Saturday, November 21, 2020

Texas notes: Island City

     While we're all locked down, more or less, a welcome tale of life on the move from Austin Bureau Chief Caren Jeskey. 
     A broken toilet is a good excuse for adventure. I learned the water in the tiny house I rent would be shut off for repairs, so packed my bags and headed southeast. I settled on Galveston and drove a few short hours to the yellow Airbnb cottage I’d call mine for a three night getaway.
     The first night was fresh redfish on a deck overlooking barges, yachts and fishing ships in the Gulf as the sun set. The next morning I put Barry White’s deep crooning tunes on one ear pod and biked to his childhood home at 917 Avenue K. It was modest but impressive because he had been there.
     I kept Barry on as my soundtrack and biked up Seawall Boulevard along the coast. White sand beaches morphed into marshes with giant snow-white, yellow beaked herons and muted pink flamingos trying to blend into the grasses.
     I biked from the eastern tip of the island back down Seawall and found myself on a small highway with giant signs painted on the asphalt depicting barges carrying cars. A friend had suggested taking the ferry to Bolivar Peninsula and it seemed I was on my way. It was mid-afternoon and not having planned well all I’d eaten was a Cliff Bar, water and 2 cups of coffee—but forged on.
     I walked my bike onto the giant barge and climbed a steep set of stairs to the outer deck. I let the wind whip my hair around as we took off. It was all that the ocean promises. Shiny black fins of dolphins appeared as they dove gleefully in and out of the huge rolling wavs. Seagulls galore, soaring eye level with me on the deck. A huge pelican flying solo and seeming to hover completely still in the wind as he eyeballed me to see if I’d be tossing any bread his way.
     When we docked the crew suggested that I head to the closest restaurant, La Playita. When I arrived the neon sign in the window said “open” but it was off, not lit up. I scanned it hard to be sure that was right— I was in need of sustenance.
     I mapped the peninsula and Yelp told me that most of the restaurants were temporarily closed. I almost decided to head back to the ferry and call it a wash— I could always return the next day with my car— but that would have felt like defeat. Just then, a black pickup turned the corner towards me and pulled over. It was the same man in the Trump 2020 hat and little brown dog on his lap I had nodded to as we passed a mile or so back. Man and dog peered out at this stranger on their turf, and I told them I was looking for a place to eat.
     The gentleman asked me if I’d like a ride to a good fish place in Crystal Beach and then I could bike back. I hedged my bets and said yes, carefully climbing 
into passengers seat in the large cab, windows wide open, mask on, hand sanitizer in my fanny pack on the ready. He gave me a tour along the way. We passed the Lago Vista Harbor, the Intracoastal Waterway that runs for 3000 miles–from New Jersey all the way to the Gulf of Mexico— and the shrimping boats. He explained that this part of Bolivar, pronounced to rhyme with Oliver, was the quiet part. He’d moved away from Crystal Beach since progress was ruining it. “I don’t like cities.”
     I mentioned how much Austin has built up in the six years I’ve lived there. His last visit was in the mid 70s, a Linklater beatnik distanced memory where weird really was OK. Today it’s more like a mini Chicago, and that’s what I told him. “Chicago!” he said. “I lived there for 20 years.”
     When he was working as a DEA agent in Illinois he met his wife who was from the far south side of Chicago. His brother-in-law lived on 106th near Torrence. My Busia (great-grandmother) lived near 103rd and Torrence. When he mentioned that they used to go to Gayety’s Chocolates “even on the coldest days of winter to get ice cream” I felt comforted by this small, interconnected world. A distant relative of mine now owns Gayety’s and they still have the best chocolate and ice cream.
     He dropped me off at Stingaree Restaurant & Marina, nearly 15 miles from the ferry, and we said our goodbyes. After he’d pulled off I tried the doors and found that they were closed. At least I had that bottle of water. I headed back to Highway 87 and pedaled away. I ducked into a convenience store where locals with masks in various states of undress (noses poking out and such) sat packed around gambling machines.
     I settled on a Snickers bar, a bag of seasoned almonds, and a watermelon drink and got out of there as fast as I could. I got back on the bike after a short rest and cruised, enjoyed the landscape as it flashed by. I passed full pelts of roadkill stretched out perfectly, my very own natural taxidermy museum. The weather was perfect. 70s, breezy, with the wind at my back. A bright blue sky. I put jaunty tunes in one ear pod, the volume low to stay alert to traffic sounds.
     When I was a couple of miles from the ferry Trump 2020 pulled up ahead of me on the shoulder. I passed him, called out “I am ok!” and waved. He said “be careful!” We went our separate ways, perhaps both of us feeling a little less alone.


  1. Caren, I enjoy your story telling each and every Saturday. And today's story had a moral to it, I think. Just the opposite of the tale I heard some years ago about two Chicagoans, one wearing a Sox cap, the other with CUBS on his hat, meeting in a line to the Louvre (or some other Parisian attraction). Supposedly, the Sox fan (though it could just as well have been the Cubs supporter) refused to even say "hello" to his fellow Chicagoan. Whereas, you Caren and the Trump 2020 man were willing to meet as fellow human beings irrespective of political affiliation. Let's pray for more of that coming up.


  2. Are you sure he didn't pull a dirty trick on you? Perhaps he knew that place wasn't open -- it seems like he should have waited around a bit, while you tried to go in, then seen that the restaurant was closed, and given you a ride somewhere else. That convenience store you had to go into sounds like a dangerous, scary place to me.

    1. To be honest, I sent him away since I wanted to be alone at that point!

  3. I'm sure it was an honest mistake.

    Bike riding solo on a highway is not risky. Riding an almost empty ferry with a mask on far away from others is not very risky, and less so than being in a grocery store (which I also do, safely). I was in and out of the store in a few minutes, and the folks at the machines were in the back of the store. I don't touch door handles and I have hand sanitizer with me at all times, and wash with soap and water every chance I get. I've been taking COVID precautions very seriously and believe that being in the cab of the truck with the windows down and a mask on was minimally risky and only done because I was hungry and tired. I had no choice but to relocate to an airbnb due to no plumbing, and that was safer than a hotel.

    I hope and plan to stay safe and will continue to be very careful. Thank you!

  4. Fabulous description of a day in Galveston. Now we know how to pronounce Bolivar like a Texan! Like the previous commenter noted your connection with the Chicagoan in the red hat is hopeful.


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.