stories >> 1998 - 05 - 31
I'm going to Galveston
Land of shitty beaches
Land of gold and reeeches
And star bellied sneeches
Zoom, zoom, zoom down 290. Folks are always bragging
to me about how fast they can get down to Houston or Dallas or Wichita Falls
or wherever else on God's green map. Hellfire, I just don't know how much faster
than 70 miles per hour you need to go. All right, having said that, I do understand
the lust for speed, and I inevitably get into a race with someone at some point,
groaning peeling Leper versus some reasonably painted and powered machine. But
when I do I know that just means that it's time to pull off for a Coke and take
a stretch. And going 70 lets you know pretty much exactly how long things are
going to take, and you're not watching out too much for cops so you have more
brain power to devote to your sweet road songs.
The Road rolls on. I stop in Chappell Hill, slow through a madding crawl in Houston where they've shut down all but one lane a scant three hours before I've gotten there, and then I'm pounding south along 45. League City, Alvin, NASA, Texas City all roll by and then there's the "Village of Kon Tikki", which is just a miserable little island to the north of Galveston, and then I'm trotting across that zillion mile long bridge over the West Bay and right into G-ston proper.
Ah, I love the Road.
I'm stoked to see a sign that says, "Right Lane Closed 5/30 8AM - NOON for bicycles." Sweet! A bike race! I'm sure as I read the sign that I can scare up the information on this thing and go for a good long ride in the morning. This will turn out to be a vain hope, as the half dozen people I ask tonight and the three different periodicals I look through only know about the freaking jet ski championships going on this weekend. I'll see the bikers later on tomorrow riding down Seawall Drive and I'll never even know how far their race was.
But right now I'm traveling down Broadway and soaking in the town. Good old mapquest has given me perfect directions to the "Rock'n'Java" place where the Gourds are playing. I decide to drive by it first to get a feel for where I'm going to be tonight, then tool around until I find a place to stay.
Rock'n'Java is down in a part of town known as "The Strand," which for some reason I associate with some nameless ocean side place in New England. I have no idea why "Strand" has anything to do with the ocean but I guess it does. The Strand in Galveston is a gleaming product of urban renewal, like the River Walk in San Antonio or Underground in Atlanta. Lots of cheeseball shops selling surf gear, all of those depressing antique and home furnishing stores, uninspired art work, a few bars, some large undramatic pieces of art. Great. But there's the Rock'n'Java, and written on the sign out front it says "Gourds: 9:30. No cover. Beer." So even though it's the Strand, I perk up, since it's already 8:45 and I get to see my favorite band for free and drink a beer at the same time.
Like George Kennedy tells Clint Eastwood in the Eiger Sanction, "Oh boy, are we going to drink a lot of beer."
Club located, I swing around 180 degrees and head back to the other side of the island since I saw some hotel billboards on the way down that pointed that way. The Strand is on the north-westy side of the island, but on the south-easty side is the "Seawall." Not surprisingly, the Seawall is a... uhm... sea wall. Built up about fifteen or twenty feet, there's the beach stretching out for thirty or forty yards beneath it, and there's the piers and jetties pushing out from it into the bay. The Seawall is the throbbing heart of night life in Galveston. The bars are thicker'n ducks on a june bug and the hotels range from ultra posh Galvestonian and Flagship to the countless string of dives with vaguely nautical names: Treasure Island, the Sandpiper, the Mariner, the Sands, the Surf Motel.
I drive up and down Seawall a few times, weighing between going for the gloss hotels or just doing a little slumming in a crappy hotel. I remember the one time Traci expressed an interest in camping until I told her that "camping" means "no showers." If someone was with me who had higher standards... or maybe just "standards"... or maybe just "common sense"... we would have stayed at a nice place.
