Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bonfire Update #1

OK, I realize I was confusing in my original post. The bonfire is still on for New Years Day, Thursday.

Weather-wise, a mild front is due to come through this morning with fairly strong NE winds. On Thursday, the wind is expected to switch back to the South. The question is the timing of the wind and rain right at about dusk when we want to light the fire. So far, so good.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Calling All SOBs - Bonfire!

Wednesday is the 31st and we're hoping for a good evening for a pachanga at the end of the road again. You know the drill. I'll bring the wood, and hopefully Sandy Feet and other have some contributions, and y'all just bring your chairs, ukuleles, kazoos, marshmallows, or whatever. Oh, some wine and beer is completely acceptable by the way. Food is gud. End of the road, face right due East, and walk about 150 yards and you'll see us.

When? Well we'll have to watch that because nobody wants to go up to the North End in 40 degrees of weather and drizzle, or worse. We want nice. Stay in touch with the SOBs and no problem.

Help needed? You betcha! We lost some of our most venerable surf trucks and Jeeps, so we'll most likely need some help hauling gear and firewood from the street. My back will thank ya.

What time? Well once we get the "go" from the powers that be, including the weather gods, the early crew is out there about 4 o'clock loading wood and stuff so it's still daylight. The sun goes down and we light a small camp fire. The fire gets bigger after dinnertime. One time some locals came by with a ton of wood and old pallets and it was quite spectacular.

What should I bring? The usual stuff plus a flashlight for walking the dunes in the dark. Trash bags are good, since we haul off all our waste plus some more beach trash. We're asking people not to bring fireworks because some dogs will be there, and it scares them.

When? The extended forecast shows New Years Day being OK with a high in the 70s with a low in the 60s but a 10% chance of rain. Looks like a cold front might come in after that, not sure. After a Polar Bear plunge, might be nice! -sammie

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas

'Twas a South Padre Christmas and all down the beach,
White sand stretched as far as it could reach.
The flippers were hung on the balcony with care,
In the hopes that Santa soon would drift there.

The Texans were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of Key Lime pie danced in their heads.
Bahama mama in her grass skirt and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long tropical nap.

When out in the night there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my hammock to see what was the matter.
Away to the screen door I flew like a flash,
Tore open the curtains and let out a gasp.

The moon on the water, how it did glow,
Giving a luster of midday to palm trees below.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature yacht out past the pier.

With a little old captain so lively and quick,
I thought for a moment, "Could it be St. Nick?"
More rapid than the waves, the dolphins they came
And he whistled and shouted and called them by name.

"Now Flipper, now Moby, now Sebastian and Willy,
On Flounder, on Orca, on Jaws and Charlie -
From the end of the pier to our port of call,
Now swim away, swim away, swim away all!"

And then in a twinkling I heard on the beach,
The chirping and chattering and splashing of each.
As I redrew the curtains and was turning around,
Through the front door St. Nicholas came with a bound.

Dressed in his trunks with a beer in his hand,
His feet were all covered with snow-like white sand.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a tourist just opening his pack.

His eyes - how they twinkle, his dimples how merry,
His cheeks were sunburned, his nose like a cherry.
His droll little mouth cracked a big smile,
The goatee on his chin, showed he could be kinda wild.

The snorkel he held tight in his teeth,
The mask it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a red face and a sunburned belly,
That shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.

Trunks and a cold “Gold”, a strange old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A flash of the peace sign and a nod of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the flippers, then turned with a jerk.
Now laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, out the door he goes.

He sprang to his yacht to his team gave a call,
And away they swam past the lighthouse and all.
But I heard him exclaim as he traveled out of sight,
"Christmas in South Padre, now that's doin' it right!"

-adapted from "Christmas in Abaco" by Nick Campbell and Debbie Midwood circa 2004

Friday, December 19, 2008

Half Shares in a Shrimp Boat

That's a picture of a massive crane barge lifting what is left of an 80-foot shrimp boat that got stuck on the end of the South Jetty. Photo credits go to Dennis Barrett and his Sandslave blog.

A bunch of us - maybe nearly 1,500 - were watching the Sky Cam yesterday, which had remarkable zoom ability from several miles away. It appeared that the stern of the shrimp boat broke off, perhaps after the recent heavy winds and high seas. Both sections of boat seemed to dangle and be smashed on the jetty, a horrifying sight! Dennis grabbed this picture once the crane barge was in smoother waters of the Brownsville Ship Channel.

So it was a neat day for watching the waters yesterday, as the shrimp boat was dangled and mangled, and workers were moving 500-foot sections of dredge pipe down the beach. Heavy action to say the least.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shallow and Cold

For the last hour I've been watching as the sun struggles - finally - to burn through the clouds. This was very strange, as the wind was out of the north yet the clouds were trucking to the north about 20 miles an hour! Obviously, the weathermen called it right as a shallow cold front even though they botched the last three day's forecast pretty bad - the front was originally supposed to stall north of here.

Ah, more sun. Anyway that was neat with the cool wind one way, and the clouds and mist at about a thousand feet going the other. I mean those clouds were trucking, probably meaning a major warm-up is on the way.

I also think it is neat that in these heady times when we think we know everything, we still can't get the weather right. Obviously we don't know very much, do we?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

We're Too Darned High

The subject for this post is real estate and the the theme is whether SPI really is cheaper than other places in the US. This conversation came up during our "Alternatini" gathering because we weren't invited to Martini Night, and how a real good business simply couldn't find anything on the island that was remotely workable.

So I hit the books and did a little research. I can't compare condos yet, as they have zero land, but I was able to compare land lot prices in terms of dollars per acre.
  • Block Island, RI: $0.7M per acre
  • Martha's Vineyard: $0.8M per acre
  • South Padre Island: $1.4M per acre
I know I have avoided the California issue but places like Block Island, Martha's Vineyard, Long island NY, and Nantucket are the cream of the crop, the highest land prices on the Eastern Seaboard. The fact is, our prices are double theirs.

This came as quite a surprise because the prevailing logic that SPI is cheaper than most other places. I can do some more research, although it involves putting numbers into a spreadsheet, but I don't think the answers would change much. The prevailing logic was wrong. Face it, we're trying to screw the market and the potential home buyer knows it. Here are the chief reasons:
  • The average home lot is only 0.14 acres in SPI, a small postage stamp
  • Other places offer land at in terms of 1 to 2 acres, with small lots being 0.25 acres, lots of space that people really value
  • The Town of SPI isn't nearly that great or pretty to offset the very high cost of land
What is truly baffling is that many people bought land down here when it was only $200K to $400K per acre or even cheaper if you'd been here since the early 70's. How did we end up adding a million to those kinds of numbers and get away with it?

Until recently we did. That all stopped about two years ago when the housing market dried up. The only moving down here are condos and townhomes and they aren't doing too great either. It is simple math: we're too damn high.

To tell the truth, I moved here for quality of life and knew about the costs and did my research. But I wouldn't expect "zoomers and boomers" to fall from the sky because we're totally upside down on our land prices. I can tell you why islanders move to Port Isabel or Bayview though: you can get an entire acre or more for the price, including a $250,000 house on it.

Best and Worst Jobs

I think building sand castles is still one of the coolest jobs on the Earth. But what's the worst?

"Anal gland expresser."

Wish I was making it up...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Santa is a witch!

I knew it! Old Saint Nick move over, the real "Santa" is a witch called Befana. See the story here on Spiegel.

I never did trust some fat boy with flying reindeer, anyway, I mean you've got to be kidding. Women know the good kids and the bad kids and do 90 percent of Christmas, anyway. Hey, what's a little broomstick action if they want to get around town, anyway? It's much more believable - and yes, I used to watch Bewitched when I was a kid, too.

Nick, face it, you're getting rather worn out, the North Pole is melting, and nobody's buying much in this stinking Madoff economy. Come on down to South Padre and lose some weight. I betcha Amazing Walter would let the elves stay in his garage workshop until ya get a nice condo thing working.

