The night the Astros won the World Series, I spent a few hours driving around before making my way down to Minute Maid Park. From behind the wheel, I saw hundreds of TVs tuned into the game, whether they be in overly packed sports bars in strip centers or hanging on the wall of an apartment next to a freeway to fast food spots where workers and customers were equally interested in how things would turn out.
It felt like the whole city was buzzing that night, and standing there in front of the stadium as fireworks exploded in the distance and helicopters flew overhead it was hard to believe that it had really happened. We had survived Harvey and the rising bayous and not only survived, but thrived.
Except that I knew there were plenty of parts of the city were there were no TVs showing replays or excited people jumping up and down, houses sitting dark and empty. Earlier that night, driving through the neighborhood next to my apartment complex, I saw it first hand, as the streets that didn’t flood, lined with homes full of the soft glow of TV and lamps, gave way to the streets full of empty driveways and black windows.
Since Harvey, I’ve been struck by how empty those streets have looked. On Halloween night, there wasn’t a single Pennywise or Wonder Woman to be seen on the hunt for Halloween treats. Come Thanksgiving the expected sounds of families gathering together was replaced by the whirl of a buzzsaw being used by a lone construction worker. Snow melted on lawns turned grey and brown from having the contents of a home spread on top of them. Peek in any of the windows during the day and you can look straight through the missing walls all the way to the back of these homes.
And it’s not just in the corner of the world next to us. All along the Gulf Coast and in plenty of areas of the greater Houston area are other streets just like the ones I’ve come to know by what they’re missing. I’ve become almost normalized to it, looking at this houses that just months ago I looked up online to see if maybe they could one day be my home, except there’s this one question that I keep coming back around to that reminds me that this isn’t normal.
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“Will Santa know these houses are empty?”
Groan if you must, but I’m honest enough to admit that if I was a child and my home had flooded, the question of Santa knowing where I was might be the only thing I cared about. I was a selfish kid, and I loved getting gifts, and suddenly being in a hotel or at a relative's houses or in a trailer would have filled me with the type of worry that you don’t get acclimated to until you’re much older.
I won’t be here for Christmas, but I know if I were to walk down the street from my apartment, I wouldn’t hear the sounds of wrapping paper being torn or squeals of delight or carols being sung. Next week there won’t be glasses being clinked or toasts being made. There’s still so much work left to be done.
Will things ever be back to normal? One hopes. But for now, I just hope that Santa gets where he needs to be for the kids who need him more than ever. Gifts, like snow days and world championships, can’t fix what’s broken, but they can take away the sting for a bit. And after this year, there’s nothing wrong with that.