But I opt for the "Economy Inn," which is even sketchier than it sounds. The price is an astonishing $60/night (astonishing for this place), and I ask the guy behind the glass (yeah, it's that kind of place), "Where' the economy part?" He's starts rolling out an obviously well-rehearsed and reiterated spiel about how the Comfort inn is $150 a night down the street, and this place has a sheriff who lives next door or some nonsense so it's super safe, and -- get this -- "In my opinion, if you just want to stay in your room the whole time, why did you come on vacation?" I love the hubris of this guy, so I sign up for his slightly less usurious two night rate and he gives me the room with the California king bed. Perfect! I'm pretty sure that the room is going to be a scum pit, but I love these California kings. One of the few beds that I don't hang off the end of, and who doesn't want to be a king, and anyway I love California. The guy continues rattling on about how great Landry's Seafood is (being vegetarian is always harder in these coastal areas) and how long he's been in business and how people sometimes pay him in one dollar bills. I interrupt him to ask him about the bike race, but he's clueless. He starts the engine back up to talk some more, but I cut him off and ask him if he could just give me my key. Whoops, he says, and I grab the key and I'm checking out sweet room number four of the Economy Inn, 60 feet from the Gulf and with a view of the "Poop Deck Bar -- Cocktails" out of the never cleaned windows.
The room smells of some over aggressive flowery cleaner, and the walls that have plaster on them ain't in too great shape. The Bed (as I come to think of it) soaks up 80 or 90 percent of the arable land in the room. Someone stole the remote for the TV long ago and the closet door was probably lost at some even more antiquarian date. I take a good look, since the guy told me that they don't clean up the room until you leave. No problem, I picked up traveling tidiness Somewhere along the Road, so I just try to ignore the smell while I change shirts and roll the Hoo Koo E Koo out the door.
Mmm, mmm, Galveston. The heat is unconscionable. Even with that sweet Gulf breeze, there's still something like 400% humidity to coax every ounce of sweat onto the outside of your body where it can congeal into a vile viscous slime. Reminds me of New Orleans. I ride my bike the two miles or so across the island back down the Strand and in the process soak my shirt into a senseless heap around my body. As usual, I manage to find the projects. A couple of dogs give a half hearted chase but I holler them down. A couple of kids start to give me a little more full hearted chase but I just pick up the speed a little and leave them quickly behind. Pretty soon, I'm back across Broadway and right up to Rock'N'Java.
"How rare! How strange!" the Bard says somewhere, and that's what I'm feeling like here. In Austin, I always see the Gourds at a jammed and rollicking Stubb's or the dim and dusty Electric Lounge. Rock'n'Java is, uhm, a coffee shop that sells beer. Imagine seeing a band at the Spider House. There are maybe fifteen people there, and I think that all of them other than me are under age. Hoo doggy. Good thing I left the "Drunk and Missing for Days" shirt back in the motel room.
I wander up to the bar and order a Lone Star, which they don't have, so I get a Shiner instead. Right behind me Jimmy the Gourd walks up, so I turn around and slap him on the chest and tell him hi. He looks me up and down for a minute until I tell him I came from Austin to see them, and then he says, "Oh, yeah! Cool! How's it going? You had me worried for a second... all I saw was a big sweaty guy slapping on me." I laugh, we chew the fat a while, then I talk to Claude the Gourd for awhile, and then I decide to go grab something to eat before the show starts.
Wandering around the Strand, and there's no one out. I would expect a lot of foot traffic, but there's hardly anyone to be seen. And there doesn't seem to be anywhere to eat. I finally settle for some brew pub place that appears open. While waiting for my veggie wrap and drinking a Karankawa beer, I talk to the guy next to me about the currently playing Bulls game. This old boy's from Pittsburgh and he knows probably everything about basketball; he quickly loses me in the intricacies of comparing Michael Jordan to Dr. J. Hmmm. We talk awhile before he excuses himself, and I drain off the last of my Karankawa and head back to the Rock'n'Java.
Once there, the band's tuning up, so I head back to the bar. When I order another Shiner, the four people hanging around the bar start making that "aaauuuuHHHHHH" noise. You know the noise, I wish I could make it for you right now, it's that "I told you so noise" you make when your prediction comes true. I don't know what's going on, so I look around and ask, "Was Shiner Bock the secret word today?" They all laugh, and nope, just the bartender's supposed to be upselling some new beer on draft.
