No one who spends childhood summers on a Galveston beach ever quite forgets it, although my memories are mostly of the drive back home. In my mind’s eye, we’re still inching up I-45, the entire family crammed inside a 1977 Oldsmobile 98 Regency, Grandma included. We’d sit there, the six of us, in near-funereal silence, a moratorium occasioned by a perfect storm of exhaustion, sunburn, and tar balls. All you would hear was the A/C working overtime, that and Grandma bitching about the whole ordeal. “Well, Galveston is just pitiful,” she’d say. “Pitiful.”
Grandma didn’t much like going to the island, an opinion mostly attributable to the three days she’d spent at the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach in 1970, because once you’d done that, well, Galveston seemed just pitiful. “People in Miami Beach don’t park their pickups on the beach. The sidewalks aren’t all broken everywhere. Would it kill them to do something fancy now and then? Hell, forget about fancy, would it kill them to put a bathroom on the beach?”
At this point, someone, usually one of my sisters, would make the ill-advised decision to engage her. “I don’t want to dress up to go the beach,” said a small voice.
“You sure don’t have to worry about that in Galveston,” Grandma might reply with a laugh. “There’s nothing to dress up for. You’re not gonna see Liz Taylor parading around the Mona Lisa Room in Galveston.” This too was a reference to the Eden Roc. Grandma hadn’t seen Taylor, but knew “all I need to know of her antics there” thanks to an Eddie Fisher biography.
After a few more unfavorable Miami-Galveston comparisons, it would perhaps be my turn to engage. “Miami Beach has been around forever,” I’d say, erroneously. “Galveston hasn’t been around forever.”
“And with any luck it’s not going to be around forever either,” Grandma would snap.
Fittingly for a place once destroyed by a hurricane, Galveston’s foreverness is forever a topic of discussion. The theory, at least during my childhood, was that the island’s self-image had been permanently wrecked by the 1900 storm that had drowned it, and further warped by Hurricane Carla in ’61, Alicia in ’83. As such, what might have become Ocean City or Myrtle Beach had been condemned by its storms to a perpetual preference for the slapdash, impromptu, and jerry-built.
With 2008 and Ike came another defining catastrophe, yes, but also—surprise—a fresh attitude toward it: hurricane as mother of reinvention. Whatever your opinion of pre-Ike Galveston, five years on, the island possesses a kind of excitement and bravado it hasn’t seen since its earliest days. And as our cover story reveals that sense of swagger can be seen along much of Texas’s 367 miles of coastline.
Galveston, Bolivar and all our other favorite haunts aren’t just back, they’re back, and we can only hope that Ike has washed away once and for all the timidity and small-mindedness of the past. We applaud the wave of insouciance that’s surged in its stead—in evidence at East Beach, the restaurants, and that amusement park on the pier. All of which is to say that if you haven’t ventured to the Gulf of late, you’re in for a surprise. This is not your grandmother’s Galveston, your aunt’s Aransas or your padre’s … well, you know.