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Archive for September, 2017

It’s 10am on Friday, September 1st.  I should be teaching in my third grade classroom right about now, but instead I’m at home for the 7th straight day thanks to Harvey’s interference, and to be honest, I only know what day it is because I changed my kitchen calendar this morning.   This time last week, I was trying to finish up my classroom prep in anticipation of our scheduled first day the following Monday.   That seems like eons ago, with the start of school now delayed til September 8th for teachers, and September 11th for students.

South Texas and the Gulf Coast is currently devastated.  When Harvey’s eye slammed into Corpus Christi last Friday morning,  Rockport and Port Aransas were flattened at the same time.  Aransas ISD announced that they have closed indefinitely.  To the east of us, as the bands of Harvey slowly moved out of Houston, and in range of the Golden Triangle, the town of Beaumont’s water supply was turned off, and parts of Port Arthur and Orange are unrecognizable with storm-strewn debris lining the streets and waterlogged homes.   North and west of us, the Brazos River is still cresting and has not peaked, so those towns in the path and already inundated are taking on more water.  In my adopted hometown of HoUSton, the destruction is indiscriminate.  Communities less than a mile from each other are alternately safe or completely under water.   35 HISD schools are flooded or have water damage.   Beltway 8 is a river south of Memorial Drive.  Gessner road is still flooding as the Addicks Reservoir and Barker Dam operate under a controlled release, and a voluntary evacuation order was issued yesterday for families in that area with already-flooded homes.

In our little corner of the city, we are definitely the lucky ones.   We didn’t lose power, and although the drainage ditch behind our house rose within a few inches of the top on Monday and Tuesday, it did not overflow.    We had foot-high water at the end of our street but that was as far as it got.   This wasn’t my first rodeo hurricane, but it was the first time since Ike in 2008 that I felt completely at the mercy of Mother Nature.   Friends we’ve known since my daughter was in preschool evacuated their homes by boat, and have no idea what they will find when they are able to return, which could be weeks, not days.   Another friend’s mother-in-law was winched out of her neighborhood by helicopter.   Neighbors waded through chest high water to rescue others, and have extended family, or strangers staying in their homes.   Other communities who had very little to begin with, find themselves rehoused in shelters across the area, wearing only the clothes on their backs, with their beloved pets lodged or crated elsewhere.   First responders are working 48-hour shifts, staying in high schools abc furniture stores with organized meal trains delivering food and water.  The reports and footage from our 367-mile Texas coastline are, quite simply, jaw-dropping. This sobering collection of satellite before/after images only tell part of the story.

http://www.chron.com/news/houston-weather/hurricaneharvey/article/Before-and-after-photos-Harvey-Houston-12165244.php

I first fell in love with Texas and its people in 1991.  Newly-arrived from the UK, I was sent to Atlanta with half a dozen hapless twenty-somethings to beef up sales in the offices of an educational travel company for which we all worked as tour guides in Britain and Europe.  The student travel business was down, following panic after the recent spate of European bomb threats earlier that year, and the company owners had recruited a bunch of Brits to help out in their stateside offices for three months after our touring season was over.    After a week of training and getting to know the routines, our female and formidable chain-smoking-Southern-belle boss weighed us all up along with our personalities, and announced that she was assigning me to Texas, because the state had a “straight-up, no-nonsense attitude” that would suit me just fine.   She was spot on.   I had a blast talking on the phone with my new clients, and while my all y’all didn’t get added to my vocabulary until I moved to Houston years later, I got plenty of the “I just lerve your acc-sent” comments, and doubled trip sales in the state I’d been assigned. That November, I was sent to the annual language teachers conference to put names to faces and develop client relationships further.  The conference was held at the convention center in San Antonio, walking distance from the Alamo.   My first taste of Texas was an assault on the senses: strolling along the River Walk there were restaurants of all ilk offering tacos, margaritas, queso, salsa, mesquite barbecue pulled pork; mariachi and country music playing from adjacent pubs; while guided pontoon boats cruised the slow flowing waters under the bridges.   It was a mini-Venice, Texas-style.

