Three Handsome Gentlemen Tuesday, Dec 9 2008 

DOTS 08 - Three Handsome Gentlemen

7 December 2008

Sunday gave us another beautiful weather day in Galveston.  The only thing that could really have made my day better, was if the streets were paved in playground rubber!  I really wish I could find a pair of period-looking shoes that would be comfortable for two long days on concrete . . . but I don’t think they exist! 

We had a nice breakfast at the hotel, with an excellent server—our first good experience in that restaurant.  ‘Bout time, I guess.  Kyle and I got to the downtown zone just in time to get a phone call from our friend BJ telling us she was on the island, too!  Her company was a wonderful surprise, and we have to remember to make sure she joins us again next year. 

We did a lot of sitting still today; I’m not the only one who’s feet hurt! 🙂  While we were occupying one particular curb, we managed to pass off a couple of our cameras to a trustworthy passerby, and get this photo.    He also promised to email us the photo he took, so we’ll see . . . I’m very pleased with the photo I chose for the KRuMB today.  Kyle and Rod and George all three looked marvelous (despite the fact that Rod was really pretty sick all weekend) and they stood in one place all together for long enough for me to remember I had my camera! 

Our day ended a little earlier today—we really were tired and sore  . . . but we were happy.  Back to the hotel and a quick change of clothes, and out to dinner at Willie G’s!  Yep!  They re-opened on Friday, completely remodeled and re-menued and re-staffed.  The place is modern-looking now, and even though I preferred the old world feel from before Ike, the new look is lovely.  And, it’s symbolic of the changes that Galveston has to face in it’s post-Ike existence.  It’s a new world.

Our weekend draws to a close.  Sunday night means packing to go home.  <sigh>

~MB

Galveston: A New Face After Ike Friday, Oct 31 2008 

A New Face After Ike

27 October 2008

Galveston Pilgrimage

What had begun as a germ of an idea on Friday night, had become a reality by Monday morning.  I had to go to Galveston. 

It wasn’t terribly responsible—I should have headed home and started in on this week’s sewing.  It wasn’t really going to be fun—it’s hard to think “fun” when surrounded by damage and destruction.  And, it certainly wasn’t profitable financially—an extra tank of gas, a “spendy” luncheon, and a lost day of work.  But it was food for my soul.  As difficult as it is to explain, I needed to go to Galveston.  And this was going to be my one chance between now and December.  Not necessarily wanting to go it alone, I suggested the adventure to Ginger and to Kelly (who had work responsibilities she simply could not shirk—good girl, Kelly) and learned that Laura had expressed exactly the desire to go to the shore, and see the Gulf of Mexico!  Laura is a native Canadian, and she and her husband Paul and son Ben currently live in Wisconsin.   She’s visiting Ginger this month and working for Faire Pair, and this was just the sort of thing she’d been hoping to do.  So, a little bit of logistic planning the night before, and off we went!

It was just about noon as we rounded the southwest corner of Beltway 8, and started to notice various signs of Hurricane Ike’s destruction.  The closer we got to the island, the more blue tarps we saw.  I was glad for Laura’s presence, because pointing out landmarks gave both Ginger and I something to focus on that wasn’t sad and negative.  It was as we approached the causeway that we saw our first boat alongside the road.  Then there was Tiki Island—looking a lot more empty of houses on stilts than I remembered it.  On the causeway itself, we were surprised to still see dozens of wrecked boats of all shapes and sizes.  We’d seen photos of that scene, but after six weeks I guess I thought they’d be gone.  But then, time moves slowly in the wake of a natural disaster.

Once on Galveston Island, it was impossible to turn our heads without seeing more damage.  All along the main road (I-45 becomes Broadway) we saw ruined buildings and piles of debris.  And brown.  Everywhere was brown.  I’d read where the island was struggling to save the 600-plus Live Oak trees that line Broadway.  But, I hadn’t stopped to think how brown everything would look.  Trees, shrubs, ground cover, flowers—all poisoned by the salt water, and dormant if not dead.  And the tall, proud palm trees were so horribly battered from the wind and water-tossed debris, that some looked like they’d been attacked by chainsaw. 

We had decided our first destination on the island would be the 1861 Custom House—the home of the Galveston Historical Foundation offices.  So, we followed Ginger’s GPS (hers works great!), made a couple of turns off of Broadway and found ourselves looking at Rudy and Paco’s.  Contrary to a news article I recently shared here on The Daily KRuMB, the building is still standing, and shows signs of continued renovation and recovery.  That was good news.

