I woke up from a nightmare flashback from Hurricane Ike this week. In my sleep, I heard the dripping of a faucet and remembered water running down my apartment walls in the day before I fled to New Braunfels with a dog, three cats and a pregnant wife sporting a broken tailbone. It was 2 a.m., and I got dressed to go out and check the water levels in the storm drains and in the bayous. Everything was okay.
As I sat in my chair, vodka-ing myself back to sleep, it occurred to me how much of Houston’s culture is centered around the concept of flood. Sara Cress, easily the greatest poet in our city, expressed some of this, but I saw it myself over the past 24 hours. Nothing is as ritualized as Houston in flood.
Go to a grocery store and you’ll see people scrambling for bread and water. They’ll wait in line patiently, tiny girls and old people grimly bowing under the weight of a case of water priced to move as a precaution against the possibility the taps will run dry. You see people buying candles, especially the Catholic ones, not because they are Catholic but because the candles are a dollar. Never know when the lights will go out. The cashiers all grimly check people out, braving the elements to come to work and service the needs of the people. No one thanks them enough.
Beyond the store are the walkers. Houston, the Babylon of the South, is a city of rivers we call bayous. Dressed in the ceremonial garb of ponchos, we go out to gaze at the banks. At any moment, the waters could rise over the banks and bring destruction. We calculate renter’s insurance and wonder about safe places to park our cars. We gaze at the bayous and appreciate their terrible majesty.
Nothing unites the city like flood. We become the saviors of horses, and our brother’s keepers. No matter how contentious the electorate, we stand behind the city leaders as the waters rise. I saw the tent of a squatter today, off 290. He’s always there, but today I got out of my car to go check on him. He was fine. He told me to hunker down, the storm wasn’t over.
I’ve written about the gods of Houston before, but there really isn’t anything comparable to Flood. It visits us regularly and often, bringing with it devastation. And yet, it’s so often gone in the morning, as if it never existed in the first place. Oh, the images linger, but that’s all. Easy to forget those poor bastards in Greenspoint.
Flood is the god of Houston. It’s a weird, capricious god, but it’s definitely ours. We have our rituals and our idiosyncrasies, but we also have hope. We will rise above the storm. We will be above the water. That’s who we are.
Outside, cars cut the wind and people go on about their business as they should. We exist in spite of the rising water. The god of Houston is Flood. Let us all worship accordingly.