texasmonthly.com: “The Comeback Coast” was the June 2004 cover story. What makes the beaches of Texas cover-worthy, especially a second time?
Suzy Banks: “The Comeback Coast” was originally conceived as a complete blowout of the entire coast, every little nook and eddy, every activity within the coastal region from canoeing up the bayous to where to get the best boiled shrimp. Ultimately, as is sometimes the case in the magazine world, that Babe the Blue Ox—sized concept was reduced to a bullion cube by the time it hit the pages. The upshot was that only the major tourist areas on the coast—Galveston, Corpus Christi—Port Aransas, and South Padre—were covered in any detail, so there were miles of coastline ignored in the end. So, I was hoping to shed some light on those lesser-known spots with this beaches piece, even though the scope of it is much more focused. (No inland excursions. All beaches, all the time.)
texasmonthly.com: As a writer-at-large, did you pitch the story or did Texas Monthly contact you? When did you learn this would be the cover story for June?
SB: Don’t tell anyone, but I didn’t want to do this story. Editor Evan Smith, the Wizard of Persuasion, however, worked his spell on me. I remember the moment well: I was trying to walk up to my mailbox (I live in the pseudo-country) during that big ice storm in January. I hadn’t left the house in four days, and I was carrying my cell phone with me in case I fell and broke my leg on the ice. The phone rang, and it was Evan talking beaches. He just kept talking until he talked me into it. And I’m glad he did. He told me right up-front it would be a cover.
texasmonthly.com: How did you choose the various beaches you visited and ultimately included in this piece?
SB: I wanted the locations scattered along the coast, and I wanted to find a variety of activities and atmospheres, from lazy and hyper to isolated and humanity-packed.
texasmonthly.com: From Galveston to South Padre, you covered a lot of sand. What was your route, and how long did it take to complete it?
SB: I just poked away at it over about a month or two. I had a lot of information already, thanks not only to the “Comeback Coast” article but also from working on other travel stories over the years, like my Go column on Bolivar Peninsula and the state parks piece I helped with. I really liked checking out places I’d never been before, such as Baffin Bay and the new LCRA Matagorda Bay Nature Park.
texasmonthly.com: When writing a travel story like this one, do you keep a journal? What’s your reporting process?
SB: Hmm, a journal. Now there’s an idea. But then I would be organized and that would be too much of a shock. I do take a lot of notes that I sometimes have a hard time reading. Al Gore is gonna be mad at me, but I also collect reams of brochures and flyers and a tourist magazine. (He’s probably already mad at me for the number of miles I drive to cover a story like this, but would you please tell him I do have a Prius at least?) I take photos to jog my memory about certain details. And I typically put my imagination through the ringer. On this article, for instance, I was doing my research during the winter. So most of the time, I was standing on the beach, trying to pretend I wasn’t wrapped in a parka, the only idiot out and about for miles around, staring at the wind-whipped sea and imagining sun and bikinis.
texasmonthly.com: Texas beaches offer choices, from strolling to surfing. With so much variety, how did you decide what you wanted to do?
SB: Sandcastle building and other sand sculpture is becoming increasingly sophisticated, and organized competitions are the trend.
texasmonthly.com: What’s a tip you learned that might improve our next castle?
SB: Don’t pack the sand into some container and then overturn it. Instead, make a thick soup of sand and water (in a bucket or by digging a hole in the beach down to the water level) and scoop out handfuls of sand, stacking the handfuls one on top of another until you build several lumpy towers that look like stalagmites. Then start carving on them with a spoon or plastic fork or shell.
texasmonthly.com: What’s something—a great experience or more detail—you would have included in the story if you’d had more space?
SB: I was driving down one of the residential streets in Fulton and looked up to see a flock of maybe fifty big birds perched on a utility line. I say perched, but they weren’t doing a very good job of it. When I looked through my binoculars, I was stunned to see that they were black-bellied whistling ducks. Now, think about a duck’s feet. Not exactly designed to grip a wire. So these bird were rocking back and forth trying to keep their balance, teetering like novice tight-rope walkers. I couldn’t figure out why they would attempt this strange feat, until a man walked out of a nearby house and spread a bucket of corn on the ground. I don’t know if they were sitting on the wire because he brought them corn or he brought them corn because they were sitting on the wire, but it was hilarious in either case. (I have photos to prove this if anyone doubts my sanity.)