006

SPI The Environment, 2006

Thanks for all the traffic about Ila “the turtle lady” in the topic below this one. I wanted to add that this was quite a successful year for nesting turtles on our section of South Padre Island, with maybe a dozen nests found, saved, hatched, and released into the Gulf.

The map of the Gulf and Texas coastline shows basically where we are, with our town being at the very bottom of the black part called the Laguna Madre – the only bay saltier than the ocean in the entire US.

To expand upon the environmental theme, things are looking up in many regards. There is no red or brown tide, often a sign of stress in the waters and a cause of some devastating fish kills in the past. While rainfall has been desperately low, relatively warm winter temperatures have allowed many wildlife species to recover quite nicely – there was a minor fish kill of mullets and other rough fish after last December’s near freeze (apparently it is not the absolute temperature, but how fast it drops).

We have a lot to brag about. The flooding of the Bahia Grande, a major former wetland land-locked by the US Army Corps of Engineers (circa 1933-1960) when building the Brownsville Ship Channel; the Bahia is now re-flooded and the birds and aquatic creatures are coming back fast. Even better, the flooding has helped prevent massive dust storms common in the early spring when the winds were high.

On the beachfront, the water appears to have been in the “green” zone because water samples do not indicate the presence of harmful entero-bacteria – while many other beaches in the US had to be closed this summer. Things are doing so well, sometimes we might forget some of the issues which lurk behind the scenes.

Threats to the local ecology and environment take several forms. These mainly take the form of (1) habitat loss, (2) beach erosion, and (3) water inflows to the Laguna Madre.

Habitat loss is the number one problem on SPI. Simply stated, the land is worth up to $200,000 per 50-by-100 foot section and it is being plowed under at an alarming rate. Nobody has taken any moves to purchase these “wild” tracts of land as conservation land within the town limits except one small tract near Pompano Street. The impact on coastal and migratory species is not fully known, although the loss of reptiles can be fairly well demonstrated. Only one or two areas of Tepaguaje trees stands remain – the inland part of this part of the Island used to have rampant thorny brushland trees. Continued development of county land to the north and south of the town continues to threaten the dune and wetland ecosystems.

Beach erosion is worse as one progresses north from the Brazos Santiagos Pass. Sand is accumulating at the southern end but is losing three to eight feet a year north of Oleander Street. There have been several efforts to combat this, although the preferred strategy appears to be pumping high-clay sands from periodic dredging of Brazos Pass, although mostly in the southern parts where it is least needed. The beachfront is just now recovering from all the clay sands deposited several years ago, which caused high turbidity and perhaps even a major shellfish die-off. However, the sloping and gutting of the beachfront, without even a major tropical storm this season, is quite alarming. Such sloping and gutting could cause failure of large sections of the beach if heavy north winds set up this coming winter and spring, especially between Oleander and the north Town limits. There is currently no active plan for beach renourishment, and the continued use of tractor beach rakes is only making matters worse. (In defense of the beach rakes, it does promote tourism and the tailings are used for beach dune restoration – it is just that some weed should be left on the northern beaches where the severe erosion in occurring.)

Water inflows include wastewater, runoff, stormwater drains, and inflows from streams such as the Arroyo Colorado. The Arroyo is officially listed as an impaired water body by the EPA and state agency (TCEQ). Dissolved oxygen is its main problem. It is truly remarkable that the lower Laguna Madre has not suffered from these impaired waters, perhaps due to the large blooms of sea grasses and the biology of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). What is not known is what would happen if it actually rained. Local rainfall rates are over a foot and a half shy of the climactic average if one considers the last two years. This has several consequences, first being that the bays and Bahia Grande (discussed above) are becoming even more hypersaline, close to the point of producing salt crusts. The second issue is what happens if we experience extreme flooding.

One hypothesis is that flooding conditions – maybe defined as a very large areal coverage of several days of more than an inch of rain each day – could mobilize tons of material that has been stored on the ground and on impervious surfaces for the last two or three years. This would include animal feces, lawn chemicals, crop chemicals, atmospheric dust, soil, vehicle and road oils, other non-point pollutants, and some point sources such as storm sewer outfalls. These effects can only be a matter of speculation. However, as we move into a late-season El Nino condition which could cause cooler and wetter winters in the southern US, it perhaps could only be a matter of time before the results are truly known.