I know Santa really was and is a woman because my dad used to come home from work in December and ask if the kids were any good that day. Sheesh, mom had the dirt on everybody, all six of us, no fooling that lady! Badda-bing, badda-boom, badda-boop, list them off one after the other. Gosh we were stinkers sometimes, talk about a multiple listing service!

No I'm not saying my mother is Befana, no way. Befana is a real witch in Italy, really nasty and dirty and crooked and sooty with bad teeth and torn rags. Now come on, the job pays about ten Euros an hour so you have to look the part and get into it. But it's a neat story.

And Old Saint Nick, you're always welcome at our beach bungalow, brother. Just no Ho-Ho-Ho around the old lady, OK?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

OK, that's enuff

I put out double rations of birdseed today on account of the cold weather but ugh ... looks like these fellas were still hungry. How they tripped the trap latch is a mystery, since they don't weigh but a few ounces. Funny thing, they just stood there and we cooed at each other, and then I opened the gate and off they flew. No mas. I called the town to get the trap and please "no mo." The score:
  • 15 tequatche possum
  • 1 yearling mapache raccoon
  • 3 very stupid neighborhood cats (released)
  • 2 really cool pigeons (released)
I wish that was a list of all the offshore fish I caught this summer, but oh well.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Toasty 2008 Number 3

What a beautiful day Sunday was down by the Wanna-Wanna. We got to help Sandy Feet as she carved another Toasty the Snowman. Jerry Wilson took the picture shown above and Island Princess took the one below. Me, the dummy in the crown, I forgot my camera.

Lots of visiting families, Winter Texans, islanders, and a large group from Monterrey stopped by for a picture or six. Oh yea, and Sun Clay, Amazing and Laurie, and many more. It was very fun. Thanks, Feets!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Great Googly Moogly!

As you can see in today's picture, it's a windy, cold, and damp day on the island, more like that Connecticut Yankee weather I grew up with. So the mind wanders to other pursuits, such as Oogedy Boogedy and such irrelevant things.

But first let's start with the boogies, from which all these terms arise. The boogie itself was inspired by black history and their blues form of music. It had a dual meaning of a scary, mean, ghostly bad man ("boo") but also having a very good time with some music and some booze and some fun. In fact, the terms voodoo chile and boogie chillen are almost interchangeable, since their music came over from the tribes such as in Mali, Africa. The important concept was the mixture of extreme danger and extreme fun, all at once: be afraid and smile.

Great Googly Moogly dates back to exactly the same concept, although perhaps more fun and more extreme at once, if that is possible. The Wikipedia entry fails to grasp this duality very well although it does have some nice references to both the blues artists of the 50's and current humor. It is a difficult concept unless you know a little about the blues and what "the boogies" are.

This is all leading up to Kathleen Parker's editorial about oogedy-boogedy. In this she conveniently lays out as an attack on the over-religious right in the Republican Party, and it perhaps her third editorial about their problem with the "God squad."

Not so fast, Kathy!

The term originally comes from ooga-booga and while its origination is unclear and does seem to be associated with superstitious beliefs, it is basically a parody on dumb people who are depicted as living like apes. Ask a kid about how cavemen or tribes in Africa communicated, they will probably say "like oogabooga." In a sense it was a deliberate slam on black people, perhaps the same people who celebrated the blues: one can almost hear a KKK person saying it. But significantly, notice the b-o-o-g part on the end, which should mean something to us now, both linguistically and etymologically speaking.

So Kathy's column today invented another variant of that slam-phrase, twisting its meaning in a very sardonic and sarcastic manner. I'm sure she has no idea of what she was saying with those words. Ho-ho-ho, you bad girl, Kathleen! Oogedy-boogedy, girl chile!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Steal This Picture

This is a very famous aerial photo of SPI during Hurricane Georges waves of 1998, done by Richard Stockton. Yes it is copyrighted but Gene Gore has is on his website, easy to download from there too. I use it for my deck-top graphic and not the screen saver: it's too good.

What I like is how you can see the current flow past Barracuda Bay and the rows of waves that indicate the sandbars on the beach. On a jet plane you can see those rows of waves from about 25,000 feet - well, maybe on a good day but you know what I mean.

Jerry Wilson also has some good stuff although I haven't seen his stills yet, but is the new "Stockton" of our island although I heard that Richard is still alive and kicking. You can double click the picture and it should get quite larger. I can barely make out my neighborhood - small island, isn't it?

Monday, December 01, 2008

A Word about those Pigeons

Well after conjecturing and postulating, it turns out that the pigeons are here for a reason - Peregrine Falcon food!

George Colley told me of the story that there was at one time some kind of "save the Peregrine Falcon" society and they imported 100 pigeons to SPI. This was back in maybe the 80s or so.

He said it was a good deal the the Peregrine Falcons were only here three months a year and got to eat, but the rest of the year the pigeons could live unmolested, a win-win situation.

No wonder why my pigeons have been spooky lately! A few seem to be MIA as well. But as for a story - which seems right to me now that I think about it - it sure was something.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sailing South Padre

Went out on Thanksgiving evening for a wonderful sailboat ride to the jetties and back. It was supposed to blow over 20 MPG but it dropped to flat calm really quick. So relaxing ... our best Thanksgiving ever!

Being a wee bit snoopy, I asked about how much hs sailboat drafted and why we didn't get a lot of "winter cruiser" sailboats down here. The captain thought, and said "I draft about 4-foot eight, although the bluewater boats are deeper, like six feet or more. Even I have to watch the shifting bars and even I get stuck. Simply stated, we don't have any deep water unless you want to park in the Shrimp Basin."

I was rather shocked at the answer but then the captain continued "and what are the cruisers supposed to do, go to Sea Ranch and Louie's once and that's it? There's nothing for them to do here."

He mentioned a Galveston to SPI sailboat race where the large sailboats raced ... and had to turn right back to Galveston without even landing here at Port Isabel or South Padre. They were too big for the docks and too deep for the channels. Think of all that money just passing us by.

This was something of a revelation to me, although I've had my share of being stuck in the mud (many times) even with a motorboat that only needed a foot or so of water. I guess that's why the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit goes to Bimini, the Virgin islands, and other Caribbean destinations becase we don't want them. I wonder if we can change that ... sailing is the "green" thing to do, right?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Uncle Buggies Gone

I drove to the bank today - I love putting money in the bank and I saw Captain Al Stewart putting money in the bank there too - and was watching for all these hideous, damaged T-shirt shops, of which I only found four. Four out of maybe hundred shops on Padre Boulevard. I was thinking that the Town Vision Gestapo was maybe getting a little carried away ... when all the sudden I noticed that the letters had fallen off the Uncle Buggies sign.

Nope, somebody had purposely taken the letters off the sign, shuttered the store, and put up a "For Rent" sign in the front door. The property was empty, clean as a whistle. Bummer!

It's just another casualty of history I suppose, like the Dolphin Cove Oyster Bar, Josephs, Kelly's and all kinds of time-hallowed places that made the island what it is. In fact I had listed it in my History Channel blog because it was a neat old building, possibly an old gasoline station. There's a really cool story about the young man who came here from California to set up shop, although he got sick a few years ago and died ... which I guess is why all the dune buggies are gone now, as the family didn't want to fool with it anymore.

R.I.P Uncle Buggies.

Monday, November 17, 2008

This is what will happen ....

This is what will happen to our town if we don't clean up that SPI Boulevards right now! Those T-shirt shops need to be repaired NOW! It has been four months after Hurricane Dolly, and if we don't fix up these old shops we're doomed. Cousin Jed shown in the picture will move in, and that shack has wheels, baby. It'll be squatter city before you know what hit ya.

Actually, that's a half famous Smithsonian picture of a Hooverville dwelling during the Great Depression, which was quite a find - and a popular topic these days as the economy lurches along, swooning. There were Hoovervilles all over the country and at its worse, 25 percent of working men were unemployed - they didn't count women in the working force back then.

Funny, right when many cities and counties are running out of money, we want to fix everything up all spiffy, spend a few million, and by doing so, people will shower out town in coins and hundred dollar bills. I really don't know who these people are, or how many there are, but they sure are vocal pests. Of course the Main Drag looks a little frumpy - we just had a hurricane here. Of course they're supposed to secure their property a little better. I think it takes time and insurance money but these folks are definitely chomping at the bits. I just saw three condo roof jobs being started last week, for crying out loud.

