Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Odds and Ends

Well the storm did come through here with maybe an inch and a half of needed rain, followed by a super bird fall-out that pleased hundreds. The wind then turned tail to the south and started blowing again, although a few stragglers like some warblers and grossbeaks are still around.

But the birds! A whole bunch of locals stopped by such as Scarlett Colley and Nancy Marsden, both having bazillion-dollar cameras and binoculars just like the pros, nearly a block party there for a while. I learned about 20 new species.

During the rain Lori noticed a wet spot on the floor and said "watch out, I think Malia [our dog] needed to pee." Nope, that was a leak in the roof. So handyman Sam went up on the ladders and with a bucket of black roofing goo and sure enough, a few seams in the felt paper were cracked. We have a slightly sloping flat-top in case you're wondering.

As I completed the job, noting that I didn't get a speck of sticky black goo on me anywhere, I saw the view which was spectacular. It made me feel good about being here. It was very calm and the water was almost an azure color.

Soon the water will warm up ... the cold front knocked is back down to 73 degrees which in my book is FREEZING. The only bummer with this approach, waiting for warm water, is that when it does reach the magic 77, the wind stops and the surfing isn't as good ... until a tropical storm comes by. But I don't care; no waves I'll fish.

Soon it will be Tiki Time on the island again, so we'll be preparing for that. Oh well, no rumors or politics, just some odds and ends from the island.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sam the Weatherman

Well, it's usually "damn the weatherman" or "dammit, Sam" but as a geographer and amateur weather freak it is always of interest to me. For example, later this afternoon or evening we're expecting a major cold front to come through SPI, and while the radar looks innocent right now the gurus say to prepare for the big one.

I guess we'll have to see it if and when some rain happens, since we're technically in a severe drought right now. One to three inches of rain sounds great! The smart money seems to be on development of the tail of the front right over the coastal counties of Willacy and Cameron counties due to lift, moisture, and other dynamics. So we'll see.

I might believe it because yesterday there was an outflow boundary that came through in the morning, a day ahead of the actual front. That means that this storm has something technically known as "boogie."

However, us Islanders know better because sometimes these squall lines come through, nail the mainland, skip right over SPI, and then form a coastal trough offshore. Sea breeze storms do it the opposite in the summer, a huge rage out at sea, side-wind right around SPI, and pummel the mainland with massive thunderstorms.

Last year we were flooded about this time of year but this year the La Nina event pushed most of the rain up north. I heard that many Central Texas were full, with Travis only running a few feet below basin level (678 today out of 681 max, or three feet down from flood stage ... it used to be 20-40 feet down). So obviously we're missing some serious winter and spring rain.

So anyway, let's hope for a nice farmer's rain of about an inch, which I think is possible. It's fun and I blog with the big boys and girls on Jeff Master's Weather Underground site to learn some of their tricks. I also have been helping the folks on the outer islands of the Bahamas called the Abacos ... and so far they haven't complained TOO much. That's a tough area to call because of persistent Bahamian low pressure cells interacting the Gulf and Bermuda high pressure, which can result in screaming easterlies when Miami seems fair with mild winds.

Time to go check my PWAT and k-factor indexes ... see you later!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

De Hotta De Flesh

This cheer thing is called an air conditioner, or at least the outside guts of one that is common in our area. They come in all sizes and prices but after about 7 years ... well let's just say if I poked it with a hoe handle it would probably explode, or simply fall into a pile of rust and corrosion. Probably the latter.

On the beach-side, they only last about 3 years, said my A/C dude. Remarkable, since up by Austin you'd expect ten years at minimum, and they didn't look rusty when they failed. I guess it's salty and corrosive down here, huh?

Now in case you're wondering about the title, that was how I heard the Marx Brothers in an old comedy movie say "hot flashes" in the Italian-American lingo of the time. It's pretty descriptive but sorry no porn here. And if you are lucky enough to have a wife with that condition, one of those "outside A/C things" is looking real good. I'll be under the covers some nights, ya know!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Another VW Story

Back when we grew up, the SUV that revolutionized Mommy Transportation was the VW bus, and our family had several fairly similar to this 1965 and a late 70's camper version. Everyone has a VW story, and in fact the old VW engines and vehicles are collector's items if not dependable transportation still today.

And boy do we have some memories. Please forgive me Father for what I am about to say.

* * *

Our family was six kids at the time, me the oldest about 13 at the time, down to the little baby of three. The twins were a boy and girl about the age of 5. The twins often rode in the way-back compartment above the engine, which they really liked for some reason. Hey if they were happy and not wailing, the world was happy.

But on one particularly long trip, and maybe a mile or two from the house, almost home, the twins declared that in no uncertain terms they needed to pee. There were some nervous laughs but a quick look back said they were dead serious.

Right as Dad motored from the stop light - the only one in about 15 miles - them twins got real quiet. Yup, both cut loose right over the hot, hot engine. A long, long time.