In conclusion, things are doing very well although I though it was useful to note the threats we have. For example, we do not use stormwater runoff ponds to help clean the water before being spewed into the local water bodies, which is a common practice in other parts of the US. But for a nearly pristine environment, with some limited planning and investment, our environment could be preserved for generations to come. This report was not documented with references as a “real” environmental study. Instead it was meant to provoke some thought, some comments, and some local action.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Reprint on "Ila the Turtle Lady"

photo / painting credit: Sea Turtle, Inc. 2006

Here is something composed not by me, but by a former town employee who collected snippets about Ila "the turtle lady" over the years. It is well written and to the point - a remarkable lady worthy of a book just to herself. So I get the day off from writing and Mike I hope this was OK with you, e-me at

* * *


Ila's story is one of a remarkable woman with great determination and a lesson for all of us. When she was growing up in Pella, Iowa, she became intrigued by her father's Model T Ford. He was a physician and had one of the first autos in the area with which he made house calls. Ila went along on the house calls with him, but not to learn about medicine. At age twelve, Ila was driving her dad's Model T. At age twenty-two, she became the first licensed woman pilot in the state of Iowa at a time when there were only about 120 women in the United States who were licensed pilots She became associated with Amelia Earhart as a charter member of the 99's Club, formed by ninety-nine licensed women pilots in the United States. Recruited by Amelia, their purpose was to encourage other women to achieve their goals in technical fields not then easily accessible to women These women flew air shows, county fairs, delivered mail and gave flying lessons.

Ila went on to marry and with her husband, David Loetscher, moved to the east coast, eventually settling in New Jersey. Her continued interest in flying brought her into contact and friendship with Charles and Ann Lindbergh. Ila reminds us that in addition to being a great writer, Ann Morrow Lindbergh was also a pilot. Living on the east coast, Ila found her flying too great a drain on the family finances and so she gave up flying. She remained active in the 99's, enjoying the meetings, which were held in New York City.

In 1955, Ila's beloved David died of cancer. She tells us that it was too painful to remain in New Jersey and in 1957, moved to South Padre Island to work through her grief. Ila has many wonderful stories of those early days on the Island, beach combing with her dune buggy and driving across the bay in her amphibious car.
In 1966, Ila saw a film depicting the plight of the most endangered all of sea turtle species, the Kemp's ridley and was determined to help. Although not a biologist and sixty-two years old, Ila made a difference. Enlisted by the Adams family from Brownsville which had seen first hand the slaughter of these smallest of all sea turtles, she traveled to Mexico with them to help protect the turtles, their nests, the hatchlings, and the only known nesting site of those turtles.

Ila studied everything she could find and, with Darrell Adams' successful appeals to the Mexican government in Mexico City, received permission from the Mexican government to bring turtle eggs to South Padre Island to begin imprinting experiments to try to expand the Kemp's ridley nesting site. She participated in research projects and was the first person to breed sea turtles in captivity. In the 1970's, her efforts turned toward rehabilitation and education. In 1977, Ila formed the not-for-profit corporation, Sea Turtle Inc., and her home became a sea turtle rescue center and classroom for the thousands of people who visit each year.

In addition to her message of conservation, Ila's life gives us another message. When Ila was a twelve-year-old girl, people said she was just a girl and couldn't drive a car. She did it anyway. When she was a young woman of 22, she was told she was a woman and couldn't fly a plane. She did it anyway. When she was 62 years old, she was told she was an old woman and that she couldn't make a difference. She didn't listen to those naysayers either and today she is internationally recognized for her unflagging efforts on behalf of sea turtles. Television talk shows, documentaries, National Geographic, Mother Earth Handbook, and other magazines and news articles all honor Ila and her efforts. She is ranked among the top three of the pioneering Sea turtle conservationists, along with researcher Archie Carr and Darrell Adams. Jacques Cousteau anointed Ila "Wavemaker" for her outspoken efforts on behalf of the endangered sea turtles and today thousands of people still come to hear her message.