And that's exactly why I picked the Hooverville picture. The well-heeled, conservative, and richer townsfolk kept trying to run off the poor people, and the attitudes are just the same. Where is that compassion, that ability to reach out and help?

And gosh, now I think about it, I have about 3-4 months I can make it if I loose all my income and I'll be just like ole Jed up there in the picture. But let us not talk about how close we live to the dark side with the poverty, the hurricanes, and all that. We're on South Padre Island! Yay!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Raccoon

It's not fair to take a picture of my first raccoon we trapped, they look so innocent and intelligent. The sad dog eyes with round masks around them, the "please let me go" whimper.

Finally the local animal control guy - actually two of them - came by to offload the critter way up the beach, since my dog was going absolutely nuts. Malia out dog is pretty easy with the possum now but the raccoon must be some kind of mortal enemy.

And a nasty one too, after posing like an angel for Lori and me. "Watch this," said the officer as he dangled a dog leash into the cage. The varmint yelled, hissed, spat, took a mighty swipe with a paw, and then bit the leash almost in two. "Don't stick your fingers in the cage." He used a six-foot snake pole to move the trap into his truck.

I asked the officer if raccoons were normal for the island and he said they don't see them for a long time and then they seem to be everywhere - I just started noticing them after the hurricane. Sure enough, another acquaintance says he say four down by the beach right next to a beach access.

One more tidbit: another islander who traps varmints now and then did an experiment and dabbled some nail polish on the possum that were taken up north by the town. Within a matter of two weeks, about half the pack was ... back in the trap again. Are you folks picking up some rather strange hitchhikers or what?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Beautiful November

Here's a kingfisher, a belted kingfisher like the kind that winters down here every year. We have a pair of them at the end of our bay-end street and they are a wonder to watch because they're true acrobats, sometimes diving and coming up with minnows. I wish my camera could catch them but they look fly specks - thus the stolen picture.

They're ornery bastards I can vouch for that, always arguing and I swear they swoop my dog to try to run it off - while I'm walker her. No wonder why they invented Thanksgiving at the end of the month, because November is such a bummer month, especially this year.

True, many fellow islanders have gotten sick or need surgery and many folks are down. I'm just recovering from a case of the flu that tried to morph itself into walking pneumonia, but thanks to Lori's Mexican drugs, that sucker is about gone. You folks still under the weather take care. Lori herself seemed like she was catching something just tonight.

But it is still wonderful on the island, very seasonable weather, and we got the kingfishers back in town. The kite and wind boarders are fun to watch. When the wind gets up there are about three or four locals that waddle down the street in their gear looking for that 40 MPH ride.

The kingfishers get to bark at them, too!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Pinkie Still At It

This is probably the last plumeria bloom of the season but as you can tell, "Pinkie" is still going strong. I've never had plumeria in November before so this is really something - I think she likes the island weather. Hmm, a rather delicate lavender smell.

When she goes dormant this winter, I'll have dig her up and reset the plant, which like many others is leaning with a 45-degree list because of Hurricane Dolly. Alas, several died, in addition to a natal plum and the citrus trees.

Anyway, all fixed up and a handful of fertilizer mixed in the hole, she should be back in business by next April or May, flowers and all.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Sam, Sam ... the Fur Trapper?

Well after I sent a nutty complaint to our town using some whacky form, I got a call today. "I heard you had a raccoon that was attacking you, Mr. Wells?" After about a week I had forgotten all about that, how a mama raccoon and her baby had gotten all defensive when Lori was feeding the outside cats before dawn one day.

So staff was understanding and had heard of some raccoon on the island, and loaned me one of the larger sized Have-A-Heart traps. Whatever they're called, they're humane, just a cage and a trap door. And some kitty food.

First off all I caught every single dumb cat in the neighborhood, including my domestic part Siamese that should have known better. So I guess the trick is to run traps well after ten o'clock at night. I let all the cats go, since none were feral or bobcats.

Bingo, after reloading with another rasher of kitty food for bait, I bag a small possum. Not heavy enough to trip the trigger on the large animal trap so I dropped an old beach sandal on the trap from the upstairs porch, which made a nice "ka-chunk" sound as the gate snapped closed.

In case you are wondering, any trapped wild animals are unloaded about 5 to 7 miles to the north end of the beach, where they are released - the town insists on doing this. Domesticated animals go to the pound on the mainland to the south for an examination and such. My possum is taking the northern route, I expect.

Meanwhile I heard the raccoon because it was sniffing around when I dropped the shoe - it made a big ruckus running into the pepperwood tree where I think it lives. I know it is there but I have to fight through all these dang cats and possum first. All in a day's work, my friends.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I'm gonna huff and puff and ...

Much as I hate to see an old semi-historical house go down, this one really did need to be demolished. It is - or was - on Lantana Street on the bayside. About an hour or two after I snapped this picture, there was absolutely nothing left but a few piles.

The one thing you noticed right away is that all the wild animals ran off and the wild bees were everywhere - some very seriously upset bees. The crews had to keep their windows closed and I had to sorta run away!

I think that's where a bunch of raccoons and tequatche (possum) had been living. Anyway, parts of the old structure had been blowing off into the neighbors yards, such as Dr. Sher next door. It didn't take much for a 200 horsepower CAT 950 to make it fall down. No telephone poles, interestingly...

A nice gentleman walked up to take some pictures too and said that he could have bought that property 25 years ago, but that it was in very bad shape then. I didn't say he'd probably be a millionaire if he bought it just for the property, but back then such a lot was what, maybe $60,000 in the early 80s? Dr. Sher says that 12 years ago somebody offered $600,000 for it.

By then the bees had discovered us and we were, like the poor old shack, solid gone.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Us Islanders

I have lived on several islands and visited man in my days, and each was very provincial. You really had to be BOI - born on the island - to be considered a true "islander." Up north, some islanders can trace their local genealogy back 340 years, the families named Dodge, Littlefield, and Rose. Same for parts of the Bahamas where the Loyalists fled during the Revolutionary War - there were five settlements in the Abacos populated by families with names such as Albury, Lowe, Malone, Pinder, and so forth.

Here on South Padre, being an Islander doesn't mean a long genealogy or even being born here. It simply a state of mind, something that appeals to me. The truth is, most babies were hatched elsewhere anyway, Brownsville or Harlingen at best. But when I come to think of my friends, and what an islander is, I have the same positive thoughts. Not only do I know folks who live here year round, but I know a bunch of those folks who return like lemmings every so often, so great to see them after a long absence. We have out weekend neighbors and folks from Minnesota, Nova Scotia, Colorado (of course), Mexico, the Dallas area, and ... well all over the place, even a sand sculptor from Singapore.

In fact some folks ask if I am related to the Wells family on SPI - which I readily deny (actually there were two long-time Wells clans before we even got here). I just like the island, don't care for the mainland, and really love it here. That's what an islander is here. Short-timer, part-timer, or living here every day, it makes absolutely no difference. You can tell by the smiles.

I won't go into whether anybody else even would consider me an islander in their estimation, and frankly I don't care. But here's a kink: some people who have lived here for years ... well, they really just make it seem like they're not islanders. I don't know any personally, to be honest, although they seem to multiply like rabbits on the Internet forums. They claim to be "smart" but are negative, down, criticizing, dogmatic, and always in a black mood. Who are these strange people and why are they here?

Well they certainly are a minority and for now I am 100 percent blessed with all the good kinds of islanders. Spoiled rotten, more like. But for you newbies, if somebody looks troubled we always head to the beach, listen good, make eye contact, and say "I don't think it's all that bad." It works, never failed yet!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sand Boils

Sand boils are defined as underground seepage that rises to the surface, and is oftentimes associated with levee failures (see this Corps of Engineers document). It turns out they are not uncommon down here on SPI, although perhaps the physics is a little different.

