Friday, December 28, 2007

Random Musings

I was going write more heavy stuff, like how selling off the two streets by the old fish camps was a stupid idea, but decided to take the lighter side of the road...

And usually this time of year I write about the "state of the environment" on SPI and you know, it's not very fun either unless you find a new kind of bird or fish or something.

So on the lighter side:

Sandy Feet had a fine Christmas Day "Feliz Navi-Doo-Dah" party again for the umpteenth time, threatening this would be the last but we'll fix that in eleven months for sure.

Thanks to the Beerman for his extra-kick dark ale. We were pounding a few shots of it and I appreciate the advice not to drive - got about four people lit on one beer.

Happy Birthday Anne (with and E) Weiss, who looked wonderful in a cowboy hat with a queen's crown on the brim!

Never would know it, but in deep water there are spiny lobsters out there in the rocks and oil rigs. Who would have thunk it? Wish I was a diver but my ears would implode.

There are several New Year's events this year, including maybe some fireworks bay side and a big bonfire up the beach. I fear however, that on Monday the First of January, a huge norther gale might come through.

More people seem on the Island this week, I suppose signaling the end of the November and December dead-as-a-doornail season. Some of those folks drove through some of the worst snow and ice in years, they say. Good to see 'em.

Now all I need is a Mike-A-Rita and to fire up the BBQ. See you in a few days!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Shrinking Padre Boulevard

For many years, the emphasis of urban planning was to create large, wide roads, even if they went right through the middle of a town. By installing extra lanes, the thinking was, roadway capacity and safety could be maximized at the same time. And if you look at what the Texas Department of Transportation did to Padre Boulevard, it is now well over 100 feet wide not including all the asphalt and sidewalks. What I’m proposing today it to literally shrink the width of the road.

I know, a horrible, insane idea with no traction, and almost universally opposed.

But let me make my case. In the future there will be a second causeway to the north, thus reducing a need for capacity in terms of thousands of vehicles per day. Second, narrowing the road, while perhaps delaying traffic a little, could make the roads safer. Thirdly, a narrower road would allow for more green space, sidewalks, turnouts for parking, and be more in keeping with the Vision Statement and planning goals of the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Board – not that I can speak in any way for the latter.

Let’s take a look at the roadway as it is today, from where the median ends up to Morningside Drive. We have two highway lanes each way, a center turning lane, two emergency lanes, and then eight feet of curb and sidewalk. No wonder it is hard to cross the road! Not only is this highway design unsafe for pedestrians, it looks as if it was a giant rolling parking lot, a bleak black desert with huge telephone poles on each side. The center turning lane is especially dangerous when two or more cars want to occupy it at the same time, a fairly common summer experience – especially if you are standing right where the cars want to be.

Two lanes – one each way – and an emergency lane on each side are probably all that we need. There would be no center turning lane. This is a fairly common design for the older towns along Old Route 1 which connects lower Florida with upper Maine. May I remind the reader that Route 1 handles much more capacity than South Padre Island; residents in such towns don’t seem to mind it. Typically the road is zoned 30 MPH and crosswalks are located every block, not spaced miles apart. The sidewalk can be up to 20 feet wide and in places cafes are allowed to have tables under nice shady trees. There are benches, shaded bus stops, attractive light posts, nice-looking garbage cans, and even cigarette disposal cans so as to prevent litter. As a measure of civic pride, shop owners clean their section of sidewalk every morning.

And interesting concept would be to close off most access to the “roll-over curb parking” along the boulevard and allow controlled driveways accessing a true parking lot, instead of a free-for-all where parkers back into oncoming traffic. The sidewalk would cross these smaller driveway accesses with white lines and ADA curb cut slopes. There is plenty of space to work with, and aside from the obvious construction costs and improving the drainage – did I say improving the drainage? This model could and should be considered. Remember, the TxDOT doesn’t own that land now paved over; the good citizens of Texas do.

There you have it. Either you actually like the way Padre Boulevard looks now, or you want medians all the way down to Morningside (a holy mess if you ask me), or you’ll do something radical and different. My purpose is just to provoke some thought ...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sugar Plums and Fairies

As I cruise up and down the Island for my last-minute shopping and errands, I still think how lucky I was to move here. I love it! I am SOOOO glad to be out of the Austin area.

And you now, the main drag still has its charm, although I can see the work of folks who want to turn it into a beige uniformity with chain stores. There are people who really want all the colors go away in favor of Brown #25. They even have the audacity to demand that all the electric cables be buried.

I laugh and continue down the road, knowing that these people who want to tame the wilder side of the SPI spirit simply will never win. Shocking, electric orange is back in fashion - about time, where ya been, buddy? Woot! And who ever said this town had to be "Clean and Neat and Right"? This place has always been half a wreck and if you don't like it, try the upper-US.

But enough of that, thanks to the Town and all the businesses along the drag that lit their stores up real nice with Christmas lights. I wish the Town could have been a wee bit more in the lighting department, as the decorations did look a little wimpy. But I'm happy, so ever happy, to be here now.

Friday, December 21, 2007

I'm a Celebrity!

Amazing Walter had his 67th birthday and we all went over for a swell time. I was wondering what he was doing with his mega-picture-phone and some goggle eyes ... but soon I was summoned to "sit right there, Sam." Eek!

Now this picture has really been digitally altered and honest, I only had one beer when there. But what the heck, it's funny and I'm not proud. Have fun and Merry Christmas, y'all.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fit to be Retied

click picture to enlarge

This was too funny. Here's our recently retired assistant Town manager, fire chief, and EMS chief getting to ride as Grand Marshall in the SPI Christmas Parade. I told Clifford that I knew some people that would love to see him tied, like all tied up, but retied? We laughed, he took off to lead the parade, and a good time was had by all.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

More Island Notes


Well after a beautiful evening last night at the Sea Turtle Rescue Rescue Center Christmas thing, the cool front came through. It's been one of those bloggy, hot soup days so far.

The Harlingen paper doesn't print my letters about global warming anymore, even though I try to be balanced and try to say "it's something to worry about." Nope, to them, global warming is a commie plot to take away your freedom. But in the name of freedom (the corporate name is Freedom Corporation) they're being tyrants - go figure.

The SPI Forum continues its downhill slide but yours truly here is still blasting with both guns, an equal opportunity thing. I have to give Jason credit to hanging in the game, even when my portable blaster is pointed at him!

But onto nicer things, I'm not feeding maybe 40 redwing blackbirds who found my stash of birdseed. Along with the cardinals and sparrows and bush tits (God I love saying that) it is quite a show.

The milkweed pods started busting this week and I left them where they exploded, hoping more would come up. Funny, these little 6 to 10 inch plants making huge pods of 4-5 inches long. See, THAT is why I don't put down broadweed killer and turf grass - I have lantana, milkweed, and all kinds of weird stuff sprouting.

The currents must have shifted because the Portuguese man-o-war started coming back in, after being gone all spring and summer. Haven't found any sea beans or sand dollars but it is now shell time on the beach.

Yesterday I finally took some off after working six days straight, but of course I missed the good fishing. I did go down to the Wanna one day and saw a few giant mackerel jumping, and there have been stories of some very large sharks as well. The water was warming up to nearly 70 but this cool front should knock it back.

It is still slow, with many businesses taking off much of the rest of the month. Dorado's closes until the New Year, for example. Some Winter Texans are here and I love the funny way they talk. Oh well, a little over a week and the solstice will happen, the shortest day of the year, and the beginning of real winter.

* * *

BUMMER UPDATE: Jesse's Cantina closed and is up for sale. Apparently the old man is getting older and wants to head to the mainland. Not everyone loves the food or decor but you have to admit it's quite an Island institution.

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THIS JUST IN DEPARTMENT: "SPI is a drinking community with a serious fishing problem."

