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.