The simplest description is when a water main breaks and the water shoots upward to the surface with a pressure called "hydraulic head" (cool name for a pound puppy?). It's a powerful force that can blow asphalt and even concrete roadway apart. When sand and clay rise to the surface in a slurry like that, it is called a sand boil. The first sign of a sand boil is many pencil-sized dribbles of water leaking to the surface. Every year our water district gets about a half-dozen water main breaks, each resulting in a sand boil.

There are several spots on the bayside up the island to the north known as being "quicksand." Yes, quicksand is just another kind of sand boil, where water is rising up from the depths. We almost suspect that the Leaning Tower of Spizza might have been built on a sometimes sand boil.

To explain, there are various strata of sand which a large clay deposit fittingly known as Rio Mud. Under this layer is some unconsolidated sandy/shelly/shale and salt formations, not solid rock. OK, there is a shallow water lens on top of the Rio Mud, water is trying to seep from Laguna Madre towards the sea, and saltwater from the Gulf is invading at the lower levels - all the reason why water wells do not work here on the island. Given the differentials in clay strata and rising or falling water levels, sand boils can routinely occur at any time. So now you know why piers are put down as high as building it tall! We're floating on what is basically ketchup.

And just like ketchup, you never know when that buddy is going to pour out all at once.

If we lived along the Rio Grand or Arroyo Colorado one might be concerned about sand boils and levee damage, so here it is more of an occasional thing that is natural - unless the dang water main breaks again. Interesting phenomena, and if I see a good one I'll snap a picture for ya.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Best Sand Castle Days Ever

What a wonderful day, after a cool front and dreary rain earlier in the week and mid-week. I'd say that the 21st Sand Castle Days was a roaring success, in spite of all the stupid hurricanes and souring economies.

Above, a shot down a whole bunch of sand castles. Those in wheelchairs could see the stuff perfect from the sidewalk. Those piles of sand used to be about 10 tons and now look!

Two of my favorite artists, Sandy Feet and her fellow friend sand sculptor, Kirk. Those aren't fake smiles there.

That's Fred's sculpture, another good friend, international sand carver, former alderman, computer guru, and boat tinker-er. He's standing in the very left of the picture as well. He won one of the top prizes, forget which one.

I can't do justice to the day I spent there because my camera batteries went kaflooie. There were several dozen cabana tents, an area for children (even 50 year old ones) to learn sand castles, vendors, food, art, and even a spot so you could adopt a dog from the humane society (we won't talk about the "puppy mill" mistake in another tent, which should have not been allowed). Gosh what can I say - it was fun.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Time to Bloviate about the Economy

I was born in 1956 and my parents have only distant memories of the Great Depression when they were children. But what has happened recently is remarkable - not a real depression, something maybe like a recession but not yet, but nonetheless ... interesting. Let's go over the last month or so, when all the "bail-outs" occurred:
  • Bear Stern
  • Lehman
  • Merill Lynch
  • Freddie Mac
  • Fannie Mae
  • AIG
  • Washington Mutual
  • 700 Billion US Congress Bail-Out
  • 250 Billion Federal Reserve Bail-Out to Partly Nationalize Nine Banks
Impressive list, eh? I think I left a few out, including money used to shore up European bank trusts, maybe another bank or two, or to back some bank merger collateral. I can't say if it is good or bad, just that I am mystified by what is probably one of the largest transfers of wealth that I've ever witnessed.

I'm sure people will write books about it, when it's all said and done, with expert opinions, theories, insights, and the veil of sounding authentic. To the man on a little sandbar in South Texas, it sure sounds rather baffling right now.

But do you remember when this all started, and the bloggers got all over the Lehman bail-out, saying 85 billion should not be paid by the taxpayers, and doing so would be a socialistic, un-American thing to do; not only that, it would promote bad morals by rescuing a company that lost its butt, clear and simple. Free market, laisezz-faire economies envisioned by Ronald Reagan and most every American means personal responsibility. Government was supposed to be small and not intrusive. Gosh, now we have big government and some really big nationalized banks. And by the way, these nationalized banks and trusts are good for us! Been doing it since the days of George Washington!

Well I guess it beats working for a few bucks a day in the potato, rutabaga, and onion fields but gosh, that's an incomprehensible amount of moolah. That's a good question: if we didn't save this global banking community from their brand of wayward capitalism, would the economy be so bad we'd all have to become proverbial field workers?

I think the answer, as always, is "it ain't all that bad, Sam, but sorta."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Best Fajita Award

Well there's a ... well that's really a tacos al carbon. Many people haven't a clue what real fajitas are since it became a mainstream Tex-Mex food. It's just meat on a warm tortilla, nothing more, and for Pete's sake no onions, pico de gallo, cheese, and all that trash. The best I've ever had were from the Falcon Brothers up in Austin. It is pure heaven.

Real skirt steak is incredibly tough and comes in four parts on the cow: the outer skirts from the diaphram fore quarters, and two skirts from the outer flank of the hind quarters. The Falcon Brothers only use the front skirts (more taste, less tough). These are about 18 inches long and about an inch thick. The skirt is carefully trimmed and butterflied in half so you get 1/2-inch skirts.

What Sonny "the Fajita King" Falcon does it is to pound the steaks but no marinade is used - horrors! That tenderized meat using the "poking machine" is worthless garbage. Marinating and poking the meat usually ruins the taste and makes them like a wet sponge. Only a hot fire should be used, about 6-8 minutes per skirt steak, and repeatedly turned so it does not get any grill marks. No seasoning or anything.

These are allowed to cool for a minute and cut extremely thin with a razor-sharp knife, against the grain and at a slightly slant. It is served with a warmed flour tortilla and all you get is some salt and some fiery hot sauce. This style is fairly close to the true vaquero dish of the 1930s called "arracheras."

Meanwhile, another restaurant in 1969 owned by Otilio Garza opened a shop in Pharr Texas and began serving what we know today as fajitas with all the fixings, sometimes even sour cream and (yipes) corn. An outfit later known as Ninfa's used the same approach (Houston, Ninfa Rodriguez), although careful enough to call them "tacos al carbon" because that's the real name. At least Ninfa's was honest about it.

Nowadays, little being sold in the restaurants is really skirt steak, and many even have the audacity to sell chicken and shrimp as "fajitas." Flank and shoulder and other cuts are often sold as beef skirt. I'm going with the Falcon Brothers approach - but if you like the fixings like my wife does, well enjoy!

Oh and for the vegetarians who find all this meaty talk a little repulsive, I'm working on a new guacamole recipe. Nicaraguan style, with radishes and mint ... ooooh.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Is Global Warming For Real?

There's a fascinating blog article by the Sci Guy today about Roy Spencer, a noted global warming skeptic. As I've said before, global warming is something to be concerned about, but it a fresh breath of air to hear somebody question the prevailing wisdom that we're going to fry in the next century, and the oceans will swallow half the continents. Not so fast, Roy might say, a bunch of what is happening is a completely natural thing.

I appreciate being a skeptic about anything, since we have all these quasi-religions of group-think these days, fed like pap from the media. Let's start with the basics, that Roy thinks that we've only had good, reliable measurements of the Earth's surface temperature for about the last 7 or 8 years, with a couple of satellites for coverage. The old data cannot be extrapolated as to "mean global average temperature" because we didn't have satellites that could record temperatures covering entire swaths of the planet several times a day. Ouch, he's right on that one.

Then, over the last 7 or 8 years, his analysis can't find any global warming. This is to be expected because one really needs perhaps 20 or 50 years to really figure mean global warming. After talking about some technical mumbo-jumbo, Roy cuts to the chase: too many people are making money off global warming and it was one heckuva sales job. It takes several million dollars to create a slightly faulty model to predict future temperatures - but the naysayers might only get a thousand bucks or so for printing a skeptical argument in a professional paper or a few hundred for printing in a hack media outlet. So the people who get the millions of dollars have a vested interest in proving that their theory was right. You have to admit, Roy has a point here.

Ouch again!

So once more I have to rethink all this, although don't mistake that climate change can be a very, very serious thing to be feared. "All it takes is a 1 or 2 percent change in global cloudiness and you can get this warming and cooling for decades upon decades, for a century." Yep, he's right on target there.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Beware the Attacking Dragonflies!

