Houston Strong Mural, Houston

Something easily forgotten as an adult is buoyancy. When we are children, we frequently bathe in tubs, feeling our digits “prune” below the surface of the water that surrounds us. As adults, we shower, utilizing the hot water sparingly as the resource that it is. Bathing in tubs inevitably has a tendency to be contemplative juxtaposed to the efficiency of a quick shower. Time in a tub seemingly slows the world arounds us as we burrow into our thoughts and rinse off the elements that meet our skin in various environments. It’s our natural buoyancy that causes us to float. Maybe not more than that of a few centimeters from the bottom of the tub, but it’s floating nonetheless. Letting go of the things that weigh us down and reaching a different stature, even momentarily.

This week’s boombox stop is a special one for me in that it’s been nearly 2 years since Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. While I won’t say that Harvey was the only reason I wanted to start the blog, it was a large motivating factor. I watched along as fellow Houstonians lost their homes and businesses, working to escape the rising waters of a natural disaster arriving at our doors. The city I grew up in and watched change in so many ways already from my perspective as a child into an adult was further about to have a drastic renovation. I was lucky that my first floor apartment nor car flooded, though it was a very close call as I evacuated on a National Guard convoy truck, hoping that the over 2 feet of water I would wade through was all that would arrive.

And alas, here we find ourselves. This month marks 2 years since Harvey struck the Houston area, among many other surrounding communities. Ahead of the storm, I didn’t have too much concern because I grew up in the area and had a general idea of hurricane routine precautions. Thankfully, there is a general standard ahead of hurricane season to cue preparedness each year. I thought that this storm was, at it’s worst, going to flood the streets around the apartment for a couple of days and that I would lose maybe a couple of otherwise unused vacation days.

I was fortunate that I had a fridge and pantry full of food. I do remember listening to the radio and hearing about other pre-hurricane prep around the city; the plywood flying off the shelves at hardware stores, the empty bread shelves at the supermarkets. All of which visually illicit drastic emotional response when displayed. Thinking that this might be a little more serious that I immediately planned, I stopped by a Spec’s for a beer run and Lowe’s for a case of water as I shopped for something else around the apartment that needed replacement. Lowe’s had cases of water, but they were charging something like $3 for bottles individually within the case. So, this normally $8 case of water was fetching $30. It was outrageous, but in a moment of buying into the hype and frenzy of the storm, I purchased the overpriced case, gritting my teeth as I inserted my card into the chip reader. I felt like I was being price gouged, but options felt limited.
The Connor Mcgregor/ Floyd Mayweather fight was supposed to air the night the storm rolled in. I don’t have a cable box, but was trying to keep tabs on the fight online as I heard the rain pour down overnight. In hindsight, I am glad that I didn’t spend the money on the Pay Per View, as I heard people in the area lost that signal as the storm rolled in.

The storm was unique in that it basically sat over the city and continually poured and poured rain. My level of preparation was obviously underestimated upon the storm’s arrival. Still, I was able to improvise as in the following days I saw the water level climb and climb near my home, though thankfully never entering my first floor residence. The complex that I rent from did take on water at parts of the property, as it sits on the far West side of the Addicks Reservoir. The property boasts of lakes on the opposite end of the complex from where I reside. At the time of the storm, I kept thinking about how much that felt like an insult to injury for anyone who was losing their possessions and/or livelihoods.
The water steadily kept rising. The power stayed on through the storm, so my eyes were glued to the television stations reporting on up to the minute details of other areas more greatly affected. The water continued to rise. There was a fire hydrant outside of the gate near the back side of where my apartment faced. I watched as there was a metal chain that hung down from one of the hydrant arms. It was a good gauge of the progression of the water between small amounts of sleep I would force upon myself. The television with the same content day after day and reports of controlled releases of water from the reservoirs bounced around my brain. I paced along the stairs covered by a hallway overhang when I needed a bit of fresh air, or even on one night, the nicotine of a cigar to help calm my nerves. The water continued to rise.

I was able to walk around the property in a rain jacket for a couple of neighbors in other buildings who evacuated early and let them know whether or not their homes or vehicles had been affected. Thankfully, for those who reached out, I didn’t have heartbreaking news to report.

I remember the air of melancholy that after watching so much news, feeling trapped inside of my home, trying to have a sense of humor or positivity about things even in the devastation that others were experiencing I was overwhelmed. Added to that was finding out from the Renter’s Insurance that due to a technicality in their mailing error, that in the event that anything were to happen to my first floor apartment, I was subject to a lapse that would not afford coverage during a blackout or freeze period for changes to a policy.

