The last week of August 2017, Hurricane Harvey dropped 33 trillion gallons of water on Texas. 9 trillion of that landed on Houston, where I live with my twin brother, Eric, in a humble trailer house. We didn’t try to evacuate, because Eric did that in 2008 during Hurricane Ike. It took him 36 hours to drive 30 miles in bumper to bumper traffic before he gave up and turned around.
So we fled our trailer to spend the next five days of rain at a friend’s house, in a neighborhood with good drainage. The lawn flooded, but it never made it to the house. So we just had a morbid vacation, and we didn’t think the flood was that bad until the rains stopped and we finally ventured out.
What we saw was surreal. Most of the roads were open, but they were littered with abandoned cars at odd angles, and flood waters still blocked off random access points. So finding routes could be tricky or impossible.
If I had to summarize the nature of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction in a few words, they would be, “random and polarized.” One street would be completely underwater and inaccessible. The next road over would be completely fine. One house may be sitting in two feet of water, and their neighbor may have gotten four, or none. Some businesses were open pretty much throughout the storm, and some won’t ever open again.
Even if you can’t see a waterline on the buildings, you can see how bad each neighborhood got hit by the amount of trash on the side of the road. Blocks that just have carpet and drywall set out by the curb only got a foot or two of water. When you see a yard covered in furniture, you know they got it bad.
The house I stayed in through the storm didn’t suffer any problems. It never even lost electricity or internet. Technically, my trailer house didn’t get flooded, since it’s propped up on cinder blocks, three feet above the ground, but the water came all the way up to the floor boards, soaking them, the carpet and the air conditioning ducts underneath. So now the entire house is an unlivable toxic mold trap.
Eric and I moved out of our man cave, and now we’re staying with our girlfriends, who are ecstatic to have us closer to them. Thus continues Hurricane Harvey’s Twilight Zone-esque theme of polarized randomness. Everything is a cursed blessing or a blessed curse.
Disaster seems to have brought the best and worst out of the people here. When Harvey was still sitting on top of Houston, the owner of a furniture store opened his doors to anyone who needed a place with a bed to sleep on. At the same time, the owner of a mega church, Joel Osteen, locked the doors of his stadium-sized church until he was publicly shamed into letting refugees in. Then, he asked the refugees to give him donations, even though his $10.5 million mansion weathered the storm just fine.
My landlady is just as greedy and sociopathic as Joel Osteen, and she has the permanent disposition of a drunk biker in a dive bar at 3am looking for stupid shit to fight about. She won’t let me break my lease, because she says my house is livable. She told me when we moved in that if we didn’t have rent on the first of the month, she’d throw all our stuff out on the curb by the end of the night, which is illegal. I could fight her on this, but I’d pay $900 to not have to spend months fighting her in court over $900.
So we paid rent like little bitches, but we get to take our time moving out and figuring out what to do with all our stuff. Most of it came from flea markets and estate sales anyway. We’ll probably just put it out by the side of the road. There are a lot of people driving around in trucks, grabbing all the free stuff they can. For the next year, Craigslist is going to be exploding in Houston with great deals on expensive furniture and household goods with mild to severe flood damage. A lot of people are going to die from mold.
On a lighter note, both my electric company (Summer Energy) and internet provider (ATT) let me cancel my contracts with them without punishing me. I didn’t expect that, since the whole point of early termination fees is to fuck you in the first place, and ATT didn’t let my older brother, Stephen, out of his contract when he deployed to Afghanistan. Apparently corporate greed isn’t completely bottomless… when the public is watching.
It seems if you’re more than 50% bad, disaster makes you worse. If you’re more than 50% good, disaster brings out your best. For example, an Army Ranger veteran’s house got F.U.B.A.R. flooded in Dickinson, TX, on the outskirts of the Houston metroplex. So he made a post on an unofficial Army Ranger Facebook page asking for help. Stephen and a bunch of other Ranger vets and their friends and family, drove down from San Antonio to help him fix his house.
This is the first time Stephen has been to Houston since I moved here. He never got to see my old house, but he got to see my new one, where he got to spend the night instead of. sleeping in a stranger’s home with nine other people. You can cut yourself to death with all the silver linings in Houston right now.