Steam billowed into the air both inside and outside the car. Now everyone was gasping for air, screaming and shouting. Stoically, Dad drove with white knuckles the last blocks to the house with his head out the window not even waving to the town cop or anybody ... who watched the promenade with amazement, their lips forming a big "O".

Friday, April 18, 2008

Great day for the birds

Today wasn't phenomenal by Island "fall-out" standards, but the bird drop today was quite satisfactory with many warblers, orioles, buntings, and such. Not as many Orchard Orioles as in the past but the light rain and cool north wind pushed them down pretty good for a while.

Unfortunately my camera isn't good at zooming distances for close-up shots so if anybody would like to share a picture, please email me at

I stopped feeding the red-wing blackbirds on Scarlet Colley’s advice, since those pigs were running off all the smaller birds. We threw some seed out by other huisache trees where the migrants were roosting. They seemed to like that. A good Friday even if cool and a bit rough for the beach or fishing.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Why I Play Blues

That's a picture of Clifford Antone courtesy of Wiki. I wrote this stuff earlier knowing that may readers really don't care for - or even hate - the blues. I think the right answer is 'it's about the only thing I know how to do!'. I mean while playing guitar. Anyway, here's what I wrote earlier:


Whew, I broke out the old ax – a 1972 ‘Grenada’ Spanish classical guitar – and soon found that my hands and coordination were way out of shape. Lori says it was some mean blues but I need to practice those hammers, rolls, slides, and sevenths more. If you can’t play the blues with feeling I just don’t know if it’s worth it.

I grew up in the finger picking days of Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, Leon Redbone, Jorma Kaukonen (Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane), and Eric Clapton unplugged. It was more like ‘white boy blues’ than the real black heroes like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Albert King (no offense to B.B.). Learning all their swag and grooves was really cool.

No, I don’t play commercially and I just jam out with friends of late at night when the sound carries. My singing sounds like geese farts on a hot muggy day (Leo Kottke reference) so I’ll just hum or whistle.

In the stairwell of a big building you don’t need an amp and one particular night I played against my own reverb. For four hours straight. Wow, it was like ‘Boogie Chillen’ all over again, that feeling that goes up your spine when things are good. It was one of my finer moments and I wish I had a recording, including the hoots from all the peeps on different floors.

Back when Stevie Ray Vaughn was younger I used to play some backyard parties up in Austin and show them rockers how to cut loose on a big one on just a rhythm guitar. They were somewhat baffled by my use of weird chords and couldn’t quite follow. Little Stevie (he hated being called that) finally took some lessons from a few greats courtesy of Clifford Antone and as we all know, Stevie Ray Vaughn went on to be the best rock/blues guitarist in his style. If you listen to Stevie in his later albums you can hear a distinct dissonant chord and a jazzy lick or two. And it rocked Carnegie Hall.

As to me, please never ask for a song. I’m a method player. I play the boogie until it plays itself out, however it sounds and whatever it is. I’m not very good but I like it … it is like catching a really good surfing wave sometimes. It's infectious.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Cockpit

There's yours truly sitting at his new workstation supposedly "working." My son came into town and was pushing Tecate beer on me, as you can see. I think I had just successfully joined together a 100 megabyte database and was pretty happy about it, anyway.

The front door is still open except when it gets hot and Lori wants to cool the house down ... people call and can't believe all the squawking birds in the background. Those are Everett's red-wing blackbirds from Block Island and I've never seen them here so late in April. Must be all that global cooling you're having up yonder in the Northeast.

After tons of bad news things are looking up. The taxes are sent, a great punishment this year. Due to lack of funds we had to put off our trip to the Bahamas but those beautiful out islands will always be there. The kids are doing much better after some bad luck, and both have new jobs. Even my work is doing better, whew!

A few rare migratory birds came through such as the yellow warbler and indigo bunting, although not the loads of orchard orioles like last year.

A rarity was the first siting of a Kemp's Ridley sea turtle nest of over 100 eggs, all saved for incubation now, just in time for the Island's 35th birthday. The turtle was tagged as indicating its age was 35 years old too, a true coincidence. In fact, we're off to raise the sea turtle flag down by the visitors center.

Things are getting good now. I love this time of year before Memorial Day.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Bad Fence, Bad Fence!

At any given time there are hundreds of little wars and battles all over the world. You don’t hear of more than a few because of the media. Most people can only remember a few besides the big ones like Iraq and Afghanistan. Half of Africa seems to be at war of some kind. But the most curious one is right on our doorstep, our border with Mexico.

There is a real condition of war there and don’t let anybody say otherwise. Mexican army troops fill the border towns in a cat-and-mouse game with narco-terrorists and corruption. The US Department of Homeland Security has thousands of agents as well.

In addition, the US intends to build a border wall and occupy it as a demilitarized zone, like the border between North and South Korea. I guess everybody knows that but never heard it said that way. But can you imagine how people in Mexico feel, being treated like Palestinian or North Korean terrorists?