"We have this new beer on draft," he tells me.
I look at him and say, "I'd like a Shiner Bock."
"It's a Saint Arnold's," he tells me.
I look at him and say, "I'd like a Shiner Bock."
I turn to the guy next to me and turn on the Hank Hill voice as I tell him, "I just drank a Karankawa over yonder, and y'know you don't want to try too many new things in one day." The bartender's smiling, I give him three bucks for my two dollar beer, and then I go hunker down under what turns out to be a dripping AC vent. Ah well. I'm already so darn sweaty it's not making me any damper.
Just after ten the show starts. It's pretty low key, and I don't feel quite comfortable whooping up with my usual ardor. The show's heavy on covers, which the Gourds seem to do when they're not playing for a home team kind of crowd (their KGSR show was almost all cover songs). The kids wander in and out, I wander back to the bar and hold up my peeled off label to call for another beer, and the night just kinds of winds along. I can't get into the show so I keep staring at this dude who looks like that guy Shriek from "Saved by the Bell" or whatever the show is called.
At some point, the band echoes my own preconceptions of Galveston. "Galveston..." Kevin says, "I always think of big ass storms. Destroying shit. Down here in Galveston." Jimmy echoes in with, "And jellyfish. Lots and lots of jellyfish."
Around 11:00 or 11:30 they take a break. I talk to Mary sitting next to me. After a few minutes a friend of her sits down and she summarily turns her back on me to talk with her buddy. Ugh. By now I'm starting to get a little depressed, what with the long trip, the slow show, and being ignored by this random human being. I figure it's time to head on home and cut my losses. I say goodbye to Jimmy and Claude and hop on the Hoo Koo E Koo to get back to the Economy Inn. I'll fall asleep on Friday night trying to ignore the sounds of the ever partying beach crowd at the "Poop Deck Bar -- Cocktails" next door.
Road habits die hard, and I'm up around 6:30 or 7:00
on Saturday morning. Like the
song says, day light isn't doing anything to improve the charms of this
place. It's a real bona fide roach motel, proved by the fact that I awake to
the loving caress of a roach crawling across my hand. I shiver as I flick him
off, and for some reason I'm thinking about that old sailor phrase "Horse Latitudes"...
except here, it seems I'm in the Roach Latitudes. Ah well. Time for a long bike
Pumped up by last week's race, I was thinking about how it would be sweet to take a nice long ride while I was down here in the flatlands of Texas. For some reason I had chosen the arbitrary number of 40 miles for my goal. When I asked around up in Austin, the only ride that people would talk about was up and down the Seawall, which, even at 12 miles long, just wasn't going to do it. I finally resort to pulling out a ruler and my Texas road map, and I'm happy to see that road 3005 runs the length of Galveston Island for a distance of 23 miles from my little Economy Inn. Perfecto. Lecto.
I turn on the light in the bathroom and see that the rusty water has left a deep brown stain on the wash cloth that I put over the drain last night while taking out my contacts. I give it a shot anyway and fill up a water bottle with tap water and take an experimental swallow. The plumbing might date from some sort of Spanish occupation and it's like drinking a mouthful of nails. I spit the vile stuff out and resign myself to drinking bottled water the rest of the time I'm here in Galveston.
I slip on the dork shorts and slip out into the sunshine. It's just about 7:30 now and most of the beach crowd is still asleep. I've got my back pack stuffed full with the pump (just in case), Gu, some SPF 50 that I bought one time when a friend of mine wanted to sit outside all day, extra water bottle, helmet, and shirt. I set off down the Seawall on the look out for somewhere to get a bagel and liter or two of water.
Twenty minutes later outside the Kroger, I'm finishing off my bagel and carefully filling my water bottles. Another guy on a bike rides up and we talk about the biking prospects for a few minutes. He's dubious of 3005, saying he thinks it's dangerous. "When I go out there pulling my boat, the trailer's swinging all over." I'm thinking that the road isn't that dubious, it's just this guy's trailer, but he means well so I don't make any cracks. I tell him I'll at least ride to the end of the Seawall and see what there is to see down there.
