Wednesday, June 30, 1999
Leaving Freeport was almost as frustrating as getting in. We took a wrong turn so had to go back, a couple of times, then ended up learning far more about the place than we ever needed to. Finally, we were heading south.
Though it wasn’t pretty. It should’ve been, seeing we were edging the Gulf and driving through towns with great names like Brazoria, Matagorda, Palacios, and Magnolia Beach. But when we got to each, it proved disappointingly serviceable. And sun-baked.
I’d promised Tom we’d take it easy: drive a few hours, then break during the hottest part of the day—so we didn’t overwork the now-very-necessary air-conditioning. I figured we’d use the break time to get the oil changed.
Soon after noon, we dropped the truck and some film off at Wal-Mart, then padded across the sticky parking lot to McDonald’s. That was as fancy as Port Lavaca got.
“I’ll have a milkshake,” I told the kid behind the counter.
“We don’t have any,”
I looked at the wall menu. Something that looked like, and sounded like, though probably didn’t taste like, a milkshake was listed. “I’ll take one of those,” I said.
“I told you—we don’t have milkshakes.”
“Then what’s that?” I asked.
“Then you have them?”
“No,” he snapped. “The machine’s bust.”
Ah. Words. I ordered iced tea.
In the South, that comes presweetened, though no one could tell me with what. If you want it unsweetened, you have to order it that way, and the waiters look pained. Worse, if you then ask for sugar, they think you’re an idiot. A Northern idiot. A Non-Texan idiot. So I slurped my unidentifiably-sweetened tea through an industrial byproduct straw, and addressed postcards while Tom scanned the local free paper. The dog was outside, tied to a garbage pail in the rapidly fleeing shade.
“Houses are cheap here,” Tom soon announced, real estate having become his traveling hobby.
“No kidding. What could possibly be the lure?”
It certainly wasn’t the Gulf, no matter how pretty that seemed to be. After picking up the truck, we stopped at a nearby beach: The water was murky. The wind was so hot and strong, we felt like pop corn. We parked at a kind of concrete shelter, one of several dozen along the shore. Each had water and electricity, I guessed for RVs, and individual picnic tables. Pets—leashed or loose—were forbidden on the sand, so we tied the dog to a pipe. She tried to follow us, but quickly got blown back by the drifting dunes and meekly retreated under a bench.
Tom tried the water. It wasn’t cool. It wasn’t relaxing. We got tar on our feet. Still, it beat driving through the glare, so we splashed for a while, then poked through the neighboring, unexplainable, bird sanctuary. Finally, we went to scrub. Ahead, was one more ferry. We hadn’t planned to take it, but based on a postcard I’d bought in Wal-Mart, we shifted plans. Which turned out to be the best choice of the day.
The boat went from Aransas Pass—busy and uninviting—to Port Aransas, a wonderful-looking little town. “Should we stop?” Tom asked.
“Yes,” I agreed. But somehow we couldn’t find a way to pull off the road. Then the village was gone.
“Should we go back?” Tom wondered aloud.
We wanted to. But we were stuck on a two-lane road, with traffic building behind us, and it was getting towards late afternoon. Besides, almost immediately, we were driving along the most beautiful beach we’d seen in days. “This is what that stretch south of Galveston looked like,” I wanted to tell Tom. Though I also didn’t want to remind him how much he’d hated that drive.
A sign came up: Mustang Beach State Park. “Turn!” we both said. Then couldn’t, ’cause we were jammed between roaring RVs. Tom kept looking for a place to pull over, or turn around, but there were none. Just dunes.
Finally, just as an oppressive concrete bridge approached, no doubt eager to drag us back to strip malls and civilization, Tom impulsively yanked hard left, rushing—improbably for him—between oncoming trucks, and we were on the beach. A sign warned Residents Only, and threatened Huge Fines—up to a thousand bucks—but we didn’t care. We’d made a desperate grab for opportunity, one that had already slipped from us twice.
Tom parked on the white sand, maybe twenty feet from the water, stopping where signs allowed. There was no one around, not even a life guard, so we figured we’d swim for five minutes. Close to shore. Gauging the undertow. If the police suddenly appeared, we’d feign illiteracy.
We slipped into trunks, then led the dog toward the low surf she’d liked so much on Fripp (a sign warned Dogs Must Be On Leash). The water was terrific, though the current predictably strong. The sky was grey, reflecting the Gulf, though it was still warm and windy. For Tom and me, nothing could have been better.
Not so for the dog: Maybe it was the leash. Maybe the waves. Maybe she just wanted to be somewhere else. I tied her to the empty lifeguard tower and went back to the water. Five minutes. Fifteen. Thirty. We didn’t want to leave, but the longer we stayed, the greater our risks. And we still had to drive.
Wet and sandy, we finally slumped into the truck and crossed the bridge. “Which way?” Tom asked, sounding defeated.
Left. But there was a motel just on our right.
“We have to call for reservations anyway,” I told him. “Let’s see if there are any here.”
He didn’t argue. There were rooms. We canceled our drive and asked the clerk about a legal beach.
“You can get a permit for that one,” he grinned. “But you gotta go into town, and they’re probably closed by now. ‘Sides, I don’t think anyone’ll bug you.”
“What if they do?” I said, having had this problem before.
“Tell them you’re from L.A. That’s the other side of the country. Worst they’ll do is sell you a pass.”
We dumped our stuff in our room, grabbed the dog, and tore back to the beach. Staying till after dark.