Friday, June 30, 2006

Confession Time

Woo, I wrote a really strong blog and Lori the wife said to delete it so I did. It was sorta about all this local discrimination against Mexicans and I'll leave it at that. I guess I am truly blessed to have somebody look over my shoulder and make sure I don't piss off the whole Island, or worse yet half the entire Valley. In four easy moves the offending blog article was vaporized. I confess, and feel like a better person for it. A story untold is better than my dorky words, anyway. Back onto the extreme art of body surfing and "combat" fishing when there ain't no body-surfing waves. Hold on Lori Marie, I'm a-coming home!

P.S., the locals won't let me fish AND surf at the same time just yet, but we're working on it ... apparently me and the weather just ain't "right" yet. ;)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Home Run

I guess I shouldn’t have written about how bad air travel can be, since everything went wrong between here and Maine and back, including missing luggage, weather delays, and mysterious plane refueling going on in unscheduled airports. Poor “In-Continental Airlines” really proved that the US should take over all the airlines, maybe excepting Southwest. Oh, and a great family reunion by the way – it was over 4 years.

But I finally made it back and at nearly midnight the Island and the Rio Valley looked beautiful on the landing approach. To the east, SPI looked like a fragile crescent that included the causeway. To the west, the twinkling lights of Valley seemed to stretch to the horizon like LA. I looked out the small airplane window and pondered where my house was, maybe halfway down the lighted part of the Island. I smiled, and knew I was almost there, twenty hours en route and one more to go.

Then I thought about all the little fights about casinos and big mega-resorts and high-rise condos and concluded that it was of little consequence, a flash in the pan. If you think that with falling retail tax sales and having less visitors, that developers can afford to pave the Island with a perverted blend of Disneyworld and casinos, you must be on crack or seriously hurt upside the head.

Just this evening we were up at Parrot Eyes (by boat, the preferred method!) and we noticed that the place was almost empty. “This place should be rocking” was our unanimous vote. Where was everybody? Sure, the beach was moderately packed and Blackbeard’s was getting almost full, but the rest of the Island was dead like October, maybe not as bad as November. Wow, that’s bad.

Heck I don’t even see people coming down the road looking for real estate anymore. There used to be quite a parade, and after five o’clock I’d drink beer and salute everyone of ‘em. I was thinking “I got a piece of the sand spit” and being all smarmy and stuff, but I knew that life in South Padre Island is tenuous enough, what with all the hurricanes and fickle economy and comical weirdness.

I smiled and drove the last 22 miles down Route 48 through all the construction barriers, and then grinned as I crossed the causeway the right direction as a chill went up my spine. Home, baby.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Down Maine Way

I’ll be heading up to Maine on Monday for a family reunion. Funny, some SOBs are headed that direction, too, and two fellows at the Island Mart said they were on the way as well. I’ve been looking for winter stuff in the garage, still packed from last year, and looking for some good foul weather gear – I think they had two days of sun in the last couple months. But hey, the weather dudes say sunny and 80, so maybe I’ll just bring some stuff from … do I really have to root around in the garage, really? Fifty degrees might kill me in my “Nantucket Nut Cooler” shorts.

Lori is staying here and I don’t blame her, as I have four connecting flights each way and the prognosis doesn’t look good if one plane sneezes or farts, or if it rains in Nebraska. I sure used to love to fly. Those were the days. Last four times I flew they figured me for a terrorist and made me to the “goose dance” with my arms straight out before I could even get in the terminal. Then when getting on the plane … OK, assume the position again. I keep saying “my name ain’t Ted Kennedy” but they just don’t listen.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to have a great time seeing the folks – last reunion was 2002. I’ll be happy. But honest, folks, if you drive you’re styling first class and if you fly commercial you’re in the cattle drive. Maybe hogs. The steward yells “SOOOOOEY” to get your attention to the safety stuff. Everyone disregards that crap because if it’s a “Let’s Roll” situation we’re dead as shit already. Just give me a cold beer, mama, and don’t bother asking for money or that fake “Anyone got change for a 20?” routine. Jeez, flying really sucks these days unless you got a crop duster or a Beachcraft or something.