Even the phrase “de-militarized zone” has connotations of Vietnam as well. What a stupid term, DMZ, since you never have one unless you’re at war and killing people. From most accounts, we’re doing a pretty good job of killing people, although nobody is keeping a body count because it’s not a sexy war like our very generous stupidity in Iraq. If you include the hundreds of people shot by narcoticos, the wetbacks who didn’t make it past the checkpoint, the few killed by US agents, the coyote smugglers who let their people die, and all the related violence the numbers could be a thousand or more.

We the people and the Congress and states all said “yes we want border protection” and fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Now the Secretary of Homeland Security Chertoff is allowed to suspend all the laws of the land to militarize the border. It is a very sad situation with no endgame.

No Mo' Condos, Please

This time I’m going to come out and say I’m against any more condos on South Padre Island, plain and simple. Sure I know many will happen but I hate the new ones and hate the prospect of many more of them. Condos will be the ruination of the island and I’m dead set against any more being built.

It is time to call a spade a spade and say “no more condo-hotels.” The ones we have are just fine, but there comes a point where we just have too many people in a small part of a skinny sandbar. Sustainable communities have some high-density areas like downtown but we’ve taken it to a trashy extreme already here on the island, which as many as twenty more on the books in various stages of planning: all this for the benefit of a very few and a nice traffic jam on the peak days. It’s not sustainable and flies in the face of what is called “carrying capacity.”

There is plenty of land up north although for the foreseeable future all that traffic will be coming straight through town. This is nearing a recipe for disaster, should one ever occur. But beyond that there is the larger question of what all these people are going to do when they arrive on SPI. There’s only so much beach – indeed sometimes three rows of umbrellas deep – and bay access it at its lowest point since the island was first built up in the 70’s. There’s less beach as well because of high erosion rates. It seems more like the case that many transient people visit SPI on short stays, contribute to vehicle congestion, and then leave tons of trash behind.

Many resort areas are starting to become alarmed at the sheer numbers of people on their small islands, and have decided to place severe restrictions on multi-family housing. Some have sued to keep ferries and cruise ships from visiting their island or coastal community. Many tell of stories where the crowds grew rowdy and drunk and, lacking any public restrooms, urinated all over the place. It will be like spring break all summer if we keep going the way we are.

Not many people want to confess that condos are hurting the island and bad for the local economy. It is a very bold, unfavorable position, since a property owner in Texas should be able to build whatever they want to build – the reason why it’s such a complete and utter mess today. But I have the courage to come out and say no more condos. No, I’m not the first to say that, as the novelist John MacDonald said that back in 1971. To hell with any new condos, I say.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Save the end of the street!

Maybe it's time for me to get back into the thicket of politics after all. I want to save the end of the street. Plain and simple, that's what I intend to do.

Where's the end of the street that I meant? It's Texas Park Road 100 which is at the end of Highway 100 and then you take a left and go up Padre Boulevard, northward. At the very end there is a barricade and yes people drive right into it sometimes.

But at the end of the road is this incredible seascape to the east and on the bayside, some nice dunes as well. Tens of thousands of people go down there every year. You get out of the car and start walking. It's nice, and we call it the wild end of the island for a reason.

But it's all private land at the end of the road. The conservation land is a small distance to the north. So technically you're trespassing and one day there could be a giant condo there. No more magnificent bonfires, having some wine, watching the moon-rise, and singing some semi-dirty songs.

So we need to save the end of the road. I'm serious that we need the state, county, and town to pony up some money for access on both sides of the road and allow walking and bonfires and camping or whatever. Maybe the Conservancy or US Fish & Wildlife would allow a deed to allow limited access to beach and bay if the road was extended. I don't care how we do it: we need a nice end of the road.

There have been several instances of the town being involved in land flipping deals lately, like two street ends, considering buying a church (huh?), a wetland area for five bazillion dollars, and some worthless land donated so they didn't have to pay taxes on their swampland. All that is crazy, Mickey Mouse stupid stuff. Save the end of the road.

If we lose the end of the road we'll lose a major part of the town's soul, history, and vibe. Of course it's outside city limits but where ELSE are you going to drive on this island? I have been coming here for three decades and moved here because there was an end-of-the-road.

And I'll fight to keep it as a historical right of way.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Island's Birthday Coming Up

Starting on the 10th of April there will be the 35th anniversary since out little burgh was incorporated in 1973. You can catch a bunch of details here.

Friday is the big evening so come on down to Louie's for out favorite local band, the Bongo Dogs. And don't forget the Saturn Street Strummers (YouTube video) will make a cameo appearance as well! That's my favorite ukulele band and sometimes I play along with them. The theme is definitely "piratey" with a Hawaii influence so keep that in mind.

This is one of my favorite times of the year next to October. The water warms up, the birds migrate, the flowers bloom, and it's not crowded too bad between Easter and Memorial Day. It is a great time to get the "shoulder season" working a little bit - and thanks to the Town, the Historical Committee, and all the sponsors. Come on down; we're ready for ya!