South Padre Island is a narrow strip of beach seated in the Gulf of Mexico. It is known for its sea turtle rehabilitation efforts, the Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark, and the fact that it is a popular spring break destination for college students.
The Island is around thirty minutes away from me. The Rio Grande Valley braces itself for the hordes of college age kids that do wonders for commerce, but leave the beaches piled high with empty beer cans and enough plastic to keep the turtle rehabilitators in business. The Island brags of hosting a nonstop party that lasts the whole week. The kids drive in carloads across the Queen Isabella Causeway then proceed to post pictures of “paradise” on their Instagrams, using filters to make the beaches seem a bit less grungy.
I made the mistake of going to the beach for the day with my friend, Lily and her family in the seventh grade. The traffic was heavy enough that her father was forced to remain in the lane that brought us to the thick of things. The volume of traffic was great enough that we were moving at a snail’s pace. We drove between rows of condominiums. The whole lane was crawling with bikini-clad girls and shirtless boys. It was a great deal to take in at the age of twelve. They hung over balconies with red solo cups in their hands, yelling at cars passing below. They sat out in the sunshine, wrapped up in each other. They danced drunkenly through the streets.
“It’s 10 am,” Lily’s father said through gritted teeth. He honked the car horn at the stagnant traffic. College students cheered at the noise. The damage was done. We had seen the garden of earthly delight that was South Padre Island during Texas Week.
In high school, the classes leading up to Texas Week were flooded with warnings from our teachers.
“Ladies, I heard a rumor that people at the Island will give you free plastic beads if you flash them. Don’t do that! Is that all you are worth? Twenty-five cents?”
“Nah miss. Those can be worth up to five dollars.”
The worries of our teachers were justified. That is not to say the teachers did not appreciate the benefits of our location. My sister’s AP US History teacher walked in and proudly announced to the class, “I saw Post Malone at HEB at five in the morning. At first, I thought it was just a very dirty man, but it was him!”
While Texas Week is overwhelming, the party tapers out. Locals are left with plenty of beach space, and warm temperatures that can be enjoyed the other fifty-one weeks of the year. There are enough tourists and Winter Texans to keep the whole operation running until the next March. My friends and I were able to incorporate enjoy the sun and sand into our social lives, preventing us from only getting together on the basis of Monopoly tournaments and horror movie critiquing sessions.
Before living near the Island, I lived in a desert. Whenever we traveled somewhere that was near a beach, my mom would take my sisters and me to the shore. She would instruct us to close our eyes and listen to the sound of the waves breaking. She wanted us to remember the noise because it was uncertain when we would get the opportunity to hear it again.