It's that time of the year when it seems like some of the dragonflies go berserk. I think they get old and might be dying, after all that reproducing and egg laying. You may have seen them flying around the porch lights at night, banging into everything like a crazy Kamikaze. Normally the most graceful fliers in the sky, you can actually hear them go "splat" against the side of the house. But they keep going.

So we were at our favorite gourmet deli last night, a riotous good time, and one fellow says he tried to help one particularly wayward fellow out. He grabbed it ... and the dragonfly bit the sh!t out of his hand! It drew blood!

It turns out that the name "Damselfly" is completely inaccurate and the more colloquial "mosquito hawk" is a much better word. Indeed, the Latin species classification for Odonata means teeth or mandibles, as in "flying mouth of teeth." Yipes, I bet that hurt.

But there are so many here on the Island, and they truly help keep the skeeter population down. They only seem to go crazy about this time of year, fortunately. And uh ... don't try to catch one with your bare hands, even though you can now.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Down the Road

Well so much for my poetic abilities. I wrote exactly two good poems in my life and that wasn't one of 'em. Oh well.

Other than the mosquitoes, the weather is perfect and the water is cleaning up. The road was still blocked off at County Access 4 going north, so I haven't been able to check out the Ike trash. On out beach here in town, a dock floated up on last night's tide. I'm not kidding, a dock! Should be interesting to see what's up yonder.

You might see a total mess but I see opportunity! We'd clean up some bad trash and have one heckuva bonfire for the scrap wood. I haven't had a bonfire this year, and used to do one every month.

Please notice my restraint as well. I did not write about the caterwauling economy, the fishy politics, or how bad the fishing season was. I didn't even peep when I found out that the lawsuit against the proposed development of our 400-acre Isla Blanca park took a serious turn for the worse.

Maybe it's Beerman's leftover homebrew and BBQ ribs? That'll put a smile on your face. And in these semi-dark times, a smile is exactly what one needs. And yes, I'll post some photos soon!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Insights on the Economic Crisis

I opened the door today, when the mosquitoes were clear
Three hummingbirds came in, or so it would appear
Two left and one remained

We tried all day
Using brooms, sweet talk, hanging things, an open door
That last ruby hummingbird just would not leave

He or perhaps it is a she
Sleeps so lightly, with the bill pointed up at the sky
Like a miniature swordfish

Up and up it flies in the ceiling …
It must be a horrible feeling
Come down and out the door, will you then?

I fear it could die
Unless it could fly
Out my door

He or perhaps it is a she
Sleeps so lightly, with the bill pointed up at the sky
Like a miniature swordfish, but praying

It landed on me
It was in reach
But the hand within six inches, and off we will go

When not roosting it perches by the window
Watching the other hummers play
And cries

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bay Progress

Here's some more reconstruction on the bayside docks, this time at the end of Lantana Street. The crane is needed to put in new concrete pilings so the carpenters can finish out the deck. There are approximately 186 docks along the bayside that were affected by Hurricane Dolly, according to a friend who surveyed them. By the way, if you need some marine dock carpenters, I know of several. Hopefully you won't need Mr. Crane.

From what I can tell there are only three or four companies that have a crane, barge, and tug like this rig. However, this is the only active one I've seen, such as also being over at the new Parrot Eyes previously. I guess docks can't be insured so it's mainly a cash proposition, and a slow-going one at that.

But it's good to see things starting to bounce back.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rain, Rain, Rain

I got this chart from Weather Underground, showing the total precipitation over the last three days. That light purple area of 9 to 11 inches of rain is just to the town's north. It looks like we got four to six inches for sure, as compare to only and inch or two at the official Brownsville and Harlingen airport weather offices.

And that's fairly impressive, without even having more than a stalled cool front and a small coastal trough. Take a look at the stats already:

  • Harlingen reports 28 inches to date as compared to an average of 21 inches, excess 7 inches
  • Brownsville reports 30 inches to date with an average of 20 inches, excess 10 inches
So it looks like SPI got an extra dose of rain that is not showing up on the books. It makes me wonder if somebody is has an official weather station on the island to confirm that we got a ton more rain than our inland two cities.

And what a strange year so far. It rained around July 4th due to an easterly wave that came up from Campeche Bay. For a town that prides itself on something like 300 days of sun a year, this sure was a wet one, Hurricane Dolly included.

The good news is that drier air is starting to filter into Central Texas so the rest of the week should be better after another wet evening and perhaps another morning.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What is beach sand?

To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour. -William Blake

Beach sand is some amazing stuff, and there's all kinds of it, from the black sands of Diamond Beach, Hawaii to the ultra-white sands of northwest Florida. Sand sculptors and geologists know much more than I would, but let's just say "sand" is no simple thing. The common ingredient is silica in the form of quartz, which makes up a majority of the sand on our beaches. Then it gets interesting.

Clay, shell fragments, minerals, limestone, gypsum, and even fossilized bones can be present in beach sand as well. Our local beach sand is fairly high in clay content because of erosion of sedimentary Rio Grand Mud, which has a reddish brown color. If you've ever seen the "clay turds" on the beach after the dredge deposits some sand on the beach, you're looking at pure Rio mud. Funny, "Isla Blanca" was rather misnamed because the sand is a brownish color, not pure white, simply because of the clay content.

Then there's the Laguna Madre, which also provides a bunch of black mud of its own due to rotting sea grass, along with a vast reservoir of calcite - a form of limestone. I have many very large calcite crystals from the Port Isabel channel area, some rods about 3-4 inches long or roses of several inches in diameter.

You'll notice some very old shells on the beach too, some turning a brownish color due to leaching and mineral deposition. These dark shells are probably over 10,000 years old when the island first formed. Mineralization is most likely from iron in the form of hematite; also, fossilized bones will also assume a darker color. One academic paper blames these minerals on the Trans Mexican Volcano Belt, if you're into petrography and words like "

Yeah that was my reaction too, what-pathic?
Go see a huge Mastodon tooth at the Beachcombers Museum on Pompano Street ... easier to pronounce ... it is very dark colored.

But a case can be made that the SPI area between Mansfield Cut and the Rio Grande has a very special kind of beach sand, like none found elsewhere in the world.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Thrill of Crossing the Causeway

As many know, I live like a reclusive hermit and rarely go to the mainland unless under marching orders, a truly unusual thing. But today I did and coming back to the island, it was that same thrill that grips you by the back of the throat and the seat of the pants: South Padre! Gosh I love this place. I tooled along in my 10 year old (now very rusty) truck and gave the Main Drag the once-over.

Everywhere was sign of Dolly destruction but it didn't bother me in the least. Some locals took great offense to some wayward signs on T-shirt shops and my heart warmed as I spotted that even the bank - some goofy towers on the First National - got the snot whacked out of it. Yep, I went to the bank, too. It made me smile when I saw those disheveled towers.

The island looks fine to me, a little scruffy especially in the rain but I know things will get better. Perhaps if you were expecting something more you don't belong here. And I suspect the typical tourist, visitor, or second homeowner really doesn't care as long as they have the beach and the bay. That's what it's all about.

In a way it's a shame because it really is the best time of year, aside from all these storms. It is so quiet, and you can do a U-turn in the middle of the road without hardly looking. As I did by Ben's Liquors because mama wanted some hooch for when she got back from late PHD classes. Hey I was on a roll today, wasn't I?

Arriving home, I noticed that the wild field grass invading my lawn had grown two inches since I left, and wondered how that could possibly be. Dang that stuff. It's not Johnson grass and I've heard it called "Guinea grass" but most of us use unprintable cuss words. There is always manana, another wonderful day on the island, and plenty for me to do.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A difference one day makes

click picture to enlarge

I went to town hall today and on a whim decided to stop by the Wanna for a beer and a look at the ocean. This is actually low tide, as opposed to high tide which comes about four o'clock in the morning. I was sitting on the steps down to the beach and this wave nearly got me wet. As you can see, yesterday's seaweed is now in the dunes.

A few hearty souls with body boards and flippers tried to get outside but got severely pummeled, and played on the inside with the first sandbar simply because they kept getting blasted backwards. The undertow and rip was really serious, although this family with little kids didn't seem to care.

