It has been two months since Hurricane Ike made landfall with a direct hit to Galveston, roaring up through Houston and wreaking havoc and damages estimated to go up to as high as $21 billion. That figure would make Hurricane Ike the third most expensive storm in U.S history, behind Hurricanes Katrina and Andrew.
But monetary damage is not the only measure of the storm’s destruction. Whole communities were wiped from the map. Galveston Island, which had been experiencing somewhat of a renaissance with fabulous new restaurants and wine bars, will take years to recover. Up to this point we had avoided seeing the worst of the catastrophic devastation visited upon our Gulf Coast community. There are still merely frames where signs used to be. And blue tarps still cover many a roof. These are small reminders of that harrowing night our family spent huddled, or as they say in Texas, “hunkered down” in the closet of my friend Meryl, who had loaned her house for our evacuation. Joe mentioned her in his post Coming Home to Hurricane Ike.
But last weekend brought with it a return to Meryl’s as well as to Galveston, all in the name of wine, food and celebration.
The Return to Meryl’s
There are four of us at work who share a “quad.” We like to think of ourselves as the “Ladies Who Lunch.” We planned a wine tasting before Hurricane Ike. In fact, the Friday Ike hit was our original date. But as the storm grew in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Meryl rescheduled her Saturday flight to Orlando to Thursday and our family put the kids and pets in the car and headed up to Houston to Meryl’s. Donna and Joycelyn were safe and “hunkered down” in West Houston. Luckily, all of us suffered only landscape damage. We fared much better than many in our community.
Working around kids and husbands and birthdays and deadlines, we finally had our “Ladies Night” with wine tasting followed by a screening of the Sex and the City movie. And let me just say a chick flick is definitely much more fun when watching it with “the girls” after tasting champagne, two chardonnays, a Spanish white, Zinfandel, two Cabernet Sauvignons, and a Texas port. Each of us brought wine, with no rules except that Joycelyn requested Messina Hof port, and she can’t drink Chardonnay. Since I wanted the other ladies to note the difference between an oaked and unoaked Chard, I took a couple, and picked up the Messina Hof as well. Donna brought an Armida from her Wine Club selection, Meryl included a Kosher wine from Israel; and I also included one of the Wine Club selections from Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant; the 2006 Viña Godeval.
Interestingly enough the Messina Hof “Ebony Ports of Call” was available for sale at our local grocer, Central Market. I was surprised to find anything labeled port at CM, because when I asked about ports on a previous trip, the wine person told me they couldn’t sell anything above 17%. Sure enough the Messina Hof is 16% alcohol by volume, which just goes to show, you need to know your market when creating a product with the maximum potential for retail space.
However, a rather laborious read of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission code indicates that the holder of a Wine and Beer Retailer’s Permit can sell for consumption ON premises “traditional port or sherry containing alcohol in excess of one-half of one percent by volume and not more than 24 percent by volume.“
So, I suppose if I was going to consume it AT the store, I could drink port, but if I was going to take it home, I was limited to the less fortified “Ports of Call.”
Note to readers: Do not put champagne in the freezer to chill and forget about it while watching a 2-hour movie – which is what happened at Meryl’s. We came back downstairs and discovered the remaining half of the Moët et Chandon was now a “wine-sicle.” It was no doubt a blessing in disguise, since Donna, Joycelyn and I had a 30-minute drive home at nearly midnight. It was a great night with “the girls.” We ladies are already planning another tasting, perhaps we’ll make it a monthly thing.
Return to Galveston
Also postponed and rescheduled was the NASA 50th Anniversary Gala. My husband works on the International Space Station—not literally, he runs a team charged with standardizing all of the websites connected with ISS—so we had purchased tickets for the event. The Galveston Convention Center was hosting the event, originally scheduled for September 27th. On that day most of Galveston still had no electricity and the Center was temporary home and shelter to a number of Galveston residents. So it was rescheduled for November 22. We’d thought about not going after the hurricane – but figured that we wouldn’t be living in Houston, or on the planet, for the next one.
We hadn’t been to Galveston since the storm. In 2005, we’d driven to the GMAC Bowl in Alabama three months after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita when devastation from those storms flanked I-10 all the way from Houston to Mobile, and that wasn’t even a direct hit. I’d seen pictures of Galveston. I read stories in the Galveston Daily News long after the rest of the nation was focusing on the election, the mortgage crisis, and the economic meltdown the media covers with such tabloid fervor. But I could not bring myself to drive down and see what was no longer there. So it was with much trepidation that we drove 30 minutes south for the event.
All along I-45 south there were battered and missing signs. Blue tarps covered roofs. But I felt a little hopeful as we neared the bridge to the island. A familiar landmark was fully lit, packed with cars and looking no worse for wear. Let me tell you, that’s the first time I’ve felt a sense of relief driving by a topless bar. But as we crossed the bridge, we saw some of what we had been avoiding. Young oleanders that had graced the median as I-45 becomes Broadway were gone. We passed a large boat, turned on it’s side. “Is that supposed to be there?” I asked. Since it was dark, we couldn’t quite tell. But I’d never seen a boat dry-docked in that position.
As we turned onto 61st and drove toward the Seawall we saw more boats. Turned on their sides. On the wrong side of the road. Flung like the toys of an angry toddler who had tired of playing with them. One of our favorite restaurants, the Cajun Greek, was boarded up. The sign was gone. Replaced by spray paint on plywood covering the windows. All I could keep thinking was, at least it’s dark. We can’t see it all. Traveling east on Seawall Blvd., I was paying more attention to finding the Convention Center, and less to the surroundings. Along the surf side of the road things looked different. Missing.
We arrived at our destination and I could spot couples in their finery walking toward the door. It felt a little wrong to be going to a fancy party when people had lost their homes, their businesses, and some their lives. But people were carrying bags of unwrapped toys to donate to the “Annual Children’s Holiday Event at the San Luis,” and we were helping the local economy.
We headed upstairs to the “Constellation Foyer” and the coffee bar to get away from the quickly crowding entrance. We stopped to look out the windows at the surf, and I could see what was missing. Attached to a utility poll on the seawall was the familiar sign for the 61st Street pier, beckoning visitors to enjoy RENTALS, BAIT, BEER, SNACKS, GIFTS. But behind the sign was water. The pier was gone. I found a photo essay with a picture of the sign and non-pier.
As the crowd in the hall grew larger, and we moved from the 80s themed “Shuttle” room to the Apollo and International Space Station rooms. We went up to the Lunar Lounge and back, carrying our glasses of Cabernet and looking at displays of NASA history. And as we did Hurricane Ike and his aftermath faded. We feasted on cheese and hummus, pork tenderloin with chimichurri sauce, sushi and fajitas. We took pictures. Said hello to friends. Danced in the 80s room to tunes from our 20s performed by a band in polyester track suits. I compared marriage proposals with one of Joe’s coworkers who had just become engaged the previous evening. We toasted NASA and its 50 years with “champagne” (actually it tasted more like Cristalino Cava Brut). And then we danced some more. It really was a fabulous event, and I’m glad we decided to attend.
This Thanksgiving, when I look back on the past year, especially the past 6 months, I’m thankful for friends like Meryl who let us stay at her house during the storm. I’m thankful that our neighborhood in Clear Lake was spared. I’m thankful to be able to taste wine with my friends, and toast NASA’s 50th Anniversary. And I’m especially thankful for my husband, who indulges my passion for politics, has taught me to relax and enjoy the moment, and shares my passion for food, travel, celebrations and wine.
~ Amy Corron Power