Even though the Gulf is America’s “poor man’s Riviera” in the view of many, its history with our country goes back to revolutionary times and beyond.
Having spent time down there on many occasions, not just on beaches and playing in the surf and getting stung by Gulf jellyfish but with folks that live and work there, and having seen the Gulf from the harbors, the lanes, the shallow and the deep waters, and having fished out in the depths and seined along the edges, I have a fondness for its odd mix of beauty and industry, diversity of people, and the persistence of small communities strung for miles and states along that coast where people work hard and live simply even in the best of times, and get devastated by hurricanes in what we thought was the worst of times. Until now.
The loss of eleven men by what appears to be largely simple cost-cutting measures and lax safety practices is arguably the worst aspect of this. And of course the pictures we see on the news and the complex economic dilemma it has created (reduce drilling and there’s another economic impact versus continue drilling and risk even more disasters) are unsettling and worrisome. Not to mention no one is really talking about how to get rid of all that oil that is underneath the water and out of sight of news crews and aerial photographers, broken into millions of tiny globules by carcinogenic dispersants used heavily and early to get it off the surface of the water and out of sight – out of sight and out of mind, except it isn’t really. And as the very real threat of hurricanes grows daily, just the thought of all that cancer-causing machinery-gumming life-suffocating drinking-water-tainting oil-water lifted out of the Gulf and spread across who-knows-where-all is like a dark movement of the subconscious we’d rather not have to experience right now, even in the abstract.
So, yes, I know it’s depressing and heartbreaking for some, political fodder for others, and a living tragedy for many, but I can’t help but think of the times and people in my life that I associate with the Gulf coast life and culture and my own experiences there. It is a vibrant and colorful mix of saltwater and sand and poverty and money and simple living and oil and fish and sea and humidity and heat and glitz and tourists and weathered deck hands missing fingers over droning diesel engines and heavy exhaust and cut-off shorts and flip-flops in grocery stores and families in fancy restaurants and industry and palm trees and rust and corrosion and surf, barrier islands, passes to the sea and watercraft everywhere and fishing, fishing, and more fishing!
At the turn of the previous century, my great grandfather decided to split away from the rest of the clan up north and on who knows what whim took his family south, down through the Great Plains, down through all of Texas, all the way to a small port town on the Gulf named Palacios, where amongst other endeavors he ran a small movie house and an ice house before they moved into the interior to work the oil fields, teach school, sell groceries, run cafes, fix things, build things, grow things, and of course always finding ways to fish in the Gulf.
I wonder what he envisioned standing in the sand on the beach with the ocean breeze in his face in 1908, looking out to sea at the most beautiful sunset he’d ever seen and a moon as big as a huge planet hanging in the saltwater haze.