Port Aransas holds a complicated place in my heart. For one, it’s the first place that my now-wife and I went on vacation together; on the other hand, on that trip I discovered via Facebook the first round of layoffs at my job – I still remained employed then, but the writing was on the wall, even though I couldn’t read it.
So, it was with some trepidation that we returned to PA in October 2016. Much had changed. We were now married, and on this trip we were accompanied by my Youngest Child plus our pug-faced fur monster. I had a new job and things felt so much more solid.
Youngest Child had his learner’s permit and was keen on taking the wheel at some point in the journey (but would not). I had an adult’s license and would be happy to sit reading in the passenger seat all the way there and all the way home.
I’d left the choice of accommodation to my wife – she’s a world-class organizer and knows where to look and what to look for. In our life’s movie, she’s pretty much the director and I’m one of the producers. And there is only one star.
In my experience, seaside towns share one thing in common: they’re all a little shabby. I admit I’m not working from a large data set here – maybe four or five places – but they all have that slightly worn look, with flaking paint, rotting woodwork, and more than an average number of signs missing a letter. Or two. And not in a way that makes a new, funnier sentence. Just enough to make the whole strip look poorly maintained, discarded, and depressing.
PA fits the bill perfectly. It’s a place that looks great when the sun shines – which, as it’s Texas, is most of the time – or at night when the neon seeps onto the streets and the shabbier corners sink into the shadows.
But it doesn’t take much of an effort to see the peeling paint, the crumbling woodwork, worn down by years of salty sea air, and nature fighting back with all her worth.
We ate out most of the time, and PA offers a range of options for the discerning (or not) diner.
In one mid-range place, John Henry (usually the most genial of guests) was unusually grumpy and unfriendly to the waitress. He stayed under the table, occasionally barking off into the distance. We were confused.
We were less confused when, as the meal came to a close, I noticed a small, dark shadow scurrying in a corner. JH noticed it too, and we both (in our way) barked it out: RAT!
Wife and child turned to look and – because it was far enough away – we were all fascinated by the little furry vermin as it scuttled. We told the waitress, to reassure her that our little fluffy love bug didn’t in fact hate her and had instead been distressed by a disease-ridden rodent the whole time, and she freaked.
Soon, what seemed like the whole of the front-of-house staff were outside, on the hunt. We didn’t see the rat again. Apparently, the attention was not something it wanted to encourage, so it decided to dine elsewhere.
The most disappointing aspect of the whole thing was not getting at least something comped on our bill for JH’s fine observational skills. Sometimes I doubt the legends of American customer service.
But mostly, the food was fine, and we spent the days either walking on the beach (mornings and evenings) or relaxing in the shade (the rest of the time). The beach is long and wide, and watching a much-loved four-legged family member bounce around in the waves was worth whatever else we had to put up with on the trip.
For John Henry, one of the most difficult aspects of the trip were the tiny traps nature left in the grass for him. My wife calls them “stickers” – tiny, razor-sharp balls that grow, almost undetectable, in the grassy areas. Time and again, JH would go for a wander and stop short, one or more paws held high in the air. We would lift him up and closely inspect the dark valleys of his little feet to locate and then gently remove these little needle-covered plant landmines.
He started avoiding grassy areas all together while we were there – and even now, back at home, if he doesn’t know the strip of grass we lead him to, he will not risk it.
Vacations leave scars. And not all of them are on the outside.
After growing up very near a beach, I think I’m done with seaside vacations now. At least for a while. I want to head inland. See the rest of this weird and wonderful country that’s now my home: road trips, grand train journeys, cruises along the coastline. There’s so much to see…and so few vacation days to use to see them!