The More Things Change…The More Things Change

Things are different with me these days.

I have changed quite a bit over the recent past due to two distinct reasons.

Growing up, my family escaped the worst of nature’s wrath. As a child I watched a neighbor’s tree get ripped from the ground but nothing really happened to our house. We had various flooding events as I grew up but again nothing really impacted us.

Tropical Storm Alison flooded my apartment but very few of my possessions were destroyed. We only had about 8 inches of water and it came in so slowly that I was able to get my valuables off the ground. My car needed a good washing. That was about it.

Katrina and Rita didn’t directly impact us either.

Ike knocked out another neighbor’s tree and destroyed part of their house and both cars but we were only out of electricity for about 6 hours. We had a little water seep into one room.

My parents were without power for about 2 weeks but they sat on the patio and grilled, came over to do laundry, and everyone was relatively ok. I had other friends who lived in a cul de sac full of outdoorsy folks so they had a huge block party with everyone emptying their deep freezers and firing up the grills and smokers.

Then the Tax Day Floods came. My parents were not flooded out of their home  but they were flooded in. It was impossible to reach their door without a boat. It took over a week for the water to drain. Getting my dad’s medication was a bit of a challenge. I was worried about what would happen if I needed to get to them or get them out in an emergency.

Just like that, things were starting to hit much closer to home and it seemed as if these events were experiencing a crescendo.

Still, afterwards everything went back to normal and such concerns faded to the background again.

Enter Harvey.

We are closing in on one year since Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. It’s amazing to think about that because of how much the storm still seems to linger over so many of our lives.

There are homes yet to be repaired. There are people yet to determine what to do with their houses and where they’ll live. Some kids are still waiting for their schools to reopen.

Before the storm, a new strip centering being built meant everyone wondered if there would be a Starbucks or a Kohl’s but now then news of a new real estate development project is greeted with questions about flood mediation. Citizens that never once thought about things like how an empty patch of grass helps control water flow have become comment thread activists on the NextDoor app. We’ve all gotten a crash course in city planning and civil engineering.

Looking back Harvey does not seem like an isolated incident. Rather, it seems like the most recent in a series of ever-building events.

Reality hit me at about 4:00 am on the morning of the storm when I left the house looking for batteries and a flashlight. It was the first in a flurry of shots I would receive over the coming days and weeks.

The experience of trying to provide and protect my family during and after the storm, of trying to manage the logistics of things like finding pharmacies and grocery stores that were both open AND accessible, of finding gas, of finding something to put the gas in, of learning how to use a generator, of trying to keep Oliver cool and entertained…all of that has changed me.

Before Harvey I had some tools in the garage, a couple extension cords, a decent drill, an old roll of duct tape, and that was about it. I had a couple flashlights, one broken, and another in need of batteries.

Since that Saturday morning, I’ve amassed a generator, a dozen cords, fans, a stack of power bricks, flashlights of every variety, batteries, cases of water, half a dozen gas cans, and I just invested in a freezer. I have a pair of thick tactical boots that served me incredibly well throughout the storm and afterwards.

If I see a sale on water, I grab it. If I see a clearance price on a power brick, head lamp, batteries, I take it.

I pay closer attention to things like how much of my medication I have at any given time and try not to wait until the day before to call in the refill. I keep tabs on things like how much paper towel, water, and batteries I have. I have a full tank of propane and now I have a smoker…as much for the joy of outdoor cooking as for being able to cook without electricity. I’ve always been a bit of a weather buff but now even more so.

Of course all of this “prepping” may be for pointless. Let’s face it, Another will come and when it does there will only be so much we can do. The storm could flood my house wash away my precious stockpiles.

Yet, I do these things because I’m different now.

So too have I noticed a sharp change in myself for another reason.

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Aurora, Tucson, the Sikh Temple, Sandy Hook, Boston, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Dallas, Ft. Lauderdale, Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, Santa Fe, 2-inch bulletproof glass at the bank, metal detectors at the ballpark, “see something say something” and everything in between have chipped away any sense of comfort I had when out in public.

I am different now.

Mind you, I was not raised in a fantasy world where crime didn’t exist. My comfortably middle-class upbringing did not obstruct my view of reality. People got shot, robbed, raped, stabbed, and beat up. A schoolmate’s father went into a rage one night and murdered his mother as my classmate watched.

But I was never so aware or alert as I have become as these events have occurred one after the other. Much as with Harvey, the Santa Fe shooting seems like another step in a seemingly endless progression, one that keeps getting closer.

So now when I get out of the car I look in all directions. I go inside and scan the room. Where are the exits? Is it crowded? Does anything seem “off?” My ears are wide open listening for shouting, loud pops or bangs. I try not to focus so much on my shopping list that I lose track of where I am in the store, who is around me, and whether or not I can move freely and quickly if the need arises.