So after getting all worked up about how shitty flying is and was my Mom (we call her Mother) will ask “How are you doing?” I always say fine, my favorite F-word, and then we talk about the real stuff.

p.s. Sorry folks, it doesn’t look like I’ll get to Hampton Beach NH or Block Island RI this year. Natch to Essex and Clinton, CT.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Condo Mambo, Part One

I love condos, even the ones without a view of the ocean. They have a perspective you just can’t get elsewhere. I’ve stayed in a bunch over the last 15 years, and not one was bad, even a second floor bomber. But since I moved here I see things differently, maybe more confused than ever. I can’t see why condos are inherently bad, other than most are butt-ugly on the outside; I also can’t figure out if they do a darn for the local economy. Heck, all these new ones might turn out to be bad for the local economy, for all I know.

When locals hear that hallowed names like Tequila Frogs, Louie’s, Jim’s Pier, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Parrot Eyes (we call it “paradise”) will be condo-ized, one must pause for reflection. You can see why a lot of true locals – at least those not connected with the commercial land flippin’ industry – really hate high-rise condos. Rumors are that five major high-rises over 6 stories are in the works, and another five are being drawn up: there goes the neighborhood.

But change happens and these condo folks are just making a living, sometimes at great risk. There’s a story that Bridgepoint, the most famous condo on the Island, was almost a disaster because the fellow built just in time for the Texas Recession and Stock Market Crash of 1985. At first he lost his proverbial ass. If I may add, many of the pre-sold customers backed out, the peso cratered, and it was not a memorable time because I lost $30,000 in inherited stock in ten minutes – like 90 percent of all of it. But look at Bridgepoint today – getting a facelift and units selling in the high six and low seven figures. Not bad if you stayed in the game.

The question about whether condos do any good for the Island still bothers me, though. There may be more dwelling units but the population and sales taxes have been almost flat for at least ten years. What’s going on here? How can the Island be a top 10 US beach destination and still have flat activity?

I will attempt to explore the issue in future blogs. If this was a really hot market like parts of Florida (Naples) and North Carolina (Myrtle Beach), retail and food establishments should be booming because of all the condos and fancy townhomes.

Something just ain’t right.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Happy Birthday Lori!

It's that time of year again. First Lori's birthday. That's today. Tomorrow is me and then it's our anniversary.

If nothing else, and besides being the best Mom in the world for the kids, she's my best friend. That's a rare combination to find. Lori, you rock!

Thanks to Sandy Feets and Fred Mallet for your notes. This year instead of a birthday card I just printed them off.

You know those big smiles that start deep inside and spread out real slow ...?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

That's the Spirit!

I think I committed a faux pas when I wrote an email saying that a local political group called SPIRIT might have stepped over the line by sponsoring an Austin company that brings in international guest workers under the H-2B program. So I got blasted because SPIRIT says it’s not political (ha!) and because this was a worthy subject: ‘They were not only well educated and fluent in English, but they were also fascinating to talk with about their home country and individual background. They could be an asset to the tourism we are trying to build.’ Good Lord, it was like I was criticizing ole Walt Disney himself!

So let’s talk about the “they” here. These would be 66,000 temporary seasonal workers in non-agricultural jobs, an annual quota implemented in 1990 to help out the resort industry. Of course, Disneyland and the Colorado ski resorts snapped them up first, with the remainder going to coastal resorts in the Northeast, like Block Island, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard. These are nice, friendly, educated, articulate kids that talk with better diction than most Americans.

So I don’t mind those businesses that want to take advantage of the program, if you can even get your foot in the door, but the message I got was rather shocking: the local workforce just isn’t any good. Some and we suspect a majority are illegal. Most don’t speak rudimentary English. They drive stinky old junker cars, if they even own one. If they start drinking beer, call the cops right away. Fortunately, most leave the Island at dusk so they are not such a bother except on Friday nights when there is a fireworks show.

Do you see where I’m going? Maybe the retired folks that make up much of SPIRIT haven’t caught on that the local businesses hire such workers because they’ll work for less than a minimum wage and no benefits. It is strictly an economic decision. If they wanted to pay twelve dollars an hour for housekeepers they’d do that … if they were completely nuts. Workers in the H-2B program usually get something in the middle, like $8.50 per hour.

We know SPIRIT did not intend to jump into the proverbial tiger cage of foreign labor, or make a political statement about it, but jump they did and I don’t think they understood that even sharing information can be considered a political thing. Forgive me for trying to warn you off that dirt track.