Memoirs of a Hurricane Harvey survivor
My identical twin brother, Eric, and I have lived together in Houston for the past year. We were born in Bryan, TX and spent our childhood bouncing around different small Texas towns. Having grown accustomed to the nomadic lifestyle, we spent our twenties and early thirties hopping cities around the world, sometimes together, sometimes solo. Somehow Texas keeps sucking us back in, like roaches trying to climb out of a public toilet. Three days ago, God decided to take the metaphor of our lives to the next level and give us a Hurricane Harvey-sized swirly.
If you’ve seen the news, you know I’m not exaggerating when I say God didn’t just piss on Houston. He waterboarded it. Major freeways are underneath lakes that are still expected to double in size. Two million people are under self-imposed house arrest, huddled behind boarded up windows, living like there’s a full scale zombie apocalypse going on outside. The meaning of life has basically been reduced to one goal: Don’t go outside.
You may be wondering, why didn’t we evacuate when we had the chance? Because we never really did. Eric was here for Hurricane Ike, and he tried to evacuate, but after sitting in traffic for thirty six hours, he finally turned around and came home. This time, we knew it’d be safer staying in a brick house than getting stuck on a sinking freeway.
We have friends and family all over Texas. So if we could have gotten out, we would have had a place to go, but a lot of people who were born and raised in Houston didn’t have that luxury. And if you do the math, it’s easy to calculate that anyone who can’t afford to go out to eat twice a week, doesn’t have the money to drive a hundred miles to stay at a hotel. I believe the main reason most people didn’t leave was because they were too poor.
Though Eric and I didn’t leave town, we did abandon our home, because we live in a trailer house. Even if it could survive a flood, it wouldn’t provide any protection from the tornadoes created by the hurricane. So we packed up our most valuable possessions immediately and went to stay with a friend who owns a brick house.
The entire Houston area is in a flood plain. So over the years, the city has spent millions of dollars building a vast maze of drainage channels that you can see everywhere. Until a flood tests them, you don’t know if the ones near your house are reason for alarm or relief. By sheer luck, we ended up in a neighborhood with a fantastic drainage system. If the rain continues at its current pace, our host’s carpet won’t even get wet. Honestly, for us, this week has been a morbid vacation, which will be followed by lots of work opportunities.
Part of my subconscious feels like I should have survivor’s guilt, but I didn’t ask for this. It is what it is. Plus, I have no idea if my house still exists. We tried to drive over there today to check on it, but the road into our neighborhood was completely flooded, and rescue crews were boating people out. So our week of white privilege may end with us discovering we don’t own anything anymore. At least we didn’t have much to lose because we perpetually own barely more than will fit in a truck since we’re constantly moving.
Another reason not to panic is that our landlady is a psychotic bitch who lives across the street and spies on us, looking for any excuse to take her anger out on someone she knows can’t give her the punch in the face she deserves. She overcharges us to live next to a railroad track, where train horns scream at 150 decibels all day and night like the souls of the damned being dragged to Hades at 60 miles per hour. If our “home” got swept away, it would set us free more than set us back.
Even after the rain stops, which won’t be for at least another three days, water levels are still expected to rise in low areas as it drains down from higher grounds. It’s a good thing I had the foresight to bring my work clothes with me, because I’ll probably have to go back to work before I get to go home.
In the meantime, we, and most of Houston’s residents, have nothing to do but wait. The endless monotony is torture to some people, but I’m an extreme introvert with a passion for writing. I already cut activities out of my schedule to spend more hours typing in solitude. I work at my day job as few hours as I can afford, not because I’m lazy, but because I’d rather spend my life working on my passion than making the rich guy who pays me the bare minimum, richer.
I still have to keep my nose to the grindstone at least twenty-three hours per week, and my job is very physically demanding. So my body always hurts. Since American workers get the least vacation time of any first world country, Hurricane Harvey has been a golden opportunity to have my life back for a full week. I’m sure there are hundreds of thousands of wage slaves in the Houston area who are suffering worse than me but are still relieved to get a break from working themselves to death in 100 degree weather at a thankless, soul-crushing job.
