Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ike plus 6 months

It's almost 6 months since Ike. The floors were taken out last week and the floors mudded, and today the guys are laying a top coat, after which at some point they will put a pvc floor. I never lived voluntarily in a house that didn't have wood floors but it doesn't make sense to replace wood with wood once you know the house floods. Besides the floor guy had several feet of water in his shop for a few days and of all the materials laid out in display this pvc is the only thing that had no damage at all. So no more wood floors -- concrete and pvc. I didn't choose this time to be off work but I couldn't have picked a worse time. The mud stinks and it's dusty and you get concrete crumbs in your shoes so you go barefoot and then your feet get crumbs and dust ... but it is getting done and in about a month i hope to have new floors, all the furniture that is stacked up in the dining room and on the porch and on the patio back in place. Ironically it has not rained here in ages as work to complete flood repairs and now it's sposed to rain when we have all kinds of stuff -- furniture, clothing, sheetrock, appliances -- out on the porch in the way of the rain that can take them out. Oh well. It could be worse.
I looked around last time to Galveston 1 wk ago and it seems to get worse even as it gets better. Mounds of debris are piled all over rather than scattered in a more or less uniform layer so the scope of what is there -- and what is not -- is more visible. I was never so aware of the visibility of absence.
What is not there - first and most noticeable like a pulled tooth you can't ignore is the Balinese (if you're familiar with this area you know the stories as in zztop's "down at the balinese"). About 4 wks after the storm there was still a small wooden asian style wooden gate through which one had to pass to enter the balinese - how did it survive when even the steel railings along the seawall steps were twisted and bent and torn from the concrete? when the seawall itself is falling apart to where you can see the bricks and timbers they built the wall with? The stink is better - i guess bc it was windier last time. Spring break is starting with its people - families and surfers and dudes and babes and old folks with their dogs. I saw an old man living in his old beater van parked on the seawall come out and surreptiously empty a bucket of urine and feces into the trash can ... when he saw me he didn't blink but looked both defeated and resolute, no embarassment or concern for what anyone else might think; he is a survivor. What else is gone - the Fishing Pier, the Seahorse Motel (a cheap seedy place), Murdoch's Bath House. Murdoch's was taken down about 87% by the storm and leaning east for months afterwards, with a few pieces of wall and roof remaining on some of the pilings. Murdoch's survived the 1919 storm but its time was up with Ike. Now it's all gone, including the pilings. There is still a large granite marker on the wall near where you entered Murdoch's, it was placed to commemorate finishing the seawall and protecting the island from serious storm damage (oops). There are still some pilings in the water from the Balinese though, which is -- I mean was -- just east of Murdoch's. When i was about 5-6 maybe i got a seahorse from Murdoch's -- as i recall we were fishing and playing on the jetties and i fell and hit my head a good one, so instead of stitches or anything that would take too much time my grandad went and bought me a seahorse. Not a live one, just a dead shell of what used to be a seahorse. I still have it somewhere, in a little blue box with a clear scuffed top. So Murdoch's and all its pilings are gone. And there was a realtively new place, in between the Balinese and Murdoch's, also ripped away in the storm; Hooters. But missing Hooters is hard to do, they sell wings, beer and chicks at thousands of other places, all looking the same (the wings and the chicks and the places themselves) so no real loss there. The Fishing Pier is still there in a manner -- the little building where you paid and got your beer and bait is mostly there but the waves took out the walls from the bottom up about half way. Beyond the remains of the building all the pier is gone until the very end, where it tees out into the gulf. At the tee there are, inexplicably, some railings standing on the pilings -- no pier, just pilings and railing. All the pilings for the pier are still there and the pelicans like to hang out there. Between the seawall and the building remnants there are some beams connecting the pier to the wall. Naked beams, with nothing but some poor guy's (used to be really nice) truck sitting cattywampus, one wheel on a beam, one side of the body laying on the beam. Almost 6 months and that truck is still there. In fact the pier looks the same today as it did when i first went to the island maybe 3-4 weeks after the storm. I didn't take pictures the first time, i thought it would be disrespectful. When they opened the ferry to Bolivar though I went over specifically for the purpose of pictures: some are kind of funny in a way. Maybe I can figure out how to post them as linked to here -- a little descriptor over to the side where you can click and voila, you're in another space. So what else is gone - well, the Flagship Hotel is there but I think it's condemned. There too there are only beams but not any pathway to the hotel from the seawall. The bottom floors are pretty well blown out and the corner of the hotel on the northeast side is gone. It looks like a bomb hit it, you can see the jagged concrete and pieces of reinforcement sticking out when the wind blows just so and the drapes fly out and away. Kind of ironic bc the guy who owns the