This week’s Southwest Airlines One Square Mile: Texas Sneak Peek takes us to Port Isabel, which is located in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. To visit, simply fly Southwest into Harlingen’s Valley International Airport and Port Isabel is short drive away.
The Rio Grande Valley is the birthplace of many great people who have shaped not only the regional identity of Texas, but have made a national impact as well, including Kris Kristofferson, Tom Landry, and Freddy Fender. Additionally since 1893, the region has grown and cultivatated the most amazing grapefruit.
You can watch the Port Isabel episode of One Square Mile: Texas before it airs on PBS at www.osmtx.com/southwestor watch it onboard courtesy of Southwest’s inflight WiFi!
Here’s more information, and behind the scenes glimpses of One Square Mile: Texas—Port Isabel through the eyes of Michael “Ski” Golembieski, who is part of the One Square Mile: Texas production crew.
It's a long way to the bottom—of Texas. To be exact, for us it was 361 miles.
That's the distance that lies between Austin, where just wrapped filming, and the next location—Port Isabel. It's 3:30 p.m. on May 21, 2013. Summoning our inner “Charge of the Light Brigade,” “Half a league, half a league, half a league onward”—but hopefully with a happier ending—Carl and I begin our descent down into the valley.
We arrive as always beneath the cover of darkness. This square mile wouldn't reveal itself until the following morning where we wake to find Port Isabel to be a humble hard working Gulf coast community. Port Isabel is the last stop before the bridge that carries you to the Texas beach Mecca of South Padre Island.
The tourist and seasonal trades are big business here. Our start-of-the-day drive led us to the police station where we had a meeting with Chief of Police Gualberto "Wally" Gonzalez. The Chief strongly recommended that Officer Ray Brandriff take us on a ride along of both the highways and waterways. Ray is highly personable and seemed to enjoy being in action for us, and gave us insight on what it's like to patrol a seaside border community.
Garriga Elementary served as our educational hub. It's faculty and staff couldn't have been more accommodating, and our visit with them yielded three stories.
Frances Etheridge is a teacher for life. Although she is now retired, she is still the “go to” substitute who happens to live within walking distance of Garriga. If you're 45 or younger in Port Isabel, you've been instructed by Mrs. Etheridge. During our visit, she reflects on the teaching life and changing times.
Myles Carter is a third grader. He's pretty shy, but becoming less so—and he really opens up when he sits down behind a piano. We were happy that we got to see both sides of Myles’ personality.
Jaime Gonzalez, or "J.J." as everyone calls him, is a high school student and a local football hero. He lives with his mom in a house she built herself, and offers his perspective on what it's like coming of age in a beach community. As #21 on the football team, J.J. himself would say "Go Tarpons!".
Joe's Oyster Bar sits about a block off the main drag. It's always busy with locals. It started out as a small convenience store and seafood market. It added a kitchen and has expanded twice since its founding. Owner Joe Castillo gives us an interview and lets us see him and his staff in action. I'm glad we got here before Guy Fieri discovers it. Here's a little inside information when you sit down at a table—the ceviche is top shelf!
Christy Atkinson plays "Ruby the Pirate Queen" aboard the Black Dragon Pirate Ship, which is the biggest attraction in town. A Ringling Bros. veteran, we'll see her and the entire pirate crew at work as she tells us about the performing life on the edge of Texas.
Edward Cuevas, or "EJ" as he's called, was a find. Carl and I were spiraling around the square mile searching for a story connected to the fishing or shrimping industries. We found Cuevas Trawlers, which led us to EJ. His grandfather runs the company and we were able to catch the boats and EJ in between coming and going. He shares his tale of growing up in the shrimping life and watch him do some boat maintenance.
Mary Blount is a member of The First United Methodist Church. They organize and run a great volunteer food pantry. Here, she discusses a fellowship that extends beyond the chapel and into the community itself.
Brad Palermo like his father before him is a taxidermist. The owner of Palermo Taxidermy, he does it all but specializes in aquatic animals—working on many projects for the local universities and museums. We see him practice his craft with his daughter and a few of his students.
Port Isabel was one of the most welcoming places we have filmed. It is a town that seems to be in a constant state of population expansion and contraction—whether from the "snowbirds" or winter Texans, the spring breakers, or the summer renters. We saw it ourselves as the town swelled with Memorial Day weekend traffic.
We left on a Sunday morning, heading north against the natural flow of holiday traffic. It's a long way up from the bottom—539 miles to be exact. That's the mileage back home to Fort Worth. But before getting home to Betsy and the girls, Carl and I had brief filing stops to make in San Antonio and Austin, We all went to bed that night knowing we had eight square miles behind us and one more mile (Dallas) to go.