High Island ordeal: A tale of sand, sweat and half a shovel

Ironically, I took this photo of "Old Red" on the beach not long before the trouble began. Photo by Dave Thomas

Ironically, I took this photo of “Old Red” on the beach not long before the trouble began. Photo by Dave Thomas

On Highway 124, an opportunity presented itself that had eluded me for half a decade. There, on the side of the road was an armadillo on its back, claws reaching for the sky.

And in the back of my truck was an empty can of Lone Star beer.

Littering? I guess, technically. But it seemed like a ritual of consecration at the time. I drove on to the coast, imagining what the next passing driver would think. It was going to be a good day.


A car sits parked along State Highway 87 near the intersection with State Highway 124 in High Island in 2004. This is just about the same spot where I was in 1997. Photo by Scott Eslinger, Beaumont Enterprise.

A car sits parked along State Highway 87 near the intersection with State Highway 124 in High Island in 2004. This is just about the same spot where I was in 1997. Photo by Scott Eslinger, Beaumont Enterprise.

I sat in my lawn chair, shoeless in the surf, just close enough to the shore that my beer cooler wouldn’t float away. I drank Lone Star and watched the mullet* jump. There wasn’t anyone else in sight. (*that would be the fish — I’d given up the hairstyle in ’89)

You could have your sunny summer days, driving up and down Highway 87 along the Bolivar Peninsula, looking for the hot crowd. I liked these fall days at the beach.

My two years in Beaumont was a turbulent time. My 20s were a turbulent time. It was nice to soak my toes and my liver and not worry about anyone hearing me make sound effects for particularly acrobatic mullet leaps.

“Wahoo!”


A few beers in, the weather picked up and the waves started to push around my cooler. I gave the encroaching clouds some consideration and decided to pack it in. The cooler and the chair went into the back of my ’82 Chevy truck and I started it up.

There, on the precipice where responsibility and judgment fall away into the canyon of doom, I decided to just “drive down the beach for a bit.”

I got stuck. Nobody else was there. Damn.


This was 1998. I didn’t have a cell phone. But I did have a broken-handled shovel in the bed of my truck (a repair project in the “aging” stage).

“I’ll be out of here in no time,” I thought. “Old Red” was pointed in the right direction, some 100 yards distant from the entrance to Highway 87 and a few miles south of the town of High Island.

I dug. And I dug and I dug and I dug. I drove forward a few yards. I was stuck again. And I dug and I dug and I dug. 5 yards closer. Stuck again. And I dug and I dug and I dug. A few yards and stuck again.

I was losing sweat by the gallon and gaining ground by the yard. 80 yards to go.


New idea. Find some drift wood. Get it under the tires. Get some traction. A little digging, a little arranging and … 10 yards! Stuck again, but this math will add up. Try again and 5 yards! Try again and … 2 yards. And a few more yards. And … what’s that sound?

The back left tire is flat.


I ain’t a quitter. There’s some 60 yards to go. Rain clouds are rolling in. “Old Red” is sunk deeper than ever. But I’m a man with a shovel in his hand. Well, half a shovel.

Of course the spare tire is under the truck. I dig. And I dig and I dig and I dig and I dig.

I get the spare out. And it’s flat.


At this point I’m seriously considering just burying the truck. Actually, I’m about halfway there already. The wind is blowing threateningly now. I am coated in sweat and enough sand to be a comic book villain.

I drink the last beer and weigh my options.


I have walked almost all of the several miles from the beach to the town of High Island. It’s getting dark. It started raining on me almost as soon as I put foot on Highway 87. I can actually see the convenience store when the first person drives by and offers me a ride.

“No, I got this,” I say. Might as well be stubborn about it.

“C’mon son, that store will be closing any minute. Hop in.”

I’m glad I do. The door is locked but the clerk is still in sight. He frowns at my disheveled and soaked form at the door. I make the phone symbol with my hand and try not to look murderous.


The guy driving the wrecker isn’t pleased to come into the storm for what little cash I had in my wallet. $40 for a tow and a tire inflation and a wet guy in his passenger seat must be hardly worth it.

But it only takes us a few minutes to drive down to where my truck is stranded, now appallingly close to the crashing surf. It’s all but dark. The wind is fierce. He starts to work then pauses to look at me.

I pull out my wallet, reach for the pair of Andrew Jacksons and THERE THEY GO DOWN THE BEACH!

I’m running before I think of it. This night will not end with me fishing for mullet in my truck at dawn. I’m part Chariots of Fire. I’m part Rocky chasing the chicken. I’m part swooping hawk with poor depth perception. I dive on one $20, get a death grip on it and am up again, running.


The guy driving the wrecker has pulled Old Red onto terra firma and aired up the tire by the time I return.

I shield him from the wind and press two crumpled $20s into his hand. He takes a look at me. Wheezing. Dehydrated. Pale. Covered in what little sweat I have left and a fresh coat of sand.

He says “this ain’t your day, is it?”

I got no words. I give him a half-grin that I hope says “it is now” — but probably came across as “I think I’m gonna puke.”

I make the 10 yards to Highway 87, and drive off toward Beaumont.


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