Back on the bike, and pretty soon I'm proj-ing down the Seawall, ducking in and out of the few early morning joggers and sleepy fishermen. After five miles or so, the Seawall runs out, and I'm out along 3005.
I've gotten on this ride without really knowing how far I have to go and without having a strong sense of where the landmarks are. On these long rides, I really tend to lose track of time and distance, so I'm surprised at different times by how far I've come or how slowly I seem to be creeping along.
But Galveston's flat flat, and I keep reminding myself that the headwind I'm pedalling into will be a tail wind on the way back. The Island gets narrower and narrower, and when I can look to both sides and see bay I stop at a marina for some more water and to suck down my second Gu packet. The women there tell me that it's only 6 more miles to the end of the Island and that I've come 12 1/2 from the Seawall. They ask where I'm from and I tell them Austin. They ask if I biked all the way here, and thinking they mean from Galveston, I say sure. They both exclaim at how impressive that is, and I laugh and tell them "No, I don't mean I biked all the way from Austin." Oh, okay, and I laugh again and say, "I thought y'all sounded a little too impressed that I had biked twelve miles down here." My flagging spirits are boosted a little, and I do a quick calculation to figure that I'll roll over six miles in something under eighteen minutes, so I'll be down at the end of the Island in no time.
It's these times that always hurt the most in athletic endeavors for me: that more than halfway point where you can't really see the end yet but you're losing that initial excitement that got you rolling in the first place. The Gu certainly helps, but the buzz only lasts for maybe fifteen minutes. I'm hoping that it will be just enough to get me down to the end of the Island and then I'll have the psychology of heading home instead of heading out to keep me going. Not to mention that sweet tail wind!
Sixteen minutes later and there's the toll bridge leading south off of the Island. I pull the bike through the sand out to the beach, these slicks don't like the sand at all, and I stand and stretch some while looking out over the water. After all of the smoggy nonsense Austin's been dealing with for the past few weeks, I'm happy to see clouds and sky again. The night before there was even a moon, another seemingly rare treat. Must be this offshore breeze. I won't realize it until Monday, but this sweet breezy tail wind's going to follow me all the way back to Austin and push out some of the smog. On Monday night, you'll be able to see a moon over Austin again.
But right now I'm pumped that I made it to the end of the Island. As I point myself back north, I'm talking out loud to my bike and the road and I slurp down another Gu packet. "The bike's good, the wind's good, the road's good, you're good baby, it's all good." Proj, proj, proj, back on the bike, and I feel like I'm flying all the way home.
I stop at about the fifteen mile mark to squirt on some of the sun screen and buy some more water, and then pretty soon I'm back on the Seawall. I can see the secret bike race going on down the main road there, but I really don't care at this point. There are families who have rented these odd eight pedaled, four cranked go-cart looking contraptions, and every time I rip by one on the Hoo Koo E Koo I can hear the kids squealing with excitement and surprise. I'm stoked to be back in town, and I just saw a sign that reminds of someone and sends a stab through my heart, so I tuck my head down and draw out a huge strong kihap from somewhere deep in me. Baaaahhhhhhhhhhssssssaaaahhhhhh! I scream as I fire along the Seawall and those sleepy fisherman look up at me with a mild interest. I think back on old crazy Master Baak screaming in my face, yelling "A KIHAP IS A WEAPON," and I think he would have been proud of me right then.
Hoosh. Hoosh. There's the Economy Inn. Hoosh... am I tired.
I get into the shower and my legs are shaking. I put my head up against the ancient pink tiles as the hot water rolls down me. No rest for the weary though: as I'm washing my hair, I get some water in my mouth and it tastes fouler than the rustiness of earlier. Then I notice that there's a disturbing ammonia smell. I jump out of the shower on my rubbery legs, and I realize the smell is coming from the bathroom. Good Lord. I switch off the shower but the bathroom is overwhelmingly smelly now, so I close the door to it and crank up the shoddy A/C in the window. I lay with my head pressed against the vent, and to pass the time I watch "Raising Arizona", and then doze a little through the hot part of the day.