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POSSUM SITING #488 and #489: I don't mind the Tequache Possum but they will look for food and they were eating on my porch tonight - seeds spilled by the hungry redwing blackbirds on my cheap plastic feeder in this case. So I was cool and shooed him or her off - plop, plop, right off the porch 11 feet. I really don't think we'll ever get rid of them.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Insuring for a Hurricane

The Houston Chronicle's SciGuy has a real eye-popper of an article about hurricanes and the insurance industry. Seems like the major home and commercial insurers made a ton of money even in the aftermath of Katrina and the last two years were exceptionally mild for hurricane landfalls in the U.S. Wouldn't that make the insurance rates go down?

Heck no, they're boosting them up more every year! The chart shows the Risk Management (RMS) prediction, some expert historical information from the thinkers, and what the industry actually paid out in 2006 and 2007. Note that the RMS is a whopping 40 percent over the historical or "realistic" levels. And they want more, while dropping coastal insurance policies like rocks.

I sure hope they're saving me some money in case I need to make a claim if the Big One comes to SPI. Yeah, dream on, teenage queen ...

Anyway, the global warming scientists or frustrated because we should have tons of more destructive hurricanes, like 2005. The predictors such as experts like Bill Gray got egg all over their faces for missing the boat so bad lately (while claiming he's still the best in the world, of course!). Just to show you that hurricanes defy all logic, we have a subtropical cyclone near Puerto Rico called Olga.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

New Design for SPI: Tiki

OK, folks, here's the deal. After defeating the "beige-colored real estate system" the locals won and wild colors are back in vogue on South Padre Island. In fact, new businesses have to use pre-approved Tiki colors for trims, doors, and windows. These colors consist of deep ocean blue, magenta red, International orange, emerald green, and others as approved on a case-by-case basis. The base paint may be plain or a mural of any artistic kind, as long as it is not gang graffiti.

The paint should be applied periodically and no more than 5 years, and any murals should be redone or retouched at this time too. An annual award will be designated as to (1) best "beachy" mural, (2) best Tiki trim colors, and (3) special mention such as for whale-back roofs and other unusual architectural details, such as walking into a shark's mouth into a T-shirt shop.

Ordinances would only allow Tiki bars on the Island, and on the Gulf side only Tiki bars with palm frond thatching on the roof. No more condos can be built anywhere unless they show Tiki potential and some architectural significance. Post-modern and "unique" architecture (round, geodesic, and five-sided) from 1975 is allowed as long as the trim colors are suitably garish.

Beige-colored, two-story condominiums will have to be torn down and destroyed. Just kidding, Chris & Debbie! Come on, some hot pink or electric blue, it's just a little trim we're talking about here.

Kidding aside, I really don't see the problem with colors other than we need more. Be bold, man.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bush's Ultimate Brain Fart

According to my media sources, President Bush and his cadre of boobs are going to "fix" the home mortgage crisis by letting a bunch of people off the hook for their loans, most likely high risk, adjustable rate mortgages (ARM). If you meet all these strange rules like paying on time after a 2005 home loan, you're forgiven from the 30 percent bubbles when the "teaser" rates go up.

That really chaps my hind quarters. I went through this the hard way, like actually saving money and not putting too much out there in credit risk. I work so hard to raise kids, pay for everything on time, and put them in college - and pay for a very expensive, old beach shack on South Padre Island. How dare some nabob come on saying he's going to forgive billions in predatory lending and very unwise purchases when I've worked so hard to just stay afloat?

I lost nearly all my investment money on "Black Friday" back in the 80's. We lost our house in the Texas Savings Loan Scandal in about 1987 because the Tony Sanchez bank went belly-up. We lost much of our 401k plan money in 2001. Darn it, nobody paid me a red cent for losing all that money because the government messed up! I'm talking about losing over $300,000. Write me a check with five 9's and no cents in it and I'll get off my high horse.

Sorry, I feel for the people about to hit the street and look for rent houses because of the ordeal, since I've been there and had to go through years of building good credit because the banks and government screwed me over royally, three times over. But the Bush Plan just gives away money for making really bad decisions - and the proposed solution is a really bad decision too. I resent that. I made smart decisions and got caught upside down - these folks made stupid decisions at each and every step of the way.

So, we're penalized because we did the right thing and were careful, right? Gee thanks, Prez.

UPDATE: apparently I'm not the only one who is mad about the proposed bail-out. The more clinical and objective Economist writes:

Whatever the economic arguments for the Bush administration’s plan, it amounts to poor public policy. America’s unfettered brand of capitalism is one of its strengths; investors may be less likely to trust a government that manipulates private contracts when conditions deteriorate. At a time when the economy is already weak and the dollar is suffering from a crisis of confidence, Mr Paulson’s awkward intrusion into the mortgage market looks more like desperation than a hedge against further trouble.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Sparrow and the Cardinal

I wish I had a zoom camera ... I had several hundred birds over here today on account I put out some bird seed. There's a few cardinals and weird strays, but most are what us dumbies call sparrows. About five kinds of them, and knowing the males and females are different I must have been seeing some other kinds too. But that was fun, well worth a few pounds of cheap old bird seed.

They were so hungry they were fearless, and ran off any grackles in their way - which eternally endeared me to them. And when the door slammed or the dog barked, hundreds would take to the air you could hear their wings go "woosh."

Funny, I asked some neighbors if they saw all the birds. "Nope." They must have been invisible to them. But when I clapped my hands a couple dozen almost hit them and then they woke up. "Oh yeah, I just saw your bird, Sam."

Well so much for the neighbors (love ya guys) but I hope I'm not contibuting to the delinquency of all those birds. Aren't they supposed to be eating native stuff? There must be a shortage because they darn near brole my plastic bird feeder, they were so frisky.

Monday, December 03, 2007

"Revenue Neutral"

I was reading about one of the islands I used to live on - Block Island, RI - and I came across the most unusual article. Their electricity company has to raise the rates again ... because people are reducing their consumption so much! I guess some put up windmills, solar stuff, fluorescent bulbs, and so forth and kilowatt hours for the main generator went down. Because revenue had to be there to pay for the employess and maintenance, costs had to go up by about 9 percent.

Wow, talk about paying more for less. I wonder what will happen if they start getting cheap power from wave machines and wind turbines located off their beaches?

Then I saw an even more unusual example: the fuel consumption standards for cars. For the first time in decades, the average fuel economy will be pushed up to 35 MPG for new cars. Wow, an environmental success?

Nope, the Fed makes a ton of money off the fuel tax, so if cars burn less gas we'd loose money used for building highways and mass transit. According to the budget balancers, any shortfall in the fuel tax would have to be made up by ... another darned tax! And we know how most people feel about taxes, especially the really rich folks.

The more I learn the more I have to shake my head in disbelief.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Mas Shrimp - Still Being SPI Happy

Funny we were just talking at the dinner table about the shrimp here on SPI, and everybody thought I hated them. I like shrimp! I'm going to have shrimp at least three times this weekend. We're on a mission from the Big Man.

Now if you can't eat all those French fries, have I got some good things to do like feeding the catfish off Louie's on the bay side or the seagulls on the Gulf side. This is actually very fun - I have figured out that a seagull is much more trainable than a flippin' hard-head catfish. Why, you line up those seagulls and they're right ladies and gentlemen sometimes. Awesome feeling.

Reflecting on the day, I did get a message (blog, phone call, email, who knows) that people who view local SPI stuff on the Internet really don't want to hear about petty politics, crappy economics, and nasty elections. Nope, they want to hear about how much fun we're having while they're not! Just about anywhere, you can walk a few hundred paces and be on one of the best beaches in the world. Want some redfish, just put some waders on, grab a fishing pole, and head a few hundred paces due west! Like kites? We even got those "killer" kites you can fly.

Shells are a little bit of an issue but a trip up north on the beaches - find somebody with a big truck and maybe four wheel drive - can be quite productive. Rumors are that some gold is up there, some buried and some scattered. Mostly I see Winter Texans having a great time fishing, even if they're catching little whitings and a small pompano. Man, these folks are having fun.

And I'm on a major shrimp binge.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sam's Militia and Irregulars

Sometime after the Revolutionary War and the Civil War there was a rather existential group of militia dudes that worked for this crazy pamphleteer and printer, a guy named Sam. He covered more ground than Davy Crockett or Johnny Appleseed. They were mostly homeless folks with a sharp stick at most, and a fairly hefty rum habit as well. I've seen some real ink prints at UT and other places about "Sam's Militia." It is an honor to carry out the tradition ...