We found the Custom House, poked around a little, and climbed the stairs to the GHF offices.  I was hoping to meet Molly, my primary contact at the GHF, but she was at lunch and we chatted briefly with Judy, instead.  From there, we drove the short distance to Mechanic Street and parked right across from the Tremont House Hotel.  Seeing that was very near the top of our list for the day.  First we peered in the windows to our Gingerbread BallroomWow.  Then, around the corner, peering into each dirty window at naked studs and little else.  At the front doors of the Tremont, the extent of this recovery project became really evident.  Virtually all the walls have been removed.  The grand entryway is nearly unrecognizable.  A huge amount of work has already been done, but the project ahead is mammoth.  We actually learned that the current plan is to rearrange the whole floor plan, including moving the kitchen and restaurant to the opposite end of the lobby.  No wonder they need until after the first of the year to get it all done!

Having begun our tour of downtown at the Tremont, we were somewhat numbed to the rest of what we were going to see.  Across the street, the big ballroom lobby, The Strand Theatre, Fitzpatricks Pub, and the site of the late Midsummer Books—all stripped to studs and concrete slabs.  We soon realized that the spaces with brick or stone or concrete walls had a considerable advantage over anyplace that had had drywall walls.  But, at least the damaged walls all seem to be gone, now.  I’m sure that it must have been a very high priority of early recovery efforts to remove anything that would promote mold and mildew.

We walked down Mechanic Street, visiting the Galveston News Building to which I am so fondly attached.  On the way, we passed the building in my photo of the day—sporting a brand new coat of paint!  I was amazingly cheered by that simple green wall!  It was almost as if this building’s owner was thumbing his nose at Ike and saying, “Think you can bully the green off this island, do you? Ha!”  We walked over to the Strand and snooped around a bit, taking photos of high water marks and showing Laura specific sights. Amazed at how much time we so easily killed walking around and taking pictures, we finally had to give in to our hungry bellies, so we got back in the truck, and I pointed it toward the Hotel Galvez.

As I drove us down Seawall Boulevard, we were pleased to see a number of open restaurants and a fair amount of traffic.  We pulled into the Galvez, and in trying to decide where to park, were told that they weren’t busy, so we could just leave it there in the driveway with the valet.  They’d move it if necessary.  Lunch at Bernardo’s was very nice—the restaurant was technically closed (we got there just after two), but they obligingly served us anyway.  We had delicious burgers and sweet potato fries, and a delightful visit with the hotel’s concierge, Janet, who we instantly adored.  She was able to answer our questions about the island, and arranged for us to view rooms.  And, as icing on her cheerful cake, she engineered a meeting and introduced us to Mr. George Mitchell—the owner of Mitchell Properties, and much of historic Galveston, including the Tremont and the Galvez.  We were honoured and indeed rather charmed by Mr. Mitchell.  He was jovial, and seemed genuinely delighted to meet us and was very chatty about all the work being done to make Galveston whole again.  I was pleased to get to shake his hand and tell him how admired he is, and how much we appreciate all he does for Galveston.  It was pretty special.

We peeked at guest rooms and large meeting rooms (always thinking about future events!) and decided that the Hotel Galvez would be a fun change from our usual accommodations for Dickens.  Finished there, we drove on down the Seawall, and found the Memorial to the Great Storm of 1900.  And Laura found stairs down to the beach!  Ginger and I took photos and Laura put her toes in the Gulf of Mexico!  We were all happy!  By the time we were done there, the sun was low in the sky and we figured we’d missed the worst of the Houston traffic.  There hadn’t been time to tour the Elissa or Bishop’s Palace—things I had thought we might do—but it was a good, full day.  It was sad, but inspiring.  All around us was both destruction and hope.  I was content enough to leave, knowing, of course, it will only get better.  Even the green will grow back.

It was the longest drive home, ever.  I first took Ginger and Laura back to where we’d left Ginger’s truck, and that was a bit of an adventure in itself.  Then, food on the way to the highway and north.  But, the emotions of the day, and the shortage of sleep the night before conspired to make me too tired to finish the drive without a nap.  I slept for nearly three hours in a gas station parking lot in Centerville, and finally got home around three a.m.  One tired, but fulfilled, pilgrim.

~MB

“I cannot live without books.” —Thomas Jefferson Thursday, Oct 23 2008 

"I cannot live without books." --Thomas Jefferson

22 October 2008

Inspired in the wee hours of the morning, to snap a picture of part of one wall of our “library,”  I’m afraid it’s not a great photo.  Those who have visited our home, know that we subscribe to the theory put forth by Roman philosopher Cicero, that “a room without books, is like a body without a soul.”  This room, and every other room in our house, certainly has a lot of “soul.”  Books fill every shelf, and the knickknacks that sit in front of the books do their own part to tell the story of who we are, as well.

With Galveston ever on my mind, I shudder to think at what it would be like to lose all one’s belongings to a horrific flood.  The businesswoman in me, thinks, my goodness . . . the fabric!  The book and antique and art collector in me simply weeps.

