What Condition My Condition Was In
San Franciso is a couple of days in the rearview mirror. Honolulu, two days ahead. I’m rolling across the Pacific Ocean with over 16,000 tons of food, lumber, pvc pipe, baby diapers, and fertilizer. Another 24,000 tons of ship, fuel, water, and smelly sailors. The North Star is over my right shoulder playing hide and seek behind the clouds and rain squalls.
I’m working for a company that’s been serving Hawaii for over 100 years. I accepted a permanent job, not always that common in the deep sea shipping sector of the maritime business. I’ve even bought stock in the company and its former parent, an Hawaiian real estate outfit. Why? You could say, to ante up for an unknown future.
As we cross Galveston’s latitude, a line from Homer comes to mind. “The Bear never bathes.” What does that Celestial comment mean? Well, all the stars in Heaven revolve around Polaris, like a great divine clock. Ursa Major (the Great Bear, or the Big Dipper to you land lubbers) dances around Ursa Minor (the constellation that includes the North Star). At latitudes north of my present position, roughly the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, it is said that the Bear never bathes. That is because, no matter what time it is, the Constellation never dips into the sea below the horizon. Read the Iliad and the Odyssey, you luddite!
Years ago there was a bar in lower Manhattan called the North Star. It was an old dive amid the stalls of fish mongers still populating the neighborhood. It had a brass rail for your feet and another to rest your arms. Steam was piped through it to take off the chill of the cool mornings when the fish came in. That’s right, Nancy, we drank in the mornings. 0900 is late in the day for that profession, not an hour of casual rising.
Around the corner was Carmine’s. This Italian restaurant opened in time for early lunch and had the best French onion soup the world had ever known. Cooked and served in a crock bowl, full of white onions and homemade croutons, and topped with a solid layer of browned Parmesan. I weep that this dish will never be served again in my lifetime.
The olfactory memories of that place raise whiffs of Candy’s and DiBella’s, Galveston’s nearest equivalent and both also long defunct. Candy’s was run by the wife of a Merchant Mariner to keep her out of trouble during his long hitches. (Candy did the work, but her husband pushed it through. Right, Doctor Gibson?) DiBella’s sits idle and for sale just blocks from my house, a constant reminder of what Galveston will become.
Should we mourn? Of course not! Life is change. And while I may begrudge the lack of atmosphere and consistency in more contemporary establishments, I can also accept that some of the newer places are fighting hard. Not just for my palate, but also for that little piece of my heart that is nostalgia.
It is a gamble for them. It’s a gamble for any new business probing our market. It’s a gamble for the long time island companies in our ever-changing economic environment. How many have miraculously survived Ike and Harvey, COVID, and the roller coaster that is contractor hustles, AirBnB, and our idiotic street construction schedules?
How many disastrously misjudge our weird BOI tastes and trends. The Mosquito Café, quirky and hip, used to be Streeter’s Saloon, a biker bar that was still open at 4:00 am when every place downtown had already kicked me out and closed their doors around 2 or 3 am. Olympia Grill worked on the Seawall but failed downtown. HEB abandoned us around the time of Ike. (Kiss my ass, HEB!) Hooters on Seawall and Joe’s Crab Shack downtown were taken out by divine intervention.
Murdoch’s, Yaga’s, and the Spot took hard hits but came back stronger than ever. Waterman’s and Stingaree’s, both beyond the reach of the Seawall, are still with us. Star Drug had to burn twice but rose from the ashes. Which, unfortunately, is more than I can say for the Phoenix Bakery. Ironic, huh?
But we’ve heard the rumble that is the steamroller of the Golden Nugget. We’ve seen the calendar so filled with events that even Cedar Lawn cannot totally control their aversion to short term rentals. We’ve watched failures and successes from a distance. Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Kinder, Alabama-Coushatta, Shreveport, Lake Charles, and the myriad others.
A couple poker houses have come to town, and are still here! Gambling, on other accounts, has been given more of a nod than before. And there is the foreshadowing that was the iconic picture of Abbott and Fertitta jacking their jaws at a basketball game.
Is it all bad? Of course not. It is just different. Look back at my article about gambling in CC’s 4th issue. The change is coming. The nature of our businesses will change. Real estate, parking, hotels, restaurants, neighborhoods and schools. They will all move to accommodate whatever comes down the road. Been to Kemah lately? “Time and tide wait for no man.”
If you didn’t noticed how the cruise ships and festivals have changed the Strand and Postoffice and 23rd and 61st and Seawall; didn’t notice California land speculators legal attempt to overturn Texas Public Beach laws; didn’t notice the growth gearing up for gambling and the new commerce of the Ike Dike and the general trend toward resort living on a scale much larger than before: Well, you’d better just check Facebook and go back to bed.
The Great Bear keeps dancing. Wait for your alarm to go off, look in the mirror, and know that you are part of the machine that is ever moving with no concern for direction. The sun is coming up here in the middle of the Pacific. The Divine Clock keeps on turning.
Tick tock, mother fucker!