Later in the afternoon, I'll drive the route to see how far it is. It's 46 miles and I feel good to have knocked out a good long ride today. I'm surprised by how much I missed earlier while grinding away on my bike: the long noble procession of telephone poles, stretching off like some classic Renaissance study in perspective; the dimly made out shapes of (I suppose) Texas City across the bay; the oddly greedy sounding names of the realtors on the signs ("Cashiola" and "Graber," which I keep thinking of as "Grabber"); the "this direction is not a hurricane evacuation route" signs; the oddly colored teal and white police cars; the random Texana friendliness of people waving at the bikers (so unlike that New York horse crap I endured while I was running in Central Park). By the time I'm back at the Seawall, I'm sleepy again, so I pull over and watch the gulls and pelican splashing into the bay after their lunch. The water is indescribably beautiful, stretching out from a sandy blue green on the shore into a deep perfect oxygen blue in the deeper Bay. I doze on the front seat of the Leper, using a towel I brought with me as a pillow and thinking how sweet it all is, how it's all good. I have some strange dream while laying there that I don't remember now.
An hour later I wake up and reason that my lethargy needs some calories to combat it. The four packs of Gu, the bagel, and the Mountain Dew I drank earlier aren't holding up the fight very well, so I drive around for another hour looking for a sweet place to eat. Seafood, seafood, seafood, Italian Seafood, Mexican Seafood, Good Lord. I finally end up somewhere back near the Strand that advertises "Slices and Sandwiches." It's really a pool hall, and at 3:30 on this Saturday afternoon Cliff the local drunk is blasted out of his mind. Strangely enough, he and the woman behind the bar get along famously, and when the cab comes to pick him up, the cab driver quietly teases Cliff by telling him, "Dammit, Cliff, you called a cab but you've got a new drink in front of you." The cabbie and bartender talk while Cliff snuffs off his drink and it's obvious that this particular scene has been played out many times before. I chew through the rest of the enormous sandwich that she's made me and then pull back to the Economy Inn.
By now, the wicked smell has abated, and I lay down to nap some more. I love the beach. I sleep so much. I turn on "Pocohontas" and listen to Mel Gibson while I drift in and out (I also love going away since TV is such a treat for me. Yeah, I know that sounds weird. Try living without one and see how much of a treat it is for you.).
Around 7:00 or so, I pull on some shorts and the goggles and hop the 60 feet across the street to the Bay. I still have this unreasoning fear of swimming in the ocean that I blame on Jaws. Why do I blame Jaws? Because I inevitably end up picturing my legs being ripped off by a great white shark when I'm out in the water swimming. Hey, some people are afraid of snakes.
In true masochistic Alan fashion, of course, this means that I always have to go for a swim when I'm near the ocean. I stroke out 100 yards or so, but now my other big fear of open water, undertow, comes into effect (look, I realize that these fears aren't reasonable). I figure that I'll keep an eye on the jetties and not get past them and I should be cool. I start swimming parallel to the shore, but don't get so far before I tweak myself out with mental pictures of my legs being hungrily knawed by a giant killer fish, so I decide I'd be happier floating on my back.
So I just float, and let the waves wash me up and down, and ten feet away from me I can see fat silver fish jumping five feet straight up into the air out of the water. That phobic part of me is trying to tell me, "IT'S BECAUSE THE FUCKING SHARK IS CHASING THEM STRAIGHT UP INTO THE AIR," but I ignore that part and instead think how cool these fish look. I wonder if fish get stoked by big air like some goof ball teenager snowboarder, and if maybe they practice it to get really good and show off for the other fish. I think of the fish bragging to each other: "I'm hip. I'm cool. I'm the man."
