yesterday’s story, as fast as i can tell it

andy and i were supposed to drive to austin today to have dinner with jeff and kevin and megan and see badly drawn boy.  before we left houston andy called me from his car to tell me he was running late to pick me up, but would be at my house in half an hour.  an hour later, when i called andy to see if he was okay, he told me that he’d stopped in a parking lot two blocks away from me because some of the streets were flooded.

“what are you going to do there?” i said, sure he could find another way.  “i mean, even if we can’t make it to austin, you’ll still be stuck in a blockbuster parking lot.”

“okay,” he said, “i’ll see if i can find another way.”

it wasn’t until a few minutes after we hung up that i looked out the window.  i called andy again immediately.

“don’t go!” i said as soon as he answered.  “stay where you are.  the streets here are flooded, too.”

“i know.  i’m stuck in the water and my car just died.”

“all right,” i said.  “i’ll come and meet you.”

i changed my pants and shoes, grabbed two umbrellas and my camera, and went outside.  outside it was just like last time, but with daylighttop halves of cars were all over the street, amid floating dumpsters half-full of today’s garbage.  i waded out into the street and down to the intersection.  at the top half of the bus stop on the street corner, a guy asked me for a cigarette.

“in the spirit of knee-deep water,” i said, handing him one.

“thanks,” he said.  “i was going to go buy some, but.”

i waded across the intersection, not needing to wait for the light.  the parking lot across the street was crowded with people and cars scrambling for dry land.  a group of four men sat on the curb just outside the hair salon.  they said something to me in spanish, but i couldn’t hear it over the water.  i passed a few small children on their way home from the elementary school, scared they’d be washed away.

when i turned the corner onto the street where andy was, the water was up to my hips.  i could see the top half of andy’s car up ahead, right in the middle of where the road would be, but i couldn’t see andy.  my feet were getting caught in loose branches, and i kept bumping into floating trash.  a crate and barrel bag.  a whataburger cup.  a crumpled something.  i started to get tired as i waded closer, and andy was still nowhere in sight.  he wouldn’t still be in the car, would he?  as i waded over to the sidewalk, i saw him waving at me.  he was standing barefoot in front of someone’s house, lighting a cigarette.

“hey,” he said, as i sloshed up out of the water.  i was so exhausted i almost sat down right there in someone’s front yard in the rain.  a woman came out of the house.  she was also barefoot, talking on a cordless phone.  she didn’t look at andy or me as we talked about what to do with his car.  when we decided it’d be best just to leave it there and not try to push it, andy waded out to roll up the windows.  he had to climb in through the back tailgate.

“i’m trying to find out what’s going to happen,” the woman on the phone said to me.  “i don’t have tv so i have no way of knowing.”  she had an english accent.

“that’s okay,” i said, though it didn’t make sense.

“no, it’s not,” she said, walking back inside.  “i wish i had tv.”  i felt stupid.

andy came back from his car.  his bare feet worried me.  i mean, he could cut himself on something and then get a floodwater disease and his feet would have to be amputated, which would mean he couldn’t play the drums anymore.  “did you get all your stuff from the car?” i asked.

“yes,” he said.

“where is it?” i asked, looking around.

“in here,” he said, and went into the woman’s house.  his stuff was in a damp pile just inside her front entryway.  it was strange to see inside her house.  white walls and an atrium.  the woman came out from a hallway somewhere and i asked her for a plastic garbage bag for andy’s things.  “i don’t know if i have one,” she said.  “let me look.”  who doesn’t have garbage bags? i wondered.  but she did have one, and we shoved all of andy’s things inside and sloshed our way out to the street.

i’d waded halfway down the street until i realized that andy wasn’t beside me.  he was wading ten feet behind, black trash bag slung over his shoulder, his pants ripped at the knees.  he’s probably mad at me for telling him to keep driving, i thought.  when i asked him if he was mad, he said no, and then he waded up ahead of me, probably worrying about his car.

“it’s funny,” i said, as we waded past a car on the sidewalk.  “last time it was the partiers stranded at bars and clubs on a friday night.  this time it’s school kids and people coming home from work.”

when we waded up to my apartment, we threw our stuff on the grass and turned around to take it all in.  there was still a lot of traffic: SUV owners brave enough to drive through floodwater, compact cars stranded in the middle of the street, a school bus full of kids.  i felt sorry for the bus driver.  a man wading down the sidewalk carried a beer in each hand and two in his belt.

i took out my camera.  two guys were sitting on the steps of my apartment, drinking miller lite.  “taking pictures to send home?” one of them asked me.

“they wouldn’t go far,” i said.  “i live here.”

“you live here?  in this building?”

“for three and a half years.”

“which apartment?”

“upstairs by the laundry.”


we talked about this flood and the last flood for a few more minutes before andy and i went inside to dry off.  in the space of an hour i’d talked to more people in my neighborhood than i had all year.  houstonians are so isolated by their cars–we never pass each other walking on the street or waiting at the bus stop.  we never bump into our neighbors on the subway or getting out of cabs.  in fact, we don’t even know our neighbors.  eight months out of the year we confine ourselves to houses, cars and office buildings, huddling close to our air conditioning units.  only during disasters do we come outside, stare collectively at the wreckage, and compare war stories.

a few hours later, all the water was gone.  “where does it all go?” andy asked.  i don’t know, i said.

we went back to where we’d left andy’s car.  without the floodwater, it looked ridiculous just parked in the middle of the street.  other cars had to swerve to avoid it.  when andy opened the driver’s side door, water poured out onto the street.