I like to take Oliver shopping with me. We have a ball describing things we see, singing, greeting other shoppers and store employees. Best of all, we usually come home with a toy.

On such a day out we found ourselves at the local Wal-Mart.

This particular visit began much like any other. I got out of the car; glanced around the parking lot, and pulled Oliver from his seat. We danced our way into the store and got as far as the frozen food section before we heard a wild alarm and people shouting. It was much louder than the ones heard when a customer walks out with a shirt that still had the security tag on it. It was scary. People around me ducked for cover, one woman fell flat on her stomach, hands over her head.

Oliver shouted, “Daddy! What’s that noise!?” Instinctively I grabbed him tight and turned my head towards the source while also slowly walking in a direction from which I could quickly make a dart for the exit if things went south.

I made a game of it by telling him it was the “Wal-Mart Police” who must have “arrested” a little boy for being too crazy in the store. (Everywhere we go has its own police force. There’s McDonald’s Police, Kroger Police, Target Police, Zoo Police. They all arrest crazy toddlers who drive their fathers bonkers. That’s how I roll. Sue me. Haha)

Whatever it was turned out to be nothing but for a few moments I thought things were going in a different direction.

That moment reaffirms my insecurities about letting Oliver out of my sight as much as it does my concern of taking him out. I don’t want him to go anywhere without me. Granted, a big part of this is because I want to spend every second I can with him. He’s my son and beyond loving him, I really do like him. He’s three years old and already my best friend.

The other side of that is the fear of something bad happening and me not being there for him. The idea of sending him off to school is nerve-racking.

And it isn’t like I could necessarily “save” him from anything. What am I going to do? I don’t carry a gun. I’ve never even held one and despite having memorized every training montage from every Rocky movie I have yet to “eat lightning or crap thunder.”

I have a hard time swatting a roach. (What? They’re freakish creatures. Some of them can FLY! Did you know that?! Evolution isn’t all it’s cracked up to be sometimes.)

The fact is that if something is going to happen to Oliver then it should happen to me. If he’s sick then we’re sick. If he’s happy then we’re happy. If he’s frustrated then we’re frustrated. If he gets to go to the zoo then I get to go to the zoo.

We’re in this together.

And just like that, Reality comes back to throw another stiff jab.

I can stockpile all the AAs and water bottles in the world and I can keep Oliver in my arms 24/7 but I can’t really keep anything from happening can I? I can’t really prepare for anything can I?

I couldn’t have prevented Harvey from flooding my house anymore than I was able to keep it from happening to my parents down the street. If my house was going to flood it was going to flood.

If someone had shot up that Wal-Mart then all I would have been able to do is scoop Oliver up and try to get the hell out of there. Maybe we would have. Maybe I would have tripped over my own feet and fallen into the display of value size Heinz ketchup while dozens of people trampled us on their way out. Maybe something worse happens.

And so I am different now.

I am different because while I always accepted that I have no control over any tragedy that life may bring I had never truly allowed that feeling to get deep inside of me. I pushed all that aside, tucked it away deep in the back of my mind and as such my lack of preemptive action didn’t really mean much.

Now? I wallow in the ironic futility of so much preparedness.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in some constant state of fear. I’ve not spent the last ten months stockpiling arms and MREs while researching how to capture rainwater and fashion gas masks from Downy dryer sheets. (Gain smells better, don’t you think?)

There are no plans to build a bunker beneath The Cathedral.

It just makes sense to always have an extra box of AAs around, mostly so I have enough to keep Oliver’s trains chugging.

Why wait to run out of water or anything really, and have to pay full price when you can stock up during a sale?

I can’t wait to get the new freezer on Saturday. It was purchased as much for being able to take advantage of sales as anything else.

I’ll be able to stock up on Oliver’s Eggos du jour. My dad can buy all the Digiorno frozen pizzas he wants and come Thanksgiving, I’ll be able to grab an extra one for later in the year!

But reality is never so far away that it’s truly in the back of my mind. The freezer, like everything else I’ve collected over the year, will come in handy when the next storm arrives.

Every generation debates whether or not the world has changed, whether things were “different back then.”

The world might be different. It might not be.

But I am different now.


Be Well and Kind,




Look, it might not even rain that much….or at all even!

As best as I can recall, because honestly everything is a blur, the storm rolled in overnight between Friday and Saturday. I left the office a bit early on Friday and went straight home to try and prepare for the storm as much as possible. I had a ton of bottled water and some bread (the two staples of any prepper it seems).

I dug trenches to lead water away from the house, under fences, towards some drains and used the dirt to build makeshift dams around the house and used some bags of pebbles to further fortify the AC unit.