My twin brother, Eric, is helping our old neighbor gut his mom’s house, which flooded badly. I feel guilty, because I haven’t been volunteering, but my boss put me back to work before the rain stopped. He didn’t even give us one day to pick up the pieces of our lives before sending us back to the salt mines. The joke’s on him though. He didn’t get any customers the first day or two because they were all busy picking up the pieces of their lives, unsurprisingly.
One of my coworkers asked our boss if we’d be getting paid for the time we missed, and he sent us the link to the FEMA website to apply for benefits. I hope he’s not surprised by the loyalty his employees show him in the future. I have a feeling half of them already lied to him and said they were cut off by flood water and couldn’t come to work for a few days, just so they could have a few more days of their lives to themselves.
I started back immediately, mostly because I was bored. Since I choose to work nights, my mornings are free. So I had time to drop Stephen off at the house he was clearing. My jaw dropped when I saw the next door neighbor had a sign in his front yard, facing the main highway in town that said, “You Loot We Shoot.” When I went to take a picture of it, the owner came outside and glared at me. So I took the shot real quick and left him alone, just like all the police who drove by and didn’t tell him to take it down. They didn’t turn a blind eye to it. Texas has “king of the castle” laws, which let you shoot any threatening intruder on sight.
I hoped the sign was just being dramatic until I picked Stephen up at the house where the rest of the volunteers were staying, which had a gun in every room, literally. As I got out of my truck, a lady in a minivan stopped me on the street and asked if I’d seen two young, dark haired men run by. She said they just stole all her computer equipment. I told her I was sorry for her loss.
I’ve even heard rumors thugs have just started knocking on doors and robbing people at gunpoint. I don’t know anyone who that’s happened to, but I do have a Mexican friend who found out the liquor store next to his house got flooded. The owner couldn’t sell cases of beer in water damaged boxes. So he just put his stock on the back porch and told passerbyers to drink at their own risk. Low class people of every color lined up to help him clear out his damaged property.
Since the boxes were water damaged, a lot of beers fell out the bottoms and smashed on the concrete. After the frenzy, my buddy helped clean up the broken glass. So the old Asian guy gave him an extra three cases of top shelf Texas honey whiskey. He doesn’t even really drink alcohol, but he took it because it was free. Then he showed up at my new house with a truckload of random beer covered in a thin layer of mold, which washes off easy with soap and water… hopefully.
I gave a few cases to Stephen to give to the Rangers in Dickinson, but for some reason he didn’t. Maybe they didn’t want it. He ended up giving it to a random black who was also repairing flood damage.
In the blog I wrote during Hurricane Harvey, I said this disaster would make me think twice about cussing at shitty Houston drivers, and I hoped our shared experience would teach us all that we’re on the same team. Now that danger has passed, Houston drivers are shittier than ever. If they don’t care about anyone on the highway but themselves, I see no reason why I should care about their feelings. That’s a horrible way to look at reality, but that’s what I call the, “Houstonitis.” Everybody’s shit rubs off on everyone until we’re all covered in shit and angry about it. If everybody’s guilty, is anybody?
Yesterday, a man asked me to help him settle a debate he was having with a coworker. He said the mayor should have ordered an evacuation and issued better instructions. His opponent disagreed. I said it wouldn’t have made a difference, because nobody cares what the mayor thinks. Most Houstonians don’t even know his or her name, including me.
The guy I was talking to went on to complain about how flood victims didn’t do enough to evacuate and prepare, themselves. He was angry that some people could have left but didn’t. Then the government had to waste resources rescuing them. I explained to him, if you’re too poor to go out to eat, you’re too poor to go anywhere but work, ever.
If any human is to blame for the cost of Hurricane Harvey, it’s the same city planners who saved us all with the world-class drainage systems woven through the Houston metroplex. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t need a multi-million dollar drainage network and disaster response teams hopscotching in and out of flooded areas, if the city was built efficiently in the first place. Houstonians wouldn’t be rabid with Houstonitis if the city wasn’t a clusterfucked maze of economic dead zones connected by congested streets.
The supreme inefficiency of Houston’s city layout makes it necessary for humans to consume tons of resources to survive. Now that flood waters have destroyed half of the infrastructure in town, it’s going to have to be thrown into a landfill and replaced, depleting more of the earth’s resources and creating more pollution, leading to more global warming, leading to more hurricanes, which will lead to more flooding and more waste until we’re all dead.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from Hurricane Harvey, it’s that we need to build more sustainable mega cities if the human race is to survive and thrive. It’s not that complicated. I can draw you a picture:
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