I felt powerless, hopeless and had a bit of cabin fever trying to find a way out. Out of the apartment. Out of town. Mainly just out of my own head about what was occurring and what could occur. Professionally, I work in risk management, but none of that was calming to me in trying to think through something that knew no logic, rhyme nor reason.

I was graced with rescue offers from friends and strangers alike trying to evacuate the area. One of my coworkers who I usually joke around with at the office offered me a place to stay at his home if I were to get to a safe place that he could pick me up at. I, errantly, did not have his number saved in my contacts, so when I texted who I thought was another safe ride closer to family I also found my coworker filling up his car at a nearby gas station as I exited a National Guard Vehicle.

The family who helped to rally a ride from Katy to the Heights were sending ideas about boat owners who were taxi’ing residents from one side of the flooded levee to safety. They ultimately were able to pick me up and bring me to the Heights where I stayed with a friend turned girlfriend (not wholly because of the storm, but the time spent together during the event discussing topics other than the storm probably didn’t hurt) before I moved to an air mattress at my Mother’s for a few more days of extended city flood water drainage. I want to make sure that I reserve special thanks for Joe, Adolf Hoepfl & Son’s Garage (now The Liberty Hoepfl Garage), Cathy and Caitlin. Inexplicably, you helped shape getting through the storm.

What to bring with you when you are scared of losing everything is a very real question. I prepared a gym bag and a backpack, that in may ways had things I would need (clothes, toiletries, important documents, chargers and my laptop) as well as things that I for sure did not. I now know the ways that overthinking can lead to But, when The National Guard says that they won’t be coming back after the next run of evacuations, somehow a 12 pack of Shiner Bock seemed real important. (Thanks, Spec’s run!) I didn’t actually do a lot of drinking during that time, because I wanted to both stay very alert as well as feeling like a natural depressant probably wasn’t a good idea. As we rolled out on the back of an uncovered guard truck, I wanted to document my reaction. It’s not my favorite moment, but it was something that felt like progress from staying in the apartment.

We all watched as Houston started to recover. From the media coverage of the boats and furniture company trucks filled with evacuated residents, to the lines of volunteers willing to give of their time at the George R. Brown Convention Center. We saw J.J. Watt lead a charity donation campaign that has in many ways been unmatched. We bought items with the phrase “Houston Strong” and found ways to reinvest in local businesses. The water stopped rising all around us, and the path to rebuilding began for many.

I did not know as I evacuated whether I was going to have to start all over again. It took multiple attempts to even get clearance to return to my apartment. When I was able to return, I bawled like a baby. Thankfully, nothing was affected by the water, but this journey, which had me out of my home for no less than a week was at least coming to an end. I didn’t know what normal was supposed to look like anymore, but I had a feeling that sleeping in my own bed was a start and that felt good enough for me in that moment.

Houston and New Orleans share a common bond in the way that we understand Gulf Coast hurricanes. Maybe we see eye to eye as cities constantly flirting at being around sea level. Statistically, New Orleans measures approximately 1 foot below to Downtown Houston’s projected 50 feet above. But when the storms hit our flat and dry land, that water rises without prejudice of race, religion, gender nor language.

I was still in The Texas Hill Country when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, but I watched as New Orleans natives were forced out of their storm torn homes and evacuated to various locations including Houston. Katrina brought about a pivotal time in the history of New Orleans, as Harvey did for Houston. From the tragedy of Katrina was also born an amazing drama series on HBO by the name of “Treme”. The show portrayed stories of rebuilding after a major storm across the lives of a diverse cast.

On the show Treme, Steve Earle made an appearance as a pretty formidable character (more than just a cameo), and “This City” was presented. The track written about New Orleans was included in full on his album “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive”. From the moment I heard it, I felt that unity between cities who have seen these Gulf Storms.

Not long after Houston started to rebuild, I noticed this wonderful @NickyDavis mural on the side of a local bar on Waugh. I feel a sense of pride having made it through Harvey’s record watershed. In a weird way, this ended up being something that marks a “real Houstonian” type of bucket list item for me. About a year after the storm, I reached out for a commission spray paint can from Nicky. He was gracious enough to create something wonderful to cherish.

Something that transports me, even today from where I may currently exist to somewhere new every time. And after nearly two years of figuring what to say about the experience or what to share so that I can appreciate where I have come from since August of 2017, I have arrived to say that I am reminded of buoyant weightlessness of sitting in a drawn bathtub. Cleansed of the environmental elements that might have once sunk into me. Floating peacefully with the benefit of time and distance from that which once weighed heavily.

“This city won’t wash away. This city won’t ever drown.”

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