The Friday After Ike

A week ago today, Richard and I were dragging lawn furniture and potted plants inside the house, grumbling about the work we were probably doing for nothing.

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The previous night, I’d gone to Randall’s to stock up on supplies.  The store was as busy as it always is on an early Thursday evening; no more, no less.  The only hint of an impending hurricane was the depleted bread aisle.  Everything else, included bottled water and canned goods, was well-stocked.  People were friendly.  Cashiers were mild-mannered.

Driving to Chase to withdraw some cash, the roads were trafficky with rush hour commuters.  I began to notice that every service station I passed was empty; signs out front proclaimed them devoid of fuel.  Only two gas stations along the entire drive ended up having gas, and those two had lines of cars spiraling out for blocks.  Things seemed to be getting ever more ominous along the way.

At the bank, the normally quiet lobby was filled with a long queue of customers, anxiously fingering their withdrawal slips and eyeing the people in front of them, shooting them looks that said You’d better not get the last $500 at this bank.  Is this what a bank run looks like?  If so, it was surreally quiet and orderly.

After getting some cash out of the ATM, I got back on the road and headed home.  Traffic had picked up noticeably, as people were becoming ever more frantic in their searches for gasoline, cash and bottled water.  I wanted to tell them Just go to Randall’s!  They’re fully stocked!  But people seemed to be working themselves into a frenzy as the night approached.

I rolled the windows down in the car; a grim silence lay over the streets.  Cars moved agonizingly slowly.  No one played music on their stereos or honked their horns.  There wasn’t any talking or laughter to be heard from the parking lots or sidewalks.  People shot furtive glances at one another in gas lines.  Everyone’s expression read the same: Panic.  Fear.  Panic.  Fear.  You would have thought that zombies had just invaded or that a nuclear strike was imminent.  Is this what the end of the world looks like?  If so, it was surreally quiet and orderly.

At home that night, I cooked some salmon with wild rice and green beans.  Made a salad with some homemade vinaigrette.  Opened a bottle of wine.  I was determined to have a nice dinner despite the endless newscasts of impending doom, death and destruction.  Richard and I relaxed on the back porch, enjoying a famously beautiful Texas sunset as we ate and having a wonderful Thursday night.  After all, we had the day off tomorrow…

***

Friday was different.  Not many people dared to leave their house.  Most were glued to the televisions, where the National Hurricane Center had now declared that anyone remaining in Galveston (which was a good 40% of the population) would face certain death.  Around the house, I arranged and prepared things: filled giant tubs with water and stuck them into the freezer to make ice blocks; piled all our batteries in one area, all of our candles and matches in another; made a quick trip to Spec’s to replenish our wine and beer supply; took one last shower; filled the bathtub with water and filled two five-gallon tanks with even more; made sure any and all projectiles were removed from the backyard; went to check on my mother and returned with a nifty hand-cranked radio (yes, I’d forgotten to get a radio).  On the TV, news stations were showing the powerful tides in Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula, how they’d already covered much of the coast and were flooding houses far in advance of the actual storm itself.

Friday evening, I sat down to write a few last articles for Houstonist before we surely lost power.  Afterwards, Richard and I watched What Not To Wear on TLC and flipped back and forth between CNN during commercials.  We snickered at Anderson Cooper in the rain down in some tiny coastal town that he didn’t know how to pronounce.  We finally went to bed around 11pm, the rain having picked up considerably in our part of town by that point.

***

I woke up at 4:30am, the wind howling and shrieking outside.  The trees were being battered senseless outside our bedroom window.  The power was already gone.  I cranked our radio up and listened to KUHF as they described the massive fire that had taken Brennan’s and badly injured some of the employees who’d stayed behind to take care of the restaurant.  I found out later that those employees were the famous GM, Carl Walker, the sommelier and his little girl.  My mother called to check on me; conserving batteries on our phone, so we didn’t talk long.  I finally fell back asleep around 5:30am and woke up the next morning at 8am to a changed world.

***

Today, almost a week has passed.  We’re still without power at our house; our water came back on Wednesday night.  Our stove and water heater are both electric, so no hot water or cooking to be done yet.  We received a notice in the mailbox from our HOA, letting us know that because we’re on a strange grid, it could be another four to five weeks before we have power restored.

I was fortunate enough to get a generator from my father, but it can only be run for a short time each evening.  The food that was in our fridge is now sitting in garbage cans out by the curb.  Unfortunately, since Waste Management is running very far behind now and hasn’t picked up any garbage in a week, the entire neighborhood smells like the Fresh Kills landfill in Jersey.

On the positive side, I was finally able to get some gas in the car yesterday.  I found a service station with no lines (!), that accepted something other than cash (!!!) and where the gas was only $3.39 a gallon (!!!!!).  And even though I’ve been at work since Monday morning, at least we have power and internet here.

In even happier news, there was no damage to our house at all.  We had a lot of branches and limbs and some trees down.  And there was a very real threat of flooding, but we managed to contain that early on.  We’ve cleared all the debris and restored order to our house and yard; it looks now as if nothing happened.  In fact, as I was telling a friend yesterday, the majority of Houston is like that: cleaned up, yet eerily quiet.  Only around 45% of the city has power right now.

We’re very fortunate, much more so than the poor people down on the coast or even the folks up north in areas like The Woodlands, and for that I’m extremely grateful.

***

So…how has everyone else fared?