My how times have changed.
My wife and I had been married for a year or two, and she had just started selling Tupperware. Being new, poor and immature, we took them seriously when they said the order had to be in by the end of the day. Sure, there was a tropical storm, the roads were flooded and wind blowing like crazy, but deadlines are deadlines, right? So, we loaded up in my ’73 Valiant and headed out in the storm to deliver the all-important Tupperware order. Stupid, right?
Made it to the Almeda mall area, and water was lapping the bottom of the car. Headlights were dipping in and out of the water, which splashed up on the windshield and formed big waves as we trudged along. Finally, I made the executive decision to turn around. Deadlines be damned, this was just plain crazy. So I saw a big, open area and made a sweeping turn, trying to keep my momentum up so I wouldn’t stall out. Suddenly, the passenger side front plunged down into something murky. I leaned on the throttle, and managed to peel away when halfway through my U-turn, the front end drove straight down into the water.
The engine died. I immediately tried to start it, heard the whrr-clunk of hydro-lock, and knew it wouldn’t run again. Water was pouring in to the front, submerging the pedals and up into the front seats. I yanked my wife into the back (still not sure how I did that), got the baby unbuckled from the car seat, and got out in the impromptu lake just as the car settled into the ditch. (Found out later that “big open area” was just a regular road with ditches on both sides. I almost got into the first one, then plunged straight into the opposite side. Like I said: young and stupid.) It happened so fast. To me, it was like slow motion. My wife says, one minute we were in the car and the next she knew, we were in the street. I guess there’s a reason God gives young people fast reflexes, eh?
So there we were. Gale-force winds driving the stinging rain almost sideways. Barely able to see the freeway, soaked to the bone, pushing our way through the waist-high current, me, my wife and baby. I can remember him actually laughing at the rain as it struck his face. To him, it was just another adventure, I guess. Me, I felt like we were in a disaster movie. It was surreal.
Trudging through waist-high water, we finally made it to the freeway. We went in to the waffle house and stood shivering in the entrance. Patrons gave us a curt look, rolled their eyes and went back to their dinners. A waitress noticed us and reluctantly asked if she could help us? I asked if they took checks, which is all I had besides a little change. Nope, they don’t take checks. I glanced longingly over at a man sipping a hot cup of coffee. Do you think we could just come in and sit down while we wait for a ride? The waitress glanced at the puddle on the floor, then looked at us. I guess so, was her reply. We ordered two waters and I went to find a pay phone to call my pastor, who is the only one I know with a really, really big truck. We were there an hour, as he searched for us at the wrong diner. It was much harder to communicate in the pre-cell-phone era. And we did finally make it out.
People forget how it used to be. Nowadays, people are falling over each other to help in a crisis. It’s wonderful that they had to turn away people with boats because they had too many. It’s great that we don’t have room to fit all of the food in the fridge because FEMA put a bunch of money on my daughter’s welfare card and the stores finally opened up & she went on a bit of a spending spree. It’s awesome. It used to be that people didn’t help you. You were on your own. The government wasn’t going to save you. They were a last, last, last resort, after all other attempts had failed. Maybe. You had to save yourself, and if that didn’t work, you had to find someone to save you. And if you couldn’t be saved, well then, I guess you just died, right?
The overwhelming outpouring of support for Harvey victims has been extraordinary. People really are more connected and more caring than they used to be. It may not seem that way when you watch the evening news, but I have seen it first-hand. Say what you will about people, and how things were better in the “good ole days”, but when something really big happens, people get up and help. Trust me; I’ve been through Allison and I’ve been through Harvey. This ain’t the good ole days. It’s better.