THE ROOFTOP – If I wave a big, white sheet, maybe the National Guard will send a helicopter, or maybe just a large drone to save me. I tried painting: “Will write for life jacket” on a large sign, but that didn’t work either. Another sign: “Mother in labor.” FEMA sent a large stork. I may be up here for days, like many another Houstonian, but let me tell you my story, mainly because I get paid to do it.
My first clue of trouble was a few days ago when a TV weather person breathlessly reported a low pressure area off the west coast of Africa, warning that it could develop into a hurricane of mammoth proportions “that will sweep Houston away.” Yawn. They do this every time ratings are in play, so I paid the warning no attention.
A day later this same weather wizard warned that the low pressure area was moving towards the Gulf. In short order, the storm became a super storm, then a depressed area (I think he meant Port Arthur) and a tropical storm. I looked out to see that the flag on a flagpole in my front yard was limp.
The next day the storm had a name, Harvey, a name which sounded about as limp as my flag. I noticed that my neighbor, Oswald Cumquat, was unloading bags of groceries and bottles of water from his car. He spotted me and yelled, “I’ve got a three-story house (I could see that), so if things get bad, come on over and stay with my family on the top story. I’ve got a rope ladder on the side of the house, you can just climb up.”
I shook my head. ”Real men go with the flow.” He said something I can’t repeat. I awoke the next morning to note that Harvey was nearing the Texas coast. Wind was blowing around my house, and the flag on my flagpole was fluttering in the breeze. By night the rain began, a usual summer storm.
The following day the TV guy said Harvey had hit the Texas coast, Corpus Christi was blowing and going, fishing villages were evacuating and they couldn’t find Rockport. Rain began to fall, and kept falling for hours. The TV news said animals at the zoo were lining up two by two. Then the national TV news picked up the story, which is odd because usually they only cover storm stories with: “A cloud is approaching NEW YORK CITY!” The rain kept falling all night and by morning water covered the streets and disguised most of the potholes. My block captain and CIA fink, Mongo Moosehead, knocked on my door to tell me that everyone should evacuate to higher ground, like Denver. I told him real men go with the flow. He repeated Cumquat’s observation. Then I get a tweet from the National Weather Service: “This event is unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced.” Why don’t you just cry wolf?
I check my ace weather forecaster, my flag, and notice that it is gone. Water is covering my yard, which is just as well because the neighborhood lawn society for once did not give out its Yard of the Month Award. I got Weed of the Week. Then, as water creeps up my yard in a driving rain, I hear a noise. Of course, it’s my sprinklers going on. Never buy a sprinkler system from a guy who digs trenches with groundhogs.
My TV is showing non-stop storm coverage, which means national TV anchors and reporters are attempting to cover Texas. Hint to them: There is a hidden R in Refugio, not Ree-FUGE-e-oh. Don’t even attempt Mexia or Nacogdoches. When a hurricane hits the Bolivar Peninsula, the term “Bolivar Twist” was overused when Jean Lafayette camped there. And I’ve given up trying to teach them the difference in farther and further.
This brings us to the Dan Rather Syndrome, which is worth retelling. For those new to Texas, years ago – to give you an idea of how long ago, it was Hurricane XVI – a storm hit the Gulf coast, and a young, unknown reporter named Dan Rather from station KHOU-TV in Houston was sent out to cover the storm. So there was Dan swaying on the Galveston Seawall or standing knee-deep in flooded streets as the rain and wind whipped around him, while he reported that he was swaying while the rain and wind etc.
Network suits in NYC spotted this talent and the rest is a success story — until the Texas Air National Guard brouhaha. Ever since then, any TV reporter sent to cover any Gulf storm story sees that as his or her route to stardom. Normally they are covering shootings and car wrecks, but now is their 15 minutes of fame.
“Chuck, I am standing here in the wind and rain to report that there is wind and rain.” The reporter could just as easily be standing in a tool shed or underpass, but that’s not how you get to be the ABC or CNN anchor. On the other hand, Fox News blames the media.
I look outside again. My flagpole is gone. Flotsam and jetsam, which sounds like a law firm, are floating by, along with the Marigolds’ porch chairs, pot plants, front gate. And here come the Marigolds. Now comes a realtor showing prospective clients homes in Running Rats Acres. I notice he’s using a glass-bottom boat. Cumquat has pulled up his rope ladder. Wait. I hear the chop-chop of a helicopter. I’m saved. It’s the Texas National Guard, famed for supplying a way for George W. to avoid Vietnam, according to Dan Rather.
I wave my white sheet again. A voice booms from the chopper: “Sorry, but we don’t save Klansmen. Go find a tall statue to climb.” And it sails away. I am now going with the flow.
Ashby is marooned at firstname.lastname@example.org