Monday, May 29, 2006

engraved invitation to destruction

Another sure sign that summer has come is the flurry of hurricane preparedness admonitions. Every publication runs at least one, right along with all the alarming predictions of what a nasty, active storm season is about to descend upon us while city officials urge us to prepare ourselves. Well, here I am, preparing.

All year long I have been pushing and pushing for the town to build dunes, and the BOA and all the candidates before the last election made a great show of professing their support for such an endeavor... and yet.

Here are two views of what I have to look at every time I walk my dog to the beach at the end of my street - beach access #16.

Clearly, the dunes are trying to build themselves, but the city keeps knocking them down to preserve access for beach maintenance vehicles. In doing so, they have created a canal that will usher even the lowest of storm surges onto Gulf Blvd. where the dune on the west side of the street will redirect the flowing water to the two streets on either side of it - Saturn and Venus - and more than likely right up to the door of my ground-floor condo.

This is not just my problem. The town is endangering the property of everyone who lives on those two streets and I am surprised - after witnessing how the town handled the storm surges from Rita last year - that more people are not up in arms about this. (Just to refresh your memory, city workers pushed up a loose sand berm at access #16 at least three different times during this surge, which had the unintended consequence of dispersing huge amounts of sand onto Gulf Blvd. and fouling up the sewer system in the process -- but did not seem to slow the surge down any; surf trash was deposited halfway up my street.)

I understand that the vehicle access at #16 is slated to be moved to #17 at some point in the indeterminate future, and that a dune overpass large enough to accommodate the vehicles will be built there. I know this is going to be expensive but I also know that the BOA allocated funds just for these types of projects. I want to know the time schedule on this, and I want to know if public works has devised a better plan for protecting #16 from any kind of storm surge in the meantime.

Did we learn nothing from Rita??!!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

umbrella wars '06

Here it is just the first weekend of the summer and I have already seen an example of beachumbrella-rage at Neptune Circle.

Two competing beach service companies are trying to stake out their territory early in the season, so they are putting up more umbrellas than necessary and in the process laying claim to the primest of beach real estate. One of the beach users - a local - who happened to have his own umbrellas decided to set up directly in front of an unoccupied pair of chairs which of course instigated a confrontation.

Wags was already tugging me back toward the parking lot and I know better than to disturb his momentum once he has found it, but I could about imagine what was being said -- with much gesticulation, I might add.

Now, I know that this issue came before the Board of Aldermen this past year and that some possible ordinance changes were floated out there, but I can't remember if any of them actually passed. Perhaps someone can enlighten me here?

At any rate, I think it is important that all beach users understand their rights. The umbrella renters cannot lay claim and if chairs are not being used you may ask the guy/gal in charge to move them if you want to use that space.

There are things both sides can do to make sure that these confrontations happen less-frequently.

Beachgoer - Don't be a dickhead. If there is plenty of good (i.e. near the water) beach space left, use it. But if there isn't, ask politely for the umbrella/chairs to be relocated. Politely is the key word here. And give the guy a few minutes to get it done before escalating to the "move it now or I will move it for you" stage.

Beach Service Owner - Make sure all of your employees understand the laws and the spirit of Texas open beaches. Remind them that they represent your company and South Padre Island as well. If folks have a bad experience on the beach it reflects badly on our whole community.

Umbrella guy/gal - When in doubt, just move the damn umbrella. Yeah, it's a pain but if you get into a shouting match with a beach user I guarantee that you have just entered a battle you cannot win. Oh - and please properly dispose of your water bottle fast food wrapper trash instead of assuming that someone like me will come along and pick up after you.... thanks.

Friday, May 26, 2006

summer people (revisited)

Summer afternoon-summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.
- Henry James

It has been nearly 20 years since my last summer vacation began.... two decades since the final school bell rang signalling that important ending of one thing and the beginning of something completely different. After 22 years in the classroom (first as a student, then as a teacher), I left it all behind for a life of endless summer, building sand castles on SPI and all over the world.

That was a lot of years ago, but I don't think that anyone ever forgets what it feels like to have the whole season stretching ahead of you - lakes to swim, bikes to ride, books to lose oneself in... So many possibilities, and a seemingly endless string of days for pursuing them.

Temperature-wise, summer arrived here on South Padre Island sometime in early April, which is when we started hitting the 90 degree mark on a pretty much daily basis. But real summer can't really start until that final bell rings, followed closely by the first round of Friday night fireworks on the Bay. When the Summer People show up Memorial Day weekend with kids in tow, shiny new rust-free umbrellas, Sponge Bob beach towels, foam noodles and a big stack of summer reading materials -- then and only then can summer be said to have truly arrived.

Summer People come in all flavors: College kids trying to recapture the (of course irretrievable) magic of spring break; condo-owners from Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, settling in their families and mentally preparing themselves for the summer commute back to the city and to work; honeymooners and fishing widows and beach joggers and kids! So many kids screaming for the pure joy of it as they hotfoot it down to the beach for the first swim of the season...

