Coming home to Hurricane Ike

When Hurricane Ike was still out in the Gulf of Mexico, my family and I secured our yard and that of my Mother-In-Law and then got the hell out of Dodge. We headed to the home of a friend of my wife. She graciously allowed us to stay in her house while she and her husband were in Florida. While still in Houston, we were fairly safe and secure, far from the mandatory evacuation area where we live.

We experienced very little hardship due to Meryl’s kindness. Her huge closet protected my family during Ike’s wrath, so much so that my kids slept through the entire storm. We only lost power from around 2 am. until around 11 or 12 the next day. The house had barely even gotten mildly stuffy and we were back to living in air conditioned comfort, watching big flat screen televisions, and playing video games. No sweat, literally.

We had food, water, shelter and a lot of comfort. Yesterday, however, suffering from a case of cabin fever and succumbing to the masochistic desire to watch the Detroit Lions, we headed out in search of lunch and a sports bar. More importantly, we needed to find someplace where we could replenish our depleted wine supply.

It did not take long for us to realize how lucky we had been. Trees were uprooted, fences down, houses were without roofs, many streets were entirely blocked, and it wasn’t long before we saw that the power was still off almost everywhere, despite our astonishing good fortune.

We found our sports bar, but the parking lot was a lake. We navigated our way along the very narrow strip of muddy ground that led to the back patio and climbed over a hedge to find the joint packed, steamy hot, and not serving food. Not that the latter item mattered as my appetite vanished upon learning that the @#$*ing Lions were already down 14 points. We headed back to the car, our illusions that things were “normal” still intact, to find out that the Lions were now down by 21 points. Oh, the horror!

From there we headed over to the Galleria, one of the few large places in Houston that was open, figuring that we could eat, possibly even at one of the two sports bars located inside. That hope was soon dashed as the line for the one sports bar that was open suggested that we just might get good seats for Monday Night Football, but the early Sunday games were definitely out of the question. However, after about a 45 minute wait, we did get into the restaurant with the shortest line and had a fairly tasty lunch and a relatively decent glass of wine. We were quite happy that the average person fears French food and were choosing to stand in line for more familiar fare.

Then, as all good citizens have been trained to do, we faced tragedy and adversity by getting in some shopping. Walking around, we noticed that many of the people there were resting in the air conditioned mall, charging up their laptops and phones at every available outlet, and watching the ice skaters. What could be more surreally American? Refugees from a major tragedy, huddling in a Texas-sized upscale mall, watching rich kids skate, initially gave me a chuckle. Then it inspired some pride in the resilience and strength in the folks from my hometown. Finally, realizing that we were mostly the affluent refugees, congregating among Saks and Gucci and Nieman Marcus, charging our literal and metaphorical batteries, while undoubtedly, millions more suffered, I just felt sad.

Heading back to our personal refuge, we tried to find some wine to take home, although our humbling trip had drained some of the perceived urgency from that mission. Trying the two major upscale markets, we found them both open, but folks were lined up around the block just to get in. Not for runny French cheese, or artisan bread, but for bags of ice. Not the poor, but the usual upscale clientèle. Standing in line for ice. Not that being affluent should mean that you are insulated from such inconvenience, but we all know that it usually does mean exactly that. Believe it or not, wine didn’t seem important enough to stand in line for, in fact, to do so would have felt very wrong. I wonder if ice and water was even making it into poorer areas?

This is not a political blog, and I try very hard to make sure that nothing remotely political creeps in, but how is it that it could be like this? After Katrina and Rita how is it possible that our once impressive disaster response agencies are still so completely screwed up? First responders showed up without food, water, or ice and residents fed and watered them instead of vice versa. Local businesses and radio stations are spending their own money to get ice and water to the people who live here. I have even gotten messages from local politicians who don’t know where FEMA is or what they are doing.

This is not incompetence, it is deliberate. Our government is sending us a message. That message is that we are on our own. They don’t work for us, we work for them. Our tax dollars are to be used to enrich those they want enriched, and it amuses them that we expect any return on our investment. When things go south, do for yourself because the calvary is not coming to your rescue. Anyone still doubting Naomi Klein’s message needs to have their heads examined. Seriously.

Okay, off of my soapbox, and back to my story. This morning we did our best to make it seem as if we had never been at Meryl’s place, but of course we had been, and are all grateful for her wonderful generosity. As we drove home we saw much more devastation. Huge steel structures were bent completely over, strip malls were roofless, and houses and trees tossed around like toys.

The closer that we got to home, the worse the destruction was. Finally, as we pulled into our neighborhood we started to grasp just how bad it was. Tree limbs were piled everywhere, creating a wall on both sides of the streets. Most streets were cleared enough for one car to navigate, and people were everywhere, cutting and dragging wood.

Turning onto our street, we saw it was the same as the others we had taken to get home. Our yard is filled with the tops of all of our trees, and it will be weeks before everything is cleaned up. Luckily, our house suffered no damage at all, and it appears that our neighbors were all spared serious damage and injury, as well.

There is a lot of clean-up that needs to be done, and we began the task today. Happily, we have someone scheduled to do the hardest work tomorrow morning, so I had the luxury of being able to take my chainsaw down the street and help some other folks. Having the opportunity to be all neighborly and shit gave me a case of the warm fuzzies. As I was walking home after one such trip, I was noticing how different everything looked. At first I thought it was due to the mess, then decided that it was because there were fewer trees, while close, that was wrong. It was the light. There was more of it, and it was different.

I was reminded of a post I made a while back entitled “How the light gets in.” The title comes from a song by Leonard Cohen where he states that “There is a crack in everything, that is where the light gets in.” Hurricane Ike caused a lot of cracks, but a lot more light is getting in. The very air in my neighborhood is changed. Everything doesn’t just look different, it is different.

Neighbors are helping neighbors that they may not have done much more than wave to in years. People are asking if everyone has enough food. Co-workers are calling to check on each other. Strangers smile and wave. It may not be permanent, but the light is getting in. A lot of light. Strangely, I think Ike has brought us some good.

That is easy for me to say. I am in my own home. Unbelievably, we have power, water, and even cable. The food in our refrigerator is still good. As previously stated, we have no real damage. My kids are outside in a clear spot playing football. I am sitting here in the air conditioning, drinking a chilled glass of wine, freshly showered, and trying to decide what to eat.

Tomorrow will be soon enough to count my blessings in total, and to consider those much less fortunate, and how I might be able to help them. I can also ponder the fact that apparently both right-wing survivalists and anti-corporate/government lefties aren’t as far off base as I had previously thought. Tonight I will content myself with being safe at home knowing that my circle of family and friends is intact. I’ll drink to that.

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