* * *

Below is something I didn't post on the SPI Forum. I thought it was pretty scary and nuked it there but saved it here. At least if I'm going to shoot myself in the foot, might as well do it here!

* * *

Well don't put words in my mouth about specific people ... and I say this respectfully because I like all the Aldermen ... but I am more worried that the people you focus attention on are but mere pawns in a much larger shell game. That's the part the scares me. No whiffs of conspiracies or anything, just a feeling that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand straight out. Some of the people on this Island may have left because of it, but that's just my strange sense of intuition. You're on your own as to guessing the "800 pound gorillas" around here, speaking politically. Nice folks too - don't tell them I said the gorilla thing, OK?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Best Shrimp on Island?

After eating shrimp for years down here, I'd like to throw it open and ask y'all "Who has the best shrimp on the Island?"

I mean come on, for bait they're great but great shrimp are actually hard to find. As far as ambiance I like the Wanna-Wanna because it is handy and close by, but honestly, their Sysco frozen bags o' shrimp have lost their flavor. Anybody getting shrimp from Sysco just isn't buying local, anyway - boo!

My favorite is a nice day or evening at Dolphin Cove, which seems to have real shrimp with some real taste. Extra points for the best cole slaw on the Island, and French fries that actually tasted like they had some potato in them. Hand-made?

Amberjack's has OK shrimp of an indeterminant kind, and it's been years since we've been to Scampi's for what was an award-winning peanut butter shrimp combo - and no telling if they're cooking $20 prawns or what. Many places zip up the shrimp with loads of spices so you can't even taste the shrimp anymore, bummer. Surprisingly, the best dish at Jesse's Cantina is shrimp enchiladas verdes, where the hot stuff compliments rather than takes away from the fresh taste of Gulf shrimp.

We're still on the quest ... let us know if you've been having some really good, wild shrimp lately.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The House of Blue Lights

Being a beautiful day for a change, I put up four strands of blue Christmas lights on the porch. I put up some big white stars but they ruined the effect and two of the stars didn't even work, so more blue it is. I wanted a somber feeling, a vision I've had since being a kid coming home from Methodist church at night and seeing a small pine tree lit in big blue bulbs - it made me stop and reflect. For age 8, that was a heavy moment. Not sure exactly what the feeing was, other than it meant something very special to me.

After years of being a flamboyant, rowdy type with racers, chasers, and very loud colors I just wanted to be meek this year. I built American flags that actually waved. No telephone pole was safe, and when I moved down here the palm trees put me in hog heaven. In hindsight the palm tree didn't look all that great other than I knew that 16 strands of whatever was burning bright and you could see it from SPI Boulevard - a crazy lighthouse of sorts.

Not so this year, and I'm not going to enter the Christmas Light contest being sponsored by the town. Minimalism don't win but that's the way I feel. Like when I was 8.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Age of Aquarius

Well it might be the Age of Pluto for all I know, and Pluto ain't even a planet anymore, but we had a great time with 'Chefette' Nancy and the gang at the Aquarius Condo tonight. Yep, I actually came out of my crab hole for more than an hour. A good part was early when I could see 12-foot waves breaking on the outside, totally wild. Then the cast and crew showed up with Pink Tuna Cactus Margs and a bazillion homemade tamales were done steamin'. Awesome.

The Craft Camp Girls did some outrageous beautiful glass work, which Amazing Walter had to photograph in hi-res with what I think was a twinkle in his eye. On such a cold, rainy weekend it was the perfect antidote for about anything.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cat Scratch Fever

Well I didn’t actually get cat scratch fever, unless you’re talking about the Ted Nugent kind, but I got one hell of a pet bite last Thursday. I was breaking up a cat & dog fight – something the doctors say you should never do (but hey, that cat lived!). By Monday I was running fevers so high I fainted in the restroom, which freaked out my wife. Things were NOT good.

So off to the clinic I went this morning to see “Doctor Darrell” who really is an RN but many of us Islanders love him. Of course I got chewed out for not coming in sooner, but he was cool and wrote some prescriptions for some very powerful antibiotics. I’m on the mend now.

But he did have the balls to want to give me another cat … and showed me in the back closet room. Goofy looking black female with clown spots and the sweetest disposition I’ve ever seen.

Can’t wait to get back out there and get some exercise … sitting in a tub of Epsom salts is not my idea of fun. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Guerilla Beach Clean-Up

Wow, neat story in the LA Times about how a bunch of surfers started a clean-up group in response to the oil spill caused by the Costco Busan in San Fransisco Bay. The gist of the story was that the government was taking too long to do anything, and there were dying birds and blobs of black goo everywhere. Fearing arrest, the original members simply started doing their thing on their own. They started by saving as many birds as they could.

After finding out that flip-flops and beach bum attire wasn't any good, they got local businesses to donate plastic zoot suits. Innovation such as using hair - as in mats of hair from local barbers - were found to soak up the oily goo faster than anything the government had. Today, hundreds of people are cleaning the beaches and the government even caved in, admitting the citizens were doing an excellent job.

Heaven forbid such a calamity would ever happen on our shores in the future, but the story is powerful: sometimes regular people do the job better than big government can.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Texas Clipper

Finally, and after many delays, the Texas Clipper launched in 1944 will be sunk as an artificial reef 17 miles off SPI on Saturday morning. She doesn't look as pretty as this old file photo and much of the rigging has been cut down, but lots of boats are going out to watch the reefing.

This is huge news, as it seemed that everything conspired against the artificial reef program, including finding more asbestos and PCBs that was ever suspected. Millions a year will probably come in economic revenue for SPI and Port Isabel for diving and fishing opportunities. We're not sure how you keep the divers and fish hooks away from each other, but we'll work on that as we learn more.

And it's not just about corals and reef fish that would grow around the ship, but large fish like tuna also like to circle over structures like this. I've watched loads of depth finder stuff over the years and unless you go 80 miles out, or up to the reefs off Mansfield, it's like a desert in the Gulf - except for shrimp, of course.

The only bummer for some people is that they're expecting the ship to be blown up. Sorry folks, the Texas Clipper will go down by opening some water valves, no kaboom. But it's still a proud day for the local community.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

My Vision Statement

Well here's my "vision statement." It's a little different from ones developed for our Island's comprehensive plan ... but says so much more. It says "I am an Aztec Gold plumeria and I flowered in mid-November and aren't I beautiful?" Smells like heaven, too. It's physical, it's real, it says a thousand things yet is not abstract.

Now compare that to the 2020 vision statement done back in 2003, which a bunch of people are for some reason really proud of:

"The island has transformed its image; it is now a unique seaside community with a friendly small town character attracting a balance of permanent residents and tourists."

Now what in tarnation does THAT mean? I guess one could get into the grammar, logic, and rhetoric and conclude that today we're not a unique community, we're not located by the sea, we have an unfriendly, shitty attitude, and we're completely unbalanced with respect to tourists or some hybrid species of Homo Sapiens. And by the year 2020 we're going to fix that once and for all! Look, 11 pages of visions! Hmmm.

Can we transform our image like my frangipangi flower here, from bud to inflorescence to full flower? Over 600 people thought so, but I wondered what they really meant to say. But hold on, these are fighting words and people are real upset because ANOTHER vision statement done in 2007 simply says we're a coastal resort community and the tourists taste great. Now we're fighting over visions and I'm wondering if grammy is slipping psychedelics into her nooner martini.

Oh well, I guess I'll stick with my vision statement and let the others hash it out.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Chocolate Beer

I was going to write how I failed to douse the water supply good enough, since the SPI Forum went nuts and half the Island decided they were a bunch of crotchety old biddies and all went to heck. And then I decided maybe I'll write about this wonderful economy we have, where only three houses sold since January - bummer, boring, and not sponge worthy! Then I saw the light: chocolate beer. To heck with the downer stuff I want to know about this stuff.

