The road to Galveston from Houston is a verdant landscape were all the tall poles with signs atop advertising everything from KentacoHut to Days8InnSuiteBridge trees and not indeed metal poles reaching out in the hopes of distracting drivers speeding at top miles-per-liter down the eleven to fourteen lane highway depending on how one counts crash lanes and turn offs ramps.
The evidence that there are indeed a spirited number of distracted drivers can be seen in the bent guard rails, skid marks, and parts of cars that litter the highway. Frequently traffic is backed up as we witness some crash. The best one to day substantiated by ocular confirmation by this writer was an SUV that plowed through one of those large light up signs that exclaim that a lane is closed or road work will be done between the hours of 7AM-10AM and 4PM-7PM to coincide with the “rush hours.” Yes, all those hours the design team met, the daily SCRUMs the blueprints sent back by various agencies upon review, all those late night calls – “Marty, I think I know how to make this signal seen by others!” the orange paint… all of it for naught. The one function that this device serves is to be seen. And… this perhaps now demised – by the look of the car – person or persons did not see it. Darwin works in strange and magical ways.
If you keep the oil refineries and NASA on the left and the creeping crud of modernity to the right, it is a straight shot to the beach.
“I wanted to buy them all” the lady with the lapdog told me on the plane to Chicago. She was from Harlem parts of Gothem and had relocated to Houston with her German husband after The [last one with Iraq] War. An older lady with a dog named Carlos, a terrier of some sort who wanted to nest under me for some reason. For the price of one apartment, one could have ten homes in Galveston, all of them within walking distance to the beach. “We paid $400,000, for a place in Fucking Valley Stream [Long Island... don't go there it sucks] and we could have had four houses down there.” We discussed the topic in detail, having little to do but ride out the turbulence and calm down Carlos. It is funny, the things we have in common with people when all else does not line up. We came from very different backgrounds, there was an age difference, perhaps even a few political differences, but we agreed on one thing. That is the need to be close to water. “I am ready to go from Houston. Ready!” Our conversation grew unintentionally loud and we laughed at cruel jokes and some other passengers turned about or huffed loudly to protest which considering it was 6AM I understood. We switched to whispers but like two children reprimanded on the play yard, these whispers again grew into louder than socially appropriate laughter. “Fuck that noise,” she exclaimed. “I was like, you are not for real… Wait… you are for real, he told me ‘you people from New York are infiltrating down here trying to change our ways and mess with our children.’ Yes, I leave my house, I walk my dogs, I keep them on a leash, I talk to people I don’t know, if that is strange then I certainly don’t belong here.” I had to agree that things were different that I had seen dogs in the street and assumed they were wild. “I found this little dog just wandering in the street, I thought he was lost, so I stopped my car to pick him up to take him to a shelter or something… I just picked him up and someone from a house yelled, WHAT YOU DOING TAKING MY DOG LADY?!!” I was glad that the small dog I almost ran over, that I had not attempted similar rescue. “People just let their dogs out and go to work. I see dogs on the porches, but never people. I never see people.” This was indeed a strange land.
Perhaps it is an East Coast thing, we both agreed. We were unsettled about life in Houston. Neither of us understood it, we did not like the downtown and felt the suburbs to be strange patchworks of unfriendly fortresses, the many gated communities. However, we both enjoyed Galveston even though parts of it look just like Houston in the torturous and convoluted roads and strips of commercial loathsome businesses and abandoned or foreclosed malls. It was, we agreed, perhaps because it was on the water and we needed that smell of salt and proximity of seagulls and knowledge that we could if we wanted to, spend time on the beach, not that either of us ever had time to do such an activity.
The reason that she had settled in Houston rather than Galveston was not just the long commute. Unlike other metropolitan areas, Houston is bereft of any meaningful commuter rail services. The impact of the light rail system seems little in crowded Boston or Philadelphia or New York but in Houston there is no way to get from point A to point B without a car. While on a map it may be but an hour from the beach to a gated parking lot downtown, in reality it takes much, much, much longer on any given day and at any given time. “Traffic is getting worse,” another lady told me. “I think it’s the gas and oil boom that’s doing it. Accidents every hour. I think it’s the fly-by-night trucking companies, just the other day a lady was crushed by a semi.” Indeed driving in the Houston area is like something out of Max Max, even had the Ford Bronco with a cow skull on the front almost rear-end me. I never feel safe on the roads about and in Houston. Not when the locals have proven in my mind they cannot or will not see things invented for them to see. “The trucks are not inspected, they don’t background check the drivers, I don’t want to say anything about people I don’t know, but I think there is a criminal element that just flocks to any quick easy money and they don’t care how they get it.” Indeed I had seen the tyres she spoke about littering the highway and little bits of trucks and cars all along the way. The car bumper at the foot of a pylon of an overpass gave me some nightmare food as this large car bit must have dropped down from above since unless carted there I could not see any trajectory it would have flown there from ground level. I imagined the lady crushed by a rig falling from the sky as I drove under the many flyovers that seem to have been built by competing companies or following the plans drawn by the same guy who tied the Gordian Knot. Again, I am a stranger in a strange land but each one of my cultural informants had more experience than I.
