Ike's aftermath blows us away, too
September 20, 2008
We've been vacationing in Texas the past few days. Well, not physically. Actually, we've been retracing our travels from four years ago as we watched Hurricane Ike make kindling out of Galveston and other communities along the Texas coastline. Like Hurricane Katrina three years ago, there is a part of us that feels like we're caught up in the storm when we see a place we visited laid waste. It was hard for us looking at those photos from Galveston this weekend to not feel sad for what that great area lost, so we can only imagine what the people who live there are experiencing.
Our one and only visit to Galveston in October 2004 was memorable in that we almost didn't go. It was the last day of what had been a two-week vacation through the Deep South, and we were basically just killing time before the following morning when we would have to catch our flight out of Houston. We in fact had started our day by going to Houston just to see what it was like. After all, it is America's fourth largest city and thus had a lot of attractions to lure us there. We took Ben to see a butterfly exhibit at one of the city's museums, afterward cruising along the downtown streets and marveling at the skyscrapers the same ones that littered the streets with shattered glass in the wake of Hurricane Ike.
We'd talked about going to the space museum located along I-45 south of Houston, but by the time we'd finished up with the butterflies and checking out downtown there wasn't enough time to do the space museum justice. Roni however had expressed an interest in Galveston, which was just a few miles down the road, and we knew we'd have enough time to drive in and see what it was all about. After Ike, we saw photos of bulldozers scraping mountains of muddy debris off I-45, but on the day we went the highway was clear, traffic mild. It is the main artery into Galveston, so the island truly is isolated when it is impassable.
Coming into Galveston we crossed the bay that is dotted with oil refineries. Less than a couple miles on the opposite side of the island is the Gulf of Mexico, which on most days never laps at the edges of the 17-foot sea wall on Seawall Boulevard. Galveston really is more like a peninsula than it is an island, surrounded on three sides by water and then a narrow strip of land that juts southwest. In any case, there is little protection from the type of storm that hit early Saturday morning. Most of the homes were already underwater, inundated by storm surge, long before Ike itself made landfall. The waves topped 20 feet, more than enough to reach beyond the boundaries of the sea wall.
But on the day we visited, the waters were calm. We parked along Seawall Boulevard and went down to play on the beach, with its white sands that sloped into the warm waters of the Gulf. To our north was the pier on which sits the famous Flagship Hotel. Behind us were the shops and restaurants of the tourist district, many of which didn't fare well in the storm. The aftermath shows piles of broken wood lining Seawall Boulevard, shattered buildings abundant. While the Flagship survived, another pier to its north where a restaurant and gift shop stood has been reduced to pilings.
And the famous Strand on which rows of 100-year-old buildings sit, a place where we strolled casually checking out the clothing shops and picking out postcards from storefronts bounding its covered wooden walkways, sits mostly under water. Hundreds of people remain stranded in town despite dire warnings from state and local officials that they should evacuate or face certain death. For whatever reasons they chose to remain and now face the destruction without electricity, fresh water, and limited food. They are cut off from the mainland with no promise of rescue anytime soon.
You can't fully comprehend the awesome power of Nature until you see what destruction a storm like Ike is capable of inflicting. How can anyone possibly believe in man's ability to influence the climate when we are clearly at its mercy? We spent much of Saturday, Sept. 13, combing the Internet and comparing before-and-after images of the affected area, finding it hard to believe that the flooded, trash-strewn streets in those pictures were the same ones we had seen in person. We share a few of them in this month's picture gallery just so you can compare for yourself. Perhaps we seem crazy to folks living outside California's earthquake country, but we'll take a good 7.0-magnitude temblor every 40 years or so over possible demise by 120 mph winds.
We'd like to get back to Galveston one day, but like New Orleans, it won't be the same as we remember it. Our prayers are with the folks there and in other hard-hit communities for a speedy recovery.
On the subject of speedy recoveries, it doesn't look like one is in sight for the local real estate market, what with the recent bailout of federal mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the ongoing gyrations in the stock market and employment sector. We measure the health of the economy based on the number of vacant homes on our block. Current tally: five for sale, two of those in foreclosure, one of which has been on the market for almost six months. And yes, the fence is still falling down and the Christmas lights are still up. That could become a selling point in another couple of months "Buy the great foreclosure now! Already decorated for the holidays! Plenty of dry grass to feed Santa's hungry reindeer on Christmas Eve..." *Sigh.*
We continue to hold our breath as far as our personal economy is concerned. September brought another small round of layoffs at Glenn's work as the newspaper continues to weather sagging advertising sales. No sign that's going to reverse course soon. Although we haven't had to suffer a huge loss of income, our constant state of high alert has forced us to keep some of our activities in check. For the first time in six years we won't be taking any major trips on our upcoming vacation. Sorry if the ripple effect puts a further dent in the economy, but that's just the way it is until something comes along to change the cost of food and crude. It probably won't be either one of the presidential candidates, but the end of the election cycle a few weeks from now won't hurt.
We haven't totally forgone having fun. On Sept. 6 we joined our friends from the Ironhouse Sanitary District for their annual barbecue at Lauritzen Yacht Harbor here in Oakley. They served up some excellent chicken and ribs along with several potluck side dishes and enough desserts to send a diabetic into insulin shock. Roni brought a pasta salad to share, and Ben brought along his friend John. We had some great conversation and equally great weather that was a bit cooler than the recent heatwave we'd experienced over Labor Day weekend, thanks to a cooling Delta breeze.
On Sept. 14, we trekked on over to O'Hara Park to check out the 19th annual Oakley Almond Festival. We brought along the walkie talkies so that Ben could go off and hang out with his friends while Roni and Glenn visited the booths and listened to some of the entertainment on the main stage at the opposite end of the park. We regrouped only long enough to buy lunch and then later ice cream before we headed home. It's a far cry from the days when we used to volunteer to put the festival on and would take turns watching after Ben in a stroller at the park with Mom or back home with Dad.
Our garden has about petered out for the year, although Roni managed to rustle up one more bowl of tomatoes from the few vines that are still producing. Our red flame grape never got to produce grapes this year on account of a gopher attack that stunted its growth yet again. However, our chenin vine behind Summer's Garden has ripened to the point where its small bunches of grapes are entering raisin stage. The local squirrel population has discovered them, as usual. They think they're being sly, sneaking up to the arbor during the afternoon to nibble. We don't mind, however, as the grapes are mostly ornamental for us; tasty, but too many seeds for eating.
That's going to wrap it up for this month as we head back to a few more days of work and school before a vacation that will hopefully produce better photo opportunities than this month brought us. Meanwhile, don't let the present economic news reports grind you down, and enjoy that great and glorious season now upon us that is autumn.
Glenn, Roni and Ben