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!