Counted among her great achievements must be the spark she lights within us to follow her example - to choose a goal and go for it and never be deterred by those who do not believe.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Mikie Likes It

Went out on Sunday and found one pod of mom, sister, and a baby porpoise, although they were rather camera shy maybe because of all the jet-skis. They were fun to watch but the star of the tour was Mikie. He is one of the few bay porpoises that has figured out how to make a living by mooching bait off the charter boats - as in nibbling it right off the hooks. Not a lot of jumping but he acted like the star he knew he was. He seemed to thrive on all the attention, oohs, and aahs. Mikie likes it.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Season of the Red Plumeria

The last of the plumerias are always the reds. Our Hawaiian Reds are doing fairly well as you can see, especially after installing a soaker hose and applying just a bit of fertilizer. At one time it was doing so poorly we were tempted to cut off the branches, re-root them, and start all over again. It looks fine to me now!

The reds always flower out at the end of the season, bridging the time between carefree summer days on the beach and the time when we need to knuckle under and get serious about work, school, or both.

All this is a good transition to discussing the comprehensive planning efforts on our Island. I have to be careful because my wife Lori is on the advisory committee, but I don’t think she’d mind me saying a few things, since we both take care of the plumerias, anyway. I’ll be a good boy, I promise.

First, I think people were rather mislead by the comprehensive planning process, which starts with hallucinatory “vision statements” and proceeds to recommendations for how to handle future impacts as the town ages. The sole purpose of having a comprehensive plan is to help guide the town leaders and citizens down a common path in the future. It is a tool, a gentle reminder, and way to anticipate difficulties which could occur down the road. We all know that as successive city leaders are elected, sometimes they do not follow a common path, so a comprehensive plan could provide for some continuity.

At the end of the day, a comprehensive plan helps fashion policies for land use planning and can help set some budgetary goals and objectives. Besides that, it is a fairly useless document, and after all the hoopla many people forget there even was a comprehensive plan – our town has tried several times and the city leaders just said “so what?”

One of the former Aldermen, a guy named Fred, was a swing voter who decided to vote to hire a consultant to draft a comprehensive plan – with the caveat that the consultant also fix up some of the land use ordinances, some of which date back to the early 1970’s. As such, this would give real and concrete results to what is often viewed as being a fairly vague and gassy topic.

We’ll see what happens. Hopefully we have luck similar to our red plumeria here.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Green-Eyed Click Beetle

Well that's a traditional lightning bug or firefly in the picture there. They make a cool yellow light from their tails that turns off and on, I suppose depending on how horny they are. They are found most everywhere east of the Rockies. If it would rain just a little, our bayside part of the Island would be covered in the them ... the trade-off is absolutely no mosquitos.

But what I wanted to write about was the green-eyed click beetle. I have been searching all over the web but very iittle is there (the rock band Firefly is much more common). At a little over a half inch long, they are very difficult to photograph with my prehistoric digital equipment. Let's just say that they have two neon-green eyes that glow ten times brighter than any lightning bug!

Honestly, I asked my wife to check it out and she agreed they were really cool. They have two headlights exactly like a Chevy Neon. We've had hundreds of them here for some reason. I pride myself on stealing a non-copyrighted picture, knowing the taxonomy, and learning all that kind of stuff, In this case I am totally stumped. If anyone knows of these rascals please feel free to chime in.

It turns out that the click-beetle family has quite a few relatives all over the world, maybe 3000 variants, some large enough to eat snails (Malaysia). All are carnivorous (cool!). Many have glowing eyes, or rather a patch just behind the eyes that can glow red, green, yellow or neon at night. There seems to be a feeling that some of these click beetles in Mexico can be quite poisonous ... but these local ones have been down my shirt and in my wife's hair with no apparent ill effects. We save them and blow them away downwind.

I can see why folks feel creepy about these critters, though, as they use an enzyme called Luciferase to make the light source. Maybe that's it.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sitting by the dock of the bay ...

Well my last blog entry went over like a lead balloon so here’s something for you: a condo building huge docks into the bay. We were alerted to the issue by the town building inspector, who has read our Bay Area Task Force report and wanted some comments. And sheesh, in this case the condo project had 180 foot docks that went out into the middle of Tompkins Channel, the bayside channel that runs parallel to the Island.