Summer People know how to have fun. The smarter among them have already been all over the internet looking for the latest info on more ways to get the most out of their time on SPI. They trust the locals to steer them in the right direction, and every one of us has our own opinion on which essential elements a perfect summer vacation on Padre should encompass. Here is mine (the abbreviated version):

1. Spend at least one day floating around at Schlitterbahn
2. Catch at least one set of "The Bongodogs" (go to for an updated schedule of SPI performances)
3. Build at least one sand castle - with or without the kids

Of course, for those of us who live here, everything seems backwards. For the past couple of months, we have been kicking back during the week , enjoying the empty beaches and bestirring ourselves only for the sporadic arrivals - followed by the Sunday afternoon departures - of the Weekend People. Now here it is time for us to go to work; to rent those jet skis, hoist those umbrellas, take those orders, bus those tables and sing "Margaritaville" for the zillioneth time -- when we would much prefer to be partying with the Summer People.

It takes tremendous self-discipline to keep working when everyone around you is playing, but it makes the between-shift hours all the sweeter... and there are so many wonderful ways to spend down time when the Summer People are here.

I for one intend to grab the season by the horns because, in the words of the Bard himself:
Summer's lease hath all too short a date.
- William Shakespeare (Sonnet 18)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

global warming threatens to mess with texas

Still skeptical about the whole global warming thing? Then you probably won't want to bother reading this report issued by -- but this article in the Houston Chronicle sums it up nicely if you are interested enough to skim. Either way, the following quote should make you rethink that $300,000 2BR/2BA condo you were about to snap up:

"Warmer ocean water will increase the severity of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, and an increase in sea level will virtually eliminate the protection offered by Texas' barrier islands and coastal wetlands. Perhaps the most dramatic impact on Texas will be the increase in sea level. Most scientists predict a sea level rise of between one to three feet over the next 100 years. Some predict an increase of as much as 10 feet. Maps in the report illustrate how much of Texas would be underwater with one-, three- and 10-foot increases. With a three-foot increase, South Padre Island would be lost. Much of Galveston Island would be uninhabitable."

But everyone knows that the whole global warming thing is just a conspiracy of tree-huggers who want to make Texans feel guilty for driving hummers and other behemoths, right?

Then again, maybe not.

Monday, May 22, 2006

book sales

Every once in a while I stop by and check out the sales rankings for my latest sandcastle book - the one published one year ago. I get excited when my ranking dips below 100,000 -- which means that a mere 99,999 books are selling better than mine. The ranking changes from day to day and today it dipped really low and I found myself at number 33, 941. I don't know how many sales that translates into but it was fine to see my humble little how to build a better sandcastle book climbing up out of its winter doldrums to a position right there between # 33,940 (Secret Life of Numbers: 50 Easy Pieces on How Mathematicians Work And Think) and number 33,943 (Salmon: A Cookbook).

Any day now the German version of "Sandcastles Made Simple" will be available and who knows? The thing might actually earn its full advance some day....

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Catching Up

The faster I go, the behinder I get. I know someone else said that (or something very much like it) already but they were surely describing my life. The past two weeks spent in the great northwest (northern California and British Columbia) were utterly glorious: I built lots of great sand sculpture, ate good food, drank too much wine and played music -- all with some of my favorite people. Way too much fun. But someone else said: "first you play; then you pay" and man o man am I paying now.

So if I have answered your e-mail, updated your website, filled your sandcastle tool order or returned your phonecall you can consider yourself extremely lucky -- 'cause lots of other folks aren't seeing any of that and in fact won't see any of that until next week as Amazin' and I are off on another sand sculpting adventure in Kemah starting tomorrow. After that I have two whole weeks at home before heading back north (east, this time) and we'll see how much further behind I can manage to get before I climb on that plane.

In the meantime, here are a couple of doo-dahs I have been asked to share--

May20 - It's Tiki Time! Join the flotilla of kayaks and other non-motorized vessels 6 PM at Ted's Ramp for the annual lighting of the Tiki Torches. The Tiki Ceremony and the calling of the Turtles will follow at Palm St. Pier - 8 PM -- LET SUMMER BEGIN! (wish I could be here for this as it sure looks like fun!)

"Cameron County Appraisal District was late sending out the 2006 valuations. Normally May 31, 2006 would be the last day a Taxpayer could file a tax protest. This year, since the District was late, a taxpayer will have until June 9, 2006 to file their protest. I thought you might want to let your readers know."

Well, I found that envelop from the appraisal district in the pile of mail that I am still wading my way through and yikesamundo! my little condo is worth, hmmmm.... approximately 10% more than it was last year.

