This morning, Sunday, we woke up and did what every good Catholic family does on a Sunday morning, whether we are vacationing or not. We went to mass. Actually, we wandered around the house and settled disputes between the kids about what shows to watch on which TV’s, we poured our coffee, we showered and dressed. Then we realized that time was closing in and frantically threw the kids in the car and headed to mass. We found ourselves back at St. Patrick’s. The kids weren’t too bad. They’re getting better at this. Baby girl, so you know when you read this later in life, you are always pretty well behaved at mass. Maybe it’s because you’re a girl; I don’t know. Son, keep tryin’.
We drove back to the beach house and here’s where it got weird. Maybe it’s because my twin sister died when I was young. Maybe it’s because I just hate to be alone. But one of the things that can switch me from happy to depressed quicker than anything is the feeling of being left behind. And that’s what happened. I knew it was coming. I tried my best to get over it and move on. My wife, feeling a bit stressed about a work presentation she has to prepare by Tuesday, decided to leave this afternoon and head back to Dallas with her sister. That meant that Granny Wilma and I would be left to enjoy our final day in Galveston by ourselves. OK, it’s cool. Wilma and I are like a modern incarnation of Martin and Lewis. We play off each other’s humor, break into song, and then get hammered. Not really. Really. But we had a plan so I’ll tell you about it.
As soon as Mommy pulled away we packed the kittens into the minivan and headed into Galveston proper. Granny wanted to take us on a Duck Boat Tour. My daughter, for some reason afraid of the idea that our vehicle would plunge into Galveston Bay (let’s face it, when you put it that way who wouldn’t be scared?), freaked at the mention of the term “Duck Boat“. So for a time we made sure to refer to it as the Duck Truck. We parked the car, walked across the Seawall, and boarded the Duck thingy. After a while the Duck was full and an old man boarded, heading toward the captain’s chair up front. He stood up and began to address the passengers. I turned to Wilma and said “I thought Burl Ives was dead…” As the bearded man walked down the aisle to collect our tickets I looked at my mother-in-law. “He’s going to have a heart attack when we’re in the water and we’ll have to swim to shore!” Judging by the painful shade of red that his face had turned from walking five feet, she agreed with me. We both laughed nervously and clutched the kids tightly. Our fears were, of course, completely unfounded and an hour later we were back at the beginning, having toured Galveston, learning a few things we hadn’t known before (which is hard to say of me and Wilma), and having made a nice ten minute excursion out into the bay. Surprisingly, my daughter hadn’t seemed to notice that we were on the water. She was too enamored of the pelicans swooping down to catch their dinner. And old Burl was still kickin’.
All in all, our plan was to entertain the kids in a way that both tired them out and kept them from fighting so that they might go to bed for us when we got back to the beach house. One of the tid-bits the walking miocardial infarction forgot to mention in his spiel on Galveston was the fact of the local legend (reasonably well substantiated) that the margarita was created right here in town! For years there was an infamous nightclub, a speakeasy and illegal casino really, on a 600′ long pier jutting out into the Gulf. It was called the Balinese Room. From the 1940’s until 1957 the club was part of what kept Galveston going through otherwise rough economic times. Sinatra, Hope, and other top names came to play the ball room while mobsters and wealthy Houstonians enjoyed some sin and sand. The bartender made a special concoction for Miss Peggy Lee and named it in her honor — in Spanish, Margarita. A gentlemen was elected Texas Attorney General in the early 50’s promising to bring Galveston back into the fold of proper society and immediately dispatched the Texas Rangers to raid the Balinese Room. Unfortunately, by the time they got back to the end of the pier, the tables were folded into the walls and the chips were in the Gulf. What gambling? These raids became so frequent that, upon the Rangers’ arrival, the band would welcome them by playing a chorus of The Eyes of Texas. But the fuzz wised up and eventually closed the place down by simply sitting in the lobby and scaring off potential customers by their very presence. Now that’s Galveston!
Back in the car, we headed back to the Strand. On a Sunday afternoon after the cruise ships have left for the week, the place is just dead enough to be enjoyable. We got a bite to eat at Fuddrucker’s. The kids ate all of their food which made me happy. As a treat, we walked over to LaKing’s, an old time ice cream parlor and confectionary. Although $7 for two small scoops of ice cream is not my idea of a value, it was well worth it. They were being so good for us! “I know,” said Granny. “Let’s take the ferry!” The ferry to which she referred connects Galveston Island to the Bolivar Peninsula and it docked just a few blocks from the Strand. “How much does that cost?” I asked. “No, it’s free,” she replied. See, they’ve always wanted to build a bridge but the thing would have to be so tall and intricate that it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars they just don’t have down here in Galveston. Perhaps if the Balinese Room hadn’t been destroyed by Hurricane Ike five years ago they might have had a revenue stream. Instead, a system of five ferry boats run twenty-four hours a day to shuttle passengers and vehicles from Galveston to Bolivar and “bridges” the gap between the two sections of Texas Highway 87. Since it’s technically just a section of that highway, the Texas Department of Transportation operates the ferry at no cost. And it sounded like a capital plan. Wilma worried that the wait might be long but we were able to drive right on. Twenty minutes later we were driving off the boat and onto the Peninsula. And that’s when we realized why there was no wait to board. On a Sunday night, everyone’s on the other side trying to get back. We drove down 87 for about three miles before we were able to make our U-turn to wait for the next ferry back. Again, it was a time killer. It actually moved quickly. The kids were happy watching a movie in the back.
Finally we drove back down through the town, over the Seawall, and toward our beach house. The only problem is that the kittens were not yet asleep. I got them dressed for bed and put a movie on in their room while Wilma started frantically cleaning the house in anticipation of our departure tomorrow morning. And before long, Baby Girl was asleep. Son, keep tryin’. I turned off the TV and got into bed with him. But instead of him drifting off to la-la land, he remembered that he had questions about our plans for tomorrow. You see, I made the mistake of telling a five year-old boy that we would be going to the NASA Space Center in Houston. I believe my words were: “Son, tomorrow we’re going to NASA! (silence) You know, where the rocketships are?” Lying there in bed, hoping he’d fall quickly asleep he ticked off a list of about twenty-five questions pertaining to this trip. “Daddy, is it a big building?” “Yes, son.” “Daddy, is it taller than any other building?” “No, son, not tall, just big.” “But Daddy, rocket ships got to be veerrrry tall to carry all the fuel they need to get to the moon (smart freakin’ kid, by the way).” “Son, I,…” I had nothing. Then I quickly came up with this gem. “Would it help if I told you that the rocket is lying on its side?” “Ooh, yeah. But why?” “Son, go to sleep.” These two kids make traveling fun. They make living fun. And if I have to have been left behind with anyone I’m glad it was with them.
Now I just need to say a prayer that they still have that side-lying Saturn V up in Houston.