I had ordered flashlights, batteries, and even some toys for Oliver to play with in case we lost power but I got notices late Friday night saying UPS and Amazon’s last mile partners had halted delivery. That’s when I started to get a little more than a bit nervous.

Around 4 am Saturday morning, I went on what would be the first of many “runs.” Embracing my inner “Rick Grimes,” I ventured into the storm. What can I get? What do I need?

I had spent the week collecting water, bread, and milk for the baby but this did not a complete hurricane preparedness kit make.

When I got to Wal-Mart it was basically empty…not just of people but of almost everything else.
I rushed around the store knowing the storm was only getting worse. I found a good pair of boots to wear in the mud and through high water.

I got extra towels. I found some cases of Arizona Tea, the fuel that keeps my wife’s engine humming.

No batteries. No flashlights.

On my way towards the front I happened upon the Mrs. Baird’s delivery man! HA! What are the chances?! Two more loaves of bread for my stash.

I checked out and now the rain was serious. I went over to Home Depot…not open yet. Police were in an unmarked car watching over the place and our encounter was quite awkward. They were very nervous as I pulled up next to them to ask when the store opened. I didn’t know they police until they commanded me to keep my hands in the car. Once they realized I meant them no harm we collectively relaxed a bit but it was the first of very stressful moments.

Off to Walgreen’s. I found some small pocket flashlights and a couple ones that you wear on your head. These would have to work.

Back to Home Depot. No batteries or flashlights BUT they had just gotten a pallet of generators! Are you serious? The storm is really picking up and people are buying these things 4 at a time. I have no idea how to use these things but after checking with the wife, they were loading one into the back of my car and off I went. I’ll figure out how to use it later.

Wait a second….these things run on gas. Where the hell am I going to find gas?

Crap…wait, what am I going to put the gas in?!
Finding gas cans and gas became another in an endless series of major challenges. I’m soaked to the bone at this point and after several failed attempts, I find a tiny little gas station that has FOUR gas cans….but no gas.

OK…that’s OK…I’m getting close.
A few more stops and BAM! Gas.
Back to the house but now the yard is flooding…more digging…frantic digging even.
Then I realize I only have one extension cord for the generator.

Back to Wal-Mart and I buy a couple extra cords plus some fans and a lamp.

Are you realizing that I’m not very good at this whole “Rick Grimes” thing yet? I am.

Once I get everything back to the house it becomes this manic waiting game…pacing around, watching the rain, calls back and forth with my folks….back to the yard to dig deeper trenches.

By Saturday evening it became evident that my parents would be stuck in their home…the water in their cul de sac was above the mailboxes.

This happened once before and we managed. Surely there’s no way the water would get all the way up to their home, which sits on a bit of hill.

By nightfall, I got the call. Water is coming into my parents’ home. Water is literally erupting from beneath the house, pushing tile up, bursting from underneath cabinets.

My mom and dad live(d) about two blocks down the street from but they might as well have been in Thailand. I have never in my life felt so helpless, so neutered as I did that night. I knew my brother and his girlfriend were doing everything they could to get valuables upstairs, to save whatever they could, and to protect my mom and dad and their pets but the fact that I couldn’t get to them, to help, to get them out still haunts me. The guilt, the inability to take action will haunt me forever.

The rain continued to fall…another sleepless night…watching the water rise…digging in the yard, monitoring the streets to see if the front would flood and worrying about my mom and dad.

By 6 am I was looking for boats and trying to mount a rescue.

The sheriff got my dad and my brother’s girlfriend out but my mom wasn’t leaving without the cats. My brother stayed with her.

I found a neighbor who knew three guys from Louisiana that, in anticipation of the storm, decided to go thirdsies on a boat they found on Craigslist. They hitched it to the back of their pickup and came to Spring in order to start rescuing. They were kind enough to help out and a couple hours later we got mom, my brother, and the cats out safely.

Now we were together at my house…..and the power goes out. We get alerts from the water district saying the pumps were down and while the water was clean there was no sewer system. We were all filthy and soaked.

Then it happened…my roof began to leak. Water began coming in from doorways, carpets became saturated and we all started putting valuables up high on top of cabinets, shelves, etc. Guitars were put in cases and I started to wonder where I would put them? In the crawl space above the washing machine? Oh wait, I gave my ladder away to guys rescuing people.

Thankfully the water never got further than a few feet of carpet near the doorways and the rain let up such that the leak did not get worse.

We spent the next few days just living life like something out of Mad Max or Walking Dead. I would go on runs for gas and supplies, trying to get my parents settled in. Nothing was easy.

