Houston, Texas is one of my favorite places in the world. Granted, I haven’t been to too many places, but if I ever had to leave, I’m not sure where I’d rather go.
When I moved here 18 years ago from Connecticut, I encountered an unexpected bout of culture shock. I was 11 years old at the time and just starting junior high.
The kids here were different. Girls my age were already wearing makeup and carrying purses. The boys all had their hair gelled and combed in the same style.
The people were different. Instead of the New England apathy I was used to, I found my mother and myself engaged in small talk everywhere we went. I remember once asking her at the grocery store check-out,
“Why is the lady talking to us…?”
I was very suspicious of kindness.
I didn’t believe in southern hospitality. I’d heard a lot about it growing up in the north, but it always seemed like an old ghost of years gone by…something you’d encounter in pre-Civil War Georgia from ladies in obnoxiously large dresses (I watched too much Gone with the Wind as a kid), or from grandmothers who always had a pie cooling on the windowsill.
But as much as I still consider myself a Yankee, the fact of the matter is that I’m very, very much a Texan. And not just a Texan – a Houstonian. That’s a notable distinction.
Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the nation, in more ways than one. Whatever cuisine you’re looking for, we’ve got it. Whatever kind of club you want, we’ve got it. If you’re gay, straight, Republican, Democrat, cowboy, farmer, immigrant, techie, doctor, engineer, fashion designer, socialite, rapper – we’ve got a community for you.
You like Drake? We’ve got him, too.
And yes, we’ve got floods.
Flooding has become a fact of life for Houstonians. While we’ve grown accustomed to it happening, they never get any easier. Most people who have lived here long enough have experienced some loss as a direct result of flooding. Personally, I’ve lost a car, but many have lost so much more – homes, jobs, pets, lives.
The floods that Hurricane Harvey brought to our city are the worst I’ve ever seen – and that’s saying something. Houston is a sprawling city, and every single bit of it felt the wrath of this storm – and in a big way.
First, let me give you some background on Houston. We live at sea level along the Gulf of Mexico. There’s a bridge separating us from Galveston Island – the same Galveston of the infamous 1900 Galveston Hurricane. Galveston has a seawall that was built after said hurricane to help with the storm surge from incoming storms. Houston has no seawall, but since we’re inland, we don’t take direct hits from hurricanes. Instead of storm surges, we worry about winds and floods.
To accommodate for the flood threat, we have an impressive system of bayous throughout the city to catch excess flood water. Once those bayous are full, the water takes to the streets. From there, it’s drained, but if the rains come hard and fast enough, the city can’t keep up.
Now, let’s look at some Harvey numbers. As of me writing this article, 33 counties have been declared federal disaster areas. 14,000 members of the national guard have been called into Houston, with 10,000 more on the way. 8,500 people have been rescued, and 19 have lost their lives.
Now, we could talk about the city’s preparation for Harvey; about whether or not they made the right decision in telling people not to evacuate before the storm hit, only to order evacuations after many people had already lost their vehicles and after the roadways were flooded and impassable. We could talk about how a city so large and flood- and hurricane-prone doesn’t appear to have a proper or adequate evacuation plan in place (please refer back to the absolutely disastrous evacuation in response to Hurricane Rita in 2005). We could even mention how our president simply told us, “Good luck,” and that we’re “gonna be safe,” in passing as he left for vacation.
But alas, in the timeless words of Paul Rudd,
“The weather outside is weather.”
It’s something that we all have to live with. It’s something that we all enjoy, and it’s something that we all endure. It’s not something we can control, and it puts our humanity into crystal-clear perspective. It reminds us that things are things, and lives are irreplaceable.
If we’re ever all in anything together, a natural disaster is it.
And boy, does Houston come together. So let’s talk about that.
- Some of my friends – real friends, not just Facebook friends – have made the news since the storm hit; some for narrowly escaping flood waters, and some for rescuing others.
- One of my friends was hailed as a hero after running out into the hurricane to rescue an American flag.
- One of our neighbors walked through a particularly heavy downpour to deliver hot food to my family.
- My childhood friend’s family invited me over to their home to charge up my phone and laptop, drink some tea, and catch up on the news.
- When my aunt went to the car rental place this morning, someone stopped in to drop off doughnuts, coffee, and kolaches to those waiting.
- Churches, mosques, schools, hotels, and other businesses were quick to open their doors to offer shelter to those in need.
- Restaurants are feeding first responders for free, many of whom have been working non-stop since the storm hit.
- My friend in San Antonio was on it, providing my family and me with current news updates and forecasts, since we were without power for several days.
- The George R. Brown Convention Center was literally overflowing with volunteers and donations, to the point that they were redirected to other nearby shelters.
- Doctors have worked for days on end.
- I’ve heard from countless friends and family members, within Houston and without, who have constantly been checking in to make sure my family and I were ok.
- People were busy on Snapchat, geo-tagging badly flooded locations in an effort to keep others safe, and streaming news broadcasts for those without access to TV.
- Houston Police Sergeant Steve Perez tragically lost his life while saving others and serving our city.
- Celebrities, the NFL, the NBA, and others have donated millions of dollars to our city’s relief efforts, and counting.
- Once I post this article, I’ll be out delivering supplies to some shelters in my area (and then finally watching the Game of Thrones finale).
And that’s not even the half of it.
#HoustonStrong has been trending on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for a few days now, and while I don’t typically get caught up in trending hashtags, this one is perfect. In the face of one of the worst disasters our city – or nation – has ever seen, we’ve been strong. Unbelievably strong. The spirit of Houston hasn’t waivered. The vibe has consistently been one of aid, togetherness, humanity, and love – not one of despair and victimization. People want to help others whenever and however they can, even those who have suffered losses themselves. People have even taken to rafts, boats, kayaks, jet skis, ATVs, or their own two feet to rescue people from the waters.
And now, we look ahead.
Today, the sun came out. It’s a beautiful day in Houston. We’re sitting at a bright, breezy 80 degrees – which for Houston in August, is a dream. It’s amazing what a little light can do for your mood and optimism, too, even on a collective-6.5-million-people level.
Some parts of our city are still harrowed by flood waters. Some people are still in dire need of help. The storm is still powerful and is now sitting over Louisiana. This is far from over, and it’s important that we all remember that.
If you’d like to donate or help in the relief effort, here’s a good starting point.