Texas Traveler: Bolivar Mardi Gras

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When Texas Traveler last went to the Bolivar Peninsula, she got a flat tire in the sand, and the small towns of High Island and Crystal Beach were still struggling to rebuild a year after Ike. The flat tire incident was scary -- a nail no doubt from one of the many destroyed homes embedded itself in the rubber. Texas Traveler sat on the beach and stared out at the muddy waters of the Gulf and imagined how many other nails, boards, broken windows and who knows what else hid beneath the surface. Needless to say, we didn't go swimming.

But Texas Traveler is a supporter of the Bring Back Bolivar movement, and she's also a supporter of any reason to party, so this weekend we drove down to the peninsula for Crystal Beach Mardi Gras.

I've never been to the "real" Mardi Gras, nor have I been to Carnival. I'm not the biggest fan of surging crowds of drunks. Heck, I've never even been to Galveston's Mardi Gras (though that may change next year). But I am a fan of small town parades. When I was a kid growing up in Oklahoma, every April we'd celebrate Land Run Day (yes, it's a state holiday) with an 89ers Day Parade and festival on the main street of the tiny town of Lexington.

There's nothing like a small-town parade.

On Bolivar, the parade takes place on the main drag, Highway 87. Everyone from school groups to local beach bars to politicians have a "krewe," and if you don't have a krewe you line the street and yell instead. There were more people on the shoulder than the population of the peninsula tripled.

The neat thing about a small-town parade is that everyone seems to know each other. The route proceeds slowly, as the floats pause to talk to onlookers. Some major sponsors, mostly beer distributors, had floats, but for the most part the parade consisted of overly decorated golf carts and flatbed trucks re-imagined by high schoolers.

Standing next to me on the south shoulder of 87 was an Australia man. I asked him if he'd ever been to a Mardi Gras party before and he said no. He'd imagined women with tall headdresses and not much more on. I explained to him the difference between Rio and New Orleans, and the fact that it's summer south of the equator, which makes the bedazzled thong more weather-appropriate. He seemed to enjoy himself. He went home with a collar full of beads and a pocket full of chocolate coins.

After the parade, we took the ferry to Galveston to get on 45 North. The party continued on the ferry -- several truck-floats were making their way back to the island, blaring zydeco as we crossed the bay. On our way back north we detoured to San Leon for dinner at Gilhooley's. I had a dozen oysters for $5.50. They were big and fat, but they seemed to have been rinsed in tap water, per this comment on Robb Walsh's recent post about "goofy" oysters. Gilhooley's is an odd place. Our waitress was smoking a cigarette as she served us our food. She undercharged us too, by about $10 on a $20 bill. She waved us off when we tried to correct the mistake. San Leon is another community that had to rebuild after Ike, but the damages there were far less sever than in Crystal Beach and High Island.

So, is Bolivar back? Not just yet. On the north side of 87, at one of the peninsula's main intersections, there is a huge brand new grocery store, now basically the only grocery store on the strip. That's enough to insinuate that people are living there again, and will hopefully be visiting this summer. The broken shells of houses have finally be demolished, but debris still covers nearly everything -- small bits of debris in fields and in the sand. Who knows how long until that stuff can be cleaned away, if ever.

I'll probably spend some weekends on Bolivar this summer. But I probably still won't get in the water.

More photos of Bolivar's Mardi Gras parade are on the following page.

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