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.