Roads were closed and constables and military were diverted to other neighborhoods once rescues were completed. Vigilante groups were formed to patrol our neighborhood because looters were on the loose taking whatever they could from flooded and abandoned houses.

My poor son, Oliver, didn’t know which way was up. His meals were late, naps non-existent or also late. What was a routine that ran like clockwork was now gone.

I can’t count how many times he came to me for a hug, or to play with something, or to just say “Hi Daddy!” only to find me racing past him to fix one thing or another, address one issue or another. My guilt piling on every single time it happened. I was often covered in filth, mold, mud, and/or whatever was floating in the water so I couldn’t even pick him up.

I was afraid to blow the generator, or run it at night (damn looters) so I was just running it during the day to power the fridge. After a few days and a quick tutorial from my neighbor I was able to plug more things into the generator and actually got the TV running. By putting Blues Clues on TV I provided Oliver with a momentary escape and a taste of normalcy. It was a small but significant victory for me.

There were so many other issues…some of my father’s diabetes medicine got washed away. He did everything right. He filled his prescriptions before the flood but in the chaos one of them got left behind. When we finally found a pharmacy that was both open and accessible he was told Medicare wouldn’t cover it since he had just refilled it. It didn’t matter that the storm washed it away. A small fortune later he had his meds but this was just one more thing piled on his shoulders. His house destroyed, cars flooded, irreplaceable mementos collected after a storied career gone. Now Medicare tells him they don’t “care”.

My poor mother stressed over both my father’s health and the house, became consumed by the fear of being an imposition on me…on not making a mess, on not wanting me to clear out a closet, on not wanting to be a bother.

My wife, overwhelmed by it all, tried to be a calming voice among all the strained and frantic shouting. So much shouting…even though none of us realized we were doing it. Every conversation was urgent, every voice fighting to be heard…baby crying and generator growling in the back.

My brother and his girlfriend took on the roles of Superman and Superwoman. After spending the night with mom and dad trapped in the house and doing what they could to save any and everything possible, they devoted themselves to demo and cleanup. They’ve spent countless hours coordinating with teams of volunteers to rip drywall, remove furniture, and do everything else that comes with such a catastrophe. While my wife and I have done what we could within our home, my brother and his girlfriend have done everything they can to handle things at my parents’ home. I’ve never been more proud of him.

It’s funny…everyone was offering me assistance with the work and my brother said “I got this.” I asked him, “Are you sure?” He says, “Yeah, I got this.” And damn it he has it. Working like a job site foreman or manager he has coordinated schedules, meals, delegated assignments, everything. This guy most definitely “has it”.

Utilities came back…first water and sewer and then power. I was texting a friend about things and then all of the sudden I felt the AC kick on and the lights came on. I started crying a bit and laughing hysterically. The sheer emotion of that one thing was too much to handle.

From that point it became a little easier. We started the laundry….so much laundry. We started showering. Both helped a lot.

The broken routines have taken their tolls on all of us though. My son is still victim to all the stress and all of us running in various directions.

Supplies like garbage bags, garbage cans, towels, and cleaning products are getting easier to find but it’s still a challenge.

We will find our rhythm though. We will find our new normal. Once we do I know that we as a family will be stronger and better for this incredible struggle. We are thankful for the fact that we are together and safe. We have our utilities back. We have a home. We have access to clean water, food, and all the basics. We are in better shape than a lot of fellow Houstonians. We’ve benefited from an incredible neighborhood that has mobilized in unimaginable ways supported by local businesses.

Ours is not a tale of horrific loss. There are so many around the city. I’ve tried to block them out because some of them are so traumatic. I think I saw a woman die in front of me last week in a Wal-Mart. A diabetic, she collapsed in front of me as her daughter cried that she had not eaten since before the storm. I handed her a candy bar, my mother paid for their groceries. An ambulance carried her away, unresponsive.

Fortunately, we are together, safe, and healthy. My mother and father, though a little worse for wear right now, continue to be my absolute heroes. I want nothing but peace and comfort for them and I hope I can help them receive that soon. My brother and his girlfriend have left me in awe. Young Master Oliver is my guiding light and every minute of my life is spent trying to get to him. My wife deserves so much credit for just trying to help my mom and dad feel at home and do what she can to comfort me during a time when her own world and home have been turned upside down and none of us have been able to support or comfort her…because she’s in the middle of all this too.

The coming months will not be easy. There will be endless calls and emails with FEMA and insurance companies. There will be challenges in developing a rhythm within our home where everyone finds their own space. But in the end, when it’s all over, I know that our family will only be stronger for going through this. It has brought the best out of all of us and my mom and dad, wife and son, will all be better for us living together.

So it is not from the perspective of a victim that I write this, rather as a proud and grateful father, husband, son, and brother.

Until next time…

Be Well and Kind,