In 1999, after working continuously for the same educational company in Atlanta, and Boston, and then living for 18 months in Paris, I was given the opportunity to open an office in Texas.    Even as my role with the company had changed and evolved, and I’d moved cities, I had kept a beady eye on my former sales territory, and felt quite possessive of the teachers who had chosen to travel with us from the Lone Star state.  I jumped at the chance to relocate, and chose Houston – because I had one friend there  – another English lass from my high school in Bolton – and because it was an airline hub city for Continental (with whom I already had lots of air miles) and I knew I would be traveling quite a bit around Texas, and overseas.   I moved to Houston in January 2000, found an apartment, and began setting up my new office in a nearby high rise.  My one friend in the city introduced me to a happy hour group who met every Thursday at a different watering hole: we were mostly transplanted thirty-somethings from elsewhere, who had landed in Houston for various job reasons and decided to stay.    18 months later, I had a thriving social life, two enthusiastic employees, and our office was rocking the sales for Texas and the other states we had been assigned.

At that point, I still hadn’t committed myself to living permanently in Houston, but after 9/11, I realized that nothing was guaranteed – I had a good life in my adopted city and decided to buy a house here.   There followed a green card, husband (himself a transplanted St. Louisian), and daughter (born in Houston), and eventually, dual citizenship  – finally able to vote again, after enduring years of taxation without representation (insert tea jokes here).    I made new married friends thanks to my daughter’s schools and our church, and we lived our lives, cheering for the Astros, Texans, and Rockets; enjoying local restaurants; and traveling to see family now and again.  Up until marriage and a baby, I saw Houston as a lesser-populated Los Angeles: a sprawling city without a true heart, made up of a transient diverse population, who had ended up there and just decided to stay.   True that I also found it one of the friendliest cities I’d ever lived in, right behind Sydney in that regard – but certainly not very attractive, with spaghetti-junction freeways and an over-abundance of strip centers lining treeless four-lane boulevards.   In contrast, I loved that our neighborhood was so accessible to the cultural center downtown, with its world-class theatres and opera, as well the museums and science center in the Rice University area, and myriad diverse neighborhood restaurants.

After our daughter was born, and through preschool and grade school, I have realized that Houston is, in fact, just a big small town: diverse pockets of nationalities with families who had been here for years next door to new neighbors who spoke a different language; public schools who had seen generations of children pass through their grade levels; a town where cowboy hats were not de rigeur on a daily basis but came out as part of full hats-and-boots regalia during our annual February rodeo; a city noted for its philanthropy, and its friendliness, y’all; the latter two so much so, that after Hurricane Katrina devastated NoLa and southern Louisiana, it’s estimated that almost 150,000 of the quarter million people evacuated to Houston, remained here.

And now here we are – the city that rescued Katrina, now needs to be rescued post-Harvey.   Those of us who have truly been spared the worst, and those who have not, have all come together as one.   To the drysplainers who don’t live here, say Tex-ass got what it deserved, and keep pontificating that we should have evacuated  – shut up for f*&%’s sake.  We just had a category 4 hurricane hit our 367-mile coastline and park itself on top of the 4th largest city in the US for 5 days, before looping out to sea and coming back in for another landfall as a severe tropical storm with tornadoes, high winds, and more rain.   There are close to SEVEN MILLION of us in Houston.  You tell me how to safely evacuate that many people without stranding them on freeways for hours on the dirty side of the storm – remember Hurricane Rita, anyone?   We have had enough rain to keep Niagara Falls going for 15 days, and to cover the entire lower 48 states in a couple of inches of water.  That’s the ENTIRE lower 48, people.

Recently Texas has been a bit of a laughing stock for other  – and yes, blue-er parts of the country – our legislature seems to be obsessed with special sessions pushing an agenda of private school vouchers, permit-less open carry, and who-pees-where laws in public and school bathrooms.  Those who know me well, are very aware that I am no fan of our governor or legislature (except for Speaker Joe Straus and let’s give three cheers for him), nor of our two state Senators (who by the way voted against Hurricane relief for the NJ coast after Sandy), and I’m definitely not a cheerleader for the current WH occupant or his administration either.   Socially responsible yet fiscally conservative is how I’ve always described myself – but the vehemence of my frustration at the widening divisions in this country I love – coming on the heels of the Brexit vote – along with the 4am tweets from the toilet, and the tin foil comments from MAGA hat wearing supporters, just about sent me over the edge.  I’ve been unfollowed on social media by dear friends who quite frankly got fed up with my post-November and suddenly very political pontifications from my Facebook pulpit.  Which is too bad, because the only way we can come together and end this division is to start listening to each other.   It’s a measure of how selfish and self-absorbed our society has become, when it takes an overwhelming tragedy like this to shut us all up and show us what truly matters – and it’s not color, race, sex, or creed.