I turns about that long before being used to make chocolate, cacao beans were used to make a fermented drink. The LA Times reports on a story about some archaeologists that found evidence of the chemicals in cacao in pottery shards in present-day Honduras which date back to maybe 1,500 years B.C. Now how cool is that? Scientists conjecture that the hootch was maybe 5% alcohol and had cacao beans, honey, and chilies in it.

Of course, over in the Old World beer and wine had been stump juice favorites since about 5,400 B.C., back when your knuckles still dragged on the ground when walking (I should know). But chocolate beer? Who would have thunk it? I think I love the Olmec people now. I mean, aren't these the same folks that invented mole?

Well, I'll get with my Island brewers and see if we can throw 5 gallons of it. No telling if we get it right, but dang it, honey, chocolate, and some chilies are going down the hatch!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Time for a few small repairs

Not much to report on the Island since I dumped a small load of Prozac and lithium in the water supply. Just kidding but it did get mighty slow lately – and most everyone seems happy. Many are taking advantage of the time before the Winter Texans arrive to do some remodeling. Old Doc at the bayside has a big one going, judging by the huge 40-foot Dempsey dumpster. Heck, I might even fire up a few paint brushes and the lawnmower myself. Sure is good weather for it.

I’ve also got a quote on a French patio door for the back porch but whoa, $1,400 for the hurricane model with no-rot fiberglass. No telling what I’ll find when I take the old door out but that “honey-do” is way past due according to the Boss. Ahem, Lori.

The grapefruit and Mexican lime plants kind of bit the dust. I guess this isn’t Bayview or other places in the Valley were if you spit some seeds out you have a big tree within a year – too much salt I guess. I mulched, used that iron fertilizer, and watered them religiously. A Sabal and a Bismarki palm are going in their old holes, both freebies from over the years and pot-bound as heck. The Sabal was grown from seed by our own Nancy Turtle-loo and the Bismarki was a $300 gift for Lori from her old school when she left Harlingen ISD. They’ll love it here I’m sure – I mean the plants!

Big winds have picked up lately and the wind boarders are showing up again, a fall ritual. I couldn’t see the mainland today for the dust but it sure is better than several years ago before they reclaimed and flooded the Bahia Grande southwest of Port Isabel. It was so bad back then that the dust would come through the window cracks somehow – locals called it “hurricane dirt.” It’s much better now.

The time change messed up both us and the dogs. But there again, with my office hours and 20-foot commute, it was of no consequence except for when the banks and restaurants close. Well, the restaurants are something of a mystery – they open and close at will and sometimes at 8:30 the red carpet rolls up and the “Open” signs get turned over – better not be standing in the way.

Life goes on.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Great Weekend; the Bloviators!

Thanks to the folks who put on the SPI Music Festival. A great time was had by all, after maybe a slow start on Friday. I hope it worked out well enough to do it again next year. Interestingly, I liked the bands I had never heard before - perhaps our expectations for headliners like Robert Earl Keen were a little too high. Anyway, taking it easy on another beautiful "Chamber of Commerce" day. Let's just say it wasn't just a few bees that were a-drinking!

Then there's the Bloviators, which no, was not a music group that performed this weekend (but what a name for a big horn band, huh?). This is a real word invented in the U.S., most likely a combination of "blow-hard" and "deviate." It basically means to pompously rant at length and is often used in terms of describing politicians. I ran across an excellent column in the LA Times entitled 'Things have never been better for kick-ass bloviators' (LAT, November 3, 2007, by Meghan Daum).

Is it just me, or has it become super-cool to be a blowhard? Everywhere I turn, it seems someone's speaking a bit too loudly, going on slightly too long and imparting ideas dressed up with dropped names, self-serving anecdotes and sanctimonious chest-thumping. And you should hear what I run into when I leave my house.
Hey, sounds like some folks over at Jason's political SPI forum? Oops, did I find myself guilty of bloviating too? Ayiiieeeee! Perhaps I need to catch the last of the waves today and enjoy a few days of flat water in the surf for fishing before the next front comes in Tuesday evening.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Drunk Bees Again

I guess it's time to change the hummingbird feeder juice, as it may have turned. The bees are all over it - and quite drunk may I add. I guess I should have noticed when the hummers were making a little bit too much whoopie.

How do I know they're drunk? The sit there guzzling fermented sugar water for hours and then fly about ten feet and go plop. With these beautiful days I've been keeping the front door and windows open and sometimes they walk "the perp walk" into the house. The only bummer is that the dogs think they're edible and get stung in the mouth sometimes.

Funniest thing, the dogs act like they ate peanut butter because they're trying to work out the stinger. Now way am I sticking my hand in a pit bull's mouth to pluck one out but it seems to fix itself after a while so no worries.

Anyway, this happens every year when during what we call Indian Summer, not that we ever had a frost here in October. But with the flowers mostly finished in their blooms, they love sugar water. I've seen this for about five years now, two here and more up in Central Texas.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More on Geo-Tourism

The National Geographic just completed its annual review of 111 island tourist destinations, using a perspective of geo-tourism, sustainability, and a panel of 522 experts. South Padre was not on the list, perhaps not an omission so much as they considered only 111 islands of the entire world. One of their conclusions was that islands blessed with good beaches tended to be do less well over time, primarily due to development; multiple cruise ships were also seen as a cause of an island losing its identity. As such these more crowded islands with nice beaches tended to score poorly … and by corollary were viewed as being less sustainable.

Scoring used a 100-point system with the top destination rating 87 (Faroe Islands, authentic and sustainable) to a low of 37 (Saint Thomas, in serious trouble, unsustainable). Of the several U.S. islands reviewed many were in the low 60’s (already in moderate trouble). Interestingly, the two beach islands similar to SPI, Ocracoke in North Carolina and Sanibel in Florida, scored in the 60’s. However, one doubts that SPI could match the success seen in Sanibel Island, as the review comments suggest:

"Sanibel has tried to distinguish itself from the rampant development of the rest of the west coast of Florida and has been fairly successful with height restrictions and setbacks. However, every year it gets just a little more crowded and challenging. The Ding Darling Refuge is a treasure."

"Back in the 1970s, the passing of the Sanibel Plan attempted to limit development and promote sustainability. Like everything else in Florida, Sanibel has been sorely compromised, but it has more integrity than most developed islands."

"Restaurants are along the roads, with air conditioning and closed windows, serving chicken wings, rather than by the sea, open air, and offering seafood."

"Sanibel has done a great job in spite of many disadvantages. It still has good environmental features, some social/cultural integrity, and aesthetic appeal.” [Emphasis added]

Key West scored one of the lowest on the list at 46, primarily due to “cruise travel, overdevelopment, coastal construction, and marine-based recreation …." But even Key West was praised for saving its historic structures and not having too many tourist “kitsch” shops and T-shirt shops. That begs the question of how SPI would score if the National Geographic reviewers came to our island.

I think our town leaders should be concerned over this, since the kind of tourist we’d like to market to don’t get their clues from the Travel Channel but rather from more reliable sources such as National Geographic. When Block Island, Rhode Island scored in the 70's it was a cause for celebration - only one other island in the U.S. scored higher (80, Mackinack Island, Michigan).

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Afternoon Hookie

I’ve been trying to shoot this bird all morning. I put a bird feeder on the porch but every time I open the door or even get close to a window he takes off. Oh well, If I get a picture (no guns involved) I’ll post it later. Seems like some kind of flicker but I have my doubts. It’s great somebody likes the seed feeder though.

But the Monarchs, hummingbirds, warblers, scissor-tails, and all kinds of migrants are coming through right now, a glorious Friday on SPI. I really need a picture to ID the rare birds – since I’m not an expert and my eyes have gone south.

I tend to piss off expert naturalists anyway. Up in Central Texas they have a bazillion kinds of wildflowers, for example. You got your blue bonnet, yellow bonnet, an orange bonnet, a fire wheel bonnet, and more kinds of bonnets than you can shake a stick at.