The road to Galveston turns at once from a large highway to a surface road with traffic lights and then empties onto a street where here and there some old grand palaces remind the motorists that this once had been the largest city in Texas, if not the wealthiest. The history of Galveston can be summed up by one of the historic markers for a building on the Strand District. It went something like this: The city was not here. Then we built it. Then the top floor was removed by storm A. Then a storm damaged the fourth floor so we stopped using it and it fell into ruin and we took it down in 1961. Then, later in 1961, more shit fell off from another storm. So we took off a lot of the decorative shit and modernized the structure. Then there was an oil boom in the 1980s and the folks who used this building took off and build a huge one on the outside of town. Then the oil boom ended and this, and the other building, were left to rot. Then we are taking down the other building, but this one we painted and it has a teeshirt shop inside with teeshirts that look like they’re form the early 1990s. The store, as do the others, also sells beer. You can drink beer on the streets here.
We could say the downtown has “good bones” but inexplicably, considering cruse ships, boats of pleasure that people pay money to get on, stop here on purpose to let those people off to wander about a city with houses on the verge of collapse. Not just in one “neighborhood” but all over there are dilapidated houses both grand and modest littering not just the downtown area, but the entire beachfront. Right in walking distance of a fine sand beach, houses are shut up, for sale, slanting into the soil or melting into nothing. On other other side of the island from the Strand District there is a seawall. Funny story about that. In 1900 there was a city full of rich partying people playing on the playa to celebrate the end of summer and return to managing the [formerly enslaved] people who worked for them. A beach-side row of resorts and grand residences lined the beach. Then, all of a sudden, without warning, except for the warnings given by people sending telegraphs warning of impending doom, the sea swept in and drowned between 6000-12000 people (I am wondering if this large range is not some inner dispute among the local historians about the 3/5th rule). When the area dried out, the much maligned Federal Government came in and in the manner of Big Government back then acted as one would expect Big Government back then to act. This was no New Orleans, after all, this was not an issue of the Twenty-First Century with our Modern ways Dear Reader, these were primitive times. There was no FEMA back then. No security with armored trucks to sweep in and shoot looters. No computers to crunch numbers to determine if salvaging a city could be paid for or if it would increase the national debt. Back in the olden days no 24/7 with hard-hitting journalism by journalists from journalism schools with degrees in reporting to shame the government into action as well as report the on the human interest stories from 6000-12000 people drowning.
There was only what was really 19th century technology and 19th century America. The sort of nation that just finished digging the Panama Canal and building the largest railway system in the world.
Shovels, horses, wagons, maybe a steam shovel or two came to the beach. And the Army Corp of Engineers. Big Government manged, in but a few years, to raise much of Galveston by 17 feet. They also built a sea wall that runs for ten miles. Started this in 1904 and finished much of it by 1911 a few large blocks of stone commemorate the effort.
Again, after The Storm, houses were built and sprung up. Some large palaces, others nothing but shotgun shacks but all behind the sea wall and all in walking distance of the ocean.
“It wasn’t the cost of the house, it was the cost of the insurance, I did research and you had to have three different insurances… it added up to more than the house payment! And, you had to have all three…” She looked up thinking and started counting on her fingers. “There was fire and flood of course, and flood was really expensive, but there was another one…” Carlos, the little dog jumped about and she could not recall this third cost associated. Houses it seemed were being abandoned and left to rot since of late the insurance companies had refused coverage or otherwise raised the price to cover an eventual payout. This explained the Sheriff Had Power of Attorney signs posted on many of the buildings. The beach would go to waste since there was no way for average people to pay that cost and the location had become less attractive to today’s wealthy who can vacation anywhere they goddamn please thankyouvermuch and don’t have to in an area close to where they usually live. Between the lack of connectivity to Houston and the insurance companies, she and her husband settled in Houston in a suburb neither of them care for much in a place where the dogs roam free and the neighbors hide indoors.
Were there another path, were there an other spirit to the city, there may be considerations to cut down on the cost of insurance in some manner in order to allow full use of the city. In the meantime the houses will remain in the Power of Attorney of the sheriff and remain standing until the roofing materials finally give out. Another storm has overtaken the island, one that our current Big Government is powerless to repair. This condition seems not to change, no matter how many secret agents New York sends down there to propagandize the youth.
Editor’s Note: The writer of this forum received information by reading a few historical markers about town. Please learn more about Galveston on your own and if you have a chance, visit.