The tragedies unfolding  around the world and watched by Houstonians on national television – whether terrorist-driven or because of Mother Nature: Oklahoma City, New York, London, Paris, Boston, Sandy Hook, Nice, Charleston, Manchester – often seemed worlds away and endless – but as we are hit at home, I have never been so proud to be Houston and Texas Strong as I have this week.  When our own tragedy struck, we didn’t wait.  We rolled up our sleeves, pulled on our big girl pants and cowboy boots, and got on with it.  We are big.  We have enough room in our state and are hearts for everyone, y’all.

I was thinking the other day about my favourite quotes from Le Petit Prince: “Voici mon secret,  Il est tres simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur.  L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” 

We have seen a lot of heart in the past week. Random requests for boats and kayaks on the other side of town are answered via email and text; friends are housing strangers who have lost their homes; families trapped on their roofs are being rescued by helicopters, which fly overhead constantly.  The National Guard has traveled from other states near and far to relieve local first responders pulling 48-hour shifts.  Our neighborhood YMCA even became a makeshift donation center for needed items as shelters were filled with the tired, the wet, and the hungry – both people and animals; vast makeshift shelters at the convention center and local churches have been overwhelmed with donations and volunteers, and yesterday visits from the Houston Astros on their day off.   The mayor and other city officials are constantly updating us with flood, evacuation, and shelter information, and Harris County Flood Control District meteorologist Jeff Lindner and his ASL translator have become local celebrities.

The other day, I was walking with my family and a neighbor and her son, along a main road, quite simply just to get some fresh air after being cooped up inside because of the endless rain.   A Metro bus pulled up alongside us and the driver asked us if we needed a ride somewhere.  Admittedly, my friend’s son was still wearing his pajamas, but we hadn’t showered in a few days either and probably looked like a motley collection of ragamuffins who needed help.  The driver’s simple act was just a small gesture of kindness in a sea of many.

This.  This is what matters.  People matter.  Our pets and livestock matter. In the midst of a crisis, nobody does, or should, give a sh*t if you’re black, brown, or yellow; young or old; immigrant or American-born; Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist; LGBQT or straight; or who you voted for last November.   I truly hope that in the aftermath of Harvey, and in the coming weeks, and months, we can continue to uphold that sentiment.   We joke that everything’s bigger in Texas, but you’d be hard pressed to find people with a bigger heart than that which has been shown here in the past week.

It’s as simple as the message inscribed at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, 
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Texas is lifting its lamp, y’all.  After we’ve emptied our boots of floodwater, barbecued our defrosted pork, and stress-eaten every last bag of tortilla chips dipped in salsa and queso, we’ll be back.

To quote a bumper sticker sent to me when I first moved here in 2000:

Don’t Mess With Texas.

If you would like to donate to help Texas rebuild, these are my favourite sites so far:

JJ Watt’s Foundation:

https://www.youcaring.com/victimsofhurricaneharvey-915053

Lin-Manuel Miranda via Baker-Ripley:    https://twitter.com/Lin_Manuel/status/902154945306210304

Rescued Pets Movement Houston: https://www.rescuedpetsmovement.org/

Houston Independent School District Foundation: http://www.houstonisd.org/Page/164281

Harvey photos below from various sources:  personal photo album, Facebook friends, local and national news stations, WaPo, NYTimes, Houston Chronicle.

The end of our street, Sunday Morning

Bering Ditch water level, Monday – usually dry, but here just a few inches from the top

Harvey parked on top of the Gulf Coast

The beginning of the storm – David Muir – where IS David Muir, by the way?  Muir?  Muir? Anyone?

Monday and Tuesday at the local YMCA:  Donations pouring in from our neighborhood and being sorted

M

 

You’re going to need a bigger boat

Toro and Cedric still smiling after two very long, backbreaking days at the Y

Wednesday afternoon – wait. what? Is that blue sky and SUN???

Only in Texas are the salsa, chip, and queso aisles as empty as the milk and water shelves at the grocery stores

Still hasn’t lost her sense of humor even after four straight days of cabin fever

Nobody minded being Heller-ized : updated flood areas

Friends who evacuated the Beltway area, revisiting their flooded home and checking on their chickens – still smiling!   The normally busy tollway is completely flooded.

Possibly my favorite evacuation photograph, ever

Only in Texas And while we’re on the subject, our local Whataburger is FINALLY open again

Pet rescues over the weekend

 

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