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I drove south this past Wednesday with Joe Holley from the Houston Chronicle to see how Port Aransas post Harvey was faring.
Admittedly antsy as I rode the ferry, I worried about my friends and favorite places in this beloved Texas town. My anxiety ratcheted up when I heard from a very good friend who didn’t want me to post on social media that I was headed down there.
“Please delete your facebook post. The last thing the poor island needs right now is people down here who aren’t part of the clean up.” If I could have reversed direction in the ferry line, I might have done so but I am so glad I didn’t.
My friend’s frustrated reaction was completely understandable. I should know. My home in Houston flooded a few days before when Harvey paid us an unwelcome visit. But I was compelled to come down. Port A has always felt special. As Dan Solomon said on a recent Texas Monthly blog, “People from all over Texas have strong, tender feelings toward the town, and have long used the place as a getaway from their day-to-day reality. “
What’s the bottom line with our visit? Harvey busted up a whole lot of buildings and boats but it didn’t break the spirit and sense of community that makes Port A so unique. While Aransas Pass seemed forlorn and devastated, Port A was a busy, sweaty hive of activity. Here’s how some of my favorite spots fared:
Driving down Beach Avenue towards Horace Caldwell Pier, we saw a baby blue 1977 F150 in front of the Gaff. Owner Kip Shannon had painted “nice try Harvey” on the truck’s haunches. He and two friends from Houston were cleaning out a storeroom. This first stop was good news. Constructed sometime in the mid-50’s from a surplus WWII military hut, the Gaff had weathered Harvey well. The storm surge hadn’t made it inside and Kip thinks they could be open by the end of September. Even better, in the back yard, the long wooden lanes for the popular belt sander races were intact which was a big part of my last trip here. The shading pepper trees were gone but at least one islander will be happy about that. Retired UT professor Bill Behrens has long considered these trees a pest and wages a one-man war on the intruders.
Shell’s Pasta and Seafood
We picked up a retired Austin reporter who spends much of her time in a home on the island. She and I were anxious to see what had happened to this wonderfully funky restaurant. Shells is doll-house tiny, so small that you can yell at the chef in the kitchen from your chair at one of ten or so tables…something I have done. We saw an open door and barged in on Shawn Tucker, long time manager and his grocery sales person trying to figure out if they could open on September 11. Shawn was bunking with friends while he worked non-stop cleaning up and getting restocked. Larger hotels and buildings had partially shielded Shells from the full Harvey. Like Kip at the Gaff, Shawn was motivated and ready to get back in business
Laughing Horse Lodge
Across the street from Shells, the cinder block cabins of the Laughing Horse Lodge looked unscathed but the mattresses and broken furniture tossed out along Avenue G were not reassuring. This is a such a favorite base for a carefree beach vacation. But in my heart, I just know the Horse is going to rise again. After all, this is the Laughing Horse, formerly the Seahorse Inn, predating the paving of the road down to the beach. Say a prayer for this venerable and kitschy treasure.
The Back Porch
Hard for an outdoor venue to escape the wind and rain of a hurricane but the free-standing circular bar looked closed up nice and tight. The metal canopy over the entrance and the metal stage wall were twisted though, which seemed to be the fate of many metal structures. I’ve got an email into the managers to get an update That is important because the Back Porch is one of the best places to have a drink in Texas’ beautiful fall weather and share the outing with your dog (s). They even provide doggy water dishes under the tables. I look forward to sharing a bar stool with Shark Bait real soon. (9/18/17 – just got update today that Back Porch is trying to open today!)
Even before the power came back on, Shorty’s carted in a generator to give weary residents and volunteers a place to pop a top and compare storm stories. When we stopped by Wednesday for a couple of Shiner Bocks, the place was packed. Looked like everyone had already adapted to the two-inch buckle in the wooden floor in front of the bar. Of course, it was only 5 in the afternoon. That buckle might present a challenge as the current curfew gets later and later. A few shingles were off, the porch rail was a little snaggle toothed but overall, Shorty’s was fine.
Funny how the older places like Shorty’s, the Gaff, Shells and even the Tarpon Inn all looked like they could be saying “Been there, done that…even have the t-shirt” as far as staying power after a storm.
Port A people make the place special
But I’ve always felt that it is the people not the place that makes you love a destination. Carolyn and Kenneth Curlee relocated here a few years ago. They were taking a break outside of their banged-up beach house with friends who had come down from Houston to help with the cleanup. The couples were supposed to have been vacationing in Costa Rica this week. Instead, one of Carolyn’s friend summed it up, “I traded in my sundress for a hazmat suit!” The shared labor among old friends was turning into a sweaty happy hour. I hated to break away and head back to Corpus.
So, Port A people seem to be doing what they do best – helping each other and helping their town remain the very special place that the rest of Texas loves so much. And somehow, these indomitable optimists have started to make the best of it. Our prayers and hopes ride with you. We need us some Port Aransas to survive this crazy life!
Helping Port A recover