Amazing, since Hurricane Ike is over 500 miles away. I shudder to think of the surf tomorrow. Let us hope the erosion and dune damage isn't so bad.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Me Too, Babe

Malia got a little excited in the seaweed today, as you can tell in the picture. Why do some dogs do that? It was hard to catch her really grinding the stuff into her back because she was flopping around so fast. Holding onto a beer, a camera, and the dog was quite a challenge - but us locals are pretty coordinated sometimes. "You crazy puppy" I said, and she did it some more.

We have the routine down, a sniff in the dunes, a roll in the seaweed, and off to the water and a walk of a mile or two. We came back and hosed off as much as the dog or I could take. Aside from some seaweed and some disturbance from the tractors closing off some accesses because of IKE, it was a very fine excursion today.

By the way, thanks to our veterinarian friends from Dallas who suggested lots of beach walks for Malia, which cured her foot-pad problems.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

Whaddya Think, Mr. Ed?

Well it looks like even more ocean swell from Hurricane Ike, and Mister Ed would be pleased about that! He's a favorite TV show of mine from the 1960s. I didn't know the old boy surfed, gosh, I am impressed.

If alive today - he passed on quietly in 1970 - I'm sure Mister Ed would have loved last night's Sea Turtle Fundraiser. Local Nancy Marsden got an international award from them! That was really cool, and a good time was had.

Question for ya: I'm playing with the notion of applying to be on the Home Rule Charter Committee. Lori says OK, and others say it's alright, no bad signals yet, but I wondered what I'm getting into here. A wee bit of the south end of a north-facing Mister Ed?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Thousand Mile Waves Again

Nice evening shot of the Gulf from the footsteps of the wooden access by the Seagull Condos during a high tide (click picture for a big shot). We walked the dog and went out a ways and when the next super-wave from Gustav came in, were buried in water almost hip-deep. The spongers - boogie boarders in other words - had problems even getting outside for a wave. For some perspective, I would estimate the third bar at 5 feet and the fourth sandbar at 6-8 feet when cresting. I will check the waves tomorrow when they aren't curling down so bad. The "real" short-board surfers were on one side or the other of the Jetties or right in the middle of the Ship Channel.

Yes, the dunes got smacked a little and you can see some railroad vines rooted as if in the air because of the erosion, but it doesn't seem so bad.

I hope to catch the tail end when body surfing can get me some epic 100 foot runs on a swan dive , the crawl stroke, and a dolphin kick. That's my game. Hey, for waves coming from a thousand miles away, not bad and I'm not complaining.

Sunday, August 31, 2008


Ah, what a Labor Day Weekend so far. Went out of the Makaira Mojo out of Port Isabel and fished up a nice wahoo of perhaps 50 pounds - and thanks to the captain and crew for the teamwork that made it possible. It was fairly slow fishing out there, another chicken dolphin and a few blow-ups, but we did well considering the slow season we're having.

Right under the Causeway pass we met and passed the pirate ship and in the excitement I forget to snap a picture, but there was Christy and April yelling "Sam I yam" and I gave 'em a big "Argghh" in return.

It was one of those idyllic days that makes it all worth it, living on the sandbar. Now when was that surfing supposed to get good for the Gustav waves?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I Want One of These

How did Sandy Feet do it?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bird Mon

I'm still waiting for the sun to get some of those requested pictures, but in the meantime, here is a part of our morning ritual, which involves feeding the birds. This time of year it is mostly pigeons. They simply must be fed at 8:30 in the morning.

In the winter it was the redwing blackbirds, a rather aggressive breed, although the occasional grossbeak could run them off. In the spring it was quite a crop of frisky common sparrows. We've always had a few pigeons and doves, perhaps eight or so. Now there are about 50!

The neighbor across the street complained about the pooh-pooh situation and I confessed that it was me, as the poor birds acted ravenous. Being a kindly soul from old Mexico, he changed course and offered me respect. "I think those birds were blown over here in that hurricane. The downtown courtyards of Brownsville and Harlingen no longer have any pigeons. I will get you some stale bread for tomorrow morning."

Of course, the nice man wouldn't let me off the hook without telling me that when he grew up in Mexico, every town had an old man who would beg for bird food and then feed them every morning in the town square, often thought to be slightly crazy but treated honorably - others came along to sweep and wash the streets and to my storyteller it was fond memories. There were racing pigeons, regular rock pigeons, and fancy ones that were thought to come over from Spain. "See that one there with the beautiful colors? He is their leader, and his markings are considered very special in my country."

I had, err, no idea! But before leaving he asked how close I could get to the pigeons. "Only a few feet, especially if I have their food. They will sometimes hover over my head."

"Then they have chosen YOU, amigo. Adios."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sublime SPI Beach Art

I don't think I could improve on what Dolly did to this old Wal-Mart cabana tent, and boy it is a piece of work. The dog took a big ole dump there but I cleaned it up into the trash can before snapping this picture, so it must be special. The white sticks do have a certain wacky balance, don't they?

Yes, I suppose my view of art is maybe more organic, like these awesome railroad vines that seemed to go berserk after Dolly and today's thundershower. In the early morning, this dune will be blooming with purple railroad flowers everywhere. Hey I wonder, isn't there a white variety too? I seem to recall seeing some on the wild end of the beach.

But these are the things that make me happy - aside from the cabana trash but you get my drift. The beach is very clean and flat but the submerged part is heavily rutted between the first and second bars now, a good place to fish at dawn.

I also saw an elderly Oriental man with his family feeding seagulls popcorn by hand today. I am serious, he'd point one out and hold out the single popcorn and make the seagull eat it right out of his hand. Malia the dog thought that was cool but wanted a piece of the seagull. OK honey, time to take you home for dinner.

The days grow shorter. I shot these pictures a little after seven o'clock. I am reminded to enjoy the simple things. And yes, I was watching the sandbars for jumping tarpon, too. Maybe they'll be there at first light tomorrow.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Attempting to give a damn

Lord knows what came over me, but I think I let off a stink bomb in Jason's South Padre Attack Forum. Looks like one with permanent results! If they accuse me for needing to repaint the town because of may caustic blast, see if I give a damn.

I didn't move here to become a political hack and it's time to focus on real things, anyway. Business, surfing, fishing, new hobbies, writing a book, more music, more money, more fun. Hey add less trash to that list while we're at it: Unlitter. I'll eat my hat if the "government" can help me with much of that. And I'll be double-damned if some silly Attack Forum will do any good - certainly it can't clear the stink out of the air. Not after that one, whew ... As a lyric by BR-549 reads, "he could cut a stink pickle that would bring tears to your eyes."

Ah, freedom at last.

I was one of the last hold-outs among my circle of friends that actually liked the Attack Forum, and valued it for the updated during Hurricane Dolly especially, as if the Forum had a cathartic Kumbaya Moment. Then, it reverted to its old ways, the tired expressions like "you don't have a clue if you don't go to the Board meetings." Gosh, after being told a hundred times I was getting dumber and dumber by the minute, this Wells Boy let 'em have it. I think I wrote "Tim you ignorant slut ..." Priceless. And stinky-roo. S-o-r-r-y!

For all the angst and high drama, it was all a silly game anyway. It was addictive and few recognized my humor, satire, and tongue-in-cheek moments. But it's like giving up cigarettes: no more. Hey that's a swell idea, I could give those suckers up permanent, too.

In the big scope of things, I happen to notice that the date had slipped by August 16, which is the magic day the tourism falls off by about half here on the island. Now that's some serious stuff, and yes I do give a darn about that. Somehow, I was hoping for a resurgence after Hurricane Dolly, perhaps an unrealistic wish. Fittingly, on that day that day I saw the Bongo Dogs at the Wanna-Wanna, which resembled a bombed-out WWII ruins because of the storm - a truly existential experience.

But in a typical island way, band members all said they preferred the steadier, smaller crowds and more relaxed atmosphere. And I finally relaxed too, and smiled.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Epitaph: "More Bass"

Jerry Wexler died on Friday, a true genius for the music scene dating back to the late 40's. He was 91. The NY Times has a nice obit here. Strange dude but he promoted many artists you will know. Scroll down to the bottom of the obit and somebody said his tombstone would read "More Bass."

