Greetings, everyone. This part of my adventure took a little more serious turn. Most of you may not know that one of my most favorite places on this earth is Port Aransas, Texas. I first found the place a few years ago when I was down visiting Dr. Kellie Lignitz-Hahn at Texas A&M University-Kingsville for their clarinet day. It was the first time I had ever been to the beach by myself, and I had a fine time hunting for seashells, talking to day-drinking retirees, and I met the absolute best bar tender and had the tastiest meal of my life, which, coincidentally, was the first time I ever had crab or red snapper. Ever since, I've been drawn to those barrier islands, and each experience has been peaceful and restorative in its own unique way.
When Hurricane Harvey basically wiped Port Aransas off the map back in August 2017, I cried. To think of all that was lost, and to see pictures of the devastation was heartbreaking. I didn't know what to expect once I got there, but I was willing to take a chance. Everyone I mentioned my trip to thought I was nuts, that nothing could possibly be open or ready for the public. I figured it didn't hurt to look, and perhaps in some small way, my tourist dollars could help. I made it a point not to take any pictures of the damage. It seemed rude and voyeuristic, and that it would trivialize another person's suffering. Instead, what I did was travel around, talk to local people, and visit my favorite places to see if they were had rebuilt, or were even still around. I also had some shop cats to check on.
I drove in on 361 and to my surprise, there seemed to be more beach condos than when I was there the previous year. I also saw a new water tower being installed. I could see in the distance where they had brought in a big oil rig close to the island. The weather was cold and gray and windy, and was threatening rain. I cruised on in to town and was shocked to discover that a lot of buildings looked as if nothing had happened. Don't get me wrong, there were some grim reminders of Harvey's wrath six months previous, but reconstruction was moving along at a rapid pace.
My first stop was Winton's Island Candy. At first glance, everything seemed unchanged, although I did notice that there was a wave painted on the front door to mark the flood line from the hurricane. The shop was full of candy, and the proprietress and her helpers were as friendly as always. I sampled some caramel and some fudge and made my selections. I mentioned that the gift shop that used to be next to them was gone, and a liquor store was opening up in its place. One of the ladies told me that Connoisseurs had opened down the road in a new location.
I headed down the road, noting that one of the gas stations was still completely mangled, and there were a few of the old restaurants still torn up. Everything seemed to be in a state of mid-repair, but it was thrilling to see so many familiar places either open or just about ready. I went in to Connoisseurs and had a lovely chat with the lady running the shop, and got to check in with the shop cat. Sukey the Shop Cat had had a very rough time of it during Harvey, but was finally back in house, firmly ensconced in a sorting tray on the front counter.
When I left the shop, I saw small groups of people gathering and pulling up chairs to the sidewalk. I then remembered someone mentioned a Mardigras parade. Since I had never in my life been to a Mardigras parade, I thought I would stick around. Two shop owners who were seated on a bench nearby noticed my look of bewilderment, and were kind enough to offer me a place to sit and watch the show. I overheard many interesting conversations about the way things were shaping up since the hurricane, and some of the things that some people had been through, and the nightmares of dealing with insurance companies, and trying to get things worked out. As the parade progressed, it was mentioned that it was a little sparse this year for obvious reasons. I was just glad to be there to witness it. To me, it seemed like an act of defiance against the worst that Nature could throw at a community.
Y'all, I could talk all day about the stories about the storm the locals told me. Nothing I could write would do them justice. I can't even imagine what it must have been like to come back to all that destruction, or to have actually stuck around on the island and lived to tell the tale. I will tell you this, though. Port Aransas is bouncing back, and the best gift that we can give them now is to go visit. Go down for Spring Break. Go play on the beach for a weekend. Heck, take a whole week. Go visit Sukey the shop cat. Go see the taxidermied rattlesnake at the candy shop. Go out deep sea fishing. Go look for sea shells. Go shopping for souvenir t-shirts. Every dollar you spend helps bring Port Aransas back to life, and helps these good folks rebuild. And no, nobody is paying me to write this (and you'd sure have to question their reasoning if they were). I just really like Port Aransas.
Since this wouldn't be a blog without pictures, I'm going to share some of the pictures I took at Padre Island National Seashore, which is just south of Port Aransas. The park ranger on duty said that they had missed the bulk of the hurricane, but the shore was pretty churned up. Someday I'd like to take a drive down to the beach at mile 60, but I need four-wheel drive first!
For more information on things to do in Port Aransas, Texas:
The official tourism site of Port Aransas: portaransas.org/
For more information on the town and it's inner workings: www.cityofportaransas.org/
For yummy caramel and fudge: wintonscandies.com/
A lot of my favorite businesses don't actually have websites or even Facebook sites, so look for their locations on Google:
Connosieur's Gifts & Crafts: home of Sukey the Shop Cat!
La Playa Mexican Grill: home of delicious seafood and fajitas
Islander Souvenirs: home of souvenir t-shirts, flip-flops, beach towels, and so forth