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Texas | Columns | "Quips and Salsa"

Escape to Galvatraz

by Jase Graves
Jase Graves

Galveston, Texas, affectionately known as "Galvatraz" by some of its residents and visitors, really gets a bad rap. Maybe it's because this coastal resort city on the Gulf of Mexico features sand and water that often resemble the aftermath of a 24-hour stomach virus, only less inviting.

Despite these unfair characterizations, my experiences with Galveston have mostly been positive. When I was a child, Galveston Island was my first experience with the ocean-and the unforgettable sensation of beach sand lodged in my shorts.

One of my fondest childhood memories is of my dad taking me "crabbing" on one of the many jetties stretching out from the Galveston coastline. The intricate and genteel process of crabbing involves luring the prized blue crabs with a raw chicken neck tied to the end of a thin rope, and then scooping them up with a long dip net. (Obviously, the blue crab isn't known for its elusiveness-or its taste in chicken appendages.)

Since I now have three daughters, it goes without saying that my most recent trip to Galveston Island didn't involve something as personally fulfilling as enticing bottom-dwelling crustaceans with uncooked poultry. Instead, I had traveled hundreds of miles to an interesting city so that I could sit inside a cavernous building all day watching a performance by my eldest and most expensive daughter-this time in a high school drill and dance team competition.

After a punishing four-hour drive, we knew we were approaching our destination when we began to detect the invigorating fragrance of the ocean breeze mingled with refined petroleum.

By the time we had crossed the George and Cynthia Mitchell Memorial Causeway onto the island, it was nearly 10:00 PM. About that time, my youngest and quietest daughter, who rarely offers her opinion on any subject other than her plans for world domination via YouTube, looked up from her iPad and declared that she was hungry for popcorn shrimp.

Unfortunately, Galveston enforces a strict popcorn shrimp curfew beginning at 10:00 PM on weeknights. After being turned away from three, yes three, seafood establishments just as they were enthusiastically locking their front doors, we finally found a Joe's Crab Shack that was open until 11:00 PM. We hoped they wouldn't defile our seafood platters for coming in so late, and we were pleasantly surprised by the server's hospitality. Trying for a healthy option, I ordered two skewers of grilled shrimp on a bed of rice pilaf, which was about as flavorful as a serving of moist paper products. Luckily, one of the joys of having children is that they rarely clean their plates, so I was able to negate my bland, low-calorie fare with some mangled shards of popcorn shrimp and a hearty portion of tepid French fries.

Once we had shut down Joe's, we made it to our hotel just in time to crash for the night-or at least try. Our beachfront room was decorated in a garish Tang orange. Virtually all of the room's furnishings, right down to the retro mini-fridge, were like set-pieces from a Wes Anderson film. Even the hallway carpet, with its pattern of yellow circles on an orange background, looked like an accident scene involving a tanker truck full of SpaghettiOs.

The next morning, we headed to the convention center to spend the entire buttock-crippling day watching about 600 dance routines, a few of them actually involving my daughter and her teammates. One consolation was that a lot of the dance music was from the 1980's-when musicians still knew the value of a good synthesizer solo. I even got a chance to go out on the floor to help set up curtains for a couple of the team's dances-while secretly hoping they'd call me up to fill in on a few split leaps.

To top it off, my daughter's team was named National Grand Champions. (I'm pretty sure the expert curtain installation had something to do with it.)

I'm really looking forward to my next visit to Galveston island. Maybe next time, I'll even take my daughters crabbing, but only if I can convince one of them to tie on the chicken necks.

Jase Graves
"Quips and Salsa" May 30, 2019 column

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