So I wrote a real corker, factual and all that, and not conversational like my blog, and sent it off to the US Army Corps of Engineers. Basically, the project jutted into the areas directly west of two street ends, the docks would obstruct navigation in the channel, and the project would basically ex-appropriate almost two acres of submerged public land so some wealthy condo owners could dock a boat behind their new digs.

And for all that baloney, they only have nine slips, about 20 feet wide and 20 feet long. I suppose if they only have skinny bay boats, this could be doubled, but what I’ve seen of many high-dollar condos is that many of these folks will need every inch of that berth, and probably the stern will stick out ten feet into the channel. No, Toto, we’re not talking about little ski boats with outboard engines here; we’re talking boats that cost at least a quarter million dollars for a small dog.

Why are they doing this? That is an easy question to answer. Basically the water is shallow there and the shallow water is chock full of sea grasses, which are protected by state and federal laws. So they pretty much have to dock in Tompkins Channel. To pull a dredging permit and mitigate the sea grass would cost much more money than all the extra wood used in the dock. You’d need to hire another engineer and biologist.

Why is this a bad thing? To some of us on our committee, projects like this could set a dangerous precedent, such as to use the Tompkins Channel as a parking lot for boats and basically take over the street ends and entire bayside – gated and restricted with no access.

At one time there was a grand vision that perhaps is more fitting for the commercial zone down by Louie’s up to Fisherman’s Pier, maybe expanded north and south, where a continuous boardwalk could be constructed along the bayside. It would be free for all people to walk. Shops would front the boardwalk. The gates to the finger docks where the boats are moored might be locked, but the boardwalk would be for free. Many seaside communities have done this kind of thing and it is quite a draw. Given the most excellent sunsets and fireworks here on our Island, it could be even better.

Can you imagine having a soda or a margarita or something, walking a 14-foot wide dock, and having fun? I can. Some art shops and small restaurants would be cool.

See, those properties such as the condos don’t own one single darned inch of land over the water. That is water and land owned by you, me, and everyone. However, when a private entity applies for a dock over the water, it becomes useless for the public – in fact they’ll run you off or call the cops if you get on their dock.

Honest, I would like the Aldermen and the Comprehensive Planning Committee to further examine this vision for the bayside. It could draw millions of dollars in value-added revenue. Or, this could be the largest taking of public property in many years. Thank you for your time.

What's for dinner tonight?

Some folks eat anything and everything. I used to be that way. I suppose I got a sensitive stomach over the years, which I partly blame for an extremely nervous job at the Texas environmental commission as well as drinking coffee all day long. By the time the doctors got a hold of me I had high blood pressure and corroded guts. So I’m pretty much all fixed up and have a clean bill of health except I really watch what I eat.

The more I learn about food the worse it gets - my feeling that things are way out of control. I used to love chicken and turkey … until I found out how even so called “organic” poultry is basically like eating crap. Sorry, I won’t hardly even touch the stuff anymore. My more adventuresome moments are with really good cuts of beef steak, best of all straight from the farm (OK, real chickens from the farm are pretty sweet, too).

One would think I eat all the wrong things, like lots of fresh fish from the locals. Except in the hot summer months I consume oysters like a hound. I sure if they had lobsters or crawdads (spiny lobster) down here I’d be eating enough to get iodine poisoning! I NEED more mercury! The doctor said I wasn’t getting enough, OK? Vegetables, fruits, and fish: that’s our main diet.

I’ll tell you one thing, if you eat “trans-fat” oils you’re a dead man walking. That stuff kills. It is best to stick with lard than these new wonder chemicals, which are mainly vegetable oils cooked at high heat and pressures in the presence of a metal catalyst such as platinum, palladium, or nickel. The stuff is about as bad as drinking gasoline, and is refined in a very similar manner. I meant that figuratively, understand, since hydrogenated trans-fat does reduce the “good” cholesterol and increase the “bad” cholesterol ... then kill you!