Then, City Planner Cate Ball passed along this link which she thought might be of interest to my readers: TPWD: News Release: May 15, 2006: Public Invited To Participate in Reefing Program

It will be interesting to find out exactly what objects folks will want to donate to build these artificial reefs -- and what kinds of objects will be allowed. I like the idea of being buried in a reef but can think of few other items that would be appropriate -- other than perhaps Dadfeets' Rolls Royce should he fail to find a mechanic who can breathe life back into it.... (I'm joking, Dad!)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

election results

Just in:

Bob P 469
Joe Buck 306

Alderman (highest two votes are in):
Philip Money 370
JoAnn Evans 363
Fred 259
Kirk Mills 199
Alex Grossman 105

congrats to the winners - am sorry to see that Fred was not re-elected. But I imagine he will be happy to be able to spend more time on his boat.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

what I am working on this week

photo by amazin' walter
story on

Monday, May 01, 2006

Vote Early, Vote Often

Early voting started today. I went in shortly after 12 noon and was number 39 on the roster.
Am I going to tell you who I voted for and why? You betcha! But first...


I saw the ads suggesting that voters should make their decisions based solely on whether or not the candidate supports the median project. As if that is the only issue that will impact our community in the next two years! What a crock....

Personally, I do not feel strongly one way or the other about the median plan. To all those who scream DRAINAGE PROBLEMS!!! I would say this: can you remember the last time Padre Blvd. flooded? And for how long it remained inpassible? Was it more than for an hour or three? I grew up in a place where sometimes so much snow fell that school got cancelled and folks had to stay home from work for a day or two and -- you know what? The world did not end! If we can fix the drainage problem, excellent! but as far as I am concerned, this is a non-issue.

Will businesses suffer if vehicles have to go an extra block or two to access them? Studies suggest not. Will the blvd look nicer? Undoubtedly. Will the enhanced blvd. be safer for pedestrians? Studies certainly suggest so. Is it going to be expensive? Absolutely. Can we trust our elected officials to carefully study all factors, listen to viewpoints from all affected business owners and then do the best thing for the greater good of SPI?

I believe we can.

Okay, so you hate SPIRIT. Now why not just answer the questions?

I gotta say it again - I am hugely disappointed that so few of the candidates have participated in the online forum at What are they afraid of? Why won't they share their views in a place where everyone can read them? So what if you aren't a fan of SPIRIT? That's like not going to sand castle days because you like Coppertone better than Banana Boat. It makes zero sense not to take advantage of this excellent communications tool. And since I believe that all the candidates are basically rational, I am going to suggest that these candidates are not participating because they are scared of committing themselves IN WRITING to viewpoints that can be thrown back at them at some later date. It is all too easy to speak off the cuff at a pachanga - to say what you are pretty sure the person you are talking to wants to hear and which you can disavow as a simple misunderstanding if need be somewhere down the road.

On the other hand, you know that what a candidate writes on the online forum is going to be read, re-read and quoted by a wider spectrum of voters. Some aren't going to like what you have to say and they will throw your words back at you someday and you will not be able to disavow them because there is a written record. It takes courage and commitment to take a stand in this type of forum, and I applaud the candidates who are taking the time and effort to communicate their views with us.

(Now, if any of the candidates who are _not participating have a better reason for shunning the forum, I would be very happy to publish that explanation right here.)

Surprise Surprise This is How I Voted


I voted for Fred and JoAnn - primarily because I am convinced that they will do the best job of representing the interests of the residents. Sure, the needs of the business owners are also important and will necessarily factor into their actions because there is a lot of overlap: I am just one of many residents who make a living off the tourists who visit here. For that reason, I want a city government that will promote the island, protect its most precious resources (what attracts the tourists and future residents here in the first place) and maintain a climate conducive to doing business . However, quality of life - the place I get to hang out when I am not working - trumps every other consideration in my book.

I believe that Fred and JoAnn are free agents who are not beholden to any particular factions. I believe that they both will work hard to protect the beach, the bay and the charm of the existing residential neighborhoods. I perceive them as being intelligent and informed, and I believe that they both have the requisite "people skills" that help form consensus and create the coalitions necessary for moving forward with large projects.


I voted for Bob Pinkerton. This was a tough decision for me to make because I am very fond of Joe Buck and consider him a friend (and I sure hope he still considers me a friend in spite of the fact that I am not supporting his bid for mayor.)

People who know me well know that I have not always been a fan of Mayor Pinkerton, and there is much that I still do not agree with him about. However, I have been to enough BOA meetings to develop a better understanding of the Mayor's job and an appreciation for the skills required to keep things moving along, while still giving folks from all sides of any given issue the opportunity to air their opinions; to smile and be polite when the crazy people want to talk; to maintain your cool under pressure and to calm ruffled feathers; to be able to sit through shitloads of boring meetings and not look like you'd rather be fishing.

Bob does a pretty good job of it, and he has my vote.