The novelty has probably already worn off for Houston’s extroverts, who are going mad with cabin fever. The past few days have taught many of us that in a long, slow, scary situation like this, you have to find ways to stay active and positive or you’ll go insane.
There are already Youtube videos of people swimming in the streets, which is life threateningly dangerous. The water is infested with flesh eating bacteria from human sewage, a hundred tons of pollution, and if that wasn’t bad enough, sharks and alligators, which makes the idea of your house filling up with water a whole lot scarier than it already is.
Once all the flood water drains into the Gulf of Mexico, it will be weeks before it’s relatively safe to swim in the ocean again. Most Houstonians who lived through Hurricane Ike, Katrina, Alicia or Rita already know this, and television news reporters have been warning the Hurricane noobs to stay out of the water. Hopefully they have better luck convincing Americans not to hurt themselves than they did last week when they urged Americans not to look directly at the solar eclipse.
I’d be surprised if by next week, there isn’t a Youtube video of red necks slaloming downtown on jet skis, weaving around gangsters on inner tubes. Texas already has a, “Hold my beer, and watch this!” mentality, and the only major city I’ve been to with worse drivers than Houston, is Cairo, Egypt. There are a million bad decisions made on Houston’s roads every day, and two million tigers aren’t going to change their stripes overnight just because of an apocalyptic flood.
Over a dozen helicopters and fifty boats are working twenty four hours a day rescuing people stranded on top of cars and houses. Fortunately, since Houston is right on the Gulf of Mexico, and Texan culture has a fetish for buying really big toys you don’t need and won’t use very often, like boats, every middle class neighborhood in the entire metro area has at least one driveway with a boat parked in it.
For such catastrophic flooding, it’s amazing the official number of deaths hasn’t reached double digits yet. There’s no telling how many lives have been saved by Bubba down the street ferrying his neighbors to safety. This is a blessing for Bubba too, since he gets to take a break from the rat race to be a genuine hero while simultaneously getting to live the dream of running red lights in his speedboat and doing donuts in parking lots.
I have this theory that the reason Houston drivers are so reckless, aggressive and violently entitled, is because you can only sit in demolition derby traffic for so long before everyone else’s stress rubs off on you. Well, Mother Nature put a stop to all that madness for a week and reminded us we’re not at war with our neighbors. We’re in this together.
I predict for the next month, we’ll be able to feel the same buzz in Houston as New Yorkers did after the Twin Towers collapsed. They were in pain, but for a short while, it brought the most notoriously rude city in America together. People who used to flip each other off and shout, “I’m walkin’ heeear!” put aside their differences and treated each other like family.
The post-traumatic euphoria will wear off sooner rather than later as everyone files back into the rat race and re-experiences the same stress and disrespect that turned them into road warriors in the first place. The first major tear in the social fabric will come when insurance companies remind a million home owners and another million renters that our economy is designed to take more from its customers than it gives.
When insurance claims officers start telling their customers they care about them as much as Houston’s mega church pastor, Joel Olsteen cares about the poor, they’ll have to direct their pain somewhere, and since they can’t fight the system because they’re too busy working to pay off all their debt, they won’t be able to direct their anger at the source of the problem. So they’ll take it out on the first person who cuts them off in the morning. It won’t take long before we all go back to force-feeding each other rage pie.
I’m not a Houston native, and to be completely honest, I hate this city. The only reason I’m still here is because I’m waiting for my girlfriend to be in a position to move away with me. I’ve cursed the people here almost every time I’ve driven on the freeway, but so do they. Hurricane Harvey forced us to eat our words and reminded us to take a step back and look at each other’s flaws from a broader perspective.
None of the flood victims deserved what happened to them. I’ll be sure to remember that next time one of them almost runs me off the road weaving through traffic ten miles over the speed limit without using any turn signals.
As much as I hate to admit it, I feel like this experience has made me more of an official Houstonian. For the rest of my life, anytime I meet someone who also lived through this watery nightmare, we’ll be able to nod at each other meaningfully and silently bond over the fact that we were both there when the shit went down, and we pulled through together.
Having said that, I’m getting the hell out of this death trap as soon as humanly possible, and God willing, never coming back.
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