But I did see a red bird, a yellow bird, a brown bird, and a salt-and-pepper mystery bird today, none of them local. You can tell because their accent just ain’t right.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sleepless on Oleander

Monday night was sleepless not only because of the gale winds but because the power went off again. The power went off about noon for an hour when the front came through, but somebody blew their transformer on our street. It normally take about one to two hours to replace a transformer on a telephone pole but this took from right when I was going to eat my first bite of dinner at seven o’clock until about one o’clock in the morning.

Two things: first, some damn fool let their trees grow into the power poles and the 40-knot winds caused a short to ground out, which resulted in a transformer explosion, a nice bang.

Second, due to a major design failure when our Island was laid out, the utilities were put behind the houses and when fully built out, there was no way the utility crew could get a truck to the telephone pole with a bucket lift truck. The utility easement is only five feet wide and plus, everyone (except ME) had massive retaining walls, trees, and even pool decks in the way. As a result, the crew had to climb the telephone pole by hand and then winch up a 200-pound transformer an inch at a time. No idea how much they weigh but they’re full of metal and oil and quite large up close.

No Island story would be complete without the utility trucks getting stuck in the sandy mud, although they lit up the empty lot next to us - as a favor I guess - so we could see in the our blackness only lit by three weak candles. The yellow flashers had a nice Halloween effect too. I have to give the crew credit for hanging in the game, though. Unfazed, they hooked up power after midnight and went to find some all-night restaurant, I suppose. All this was done in gale winds that even swayed the telephone poles, or so it appeared.

About two o’clock in the morning they all came back and managed to get a one-ton truck out of its hole and pull a trailer off a utility boom truck. They busted some chains with a huge bang but kept on going, nobody hurt (in fact they were laughing like hell). Then to my surprise, the largest wrecker truck in the world shows up. I mean this truck was HUGE as a semi with the trailer and was so bad it had six headlights shining backwards! It sounded like at least 1,000 horsepower and growled like a thundering devil even at low idle. Sleep? What sleep?

That wrecker operator was good. He set some mechanical feet down at the back of the wrecker and let out some one-inch cable to the trucks, which he hooked up all himself in just a minute. I swear that redneck was eating a hamburger and drinking a Coke as he adjusted the boom, winch, and engine speed like a deranged magician. When the cable went taught he pushed the throttle to the max and sparks flew out the exhaust stacks. Our pole-house shook from the vibrations. The winch was very, very slow but sure enough, a utility truck of maybe 30,000 pounds inched out of incredible four-foot ruts; he did one and then the other in maybe 30 minutes.

All because of a damn Ficus tree and our very strange Island layout.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What a Weekend!

Today is a gray, windy, rainy day, almost cold. A cool front came through and dropped the temperature down to 62 degrees, nevermind the 46 MPH north wind gusts. But ah, what a weekend. That's a picture of Sandy Feet working on her show piece at Sand Castle Days. She and Walter invented all this madness 20 years ago, and both are going strong as ever.

Good people, good food, great parties, outstanding music, and excellent body surfing - nasty days like today just makes those really good days even better.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Big, good things happening here

This weekend is Sand Castle Days, which is really cool if you can come on down. Loads of peeps are coming in and there are many parties, including one for Sandy Feet's 50th Birthday with none other than the Bongo Dogs Band as well, hooray! For those from far away and can't make it, here's a vicarious link to an eagle-eye view of the action on the beach. Fun will be had - just remember to vote for Sandy Feet!

The next weekend is the Plant Swap and Secret Garden Tour here on the Island on the 28th. Lot's of links here, and I'll post more about things native plants after the Sunday Sand Castle party.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Seven Princes of Iraq

Let's talk off-Island for a wee bit, shall we?

There’s a really cool article in the New Yorker about some opinion polls in Iraq that say they want the American forces to leave right away, and have for about four years. The model the Iraqis like the most is based on the United Emirates, in which seven sheiks or princes would be established using a tribal system under a unified king. This sounds appealing to me and I wanted to see what you thought of it, since us Americans have radically changed from supporting the war to not.

Obviously, the existing Iraqi government isn’t functioning and is more like hiding in the Green Zone. Sure, some of the U.S. forces do great work, although they fear and hate mercenaries like Blackwater. But it is obvious that Minister al-Maliki is just a sock puppet, “an emperor with no clothes.” He has no command, no respect, and is detested because of his association with President Bush.

So to heck with democracy, let’s allow the Iraqis to do what they want, which I think is some blend of a monarchy with Muslim overtones and a desire for freedom – and to knock the crap out of bad people such as the local Al Qaeda. I don’t think us Americans should be dividing up the country; let’s allow them to do that themselves. Sure, we can leave behind some special forces, trainers, and Corps of Engineers, but let’s bring our boys and girls back home.

But that’s where I disagree with Hillary Clinton, who thinks we’ll be in Iraq for decades. Americans don’t want that. Iraqis don’t want that. What part of “no” does she not understand?

But I do like the idea of self-determination for Iraq. Our country was founded on beliefs such as “We, the people …”

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Trolls Explained Here

What’s a troll? We all have images of them living in the forests and glens like under bridges, usually ugly old fat men who scare the crap out of everyone, although all they want is a little food or booze. There are companies that even specialize in making garden trolls, some of which are collector’s items. They are thought to be based on Norse mythology and possessed magical abilities although nobody knows where the word “troll” came from. The English ogre is very close to the same depictions of trolls although dwarfish. In the U.S. we have our Sasquatch and “Hairy Man,” usually giants. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a Hollywood depiction of the smaller, nicer ogre style. As an aside, the trolls usually steal the princess, but picky, picky … it’s arguably the most famous movie in the world.

But an Internet troll that’s a different thing. These are anonymous people who flame on forums and blogs so as to bait people into a fight. The word is probably based on the word “trolling” such as the method of fishing. Everybody does it, including yours truly here, although some people have made a reputation of making themselves “trollish” because of their constant negativity. The most famous Internet troll was Snopes, the guy who took it on himself to be a fact-checker and creator of what we now call urban legends.

Why do I bring this up? I’m not having any troll problems on this blog, although others such as Sandy Feet and Island Voice have had their share of “cyber-snipers” from time to time. But over on Jason’s SPI Forum it is Troll City. Suffice it to say it is intensely political. If I had to pick a representative from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs it would be Grumpy, Grumpy, Grumpy, and whoa, there’s even a girl like Grumpy!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Boomers and Zoomers and Goobers, Oh My!

I am not a boomer, so please don’t call me one. The only time I boom is if I have too many beans and starchy food and we don’t talk much about that. My son now he’s a boomer, even though Generation X, because everything he touches goes boom – but that’s a different story.

Worse yet, please don’t call be a “zoomer.” I drive like a farmer, thank you. I suppose the term is supposed refer to a Baby Boomer from the 1950’s who gathers income so fast they zoom up the economic ladder. What can I say - I have two kids in their early 20’s so we simply don’t zoom to our full potential.

But guess what, the group think on the Island is that we need more zoomers and boomers. Well that’s what some hired consultants say and is the common wisdom. Personally, I think the consultant had a wee bit too much self-fulfilling zoom in his boom and we got some really bad advice.

The early inhabitants of this Island came here because it was one heck of a getaway from mainland life and some simply never left. They were a healthy mixture of surfers, artists, business people, and the retired or semi-retired. It was funky and laid back. If you lived here you learned how to make your money in the summer, capitalize on some Winter Texans and maybe Spring Break, and make the money last all year. Some painted, built sand castles, rented surf boards, wrote newspaper articles, worked charter boats, built houses and docks, bought and sold real estate, and worked in the entertainment joints. A few became “millionaires with no cash” but that doesn’t sound very zoomy-boomy to me.

I know, the consultant (TIP Strategies) was talking about a demographic thing but I am concerned about marketing to the McMansion condo type – people who never live here and don’t care about the Island except what they can get out of it. At the end of the day, we want just some regular nice, cool, laid back people to live here year round and I don’t care how old they are or how much they’re worth.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Poof, the Magic Dragon

Puff, the magic dragon
lived by the sea

and frolicked in the autumn mist
in a land called honah lee

Well it looks like hurricane season is rapidly drawing to a close, a condition that weather gurus call "poof." After a few dramatic surprises such as Dean and Humberto, all the more recent Atlantic storms seemed to be blown apart by wind sheer - including the last depression we were watching down by Honduras, '94L'. As we joked about "not bogarting it" on the Weather Underground blog, we agreed that it was probably the start of basketball and Global Warming season. But as explained by Dr. Jeff Masters, the U.S. is currently quite warmer or cooler depending on where you live.