This one below, is not my photo, but here is an odd view of familiar places and things:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/28972884@N05/2887547142/in/set-72157608144839898/

I expect those chairs will have new cushions the next time we see them—assuming they are salvageable.

Sometimes “knowing” a thing, and “seeing” a thing are two totally different realities.  We “know” things are bad in Galveston.  We “know” there was nine feet of water on the Strand for most of three days.  We “know” there is still no power there, no phones, few enough signs of life that it’s been labeled a ghost town.  But, it’s actually rather incomprehensible, don’t you think? 

As the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Can we all please stop and observe a moment of silence for one of our favourite little antique stores?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrchriscornwell/2903298047/in/set-72157607627022655/

Can a small, independent business actually recover from this?  Some will.  Many will not.

I also found a very disturbing photo of a huge pile of hopelessly damaged books. A pile bigger than a car.  I’m not pasting in the link.   I thought about sharing it, but the carnage is too shocking and too horrible.  In fact, more than all the damaged buildings, and salt-deadened trees, and empty piers, this photo made me cry.  It’s a guess, but I’d imagine based on it’s presence in the photographer’s Flickr stream between pictures of the Tremont and the Strand Theatre, that it might be the pile of debris from Midsummer Books—the little bookstore across from the Tremont.  Following that hunch, I located this fellow WordPress blogger’s entry: http://winkingbuddha.wordpress.com/2008/10/18/a-midsummers-dream-the-finale/.

I am so sad.

~MB

Red Straw Hat Wednesday, Oct 22 2008 

Red Straw Hat

21 October 2008

I am currently very annoyed.  Somehow the post I just spent an hour preparing has disappeared.  I’m going to attempt to recreate it, but it won’t be the same, and I am a little  lot pissed off.

The day is winding down and Kyle tells me his photo of the day is of my truck’s back end.  It seems the “assignment” this week is “red.”  Not to be outdone by my own truck’s tailgate, I snapped this photo of my red straw cowboy hat. 

I got an interesting phone call today from the gentleman in charge of this year’s Galveston Historical Foundation Dickens Ball.  He is a member of the board of directors, and a volunteer.  He called me on his cell phone because, like most of the island of Galveston, he still has no telephone service via land line. 

The reason for his call seemed to be to let me know that they were really hoping our group would be attending the ball.  He was also following up on some questions I’d asked in an earlier email.  We chatted for quite some time, and I came away knowing the following:  1.  They still do not know if there will be shuttle service from the Galvez to the Strand during Dickens on the Strand.  2.  The GHF will be happy to work out something for our group where we end up with wristbands, rather than having to deal with hand-stamping.  3.  Over 70 vendors have already committed to set up at DOTS.   Local area retailers (most of whom cannot have their regular retail spaces ready in time for this event) have all been given the option of setting up a booth with no vendor fee.  4.  Much of the contents of the badly damaged warehouse have been “saved.”  Some drying out time, and some paint and tender loving care, and voila!  5.  Perhaps the most important news of the day, is that the Dickens on the Strand festival this year will be confined to just that—the Strand.  A few tendrils off on side streets, perhaps, but the festival will not include Ship’s Mechanic Row (or Mechanic Street, as many call it). 

In our conversation he said The Strand “looks like a ghost town,” which is something I’ve also read online.  He promised to keep in touch, and let me know if anything developed that would affect us or our attendance.

I’m off to bed, now.  Our evening was a wonderful, relaxing one, spent in the company of our friend Damaris.  She met us at No Frills where we joined Brett and Jill for some trivia and burgers and beer.  Then, after convincing Demaris that driving back to TRF tonight would have been a bad idea, we retired back to our house, where we talked of religion and politics and movies and sex and pets and renfaires, and . . . well, pretty much you name it —we touched on it!  We had a great visit, and now, she is safe and sound, and well-ensconsed in the Mouse Suite, and she’ll head to TRF’s Toon Town on the morrow.

~MB

Artemis and a Galveston Update Tuesday, Oct 21 2008 

Cat Head

20 October 2008

It’s been a while since I posted any links to stories about the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.  I feel rather like I’ve fallen down on this job—self-appointed as it may be.  Much of the news from the island is still harsh.   The trash and debris piles are still growing.   The Strand is being described as a “ghost town.”  And saddest of all, the hunt for over 200 missing persons continues.  Funny how the major media have all rather left that story behind, isn’t it?

In fact, that’s a soapbox I’m dancing on right now.  They can send reporters to the island and to Houston to stand in the wind and rain, and tell how bad it might get.  They can cover the evacuation stories, and interview (and then broadcast those interviews!) islanders who are confused and distraught, or who are stubborn and represent their neighbours rather poorly, making Texans “look” stupid.  And then, they can fly helicopters over the horribly damaged areas and talk about how much the recovery efforts will cost.   But, a week later . . . almost nothing.   If it hadn’t been for Frank Billingsley who apparently lives on the island and works for a Houston news channel, there would have been almost no information.  And, now, even after the island is open . . . almost nothing.  I really have to dig around on the internet to find articles, mostly from Houston and Galveston-based sources, dealing with the recovery efforts. 

