We live in a most remarkable area of the country. We have lived in the area for close to 40 years, 30 of which have been in the same home. I am self-employed and Sandy is a public-school teacher; we are fortunate in that we can live anywhere we wish — and we do! We live in the Coastal Bend of Texas—actually the mid-range of the Texas Gulf Coast—pretty much centered between Houston and Brownsville. South of our area are some wonderful places which include Brownsville, South Padre Island, Ports Mansfield and Isabel, the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and the Rio Grande River which is the international border with the country of Mexico. The Rio Grande Valley is one of the most fertile farming areas in the entire USA. There is a wide variety of crops grown in the Valley, but the conditions are very favorable for citrus; in fact, the Valley Citrus Growers Association boasts that there is a larger orange crop harvested by its growers than is harvested in Florida. Not only does the area boast excellent soil, the temperature range is quite good as well. There are a number of experiment-growing section farms in the area sponsored by USDA research, Texas A & M University; several seed companies such as Pioneer, and various Agri firms such as Cargill. In fact the famous 1015 onion was developed there at such an experiment farm located on FM 1015 between Progresso, Mexico, and US Highway 83 from Harlingen and McAllen.
All of it working together each year becomes a most attractive region for older, retired folks from the colder northern regions of the country. This group has proven to be a very resilient market share. Retired teachers, accountants, factory workers, farmers, and others have learned the rules of the road on RVing and come down in droves. Some come in pickup trucks towing bumper pull trainers, other with more modern 5th-wheel trailers with fancy slide outs that add space and comfort, and others come in motor homes—ranging from older and simple to converted aluminum travel buses costing as much as a million dollars.
As the northern weather begins to cool, these northern pilgrims load up and move south in droves like migratory birds. The journey takes days and even weeks for some as they go exploring as the travel down to their preselected parking spot. These are care-free, easy-living couples who have spent their lives working hard at their careers, building their business, raising their families, serving their communities, and working actively in their churches; now, they have reached the place in life to “Go, See, Experience, and Do.” They make many new friends up and down the road and in the “parks” they visit during their travels. These folks, once quite set in their ways, suddenly begin to influence one another and all sorts of new experiences take place. Many of the parks that have been developed to accommodate these travelers have improved significantly over the years and have added things such as club houses complete with kitchens, large and smaller dining rooms, dance floors, music stands for bands, meeting rooms for Bible studies, arts and crafts, other social activities, bath houses, work-out rooms, heated indoor pools, etc. Some of the other parks have remained unchanged and remain a simple place to park for a few months.
These winter visitors are a most interesting and diverse group of people who pretty well reflect and mirror the remainder of society in that some are quite social, active, involved, out and about; while others are something of a recluse—and there are layers in between.
These visitors are known by a variety of names and titles ranging from Winter Texans to a Snowbirds. They are also perceived by the local folks, businesses, Churches, and public facilities in a variety of ways. There is also a pretty wide range of opinions and judgments about them. Of course, the parks developed to serve them look forward to their return and the parks becoming a bee-hive of activity—folks coming and going and having fun. It just screams business success. Other business also look forward to their return—a number of businesses spring up to be support services for this market — including services to service and repair RV’s and vehicles used for towing.
Others don’t have such a high opinion of these visitors. I once had a discussion with a gentleman who opened a cafeteria in the Valley who fell into that group. I remarked that his establishment was obviously a favorite with this group as it was always packed. He grumbled and rolled his eyes and said, “Actually, I wish it wasn’t so! These folks arrive here with a dollar and a can of beans, and they return home with the dollar.” The man and woman come in together, go through the line with one tray, get the special to share, drink water and squeeze 5 slices of lemon in each glass along with five packages of artificial sweeteners. Both with hands full of crackers and other free condiments. They pick up a bottle of pepper sauce, and at the table they pry the lid off and using a knife, fish out every single pepper. When they leave, many of them take everything (including the napkins) out with them.” He went on to comment that the parking lot filled scared more favorable dinners away because of the crowd. He said he saw their business as smoke an’ mirrors.
Demanding a larger crew to serve the foot traffic, but the revenue generated simply not enough to support the payroll expense. He described it as, “Busy, heavy traffic, high expenses, low sales volume, and a customer group that precluded drawing a better market share to the cafeteria.”
Personally, I really like and enjoy these folks and their visit. I teach a Co-Ed 56-and-up Sunday school class at FBC — Rockport, and the class doubles in size between October and April. Some weeks we will have as many as 80 to 100 of these folks visit the class. Many of them hang around and get involved. Some of the class members and I bond and I communicate with some of them throughout the year via texts and emails. I have made many friends in this group. A number of the couple’s reach the place where they physically are no longer able to handle everything involved in the long commute with a large rig, and sell out up north and permanently return here to live out the remainder of their years. They are simply assimilated into our family and we minister to and look after them.
So, by the end of May and most of them have returned home, and we are beginning to get a second wave of visitors — the summer vacationers and fishermen. We encounter them up and down the roads, in the market place, on the beaches, and in the bays. Some of these folks participate in local comings and goings, but for the most part they simply hang around the fringes, but do produce revenue for the lodging, food service, local fishing guides, and retail businesses.
This is a wonderful area; very pleasing to hang out in and even better to permanently call home. If I ever cross over the Harbor Bridge, and gaze out and visually survey the beauty of the bay and Gulf of Mexico and that fails to thrill me to my very soul, I suppose I will be ready to move on. But in all these years, it has never once failed to do that.
Last month Sandy, Chris, Leslie, and I visited Port Mansfield and drove around this quaint little fishing village and were amazed at the white-tail deer that come out of the wild of the world famous King Ranch to graze in the yards and parks of the village every evening. The group was even more amazed as I told them to roll down their windows and hold their hands outside the car as we stopped at intersections. These wild deer would gingerly approach the car and lick our fingers — like in a paid-petting zoo. Not many places like that around!