This is a sensitive subject because my wife thinks she lost loads of weight on the Atkins Diet. I think it was the healthier food, myself. The problem with the country is not the fat people but the fact that its food industry is completely whacked, and organic doesn’t even mean organic. We’re just not producing the right kind of foods. I don’t mean to diss Whole Foods and folks like that, but give me a break. I know better. So, what’s for dinner tonight?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

How to feed a seagull

Here on the Island we have thousands of resident seagulls, mainly Laughing Gulls but a fair mixture of others, including kind one with brownish feathers that my Texas bird book is completely bird-brained about. Anyway, there is an art to feeding them. First, never throw food from balconies, and they will gladly crap all over the property – many condos prohibit the practice for that very reason.

The second most common mistake is to throw chips up in the air and scream, as most kids on the beach like to do. Throwing the chips in the air and the seagull-sounding squawk makes them more aggressive and want to attack the chip-thrower, or at least do their pooh-pooh thing even more. They will attempt to steal food from each other, which is one of their nastier habits that should not be encouraged. No, no, that is not how to feed seagulls in the least, and I wouldn’t have believed it until I saw it done right recently.

Our “ammo” for the afternoon was organic chips, stale low-salt cashews, and some … cooked angel hair spaghetti noodles, of all things. Yes, nothing but the best leftovers for our seagulls here, and no empty carbs from white bread and junk food.

So we had set up camp on the beach in one of those Wal-Mart cabanas with our comfortable butt-seats and coolers, and proceeded to emplace the ammo out for grazing. Simply take a handful of the “fire in the hole” stuff and place it on the beach in a pile. It’s really that simple. No throwing!

There’s always a scout so a mess of birds will show up real quick, including several kinds of sandpipers and other shorebirds. The skettie really fools them good and you never saw better table manners from a flock of birds in your life. They land and walk on over as if asking if they can partake in the table fare. Some will grab a bite and walk to the water wash it like a raccoon, bobbing their heads appreciatively. The only pecking that happens is when they attack a sick or weak bird, which is a natural instinct for them.

So by now we have a couple of fine-feathered bird friends, the daring ones that will come right up to be fed like a pigeon in the park. The occasional almond or monkey nut kind of throws them for a loop, which is rather hysterical because they try so hard to perform so mannerly for us. The sandpipers like it when we smash some stale organic chips and pour a trail in the wet sand, since the seagulls can only find the big bites and the little guys go for the tiny crumbs. Big and small, they seem to get along like a chaperoned teen party.

Good food for good friends is what I say.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Fool-Proof Fish Recipe

For those of you tired of fried fish and the mess, smell, and fuss, I have a fool-proof method to cook fish. This works best for firm fish like grouper, snapper, and stuff like that. It takes no more than 5 minutes and there is no mess or stink.

Get a nice pan, not Teflon, and put in about a table spoon of olive oil. Don't get me going about olive oil, other than the super-virgin is not necessary and might be worse (I mean come on, either it's virgin or not). You will need a tight top to the pan so get ready with that. Heat the oil in the pan until it just starts smoking. It actually has to smoke a teensie bit to work right. Remember, get ready with a real tight lid and have it out ready, OK?

Now you have some 1/2-inch thick fillets or thereabouts and I chunk them up a little, like 4-5 inch squares. They're seasoned very lightly with maybe some black pepper, paprika, and whatever you like. They must be patted dry before spicing them up. Not liquid sauces or marinades, please. So throw them in the pan and burn them on each side for no more than one minute on a side.

Now you have some juice, right? I forgot to say that. Water, beer, wine, Coke, champagne, you name it you need about one to 1-1/2 shots of juice ready to go. Beer is my favorite, of course. You can add some lime to whatever you have, but the trick is to be real fast.

So hold the cover in one hand, dump the juice, and put the cover down right nicely. Get your hands the heck out of the way. It should go ballistic pretty good. Turn off the heat and remove the pan from the fire, cover still on securely.

So after the pan stops talking to you, which will be obvious, open the lid and serve the goodies. It should eat almost like Angel Food Cake with a little muscle in it. I hate to say it folks but if you cooked more this way you'd be happy even eating Stingray - and it ain't fishy smelling this way, either. No fuss, no stinky oil. Wipe out the pan and you're done.

