Hurricane Ike managed to strike Houston and Galveston just as we were putting the final touches on our annual Best Of Houston® issue. It made for a few fun-packed days, working without a/c and sharing the few computers the generators could power.
Sadly, though, some of our winners are probably not around to accept their laurels. We hope to hell we're wrong, of course.
Best Hip, Fun or Nostalgic Gifts — Henley Market on the Strand. Things probably aren't too hip or fun around the Strand right now. Will there someday be Ike nostalgia? Stranger things have happened.
Best Beach — Crystal Beach. Ain't no one going to be relaxing in Crystal Beach for a long time, sadly.
Last year's Best Of issue had a "Buccaneers on the Bayou" theme, which led to a bigger bunch of seaside-related picks.
Among the winners from 2007:
Best Neighborhood Place — Sonny's Place in Galveston. Unfortunately, there might not be much of a neighborhood left to have a place in.
Best Burger — T-Bone Tom's in Kemah won this coveted honor, always one of the most hotly contested categories. The Kemah Boardwalk came out of Ike better than expected (if still hit pretty hard); T-Bone Tom's is not on the Boardwalk, though, so it's hard to say when or if the burgers will return.
Body Shot — The Seabrook Beach Club won this, one of our classiest categories. No way to tell yet if female belly buttons will still be repositories of the best in fine drink.
Coffee Beans — The Purple Turtle Coffee Company in La Porte won this; whether Ike blew the Purple Turtle Coffee Company out of La Porte or not we still don't know.
Seaside Store — Gulf Coast Market at Crystal Beach. Face it, this was probably not the best year to win Best Seaside Store. Also, Nautical Antiques in Galveston was highlighted in our "Goods" section, likely to not much avail right now.— Richard Connelly
The Scene From Kemah
The street corner underneath the blue, arching sign welcoming visitors to Kemah is littered with debris washed out of people's houses: light-switch covers, roof shingles and even a sandy, sticky clump of faded photographs of a family huddled around the fireplace at Christmas, someone's memories probably lost forever.
At the corner of Bradford and 6th Street, a burger joint and a Greek restaurant are feeding business owners who've come down to the shore to begin cleaning up and assess the damage.
Jared "Chops" Watkins owns Buddy Ruff's, a bar that used to stand along the 600 block of 6th Street, 100 or so yards from the amusement park.
The afternoon of Tuesday, September 16, was the first time Watkins ventured down to check out the damage. Surge waters all but demolished the place, reducing it to a pile of wood and rubble. A few intact beer bottles and full kegs are the only signs a bar used to sit here.
"Nuts," Watkins said, getting choked up, after first seeing his bar. "I didn't think it'd be anything like this. It's completely gone." Asked how he would begin the painstaking recovery, Watkins said, "I have no idea."
A few doors down, Darlene O'Brien, clad in a T-shirt and tall rubber boots, was working on her and her husband's home furnishings store, Pat O'Brien's Eagle Nest Gallery.
She said more than two feet of water rushed into her store, ruining the floors. Her warehouse next door fell off its pylons, damaging most of the shop's stock. Tuesday, she was moving what items were left and were not covered in mildew over to a restaurant in League City to — she hoped — keep a much-needed stream of income flowing for the costly repairs.
"Is it a total loss? No," she said. "We have to withstand this, though. This is not a second business for us like it is for a lot of people down here. We have to rebuild and keep on going."
She said it was just starting to settle in how long it would take to get back on their feet.
"We'll be out of business for months," she said. "My husband's hair is turning gray by the moment." — Chris Vogel
Two Politicians, Two Approaches
You may have noticed Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Mayor Bill White projecting different attitudes during their joint press conferences in the past few days — White a bit more critical of response efforts, Emmett a bit less willing to engage in what he would presumably think to be finger-pointing or taking FEMA to task.
It was most noticeable on Sunday, September 14. Emmett — a Republican in an election race — talked about how people might want a bag of ice, but others had lost homes and the Ice People needed to be patient. Moments later, White — a Democrat looking soon to run for higher office — took the podium and sternly intoned that FEMA would be graded strictly on whether they were performing up to standard. He even engaged in some back-and-forth with FEMA officials over whether the feds had the city's list of POD recommendations.
Emmett's spokesman, Joe Stinebaker, tells Hair Balls there's not much to this apparent discord.
"The reality is they're getting along well together. They have the same goal in mind. The two have different styles, but in terms of their working together, I'm surprised that two public officials have gotten along as well as they have," he says.
And apparently the comparatively gentler Emmett we've seen at press conferences (or heard about from those with power) isn't all patience and grandfatherly smiles. Stinebaker says that at one point he was on a FEMA trailer at Reliant Park "letting the FEMA officials know what he thinks." Stinebaker says FEMA deserves credit for how it's dealt with the complex recovery process, but adds that the judge is "vehement" about pushing things forward.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
White's spokesman, Frank Michel, says the different attitudes have nothing to do with party.
"[White] has had experience with disaster situations, so he's more critical of bureaucracy," Michel says.
Stinebaker is eager not to leave the impression that the judge is going easy on officials. "(Emmett) is making it clear to federal, state and local officials exactly what he wants done, and that he needs it done yesterday, or the day before yesterday," he says.
No timetable yet on the delivery of that FEMA flux capacitor, but at least the judge is putting some emotion into it. — Blake Whitaker