Fagship was convicted of fraud for claiming he rented more rooms to Katrina evacuees than he actually did -- he initially said it was bc of a brain tumor that he counted wrong but then he pleaded guilty. The Flagship was famous for being out in the gulf over open water. I never went there to eat or to stay but they had a great multilevel steel pier at the end. When a big storm came in that was the place to be to really feel it -- water spraying every direction and wind, and always some fools fishing for tarpon with giant hooks and poles like trees. I don't know if the Flagship pier is still there but since there's no way to go from here to there i guess it really doesn't matter. Sadly the only things standing intact on seawall are McDonald's at the end of Broadway (doing brisk business upon re-opening) and a fancy expensive midrise where the seawall ends on the west side. Not only the seawall ends there but also the road, not the current one but the one that was there before hurricane carla in the 60s. So where the road used to be they bought up the land, beyond reach of seawall protection (such as it is) and over long and many vocal protests started building this expensive mid-rise for rich city people who like to sit in air conditioning at the beach instead of sitting in air conditioning at their regular homes. They started building before the storm and kept right on afterwards. Maybe the storm will have a good effect in stopping any more development on the west end - those who have basically want to fill the whole space between the gulf and the bay with fancy new "communities." The whole place is a giant stinking mess, a soggy cesspool of a place, and there they were pouring their concrete forms and keeping on like just another day on the job. I guess they might have been delayed right after the storm when the island was closed but it didn't look like they lost even a piece of sheeting off the place. In fact the places that survived best on the island are the newer uniform pastel candy-colored cookie cutter houses -- mostly second homes for city folks -- in the newer communities, I guess because of stricter building codes. The islanders that live there all the time don't have such pretty houses. I guess I could talk about Bolivar but i feel done on that for now. It still looks pretty much the same now as after the storm but the boats and dead cows are off the roads.
It does seem the storm displaced nature in more long term ways. I mean we know it did but there are some things to notice already. There are tons of birds in places i never saw them, esp herons, great blue herons, ibises, spoonbills, etc. The falcons are passing through Houston now but not as many as before. Down toward Galveston and on the island there are birds everywhere -- just look and there are birds for the seeing all over the place. I saw some kind of bird of prey holding a large fish and when i get up to it i will download the picture (accidental and reflexive) and enlarge to see if i can tell what kind of bird it is. And peaches. It has been a warm winter and most of the greens bolted early. Not so bad, greens are not that expensive and i'd rather keep the tomatoes we've had all winter than pay for (or worse, eat) a mealy store tomato. But the interesting thing is the peaches we've been eating off the tree. The tree was bought the week before Ike at a 70%-off sale because it was out of season. My theory is you buy these tired abused and neglected plants not only do you save money (to buy more plants) but if they survived all summer on black asphalt in this city they will love my yard and whatever attention they get. So we bought some trees about a week before the storm. We didn't know we're having s storm but we'd had 15 trees taken out a week earlier, or about 2 weeks before Ike. Mostly they were dead and dying and sick, but 2 of them were pecan trees that were too close and neither of which would do very well for that reason, plus they were right in the middle of my soon to be completed (as in today i hope) garden. So living in a very treed area and taking out 15 large mature trees made this place look very naked and ugly -- an ugly pink house plopped on a half acre of coarse dry grass. So off to get a few trees to replace what was taken and come home with about 8-10 trees. After the storm, we couldn't do anything with the house bc it's flooded and without power for several weeks we can't hurry the drying process plus what we could get up off the floor is stacked whereever we could pile it so we can't really clean the house either (darn). What we did instead is we all cleaned up and removed all the trees and debris we could from the yards, built 5 ft walls of storm debris along the roadway so it was weird, like a tunnel, driving down what was now a thin 1-lane street, and then we planted our trees. This one peach tree -- not all 3 but only 1 -- put on an early bloom. Usually I would pull the little fruits or maybe even the flowers since it was so early and the tree so new. But laziness took hold and the flowers were pretty and we were scheduled for some freezes in December so i let it be. That is how I cam to pick a bunch of small but pretty and juicy fruits -- first i ate them off the tree but when the birds and squirrels started in on them I picked all the ripe ones and smelled them and ate another one. So now that same tree also has little green nibs of fruit spread out along its skinny little arms and i'm debating to let them be and feed the tree or to pull it all to get the tree strong. The tree seems plenty strong for such a small one but i'd hate to lose it. It makes really good peaches and peaches are one of those things like tomatoes that you just can't buy as well as you can grow.

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