Texanist south padre island

Can you recommend other Texas beaches that rival the old South Padre Island?

Illustration by Jack Unruh

Q: After eighteen years of exile in California, my wife and I were able to retire and move back home. One of our retirement dreams was to get a condo on South Padre Island—by far the best Texas beach. After visiting recently, we are reconsidering. The SPI that we remembered had a great beach, not one with so much vegetation. Can you recommend other Texas beaches that now rival the old SPI?
Chuck Fox, San Antonio

A: The Texanist, a lifelong beachgoer, has been lucky enough to have spent time on a large variety of coasts. He’s been on the East Coast, the West Coast, multiple Mexican coasts, and coasts across the pond too. The Texanist, it has been rightly said, is a salty man. But as you might have guessed, the majority of his saltiness comes from time spent along Texas’s Gulf Coast, on the “Texas Riviera” in particular, just north of the Mansfield cut and just south of San José Island, at a spot where the Texanist’s family has been visiting since the late sixties. Except for their proximities to the briny deep, none of these sandy places are exactly alike, and the Texanist is here to tell you that even the very same stretch of beach can change in appearance quite dramatically from one visit to the next. That’s the thing about beaches: because of the highs and lows of tidal influence, the sometimes-blustery coastal winds, those ever-shifting sands, and the varying amounts of flotsam, jetsam, washed-up garbage, and smelly-and-unsightly-but-ecologically-healthy seaweed that happen to be present at a particular time, all beaches are in a state of perpetual flux. One day it’s a tropical paradise and the next it’s a nasty-looking, intolerable hell. Unless your last trip happened to have coincided with a rowdy spring break, this phenomenon is probably the source of your divergent South Padre experiences. And, then, the Texanist also wonders if the eighteen years you spent in the Golden State haven’t left your head overly sun-kissed and swimming with visions of those idyllic Annette Funicello and Gidget movies. Whatever the cause, you have misinterpreted the true potential of one of Texas’s most perfectly suitable settings for a beachside retirement condominium. Instead of advising that you give Mustang Island or Galveston Island or Surfside Beach or the Bolivar Peninsula a try, the Texanist will instead suggest that you have another look at South Padre. You seem to have loved it once, and he’s sure that you will once more.

Q: I am just a poor old country boy hailing from New York. However, I did spend two glorious years at Fort Hood, from 1966 to 1968. One of my daughters was even born in Killeen. I have been back to Texas on numerous occasions and have enjoyed the gourmet cooking of such places as Franklin Barbecue, in Austin, and Kreuz’s, Smitty’s, and Black’s, in Lockhart, but my reason for writing has to do with a delicacy called chicken-fried steak. A friend from Lubbock introduced me to it and said that it was steak fried in chicken fat. Hence the name, he said. All these years later and I have never seen a recipe calling for it to be fried in a fowl’s adipose. They always call for lard or shortening or oil. Please don’t tell me that I was fed a “tall Texas tale.”
Joseph Schachner, New City, New York

A: First off, thanks for your service to the country. And thanks, too, for this letter. The Texanist is sensing that you might not be fully satisfied with the veracity of your Lubbock friend’s description of the undeclared state dish of Texas (CFS is an actual official state dish of Oklahoma). Since you asked that the Texanist not tell you that you were fed more than just a chicken-fried steak by your friend, he’ll simply ask you one question.

If the Texanist told you that chicken fingers came from a chicken’s fingers or steak fingers from a cow’s, or that chicken tenders were sourced from a chicken’s tenders, or that drumsticks were breaded-and-fried wooden tools used for the playing of drums, or that calf fries were something other than fried calf testicles, would you believe him?

With that now settled, let the Texanist applaud your restaurant choices on your Texas visits. He has had the pleasure of dining at each of the establishments you mentioned, and he approves. You’ll be happy to know that Franklin’s now has a drive-through with virtually no wait!

Q: My wife of forty-plus years grew up a few miles south of your hometown, down Texas Highway 95. There are two “words” in her lexicon that have amused me often, and I wonder if they are unique to her little hamlet or more widespread: “haint” and “hindcatcher.” The former, I am told, is some sort of spirit or ghost, and the latter was her position in softball. Hoping you can shed some light on these.
Rick Duryea, League City

A: The Texanist is familiar with all the tiny burgs along Highway 95 from Temple south to Taylor, having spent many Saturday nights in some of their SPJST halls during his formative two-stepping years. Also, a Temple-ite can’t get to Louie Mueller Barbecue, in Taylor, without passing through Little River–Academy, Sparks, Holland, Bartlett, Granger, and Circleville. Many of the hardy country folk who hail from these places, Temple included, possess minor quirks in their vocabularies. It’s the Texanist’s experience that the countrier the folk, the quirkier these quirks can be. But neither “hindcatcher” nor “haint” is unique to the patois of even the most rural parts of the Centroplex. “Hindcatcher” is simply old-timey speak for the catcher position (“Next up for the Black Aces of San Antonio, playing hindcatcher, from Eagle Pass, Texas, please welcome future Major League Baseball hall-of-famer Biz Mackey”), and “haint” is indeed a word used to represent spirits or ghosts—by the Gullah people of South Carolina’s Low Country and coastal Georgia! Interestingly, the Southern tradition of painting porch ceilings with that pleasant shade of light blue is also a product of the Gullah, who believed that it warded off just such unwelcome apparitions. It’s known as haint blue. Is your wife Gullah? Or South Carolinian or coastal Georgian? Perhaps you have confused “haint” and “hain’t”? The word “hain’t” is a kind of countrified contraction of “have not” or “has not” (“I hain’t played hindcatcher since high school”) and is sometimes used in place of the slightly less countrified “ain’t.” “Hain’t” would seem to make more sense coming from a woman raised on the outskirts of Temple along Highway 95 but also isn’t a word unique to those parts.

Q: I’m a 27-year-old Fort Worth girl who drives a white Ford F-150. The guy I’ve been seeing since March is also 27 and from Fort Worth, but he drives a black Hyundai Elantra. Although I prefer to take my truck when we go out, our personal automotive choices don’t seem to have had much of a negative effect on the relationship thus far. But I’m concerned that they could. Do you think we really have any kind of future together considering our chosen modes of transportation?  
Name Withheld, Fort Worth

A: Were these the old days, the Texanist wouldn’t have given y’all’s romance a snowball’s chance in Helotes. The young man would have been laughed right out of Cowtown, a victim of vehicular emasculation. Times have changed, though, and it is now just as acceptable for a gal to “wear the pants” automotively speaking as it is for her to wear pants. If you really like this guy, letting him drive occasionally probably wouldn’t be a bad idea—if, that is, you think he’s the kind of man who can handle the likes of the White Stallion.

The Texanist’s Little-Known Fact of the Month: 
On July 24 and 25, 1979, as Tropical Storm Claudette made her way inland, some 43 inches of rain fell on the city of Alvin, setting the 24-hour rainfall record for the entire United States. For comparison’s sake, the upper reaches of the Texanist’s inseam, which currently measures 26 inches, would have been submerged beneath nearly a foot and a half of rainwater.