The could-have-been narrative was nothing less than irresistible. A monster hurricane, one of the most powerful storms ever measured, appeared on course last week to obliterate this island city whose claim to fame is having been obliterated 105 years ago by a monster hurricane.
Singled out by the ghoulish calculus of news, Galveston -- where 6,000 to 10,000 people were swept to watery deaths in the worst natural disaster in U.S. history -- became, for a few tremulous days, the center of the universe.
Familiar pre-hurricane story lines fell into place. A tough but kindly mayor, her voice raw with exhaustion, pleaded with residents to get out (and nearly all of them did). A local surfer dude, Keith Bailey, rode the wild pre-storm waves on Friday and pronounced them "killer." Frail but grumpy Helena Avery, 79, sat smoking on her porch not far from the ocean, declining entreaties to flee, telling police that she was ready to go down with Hurricane Rita.
Rita, of course, weakened, changed course and visited its wrath well east of here, obliterating not Galveston but the irresistible narrative of its second catastrophic demise.
And so on Sunday, this town of 57,000 joined the 4.8 million residents of greater Houston in the deeply satisfying experience of not being part of a good story. For all the punishment that Rita handed out in Beaumont, Port Arthur, Lake Charles and other points northeast of metropolitan Houston, Rita will be remembered by most of the people who live along the Gulf Coast as a near miss.
Eight months pregnant and holding the hand of her 4-year-old son, Farrah Sedeghi strolled on Sunday afternoon along Seawall Boulevard, where last week scores of satellite-equipped television trucks had delivered well-coifed men and women with microphones and rubber boots.
Standing in the surf, they had intoned about the potential for symmetrical historical catastrophes and sedulously explained how unspeakably bad it could get here. Sedeghi, 31, had watched them on TV and fled with her family for three days of exile in the far western suburbs of Houston.
Like many of the estimated 2.5 million Gulf Coast residents who evacuated the Houston area before Rita, Sedeghi and her family were motivated to flee by having obsessively watched media coverage of Hurricane Katrina: poor and elderly people trapped, homes flooded, mildew growing on beloved photographs like slimy green cancer.
Those images, though, lost their fearful power on this wonderfully uneventful Sunday. Sedeghi returned home to find cold milk in the refrigerator and no damage anywhere.
"Nothing happened," she said. "It is now normal life."
Even along Seawall Boulevard, where severe damage had been expected, the huffing of Rita had not accomplished much. An awning or two was knocked down, but much of the city's beachfront tourist kitsch was still in place. A statue of Neptune holding his trident above a miniature golf course still stood, and several plastic sharks continued to poke their toothy snouts out of signboards for fish-and-chips joints.
The surf was up, but it attracted a decidedly more cautious breed of surfer dude.
"Look, I am here now because it is safe," said John Jones, 48, a senior environmental scientist who works for Conoco-Phillips, the multinational petrochemical giant. "My wife is with me, and I am not stupid. The waves are not as good as they were before the storm, but it is legal."
Galveston sprang back to life Sunday, thanks to Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas. She ordered that the bridge controlling vehicle access to Galveston be opened to evacuees on Sunday morning at 6.
In making the order, she appeared to ignore the pleas of Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Houston Mayor Bill White, who are asking Houston area residents to stagger their return home to avoid a repeat of the colossal traffic jam that stalled last week's pre-Rita evacuation. Thomas and other city officials told reporters that they were letting people back in because they did not want them going through the torment they endured getting out.
The post-hurricane joy of returning to a house that is not flattened or flooded does not photograph well, but several of those who experienced it here on Sunday said it was among the finest feelings in their lives.
"To be honest with you, I thought I would come back to rubble," said Roger R. Quiroga, a former mayor of Galveston who evacuated to Fort Worth at 4 a.m. Wednesday with 11 members of his family. "I thought that when we got back here, there would just be misery."
Quiroga said that everyone who grows up in Galveston lives with the fear of another great hurricane like the one in 1900 that washed away what was then Texas's busiest and most prosperous port city. That storm prompted the construction of a major ship canal to Houston and ended Galveston's standing as an important place in Texas.
One of the most-interviewed people who did not flee Galveston was Helena Avery, the woman who sat on her porch last week and kept saying no.
On Sunday afternoon, she was still there, still smoking and still grumpy. She was willing, though, to note that she had been right: Rita was not worth running from.
"It is all over now," she said. "I'm sitting here waiting for the next one."