I talked to my little brother the other day (who, by the way, seems to have found the lucky lady he wants to spend the rest of his life with, and she’s sporting a ring!  Yay! Congratulations William and Melanie!), and he was surprised that we would be going to Galveston this December.  “Isn’t the island wiped out?” he said.  So, I gave him the history lesson of the Great Storm of 1900 and the raising of the island five feet, and the building of the seventeen-foot seawall.  I told him how the downtown area buildings survived that storm, and this one, as far as the wind was concerned, but that this time, it was the water that did so much damage.  I explained the geography of the island and the way the storm surge worked.  He knew it had been bad, but “not as bad as other recent hurricanes.”  So, we talked about how Ike had been classified a Cat 2, but one more mile an hour in the wind would have made it a Cat 3, and the storm surge had been more like a Cat 4.

We talked about the pictures he’d seen—Bolivar, Crystal Beach, etc.,  and the actual path of the storm.  And, although he’s seen the pictures of concrete slabs where once stood homes like that of Terrill’s family, he had no idea there were still so many “missing” people.  It really made me think, and realize just how little accurate news has been readily available to the general public.   Even online, I found forum after forum of folks asking if certain buildings and places were okay—-because there’s no news coverage telling them!

Do we as a society just not care about anything but the fact of a disaster happening?   Are we not as interested in the people as we are in the weather?  I refuse to believe that.  I believe instead, that this is yet another case of the major media being driven by sensationalism and horror, and not placing a high enough level of importance on actually reporting “news.”  As the people of the area are trying desperately to dig out of the muck and get their lives back, they’re a little too busy to write or tell their own stories.  This is the time when it would be really nice to have some good national coverage on these efforts.  And, perhaps, if the media would report loudly that there are still body searches in progress . . . maybe, just maybe, the concept of “evacuation weariness” wouldn’t be such a problem in the future.   My mind comes back to the phrase used by those ordering the evacuation to describe what awaited those who chose to stay . . . “certain death.”

So, after quite a bit of research, here’s a few bits of actual “news” about what’s going on in Galveston, a month after Ike.

I’ve just come across this article that speaks of the complete loss of our beloved Rudy and Paco’s Restaurant.  The article claims that the damage was so extensive that the building had to be demolished.  But, it also tells us they are rebuilding and hope to be back up and running in a matter of months.  We will just have to look forward to our next meal there in December of 2009!

http://media.www.utdmercury.com/media/storage/paper691/news/2008/10/06/LifeArts/South.Texans.Still.Reeling.From.Ike.Aftermath-3470720.shtml

Here’s another article indicating the Strand area was still without power last week, and likely will be for another two or three weeks.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27178823/

But, there’s good news, too.  The Elissa and Bishop’s Palace will be reopening this coming Saturday, 25 October.  The Galvez Hotel has in fact, reopened to the public as of last Wednesday—just as promised. 

http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Hotel-Galvez-A-Wyndham-Historic-Hotel-NYSE-WYN-908270.html

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27225670/

This one is specifically regarding the Mitchell properties:

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ike/galveston/fyi/6062261.html

And this one, with a very upbeat, tourist-attracting tone:

http://www.emailwire.com/release/16519-Galveston-Island-continues-to-recover-after-Hurricane-Ike-.html

Meanwhile, plans continue for our group, athough a bit smaller this year, to descend upon Galveston Island on the first weekend in December.  We’ll be staying at the Hotel Galvez, with a few of us peppered through other hotels on the island and just over the causeway.  Many of our group will attend the Galveston Historical Foundation’s Dickens Ball on Saturday night, since our own beloved Gingerbread Ball has been cancelled for this year.  We’re in the process of planning a game night, determining our dining options, and re-assessing how to pack for the much smaller guest rooms at the Galvez.  But, we will go to Dickens on the Strand, and we will support the recovery efforts of Galveston Island.  We will buy our tickets to get in the gate, we will purchase t-shirts, and ale, and glogg.   We will look beautiful and have our pictures taken, and do what we can to make the event successful. 

I personally, urge anyone with the slightest inclination to attend—-please do so.  Please support Galveston Island as it climbs out of the mud, and debris and loss, and works toward recovery from the awful storm that was Hurricane Ike.

Dickens on the Strand, Galveston, Texas is always held the first weekend in December.  Always.

~MB

Postscript:  The cute cat head, is of course, my Artemis, as she was deciding whether or not to jump onto the bed at bedtime.