but every month there are fewer of them. Things are mostly back to normal. What’s missing most obviously are the trees. The enormous oak in my mother-in-law’s yard that once watched over my husband and his childhood friends playing baseball is now hardly more than a stump. This past Fourth of July, a good friend in Midtown realized he now has a view of the downtown fireworks from his backyard because of the missing trees. \(He would rather have his on demolition in the name of progress, it’s ironic that some of the few things we’ve allowed to age were destroyed by Mother Nature. The torn and uprooted trees that landed on fences, homes, yards and streets were taken apart by chainsaws, and in weeks after Ike, the buzzing chorus echoed throughout the city, intermingled with the grumble of generators. Broken limbs didn’t hang around long. The morning after, we stumbled out of our homes, looked around, shook our heads and got to work “There was one guy in my neighborhood who was out with a rake before it even stopped raining;’ a friend remembers. “He had his poor kids with him, raking. Now we call him Mr. Yard:’ My husband went over to our neighbors, the Gomezes, and helped them take down the huge tree that landed in their backyard, destroying their kids’ trampoline. When we’d first moved onto our street, the Gomezes had welcomed us with a cooler of Cokes and some homemade salsa. Just being neighborly. When I came to Houston, Ian East Coast nativecouldn’t understand why everyone talked to me so much. The cashier at the Kroger, my mechanic, strangers in elevators. What’s wrong with these people? I thought. It took a while to fall in love with it. Then it was like I’d never lived any other way. It was that way after Ike, and I heard about it from friends all over the city. The family pulling their daughter in a red wagon, handing out coffee and doughnuts to yardworking neighbors. The Jack in the Box on Montrose Boulevard inviting area residents to bring their grills for a giant cookout of free hamburger patties before they spoiled. People sharing electricity via cords stretched across streets, folks checking in on the elderly, everybody lending out saws and rakes. “People are always like that right after a disaster:’ my dad \(my real me over the phone not long after a curfew was imposed. “They’re nice at first. Then they start to go psycho:’ But Houstonians didn’t. There were jerks, of course, including the man with the British accent in the Heights who refused to move his truck, forcing me to drive in reverse around the block. \(“You know, sir, we’ve all been through a crisis!” I yelled from never materialized. Crime rates didn’t spike. Someone I know said the reason Houstonians never riotnot even when the Rockets won the championship two years in a rowis because it’s just too damn hot. I like to think we’re just too damn polite. After the hurricane, you were assigned a numberthe number of days you’d been without electricity. A year later, people still wear that number as either a badge of honor \(“We went 14 “We got it back the day after. I know, we were so doesn’t sound so bad. Until you go two weeks without electricity. “Got power?” was how you introduced yourself, and it was all we talked about in the three-hour lines for gasoline and during our Sisyphean attempts to find ice. \(If I’d collected all the “NO ICE!!!” signs I saw following the storm, I could wallarbitrary in their benevolence, returning electricity to one friend the morning after the storm while neighbors a block away spent 17 days in the dark. You tended to seek out your own. When I returned to my job as a public school teacher and the faculty gathered for a meeting, those of us without power discovered we’d gravitated toward the same table, our air-dried hair askew, our expressions sour. It was hard not to envy those who were enjoying what they called a “hurrication,” complete with Internet, cable and A/C. But the offers from more fortunate Houstonians were never-ending. Come over for a real meal. Come over if you need a place to stay. Come over if you just want to unwind. Several people we know gathered in one house with power for “Camp Ike,” where they whiled away their days drinking wine and eating Omaha steaks. My husband and I headed to my best friend’s house to do laundry was on the day after the storm. “I feel like Eva Peron,” she admitted as she served us sandwiches. “I live in luxury while my people suffer:’ In the days that followed, I was up by 5 in the morning and asleep at 8 p.m., mimicking the rhythm of the sun. My husband and I spent our days hot and restless, drinking Jack and Cokes with no ice, sprawled on the couch, listening to call after call into local radio stations. Deejays asked over and over, “How are you holding up?” The tones of some of the callers implied that we weren’t the only ones driven to drink during the day. We’re just barbecuing on the carport right now, and we’ve got lots of liquids. We got trees all over the place, man! I was blessed and am praising God that the tree didn’t fall into the bedroom. Over shrieks in the background, one man explained to KUHF’s Rod Rice that he was trying to amuse three small kids with no power and no water pressure. “All things pass:’ Rice answered sagely. But not all things. Almost a year after Ike, a couple I know split up. The husband admitted Ike’s role. “The aftermath made me realize just how dysfunctional my marriage was,” he told me. “Without the veneer of basic amenities providing some sense of balance, all we did was fight. All our resentments quickly bubbled to the surface. Things swiftly deteriorated from that point:’ We may have been bored, hot, cranky or drunk, but we got back to business. A fundamental truth is that Houston does not take kindly to lazybones. We survived the oil bust in the 198os. We survived the collapse of Enron and the flooding from Tropical Storm Allison. And when it was time to 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 4, 2009
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