Thursday, November 13, 2008

Farewell, my love

I’m not exactly sure why I’m writing this, rather than Jed. Jed has a more personal vested interest in Galveston Island than I do, as his entire family hails from there. The devastating news here in Texas last night was UTMB Galveston has decided to cut 3,800 jobs due to hemorrhaging finances brought on by Hurricane Ike. Galveston Island has (had) a population of only 50,000 full-time residents pre-Ike. While we’ve not been “home” since Ike, we get daily reports from Jed’s mother, cousins, aunts, uncles, and other family members. It is, essentially, complete devastation. The people of Galveston have committed to rebuilding, but it appears they’ll have to do so with a loss of a little less than 10% of their workforce.

Galveston Island, depending on who you ask, doesn’t have much to offer. It’s not a typical “Island Resort” town. It’s true there is a high percentage of poverty in Galveston. Of the 50,000 full-time residents, there’s a huge indigent population of roughly 30-40% (again, depending on who you ask). There’s not much to offer in Galveston. There’s a cruise ship terminal that is operating at a functional 50% level (promised to be 100% by December). There is a spin-off of the Schlitterbahn Waterpark franchise. Moody Gardens/Aquarium. A smattering of WORLD CLASS seafood restaurants (Gaido’s!!!). A beautiful historic district. FANTASTIC turn of the century architecture. UTMB was the islands largest employer, and now they’ve decided to bail…just as the island needs them the most.

Jed and I have differing views on the island. It has everything to do with the fact that he was born and raised there and that his family has been there since the very early 1900’s. I imagine he sees his hometown as everyone else sees the town they grew up in, a “nice place to visit, but wouldn’t want to live there”. Honestly, I’ve never understood this, but feel the same way about Oklahoma City. In fact, I don’t even think Oklahoma City is a nice place to visit!

PJ (Pre-Jed) I had taken a week off of work and rented a house on the beach in Galveston. It was a lovely 2 bedroom/2 bathroom fully furnished house, literally 50 feet from the water. I wonder if it’s still there? I paid $400 for the house for the week. While I was down in Galveston soaking up the sun I started looking through the paper for houses for sale down there. This was 15, or so, years ago, and at the time you could get a beach front home for between $40-60k. Even then the island was struggling. I didn’t want this as a full-time home, rather I wanted it for a place to go to on the weekends. It’s been said that Galveston is “the poor gay man’s Ft. Lauderdale”. There are (were) tons of homos in a very compacted island. Then I met Jed and when I found out he was from Galveston I mentioned to him my plan to buy a weekend house down there. I think he misunderstood me, thinking I wanted to MOVE to Galveston and said that he would never go back there (unless he was visiting) and would never buy a house there. He had very strong feelings/opinions in this regard.

Over the 10 years of being with Jed we’ve watched the island grow and prosper a bit. The $40-60k beach front houses long since gone. Pre-Ike, you couldn’t touch a house with a water view for under $300k. (GOD I WISH I HAD BOUGHT IN THE 90’S!!!) We always enjoyed our trips to the island to play with family, but it never has changed Jed’s mind about his distaste for the island and ever wanting to be a resident of the island. It makes me sad. I think this is why the UTMB thing upsets me more than it does him.

So with the collapse of your primary industry, how does the island recover? I feel like we (as IF I’m a resident!) need to bring back the glory days of the island; make it a resort town that has something to offer people; make it something people WANT to come for. I suggest off-shore gambling. Bring back the glory days of the Balanese Ballroom from the 1940’s. And no, assholes, I never went there back then! The Balanese is legendary in Galveston. Pre-Ike it sat out on a pier 600 feet OVER the gulf. Hollywood legends (Hope, Sinatra, Burns) used to come to the island to party at the Balanese. Back in its heyday they had gambling (sure, illegal!) that drew many people to the island. It’s been said the reason the Balanese stretches 600 feet over the gulf is because they had the gambling rooms in the far back reaches of the pier so that if the police were to raid the ballroom the proprietors would have ample time to hide any evidence of illegal activity before the police could make it down there.

I envision a few “Riverboat” casinos off “the strand” or along the seawall. Or how about some hurricane fortified structures along the dilapidated seawall with huge grand ballrooms where people want to come perform. What is wrong with a little casino action? Worried about “illegal activity” or increased alcoholism or gambling addictions??? HELLO?!? Before Ike 30-40% of the population ALREADY HAD THESE PROBLEMS! At least with casinos you can employee people previously “unskilled” who couldn’t get a job AT THE HOSPITAL. Casinos, by far, employee far more people than a dying hospital. You would HAVE to employ more people to take care of all the visitors who would be flooding the island with tourism dollars. THERE IS NO TOURISM IN GALVESTON right now, TOURISM is the surest way to make sure the island survives.

Unfortunately we live in one of those states, the State of Denial, where the conservatives want to control everything and think gambling would destroy the state. Oklahoma has casinos, and it’s not burning in the fiery pits of hell. It’s still as backwards as it ever was. There’s a flood of money coming in from the Indians operating the casinos allotted for improvements to Oklahoma’s infrastructure. Please Texas Legislature. PLEASE legalize gambling. I’m not saying I’ll participate, but I don’t want to see my beloved Galveston sink off our beautiful coastline.


Anonymous said...

Galveston has a sweet spot in our heart too. We've enjoyed our 2 cruise trip vacations out of Galveston with a night before in a hotel/motel on the island. Gaido's was a must have for dinner.
I hope the cruise lines come back in full force and we will return to Galveston Island.

Brian in Danbury

Bjorn said...

I was there a few weeks before. It is a neat town but it is so two faced. Reminds me of much of louiasana.

Gaido's was so good.

Bjorn (ps check out my blog, please?)