Courtesy National Climate Data Center, click to enlarge

So when it gets slow like this the weather gurus start talking about stuff like winter storms and why the hurricane predictions for this year were so stinky-bad. They really don't want to get involved in the "millionth argument over GW," referring to Global Warming. And just so you know, when I posted my Poof the magic dragon poem they loved it!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Mosquito Fleet

Little coastal towns all over the U.S. have something known as the "mosquito fleet." These are small boats, and the mosquitoes are almost a given. If you want to learn about real famous Mosquito Fleets, see Wikipedia. But we do have a fairly good size mosquito fleet here on SPI, from skinny-water bay boats to offshore boats 70 feet long.

We also happen to be horribly infested by mosquitoes right now. A neighbor's house alarm went off before dusk yesterday (because of the mosquitoes?) and a cop came out ... the critters about ate us both to death. He called in a 10-90 for a can of insect repellent and in a jiffy we were both hosing ourselves down with DEET. The officer asked if "the bug man" had been out this week and I said I hadn't seen or heard the spray truck in the least, maybe weeks.

I can remember mosquitoes on SPI but during the middle of the day? I've never seen anything like this. They're in the bushes, on the north side of the house, and if a cloud obscures the sun they're everywhere. I'm just worried I might get Denial Disease, which as we know started near De Nile.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Who Owns the Beach?

I ask the question “who owns the beach,” because nobody really knows. Below the mean high water mark, the State of Texas owns the land outright, although it can lease parts to other people, such as through the GLO for oil & gas or even wind turbine projects. The beach is a much more complicated thing.

Research reveals that the Town of SPI might in fact own some land on the beach through a deed by the original developer, John L. Tompkins (more information to follow in a few days). It probably is just a few acres. Otherwise, the Town doesn’t own a darn speck of land on the beach.

The reason why SPI has cop cars and code enforcement out on those beaches is because Texas Legislature allowed that. That legislation allowed coastal towns to control vehicle traffic, encourage beach renourishment, and require access; however it did not grant any easement, conveyance, right of way, or other ownership to the Town in the least.

So the important concept is that Texas allowed SPI to manage the beach but not really possess all of it. Indeed, many land parcels go down all the way from Gulf Boulevard all the way down to the high water mark. The eastern section would be a no-man’s land in between the historical building line and the vegetation line and then the beach itself. It could be an easement in the sense that the strip of beach along the Gulf is considered a highway – just look on County land in Boca Chica and to the north of town, where yes you can get a speeding ticket on their “highway.”

Here in Texas we are blessed to have an open beaches act, since in many other states the owners own all the way to the high water mark. The subtle undercurrent is that we don’t know who really owns the land when public works projects are considered for the beach, vegetation, and dunes. For example, how can we permit beach umbrellas and chairs when we really don’t own the beach?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Come on down, water's fine!

I’m all for attracting people to this island and hope that business grows. I just don’t see that the Town really owes it to any business to bring in more traffic. I thought the idea was to take care of the residents first, and leverage some money through the Economic Development Corporation. Lord knows, with over three million in Motel Tax money every year, you’d think we satisfied enough obligations to the tourist industry.

But no, people seem to want more, like special events and all kinds of expensive stuff. “Bring back the Pirate Days” and bigger music venues, people say. Hey, I love a good concert or talking like a pirate, but honestly, I don’t feel obliged to raise money for other businesses. If you look at the SPI social calendar, there are a myriad of meetings, fishing tournaments, fund-raisers, sports events, and parties every single month. And you want MORE?

Part of the problem is this “us or them” division regarding our neighbors in the Valley (that last thought was my wife’s really). If we spent our advertising in the Valley and treated our neighbors with respect, we wouldn’t need a dozen new venues. But no, we spend money in places like Dallas, Houston, and Minnesota. There is this idea that we need wealthy white people with blond kids to come down here. Then, in a fit of craziness, we market to wannabee gang-bang punks with the “Who’s Your Padre” theme. Hey at least I’m not making this stuff up!

As proof, Lori tells me that the Music Fest, featuring Robert Earl Kean, has only sold a little more than a thousand tickets. The reason: they didn’t market to the Valley. Advertising elsewhere was something like a hundred grand – a ton of money. Sponsors wanted folks to pony up MORE money for food, musicians to stay in nice places, and stuff like that.

Then there’s the idea of beautifying the Island. I’m all for doing that so the local residents feel better about it. Myself, I’m proud of our committee work to fix some bay ends. But to equate pretty flowers and trees with increased tourism is all arsey-versey. It’s not like you can plant some flats of winter pansy and hope to sprout 2,000 additional visitors.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Oleander gets mowed

I guess I'm not upset or anything, although I can't figure out why people are clearing lots in what is the best birding area within town, excepting the convention center. Funny thing is, all the grass was mowed and many native trees like the Tepguaje were cut down ... but the invasive, horribly nasty Brazilian Pepperwood was left standing.

I guess if a person owns some land, they should be able to do whatever. I guess one day this Island will be paved flat, anyway, so all the natural areas will all be gone except for submerged marshland.

Don't get me wrong. I like the mowed look. It's just that we don't have many wild areas left on the Island.

UPDATE. I talked with the code enforcement dude who said there were outstanding complaints from some local grump. He took pictures of the cleared lot and looked happy. However, this policy is directly contradictory to a BOA (town government) policy is to NOT cut down or mow down lots during the fall bird migration, which could be in September and October (I think November, too). Wife Lori sent a scathing email from my machine saying how stupid the system was working, and to change it please. /sam

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Now let us praise ...

Here I am singing in praise of mice and men. First the men. The contractor for the Town completed patching the roads, which was nice because people were detouring into my yard to go around the darn thing. But never a complaint from me! I was happy to see the progress.

Second, the mice – I mean of the computer kind. My DSL line had been acting up so I called ATT for service, since I was getting dropped off half the time. So this guy named Mike comes out in a rusty old SWBELL truck and tests here and there, fixes the outside switchbox, repairs a couple splices, and gets me up to almost Road-Runner line speed. All this within 24 hours, can you believe it? I’m like wow, how much do I owe ya Mike? Nada, he says, have a great day.

Here’s a new word I invented, “cursoritis.” That’s when you’re looking for that file, bookmark, or link in a big list on your computer and you can’t find it. It turns out that your mouse cursor is right on top of what you needed, blocking your view. That’s a bad case of cursoritis.

Not much to report other than a hellacious crop of seaweed came in with the east wind, with more of the black kind – looks like dead Sargasso weed but I can’t tell. The black mystery stuff on the south beaches is being cleaned up, if they can find any left.

Here’s a good one, Scarlet Colley was out diving by the breakwaters the other day and was amazed by all the tarpon, snook, grouper, snapper, and tropical fish out there. Maybe I should head out to the Jetty instead of the surf for fishing!

One last note, tonight is “weed the butterfly garden night” at about 6:00. That’s down between Saturn and Esperanza on the Gulf side – feel free to bring along some implements of weed destruction (IWD) and some drinky-winkies. And leave the mouse at home …

Saturday, September 15, 2007

BBQ Oysters

For the oyster lovers out there, my latest passion is to BBQ them. I like the idea of cooking them, and love to BBQ, so this is big fun. I've tried many here on the Island, many raw and many done as Oysters Rockefeller, but sorry, I like my way better.

BBQ oysters probably date back to time immemorial and the Indians. The principle is to cook the oyster over fire, hot rocks, or whatever - and when done, the oyster will open itself. No need to stab yourself in the hand with an oyster knife, nice.

