Friday, May 6, 2011


That's a great tune by Jimmy Buffett   Buffett sings Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season here, but it's also a dangling cliff hanging over the lives of people who live and work on the Texas Coast. You never know what might come blowing in, or where it will land, or what it'll do when a hurricane comes.

Last weekend, we visted Galveston for the first time since Ike laid waste to that part of the coast a little over two years ago. Galveston has come back nicely. Oh, there's still a long way for the Isle to come, but I was pleasantly surprised with the progress that had been made and at the landmarks that survived.

We didn't get to explore all that much of the island, cloistering ourselves at the fabulous Moody Gardens resort and the next door Schlitterbahn water park. We ate two fabulous meals while on the Island that deserve to be mentioned.

Although I've been going to Galveston since I was a child, and have literally spent hundreds of days and almost as many nights roaming that town over the years, somehow I missed the finest restaurant to grace her shores, which has apparently been open since 1972. Mario's, an Italian restaurant, located at the corner of Broadway and Seawall, in a place I should never have missed. In any event, the service by Anthony was fabulous, the selection of italian fare was impressive and more importantly, very tasty, and the prices were reasonable enough to surprise an experienced fine diner. I had a redfish grilled up with shrimp and scallops and a cream sauce and it was too much. And for less than $20.

Mario's will be a mandatory "big dinner" dining location for our family on all future trips. I don't know how I never paid attention to it. Mrs. El Fisho, who has not spent as much time in Galveston as I but since we married has spent much time there, was amazed it had never been on her radar screen either nor had she ever noticed it.

We ate at another longtime Isle dining location, also on the Seawall, called Benno's, featuring excellent cajun style seafood. It was a bit pricey for the service (order at counter and they bring to your table) but once I began eating all second doubts were erased immediately. The spicy hot sauce compelled me to have to continuously refill my water glass myself, since that aspect of table service was lacking, but other than that it was a great meal. I'll eat there again, but probably do take out back to a room instead of waiting the long wait for our food and for drink service that comes seldom and slowly to the tables. Nice folks working there, though.

Benno's I have seen before, but had never ventured in. I'm glad we did, as we now have two new places with great food to hit when in Galveston.

We didn't get to make it over to Boliver to see how the rebuilding of the peninsula is going. Frankly, I want to hear from someone else how things are going before I venture over there. Boliver moreso than Galveston holds tons of memories for me, and I know most of the places those memories happened are gone now.

I played many a gig over the years at the Ships Wheel nightclub in Boliver, a roadhouse of the very best kind, and stayed many a night at a small motel on the other side of the road or at any number of cheap rental beach houses in the area. Lots of those gigs were two nighters, one on Friday and one on Saturday, which left a whole lot of time for filling between and after gigs.

It wasn't unusual to hook up with some Ships Wheel patrons who had a boat and go fishing in East Galveston Bay early on a Saturday morning after a late Friday night gig. Most of my bandmates weren't into it, but I was, and I could get back to the motel or beach house by noon and still get enough sleep for the gig that night. Those were fun times in my mid-to-late twenties when my bandleader was booking us gigs and rooms at the beach. One group that took me fishing actually took me out in their shrimp boat, as they were shrimpers. I had assumed they had a more conventional sporting fishing boat, but let me tell you, a shrimper at the helm of his boat in his waters KNOWS where the shrimp AND the fish can be found. Some of the best fishing ever.

I've wondered if they've yet to fill in the beloved Rollover Pass further down Boliver and wonder how things in Gilchrist and the rest of that part of the state are doing.

I looked for one old restaurant and pier that jutted out into the surf on Stewart Beach. I forget the name of the Pier but the restaurant/beach bar changed quite frequently. I often played drums there as well with my friend and blues music mentor, noted Houston/LA songwriter/guitarist Little Screamin' Kenny. We played there as Little Screamin' Kenny and the Sidewinders. I shared the drum chair with a nice fellow named Angelo, who I would come to gig with lots over the next 20 years.

Since both of us drummed for that band, usually at different times in Houston with each of us taking different gigs, when we both showed up at a gig instead of setting up two drum kits, we'd just set up one and share it. That way, the off guy had time to go mess around and have fun. Also, we both thought it overindulgent and silly to have two drummers with this outfit, although I think LSK would've been all for it.

It was a pain to haul our gear down the Seawall, then down a lengthy pier, then onto the platform that housed the patio. Luckily, I had a cart, but being as it was always burning hot when I was down there loading in for a gig, I was drenched by the time I finally got my gear set up.

That's why having a drum pard'ner like Angelo was cool. I only had to break the drums out every other gig in Galveston, because he'd have his set up half the time, doing the sweating and hauling. It worked out quite well that summer.

We split the cash for that gig, and it actually didn't pay too bad, but we'd both have done the gig for less because of the beach locale and the great crowds we were attracting there. Big tippers to the band and big dancers. It was a great gig.

But sadly, that pier, that made it through Hurricane Alicia and numerous other tropical storms and upsets in the past 40 or so years that I recall it being there, didn't make it through Hurricane Ike.

I did find one place intact where I played a gig a few years ago. A band I was subbing with had a regular Galveston Mardi Gras gig at a huge party, and the alleyway where we played that gig on top of an eighteen wheeler trailer in 2003, and the old very historic homes around it, just off the Seawall, were all intact and looked like they had recovered and rebuilt from the flooding and even looked much better than they did earlier the last decade.

Although most of the homes around the Mardi Gras gig were fancy type homes, they were somewhat ramshackle in their first floor flooring material and first floor siding, almost as if they were leaving it ramshackle because they knew a hurricane would ultimately come and flood them out on the first floor. In fact, although these were for the most part historic homes owned by monied folks, the first floors of these homes looked much like rental beach houses instead of fine homes.

The upper floors looked much nicer and were all fixed up like a normal house, but the first floors kinda reminded of college age folks apartments and again, rental beach houses. Kinda tattered, kinda ramshackle, wood is worn and just overall kinda worn out. The downstairs had drafty wallboards and floorboards and the upstairs was sheetrocked and looked like a normal home. Maybe that's the way they do it living on the coast, trying to reason with hurricane season...

I'd be remiss if I didn't post this link to this youtube video of a young Glen Campbell singing his hit song about Galveston on his variety show. Great band. Great instruments. Great tune.Galveston from The Glen Campbell Hour on youtube

What a haunting tune. Many assumed at the time that Mr. Webb wrote the tune as a Vietnam protest song, but he stated it was actually set in Galveston at the time of the Spanish-American War. Good for you, Mr. Webb. Nonetheless, it's got imagery and it's a beautiful song, and everytime I hear it I resolve to learn to play some simple version of it on acoustic guitar. Great tune.

Other piers and Seawall based buildings are gone and some are rebuilding. Much of the buildings facing the Seawall seemed to make it through the storm, but maybe I just didn't miss those things that are gone. I looked for one bait shop I've frequented over the years and didn't see it, but it's highly possible I missed it because there were other locations that I didn't catch until the third or fourth trip down the Seawall.

It is different physically in some ways, but much stays the same.

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