Thank Goodness I Was Safe in Galveston

The Texas Gulf Coast just got clobbered by two hurricanes in a row, Rita and Ike. And then people remember the devastating storm in Galveston in 1900, which cost 6,000 lives and was on a scale with the San Francisco Earthquake and the Great Chicago Fire — Mrs. McGillcuddy’s cow, or whatever.

Now people around the country are saying, “Well if there are so many hurricanes, why do they go on living there?” And that’s ridiculous.

Since 1900, the Gulf Coast has had destructive hurricanes every fifty years or so, the same frequency, more or less, as ice storms in the Northeast or tornadoes in the Midwest or wildfires in California.

During my visit to Texas, the winds from a microburst in Sunderland, Massachusetts, picked up a tobacco barn, carried it fifty feet and plunked it down on the exact stretch of Route 47 where I ride my scooter to work. Thanks goodness I was safe in Galveston. I could have ended up like the Wicked Witch of the East.

Remember her? All we saw was two striped socks.

There are places on the Gulf Coast where it may not make sense to rebuild, but these are a few places that got exemptions from building codes under “grandfather clauses.” Not coincidentally, these were the places that national TV news crews went to get hurricane damage footage.

For buildings that met new hurricane codes, the damage was like water in the basement. The Hotel Galvez lost their new million-dollar basement spa, but I’ll bet you an Indian-head nickle that won’t happen again. The spa is being reconditioned as we speak, and it will be ready for you if you go there, and you should if you know what’s good for you.

The Galvez fronts boldly on the gulf of Mexico, and suffered no other damage. Built in 1911 by the businessmen of Galveston to show that the city had rebounded from the devastation of 1900, it stands as a symbol of the indomitable spirit of the island.

The Grand Theater in Galveston had to have a lot of seats reconditioned, but they were up and running two months after Ike. They also had to recondition an elevator that was left on the ground floor. If only someone had pushed that button and sent the elevator up. I confess I never would have thought of it.

Turns out the Houston Symphony Orchestra, during a previous hurricane, left an elevator in the basement with a grand piano on board. Ouch!

I guess the point is, everybody’s learning. Six months after Ike, nearly all the businesses on the Gulf Coast are up and running, and the rest will be in a month or two. The chocolate store in Galveston we went to said they had reopened only the week before and had the best weekend in their history.

The brave new hurricane-proof construction on the sea wall in Galveston? All I can say is it performed as advertised. I’d be happy to go reside there throughout the next hurricane season.

Schlitterbaum’s Water Park and other major attractions hardly missed a beat. They were back in rebuilding as soon as they were allowed to.

A lot of business owners who leased their properties were unable to get back in until the owners could settle up with the insurance companies, and we heard a lot of jokes about what was wind damage and what was water damage, and delays of this kind held up some reopenings.

But it’s amazing how fast delays of this kind are swept away when they are costing people money. Galveston is an indomitable island, and like the rest of the Gulf Coast, they’re back in business.

And it’s a truly happening place, kind of like the Lower East Side, Texas style.

I’m known as the guy who never goes anywhere, but I’m making serious inquiries into ways I could spend the month of February in Texas every year. It’s something I could get used to very easily.