Did I mention that this is how I make Chinese pot-stickers? The steam method rocks and the little bit of oil makes it like a mini-volcano when you add a touch of water. Hehe, no more than 5 minutes, folks, and perfect every time. Enjoy!

Let's Talk Computer Geek!

I got mad at my computer the other day and for once I got to the bottom of it and fixed a makor problem. See, I don't blog for a living I have to run models and statistics and stuff for ... gosh I hate to admit it, real work. So anyhoo, my most recent virus scan update from McAfee really put me over the top, and I decided to take the bull by the horns.

What happened was that McAfee automatically gave me an upgrade with had online virus scanners, firewalls, email 'protection', and a cute little parental control program to see if I was visiting a porn site - hey, did you know that Sandy Feet runs a porn shop? The darned software told me so, and tried to lock me out!

So all this hooey and hokum was bringing my computer down to its knees. It took like 30 seconds to bring up a new program. My virtual memory zoomed into gigabytes. McAfee is really bad about memory and pagefile systems.

So I called my California geek friend, who of course is like 20 years old and already has his own database company. He said that anyone in the right mind would get rid of any big-time virus scanner like Semantec or McAfee and use something more commercial. He mentioned a free program called AVG Anti-Virus, which let me add is quite good after using it a few days.

So now I'm happy, screaming like greased lightning I've never seen on my computer. I thought I would pass that along, as it sure made my life easier. Now I can afford to piddle around the 'Net even more!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Fall Shoulder Season

Today I have a suggestion for marketing South Padre Island. It is really my wife Lori’s idea. What she said was that a bunch of her school worker friends were headed to the Island because the room rates went way down and there were some really great deals. Her point was maybe that the Island should market more to the Valley, especially the professionals 30 to 50 years old.

Last weekend was the top of the season and local folks are not exactly whining but business is definitely off but steady. "Steady" is what they're worried about.

Perhaps that’s maybe because the town isn’t advertised very well in the Rio Grande Valley. I won’t go into the slick media campaigns developed for “who’s your padre” and those nice video segments, but there could be reasons to cultivate some more local marketshare because of the rising cost of gasoline and travel – not to mention the recent airport security measures. I do not mean to be critical of the convention and visitors bureau and other Island organizations; it is just that marketing in other cities like Dallas, Houston, and outside Texas is fine but the Valley seems like a better candidate for the fall shoulder season.

So far, signature events in the post-high season are the bike rally and Sand Castle Days. However, the Island does not market itself well to those in the Valley who can be spontaneous or have special interests. For example, let’s talk birds: the fall migration has already started (reportedly with some arctic birds) and will continue to the winter. While the fall migration is not as spectacular as the “fall out” seen in the spring, the butterflies, hummers, and shore birds are much more prevalent, especially in October.

The waves are usually better, the water stays warm, and the fall is possibly the best time to visit the Island. The fishing is just beginning to get good. The crowds are not as hectic. I think this would be a great market strategy, emphasizing the fall shoulder season and the local Texas market.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

On Bonfires and Porpoises, Generally

Mercifully, we don't have to complain about any huge tropical storms and knock on wood, let's keep it that way. So the news is slow except that the Middle East is imploding, not something I feel like discussing. So let me let my mind wander over to ...

Young horny male porpoises! Apparently these juveniles are about the most randy things in the world, and have actually attacked a few humans in their state of horny confusion (you can tell by the yellow flag with a question mark on it). Fortunately, they mostly screw each other and there were only one or two ... how should we say ... human/dolphin incidents ever recorded on the Island. It's a real show-stopper at a party if you ever pop the question on your friends. "Did you ever ..."

Now the surfers got into it because they use boards and I'm a body surfer, thus exposed to not only Master Randy but the sharks as well. Yeppers, they call me "Sushi Sam" or "Sushi Bait." OK, everyone needs to have their little fun ... Seal Meat Boy!

One thing that draws us together, after all this and that, is a nice bonfire on the beach. I've become quite the artist at this. No gasoline used here, you have to use newspaper and some skinny wood and two by fours to get it going. I like the small fires myself. Now these surfers, when you ask them for wood they bring truckloads of pallets, scap wood, and whatever they have blocking the driveway. To tell the truth, it is a complete blast.
Later ...