Being an old tuba and sousaphone player I rather liked that, and was always into black rhythms that back then was so controversial. As I migrated to electric bass and then the finger-picking the guitar, I was always a bass man. And it's about time to set the record straight!

Leo Fender invented the rock 'n' roll guitar as we know it, but it was always the singing and the bass that matters. That "wall of sound" was perfected in later years, but it always required a big booming bass. It is no coincidence that one of the most famous artists alive is a bass player named Paul McCartney.

It is sad that so many of the true instigators are leaving us, but what was cool was that Jerry Wexler didn't even like beatniks or hippies, and could barely stand bands like Led Zeppelin. But he was part of the Grand Experiment on the leading edge, and brought a works of what they used to call "race music" to our attention. Over 60 years later, the vision still works.

More bass, man.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Back to Gardening on SPI

Well I finally rescued the lawn mower and weed whacker from the "maws of heck." Both were frozen up from the effects of a flooded garage but somehow - and with some STP gas treatment - I got them both working in top order.

Assessing the landscaping, it was fairly dire, with plants either dead or leaning at 45 degrees, the poor beloved plumerias stripped of most all their leaves. The native stuff lived, such as the Coral Bean plant I rescued. The sea grape also did very well, with some missing parts here and there. The natal plum, a beach plum also known as the Monterrey plum, was toasty dead - and spiky as heck. The trunk on the beach plum was so hard I had to use a chain saw.

Dang, I was just starting to get the upper hand, after messing with getting rid of a century plant and a palmetto that died. Bam, instant mess after that hurricane. The salt killed a bunch of the good grass and then this field grass filled in, growing two to three feet high within a week. It's not against my religion to mow more than once a week, but that was a stunner. I feel set back about two years.

So I took stock and looked at my gardening tools and took inventory. Anything that was metal seemed horribly rusted. The planting pots I had organized so well had moved all around the garage - the water must have been fairly high - and some had sprouted mysterious plants that died. I'm lucky to have the lawnmower and weed whacker working, I guess.

Then I remembered what Paul Johnson said about what happened after hurricane Emily, which burned the plants so bad: you have to dilute and get rid of all that salt. Hurricane Dolly was interesting in that the strong wind came from the west, meaning Laguna Madre water twice as salty as the ocean. So we'll we watering except in those shady spots where the mosquitoes lurk. Gosh I hate gardening with a bunch of skeeters.

The question is whether to hit the plants with a dose of fertilizer and iron. I haven't figured that out yet. In theory, the plants would be very hungry for some food, something aside from nasty sand and salt. On the other hand, all the fertilizers I have are ... salts. Maybe I need some fish emulsion or something? Mulch when I can get a truckload?

So many people lost good stuff, although some made it through just fine like my wild lantana, which decided that life was very good and is blooming all over like an blooming idiot. And the Norfolk pine did great. although listing about 6 degrees to the east; the salt pines seemed to be gone, MIA. My nemesis, the Brazilian pepper wood bush, is happily making leaves after being stripped by the hurricane winds. The birds and hummers love that bush but that's where the possums and raccoons live. That's one tree I have no problem if you want to drive a bulldozer at it. Plus, about 200 red-wing blackbirds wouldn't camp out there all winter because they know I have bird feed.

But that's next door and I'm lucky to have several empty lots abutting my property. But there's little protection and the bananas look dinky because they don't have any. Dang, I planted those bananas because I wantred something different, and did it all right. By now I should be eating Ice Cream bananas, a varietal I got that weren't anything like what you get in the store (yup, mash them up and freeze them and eat them just like ice cream). Oh well, I'll give them another year to see if they can get bigger than ... 16 inches.

You know, I had much better luck up in Austin, with a fine set of plum, pear, and peach trees and a raised garden along the edges of the cedar fence with tomatoes, peppers flowers, and herbs. I did onions one year and planted some mint and they all came back every year like big dogs. My problem was too much darn vegetation. My rosemary bush was a freaking tree about four feet tall. The passion flowers took over the fences - all of them - and tried to grow in grass. The plum tree put out at least 25 pounds of fruit, excluding what the birds and bugs got. Nope, I haven't seen that kind of action here, and the recent hurricane didn't help matters. Bayview sounds like you can grow some serious stuff over there.

But all is not lost and no way I'm leaving the island right now. The landscaping is always "work in progress" anyway.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Oh Really?

Every day I read many bloopers and I suppose that I should start collecting them. Here's one from none other than the respected (and despised liberal) New York Times, talking about about a referendum vote in Colorado that would define when human life begins:

"The proposal is the first in nation to put the question of when life begins before voters."

This is impossible, since life could never begin before the voters, who were presumably already born in order to vote. We hope. Lyndon Johnson had some issues there in Webb County, mainly dead ones coming back to life - but I don't think they reproduced very much. That begs the question about how many voters really have a life, a shocking prospect.

I'll keep hunting!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Island Politics

What politics? That's for upstate people and presidential elections and stuff. I moved down here to get away from people trying to push their politics on me. Now there are a bunch of characters on the island who run for office, I will say that. There is some electioneering. But it's so different from "politics" as I saw in Austin that it's hard to call it that here.

The red aviation light came back on the top of the water tower tonight, a welcome sight. I had reported outages over the last few years and found they had a system, so I let it go. If that's "politics" I'll eat my hat.

And the skeeter spraying truck just came by our house, Wednesday at 10:38. Yay. If that's political I'll go ride my bike behind him for a solid hour, just like I was a kid.

It's so apolitical I actually joined a town committee. Talk about more characters. Well they got me! Hey we got some stuff done on the bayside, great to see at least some results. Most of what I learned about was history and how bureaucracy works. Not political.

Heck I even vote regularly now, something I rarely did before. But that's not political - it's called my right.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Goodbye Dolly

I'll do one more post about Dolly because there's some great new stuff happening, like Willie Nelson coming down in November for the music fest (starting October 31). Looks a little scruffy but the island still works. I took some pictures "downtown" on the bayside today and the bayside still looks a little rough, to say the least. The picture just above is of what used to be Tequila Frogs, of spring break fame. The rest are from Fisherman's Wharf to Palm Street Pier.

I guess a little "urban renewal" along the old Tompkins Channel and the old entertainment district will be a good thing. It could take a years or two to get back to a nice bayside, given all the permits and expenses. But much of the damage I saw was from docks that were built in the 70's and 80's. Even concrete pilings were rotting, the rust hanging off them, due to the high salinity of the Laguna Madre. You could obviously see that giant bolts and nails were just orange rust spots.

Once we get those three or four boats off the shore and the wreckage cleared out it will look much better. Charlie was down at Palm Street saying they had pulled a lot of trash out of the water, but his jet-ski business is back open and things are doing better already. I think Dolly showed us how important the bayside is to our economy - and why we need to maintain it better in the future.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Watch Those Roofers!

Not a good photo here but this is a roofing re-do across the field from us. They seem OK but I started to notice a few things that irritated me. First, I was taught to hand-nail all my shingles, since those air-gun staples are worthless in a storm. Don't believe folks who say they have new "space age" staples that work just as good, because that's a lie. I've been in the business and have heard all the stories.

Second, the drip edge should be replaced if it is metal; I like the heavy-duty ones that won't rust as fast or even plastic. This house didn't have drip edge molding but cheap wood so I guess they didn't need it.

Third, valley metal should be at least 2 feet wide if not more - these are the troughs where two gables meet and water must flow along the roof pitch. Um, there's no valley metal in this picture, just a strip of tar paper.

Fourth, once the tar paper (asphalt felt) is applied, the first row of shingles is turned upside down, allowing the glue strip to hold the outer edge of the shingles down. This is definitely worth a few shingles. This row is nailed quite close to the drip edge.

Fifth, where's a bucket of roofing cement for the penetrations like the plumbing vents and difficult areas? We always had a gallon or two of Bulldog for those situations.