I stroke back into shore, and I realize that I've only been in the water for a paltry seven minutes. I want to stay on the beach some more, so I just sit down next to my towel and stare around for awhile. I start noodling around in the sand, writing and erasing words, building little walls and whatnot. I end up with a sinuous curve, so I start adding more width to it and pushing more sand around. After a half hour or so, I realize that I'm making a sand crocodile. I start humming that Peter Pan song,
Never smile at a crocodile
Never tip your hat and stop to talk awhile
Don't be taken in by his toothy grin
Or you could end up inside his skin
I'm pretty happy with my crocodile, so I get a shell to scoop out some eyes,
teeth, and claws. Then I build a little wall all the way around him, and spell
out "CROCODILE" in big letters along the wall. I'm goofily pleased with my sand
crocodile, and I'm a little loathe to leave him here at the end of the day to
be stomped on in the dark. But what I love best about making art in the sand
is that it's impermanent, and you can always come back the next day and make
something new. It's 8:40 or so now, and I start thinking about the show tonight,
so I leave my sand croc' and hum the crocodile song on the way back to the Inn.
Once there, I take a very, very quick shower, and then stretch out some more. "The Outlaw Josey Wales" is playing on TNT. I don't have quite the Clint Eastwood fetish that Turner does, but I love this movie. It's a little too easy to identify with Josey Wales right now... all this high plains drifting...
9:40 rolls around, and I figure that the Gourds will once again start at about 10:00 so it's about the perfect time to leave. I figure that I'll be smart this time and not wear my shirt on the ride over to stave off the sweating. I ride slowly and carefully so that I don't break into my usual steam engine sweat, and once I get there I'm still surprisingly dry. Great! Of course, within the hour all of the humidity and the beers will have started pouring the sweat out of me again and this whole scheme will have been for naught, but ah well.
I roll up right as sound check is ending. The place has maybe 30 people tonight and there's definitely a little more excitement in the air. I say hi to the jokers in the band, and then I walk back to the bar. By the time I get there, there's already an open Shiner sitting for me. Perfect.
Some folks have taken my drippy seat from the night before, so I just stand behind them and start yee-hawing as the band starts off with "Piss and Moan Blues." They're going to play most of my favorite songs, "Pine Island Bayou" and "Copper Mine" and "When Wine Was Cheap" and "Gin and Juice." The crowd is into it, and there's even one other guy singing along, but no one remembers all the words to "Redneck Mothers," not even me, so I just shout extra loud on the "R IS FOR REDNECK" part.
This time during the break, I wander next door to get something to snack, and working behind the counter is Blow Off Mary from the night before. Hey ya, Mary. We talk for just a minute as she steers me towards the hideous Munchos, for some reason she must have it in for me, and I wander back to the Rock'n'Java to drink another beer and eat these lousy chips. I share them with Claude who compares them to pork rinds. Mmmmm, hog fat.
The second half of the show starts, and Jimmy dedicates a song "To Alan" with a big goofy grin in my direction. Of course it's "Trampled by the Sun," which doesn't make a damn bit of sense, but long lost Cantone and I always holler out the opening "ooooooooohhhhhhhh" during every show we go to:
Oooooo... trampled by the sun
Oooooo... sex lasts for days
And I sweat gardenias
Oooooo... sex lasts for days
I may be under valor's feet
But I'm not scared to be a coward
Unless I'm drunk, and missing for days
Unless I'm drunk, and missing for day-yay-yay-yays...
Hoo, wee, cher, R may be for Redneck, but tonight it's mighty fine to be a
About this time, I've pushed into the seven beer range and I've drank more than I wanted to. Ah well, you pay a price for everything, and this time it's going to be a morning hangover. They play the sweet cover of "Copperhead Road," goof around with some .38 Special ("hang on loosely... but don't let go..."), and round it all out with the "Turkey in the Corn."
Boom, boom, boom, I'm flying high now, and I've got a feeling that I'm going to get into trouble if I stay here too long. So I wish the band a quick goodbye and I beat the instant leave taking that I do, and I keep whistling, "I'm a long time gone.... like a turkey in the corn..." Outside, a guy screams by on a Harley that's so loud that it sets off every car alarm on the street.
Proj back to the Inn, strip out of my wet clothes, and jump my naked sweaty body into the California king. The stiff ride home has burned out my nascent spins, so I can just close my eyes and whistle, "I'm a long time gone..."