I saw one recipe dated 1884 that was probably the shortest recipe ever written - just wash the oysters clean, put in a pan, and cook on medium heat until they open, about three to ten minutes depending on your fire. Most people back then roasted oysters, made oyster stew, or whatever. Some do the same idea right ob the BBQ grill, without the pan (nice naked touch there, some hissing as some juice flows when they open). As is today, eating raw ones was considered risky business.

A few pointers: right off the fire, those oysters are hot as the devil and have maybe a teaspoon of boiling water in them. I use clean gloves and tong for this job, and put the cooked oysters in a pan to cool for a minute. I also have a very large screwdriver in case the oyster needs some encouragement to open up all the way.

Serving them is fun, since everyone has their own ideas what to do, although garlic-butter sauce is always a winner. Notice that the oyster meat is small and not so goopy looking. You might need a small knife to separate the meat from the muscle. Myself, I like them just plain or with a shot of Cholula hot sauce, just a dab. Salsa, cheese sauce, fruit, and all kinds of stuff work though. Lori fixes hers with spinach and bacon bits sometimes.

My experiment with using Sargasso seaweed didn't go so well though. This is a North Carolina tradition thought to be handed down from the Indians - but mine caught fire. I had no idea seaweed could burn so well! Yeah, life of the party ... see you on the beach sometime.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Armageddon on SPI

photo credit: some Flickr person named Amy

OK, I wrote something REALLY creepy here and Lori (my better half) says it had to go. There's no "end of the world" down here and ... well it was just a cool picture I found!

Nice Photo-Shop job, Amy!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

SPI a Cruise Destination?

I stirred the pot the other day on the SPI Forum when I commented that I was not a big fan of one of the consultant recommendations for our Island, which was to make it a cruise ship destination. Apparently, this was a near and dear issue for the local politicians, who I suppose put that recommendation on the table. It is also something that the Brownsville Navigation District wants to do. So you can imagine I caught some flak when I said it was a pretty silly idea.

I went from Mr. Goodbar to Mr. Negativity in a heartbeat.

But basically I said that the economics wasn’t there. The common wisdom is that a cruise ship deal would bring in millions of dollars in revenue, create jobs, and sell houses and condos. First, some nautical stuff: cruise stops can be (a) a port of embarkation or (b) a day lay-over. The first requires a huge dock, a terminal, passport clearance facilities, baggage handlers, and transportation access for not only the customers but hundreds of staff and tons of deliveries such as for fuel, water, and fuel. The second can be similar or just be an anchorage slightly offshore, which is serviced by small ferryboats to carry passengers to the land and back to the ship. I think most folks were expecting the second option, since South Padre Island really doesn’t have any port facilities, and it would take years to build one.

In a typical layover, a ship will only spend about eight hours in any port or anchorage – unless it breaks down, of course. Most are daytime layovers which start about 8:00 in the morning and end by 5:00 in the evening, just like clockwork. So let’s say a cruise ship arrived at SPI in the morning and began ferrying passengers to somewhere around Dolphin Cove on County land, the most likely drop-off spot because the Town does not have any facilities on the bayside. Passengers would have an option to come to SPI and of the several thousand on board, about two thirds would probably come over. This would take several hours each direction, since the ferries only hold about 60 people each. So in this case, “cruise people” would basically be on the Island from 10:00 until maybe 3:00.

Now think of it, when people go on a cruise costing $500 to $1,500 dollars they get two things: a very small, cramped double-occupancy cabin and a ton of food. Out goes any “heads in beds” for the Island, and while some people may want more food at lunchtime, they know they have free food almost at any hour of the day. The only thing they might want is cheap booze because the cruise liners really charge exorbitant rates for booze, and tack on 15 percent automatically. So you have over a thousand people with no transportation stuck in Isla Blanca Park. I suspect most would simply go to the beach, or explore the area down by Sea Ranch Marina.

There seems to be some misperception that cruise passengers are loaded with money and will buy expensive stuff all over the Island. This is perhaps incorrect. Many cruise lines actually try to use their own vendors instead of letting people spend their money on the locals, which is true for many ports of call in the Bahamas and Caribbean – even relaxation is highly structured on a cruise ship. No telling what would be done down by Isla Blanca, but by 3:00 the herd will be headed back to the cruise ship. There is actually a head-count to make sure that everybody who got off the ship got back on, with no illegal stowaways. Missing passengers are put on a list and given to the local police. The anchor is raised at precisely 5:00 and the ship leaves, like clockwork.

So tell me, does this sound like a bundle of money for our Island?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mystery of the Black Stuff on the Beach

Some mysterious black stuff washed up on our southerly beaches over the last two days, which has the Town all in a tizzy now. Fortunately it is not oil and the black stuff isn’t really all that concentrated. But it’s right there where the waves wash up the beach, called the wrack line. Thank goodness it doesn’t stick to your feet like tar.

Nobody has seen anything like it. It more resembles a fine powder like black carbon soot. So far, the Coast Guard and General Land Office have ruled it is not hazardous, which only makes some of us MORE concerned. I just got off the phone with a reporter for our local paper, who said samples were sent to the local office for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; these people couldn’t ID it so they sent the stuff up to another region office in Corpus Christi that has more lab equipment.

Meanwhile, a large freighter ship sits ominously a mile or so east of the Jetties. I really can’t say it was a cause of anything, other than it was a coincidence that the black mystery stuff showed up after it anchored out there. Conceivably, the ship could have dumped some black stuff such as from:

  • Soot blowing to clean boilers and stacks
  • Cargo hold cleaning

The good news is that the black stuff is not thick in the water. Up at Access 14 by Oleander Street I didn’t see any in appreciable amounts - it was much more prevalent down by Access 5 and Marlin Street. I would have gone in the water except that the northerly wind set up a pretty messy chop, no good for fishing or body surfing. If indeed it turns out to be pure carbon, that stuff is completely OK in the environment.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Is it 50 or what?

Saturday is Charlie Bommer’s birthday, so come on down to the Wanna to celebrate if you’re around or not at the sea turtle fundraiser. Starts about 8:30.

For those of you who don’t know him, wow, I don’t think he’d mind me telling on him a little bit. First, he runs The Beach Service of seaside umbrella and lounge chair fame, with labor mostly from needy college kids that have to have safety training. He has a wonderful wife, Rachael, and loads of kids and kin. At one time he was an engineer for Harley Davidson, I mean how cool is that? His roots go back to the “simple folk” such as the Mennonites, Amish, and Quakers of Pennsylvania. That’s a coincidence because my mother’s side of the family was from that same exact location, outside Lancaster, PA.

Hah, the old boy was just telling me the other night how he likes to work on old cars, motorbikes, and boats after work, recycling old stuff if it had potential or scrapping it out. So he was in the driveway of the Island Market telling me how he was literally flipping car hulks over all by himself – you know, with chains and stuff. “That’s how come the trailer looks so squished back there, Sammy” he adds with a twinkle in his eye – and a huge grin.

Weird part is he is always stone cold sober except maybe twice a year. Since he mentioned that water pistols and cream pies were usually involved in his birthday celebrations, I figure it will be a rocking good time. Happy birthday, Charlie.

Monday, September 03, 2007

First Sand Castle Days - 1988

Thanks to Sandy Feet for sending me a link to her archive of old Sand Castle Days pictures (click for tons of fun!). Here's the very first poster from the event, hand-drawn in almost the Armadillo Headquarters style. There is also another poster that looks a lot like an early Mac/Apple did it, hey Sandy? As a young and budding historian I thought I would share a few nuggets of information about what is today a very large, corporate event, and a "signature" Island event at that.

Back in 1988, 25 or 50 bucks would get you a sponsorship. it was an Island funky thing, born at homespun places like Boomerang Billy's but in 1988 held at the old Holiday Inn. The event was also sponsored by what was called the South Padre Island Merchant's Association. I don't recall many names other than Rovan's was on the list, as well as Jake's.

This year's Sand Castle Days will happen as usual in the third week of October. It's a wonderful event and please do make plans to attend. No, it is not the funky artist thing it used to be, but I hope to be able to praise the original folks, share some history, remember those sculptors who have passed away, and thank all the returning or new artists - it's a true tradition now.