Frankly, I'm shocked that the town building code allows the use of staple guns and such shoddy business practices - roof staples are illegal in Florida and have been ever since Hurricane Andrew. Oh, the "heffe" just showed up in his dually crew truck. His crew is smashing down a case of empty beer cans with a cinder block while the "vatos" work on the roof. Nice work if you can get it, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Miraculously, the house was fine and after we arrived the power came on. Gosh, that was a far more potent hurricane than I thought ... but was grateful to give Lori a vacation before going back to work with the school system. And it was a nice vacation in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, like art city with a much more funky attitude than here. We kinda forgot to tour the Jefferson Davis House but got a comp buffet at the Beaux Rivage casino, which was top shelf.

Coming back to town was both a sense of disbelief and let-down. Sleeping in my own bed is going to be really good. Tomorrow I'll do all these chores but will be sure to hit the surf, either with a boogie board or a 7-foot fishing pole. It is good to back.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Probably a Ho-Hum Storm

Tropical storm Dolly looks ragged and disorganized for getting into the hot waters of the Gulf, and is moving at an impressive speed of 16 knots toward the SPI-Corpus area. So I went into "half hurricane mode" with the plywood, making sure the north and northeast sides were boarded and clean of potential flying objects. So we did some preparations and are now ready for the party! Hopefully Dolly will hit 80 miles one way or the other, so our beaches don't get too tore up (yikes, Sand Feet, how did I end a sentence like THAT?). Take care, y'all.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Surf Fishing Has Been Fun

Once or twice a day I head down to the beach and cast a few lines and with the puny waves and blue-green water it sure has been a pleasure. As many friends know, I'm not a "producer" and I like to let everything go unless it is a big trout - I actually bend down the barbs on my hooks so they can get off easier. Thanks to Fred Mallet, former SPI Alderman, I learned a lot.

Yesterday I nailed a nice ladyfish, which of course flopped off the line about 5 feet in front of me. Then I got smacked by a Spanish Mackerel and on the next cast I guess it busted my line because of his or her sharp teeth. So only having one pole and one lure now gone, I went home to rig again.

Everyday is different and today I hit is a little late, about 6:30, so dinner was over but I still had some blow-ups from the diminutive whiting, which although is considered a trashy fish is fun on very light line - at least a jerk on one end of the line and a jerk on the other!

The surf might increase over the next week as some tropical waves come in, but I know the "dog days" are yet to come. The surf crabs will hunt for tourist toes while magnificent tarpon jump the waters just out of casting reach.

I keep asking people if they see birds and jumping fish out off the beach, since that would be a sign of schooling bait with predators feeding on them - predators from trout to sharks. So far, I haven't seen any of such pods of fish coming down the beach on the tide and current but I know it is still early, and they will come.

The Zen of fishing is not the catching, but the perfect cast, or the imperfect one that briefly hooks a fish for reasons I can't fathom. Or just being happy and not thinking. Often little kids speaking Spanish will come out to "help" me fish and I am not cross; I smile and try to be careful about casting the lure so I won't git one. They had not invaded any more space than I did with the fish, anyway.

Plus I get to walk the the beach, which is good exercise ... and wash my dirty Crocs!

Sunday, July 13, 2008


It's that time of year when heat exhaustion and its serious calamity, sunstroke can happen. Well it happened to me and that was not pleasant. It was a shocker and even a day later I still feel the effects.

All I did was decide to mow the lawn, which had grown very high after all the rain, especially that nasty two-foot tall grass I hate that resembles Johnson grass. So after about an hour of slow going, lots of restarting the engine, I get tunnel vision. Silly me, trying to mow the grass in the middle of the Texas heat. So I left the mower and wandered like a drunk up the stairs to the porch, totally incapacitated, on the floor, shaking, hyperventilating, and nauseous.

According to the experts I was one step away from the hospital or even the grave.

After about 15 long minutes of down time I seemed fine, and being manly shook it off like "wow that was a trip, I'll never do that again!" But I was still dizzy, confused as heck, irritable, and couldn't eat dinner. My muscles were cramped and burning. The air conditioner which blows like ice cubes felt hot. I had been had.

Thanks to some locals and the Internet, I learned this is a very dangerous thing. It is not only dehydration, but rather lack of electrolytes and salt in your system that causes the real shock. So now I know that stuff like salt and Gatorade are what you need - and to not get so over-heated.

So all you neighbors, I'll be mowing the grass at eight o'clock in the morning or at night, and that's just my bad.

Editor - I fixed this up a little and wanted to mention that the best cure for heat exhaustion is to jump into the surf, and chill-out.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Eight Days of Rain

Wow, no tropical storms in the Gulf and we get 8 days of rain in July, truly strange. Rainfall totals of almost an inch per day - wish I had my rain gauge working but totals should be close to 6 inches. Cabin fever is starting to get bad, especially since my daughter came down from Austin and really wants to surf and fish. We see a break in the weather and run to the beach and KABOOM goes the thunder so we run back home. Then is drizzles. We wait on the drizzle to end like one dog waits on another.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Updated SPI Web Cams

Over the last five years the web cams on SPI have changed, so if you need a dose of "real-time" SPI there are some new ones. I've got a short list for starters, and let me know if you have more:

JW’s special event cam / Earth-Cam

This is brand new to the Island, covering the beach, Louie's and the Friday fireworks, and even Pirate's Landing - the Black Dragon pirate ship should be here today, hopefully. Java controls allow users to pan the camera itself, although at a Top Ten rated site by Earth-Cam, with thousands of viewers at once, it's hard to take it over. Sandy Feet says the beach cam controls are so good you can spot good cleavage on the beach!

Gene Gore’s

This has been the "main cams" for many because it is well done and has an excellent surfing page as well - this one is for the sports minded for sure. Gene does a ton of advertising, so bear with the extra graphics. Also contains articles for local notables such as naturalist Scarlett Colley and boater safety tips from Captain Alan Stewart - two great folks to meet.

Sandbox Inn Cam

This is Sandy Feet's latest morphing of the old "mobile web cam" which for a while had excellent beach views. It is now used as a security camera for the backyard and for folks to see her latest sand castle carvings. An island original. Sometimes loaded with butterflies.

Turtle Cam

Gene Gore donated an old web cam to Sea Turtle Inc, which is now positioned over one of their holding tanks. It is pretty cool, and anything to do with Sea Turtle Rescue is way cool. Don't forget their fundraiser scheduled for September 6th.

SPI Beach Houses and Condos

Not sure what this one is about, other than a marketing tool, although it does seem to have high resolution pictures of the beach from a nice angle.

The status of many old-timer web-cams is not known. The Radisson used to have a "causeway cam" but I can't find it. Sandy Feet used to run the "Dad cam" during Spring Break - man that fellow could work a crowd of girls like nobody's business (English lit, right!). Of note is that several at Isla Blanca Park no longer seem to be functioning, especially after Gene Gore was asked to take his stuff elsewhere (long story).

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Disappearing Ghost Crabs

I'd like to wish everyone a safe and happy 4th of July. It's a little rainy today with a good chance on Friday but then a drier weekend. So far on SPI there are no mobs of people, and it is nice and cool outside - an open door day!

Several times lately I watched the kids chasing ghost crabs at night, which is very fun with flashlights on the beach. The crabs are quite speedy and will disappear in a crab hole in a second. I saw plastic buckets with many of them, and had to wonder what the heck they were going to do to those poor crabs, but paid it no mind.

But then an observant friend noted how small they were compared to many years ago, when a respectable "sand crab" was at least two inches across the shell. They sure seem to be getting small these days, don't they?

Maybe that says something about our beach, and maybe all those kids as well (I have to admit, the new LED lights are cool). The little I know about ghost crabs is fascinating, such as they hide all day from the sun and predators but have to feed and drink at night; their burrows may be up to four feet long and are usually at a 45-degree angle such as into a dune. As part of the dune ecosystem, they reflect the overall health of the beach including its nutrient load, maintenance that can disturb their burrows, and predation from ... I think it's mostly the kids.

It is only befitting that "crabby the anti-litter mascot" could well be a ghost crab. Surely it is not a nasty land crab from the bayside!