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.

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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.