It's got history, baby!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Unlitter Parade

Here's just a few members of the Unlitter Parade on South Padre Island today. A good time was had by all as we marched in total organized chaos from the Palm Hotel to the Wanna. It was a beautiful morning although rainy in the afternoon after we quit. Thanks to Nancy Marsden and her cast of craft camp gals, who made art out of all kinds of stuff on the beach - and wore it with pride!

If the weather holds, Sunday will be Save Island Blanca Day where the Sons of the Beach will again be playing ukes and stirring up a good time for all. More updates to follow ... happy Labor Day Weekend, y'all.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Cool Picture

I'd thought I'd share this picture about hurricane tracks. Beautiful, no?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Full Sturgeon Moon

Reflecting on the end of summer, which doesn't officially end until the equinox on September 23, I see the passing of time and less crowds on the beach. It was as if Hurricane Dean pulled the plug on the season, followed by schools opening on Monday the 27th. So much for extending the shoulder season on the Island.

The Full Sturgeon Moon follows on August 28th, at least according to the Farmers Almanac. Interesting, that's what Indians called it in the Great Lakes area, not that we have any sturgeon down here. By the Harvest Moon a month later, summer will be over for good and cool fronts should be headed our way.

Unlike many tourist spots, our traffic inevitably stops in mid-August, to be followed by some special weekends for the bikers and sand castle lovers, and then blissful peace until the Winter Texans arrive. Time clicks away on our Island according to its own clock, no matter the calamities or weather, inexplicably marching onward like migrating butterflies.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Storm Tide Redux

It is amazing that for all the science we have today, we still can’t figure out how ocean waves work. I will spare the reader a lot of technical voodoo, but ocean waves are themselves chaotic events, and while we can record them we still do not understand them. Here is my feeble attempt.

At first I was interested in storm surge, which usually comes along with a hurricane. Previous media releases said Hurricane Dean could produce an 18-foot storm surge with 12-foot waves on top of that. That would add up to a massive 30-foot tall column of water. Indeed, some of the largest storm tides are about 30 feet high, so this was not unrealistic. However, it turns out that what we call “waves” and “surges” are incredibly complex. Consider the following graphic:

What this says is that wave height includes the trough, which can be roughly half the size of a standing ocean wave. Indeed some of the largest waves ever recorded, possibly 100 feet tall, have some of the deepest troughs. To avoid much of the problem with figuring out storm surge versus wave size, most authorities now simply record “storm tide,” which takes into account many things at once including the tide, rainfall, barometric pressure, ocean waves, and the large blob of water being pushed by a hurricane. Conceptually it might be presented as in the following diagram, but is expressed as a single number in terms of feet or meters above mean average tide datum.

This is not the greatest depiction because the storm tide should include some wave action, maybe half, and there is a great deal of evidence that waves actually get smaller when up on the beach because rotational energy has been spent. More about wave set-up and swash run-up later, as this stuff is only beginning to be understood and modeled correctly – or shall we say more elegantly.

From a conceptual view, not all storm tides are created equal, since a hurricane spins counter-clockwise. This means that most of the hurricane surge will be on the right-hand side of the cyclone. This is not to say that there is no hurricane surge surrounding and following the eye on both sides, but that maximums will be located as indicated below, on the front right quadrant.

Depending on storm direction, angle of attack, severity, and fetch (duration over water) the left or weak “subsidence” side of the storm may have a large storm tide, such as we saw when Katrina hit New Orleans, or have the unusual effect of sucking all the water out of the bays until they are nearly dry. Implications for South Padre Island could be that under certain conditions, a glancing blow offshore could cause Laguna Madre to create a storm tide that could flood the island from the bayside.

Most conventional models used by emergency planners these days only estimate storm surge and are notoriously very crude. They do not take into consideration the effects of diminishing wave heights near-shore, or the effects of wave set-up and swash run-up. Most wave heights are recorded offshore where they are at their maximum; as they run into the five or six sandbars that parallel our coast, they tend to break, thus releasing their energy. That is why 15-foot waves offshore might only be 5 feet tall when in the beach zone. This effect is called “wave set-up” and depending on the area can cause diminished waves onshore or in other places generate huge monsters (e.g., waves off Australia). Once the ocean wave finally breaks for the last time and travels up the beach that is called “swash run-up.” The swash is what causes most of the erosion, damage, and flooding here on South Padre Island.

The picture shows wave swash on a fairly steep beach, and not only increases storm tide height but also can have a horizontal distribution inland as well. After the swash expends its force, water rushes backwards to the ocean like a giant vacuum cleaner, called swash return. This is the main reason why we lose sand off our beaches during major cyclones.

In conclusion, I do not claim to be on the forefront of science, as all I wanted to do was to introduce some new concepts and go onto say that since Katrina, scientists have renewed their efforts to understand what we thought were very simple things. I found several hundred academic articles written between late 2005 and the present. Scientists are still baffled by it all, such as how the storm could blow giant tumble-weed balls of trash 50 miles inland, and why we would find debris from 50 miles inland way out in the ocean, seemingly all at once. The fact is, we simply don’t understand waves.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sayonara, Dean

Above: a screen shot from Sandy Feet's "Sandcastle Inn" webcam where we just fixed the camera angle. Below: Sammie and one seagull on the beach.

Hurricane Dean just went inland at 20.5 degrees latitude near a village called Poza Rica (1:00 CDT). It’s all over now except a few waves coming ashore, not as impressive as the surfers hoped, but maybe eight to twelve feet on the outside – and I’m not swimming out there to check for ya!

The Island is nearly deserted now, and most of the government stuff has been ordered to “stand down” and head back north. The list is rather impressive – and before I go further, some people did object to my last posting about the bureaucrats but as I said, it was the weather model arguments and not the great emergency preparation itself, from top to bottom.

· Six C-130 military cargo planes

· Activation of all surrounding Coast Guard and Navy helicopters and vessels

· 3,000 urban transit and school buses

· An unknown number of Texas National Guard troops (perhaps 1,000 vehicles)

· 80,000 barrels of gasoline

There is much more than this list, such as the overtime from local officials, the TxDOT, and all Border Patrol. The 80,000 barrel statistics sounds a little funny – perhaps gallons is more like it because that much fuel would be 3.4 million gallons, or about 420 semi truckloads of gasoline. Regardless, I’d like to thank all the officials and worker bees.

Now could somebody please tell all the tourists it's OK to come on back?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Clueless Bureaucrats

Thanks to SciGuy over at the Houston Chronicle, we're starting to sniff the massive emergency ops in Texas and detect a noticeable stink. The Governor down to all the locals have been maintaining that Hurricane Dean could smash into Texas late Wednesday, and have mobilized even more equipment and manpower. The reason is because two model tracks come to Texas, as is shown in the above graphic (thanks, Eric!).

As SciGuy proves, the two tracks coming to Texas either (1) aren't models or (2) so dumbed-down as to be useless. What the heck is going on? Or as SciGuy asks in his blog, "Anyone else found hyperbole with regards to Dean in the last week?"

Seeds of the story seem to come from two immediate sources, a spokesman for the Brownsville Weather Service and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, the latter of which shared the news on Fox TV (see a pattern here?). The offending quote from the Brownsville NWS reads:

"We're in full swing. There are still a couple of models that show us getting a direct hit."

What a load of pure, unmitigated crap. I should have known better last night when mysterious, anonymous bloggers were preaching on the Weather Underground blog that "Dean is shifting north right now; Texas WILL be hit." Then this morning I read the Valley Morning Star, our local newspaper, and about blew coffee ('Tracking storms no exact science,' Amanda Harris, August 20, 2007). You guessed it, Amanda quoted a spokesman for the Brownsville Weather Service.

Conspiracy or not, it does appear that from top to bottom, the emergency planners were struck by an intense lightning bolt of dumb-ass. Get over it, folks, there is no three-story wall of water coming to flood SPI this week, and Hurricane Dean is headed for landfall south of Cozumel and then south of Tampico, Mexico. You don't have to justify spending tens of millions of my tax money on some kind of stupidity and folly.