Since circa 1982, about 35 years, The Leader has been in the same office on East T.C. Jester Boulevard, just south of the railroad tracks. If you’ve never visited, you should. Drop off a story, place a garage sale ad, look through the wonderful collection of newspapers we have in the front lobby.
I take that back. You better give us another month before you walk into the den of filth that has become our office.
Here’s what happened, in the least offensive explanation possible: When Hurricane Harvey dumped 50 inches of rain on Houston, a small river formed in the back of our office. At first, we had no idea where the river began. It didn’t come through the front door, it didn’t come through the back, and the ceiling tiles weren’t wet.
What we discovered, after two days of pumping nearly 400 gallons of water from the office, was that this stream began under the carpet of our neighbor’s office and slowly drifted under the sheetrock separating our leased premises.
Our neighbor, who had been in his office less than 30 days, pulled back the carpet in one of his rooms and – hold your nose – found that a sewage pipe had not been capped. You can imagine the scene the poor fellow found under that carpet.
This complex where we work sits at about a 1-degree angle (sloping toward our office), and as gravity would have it, all the “water” that seeped through that sewage pipe found its way into our tile, our sheetrock and, eventually, our carpet.
It has been four weeks since Harvey flushed a toilet on our office (literally), and we’re quickly learning that if we don’t laugh about it, we’re all going to break down in uncontrollable tears.
Our landlord – a company that owns hundreds of properties across the city – admittedly has been as responsive as possible, considering they had entire buildings under water. They sent a representative on the same day Tom and I held our gags and pumped “water” out of the office. They sent another crew a week later to determine that, yes, we do need new flooring. And last week, they sent another crew that began ripping out sheetrock, exposing all sorts of mold, and throwing dust through the disgusted nostrils of any person stepping foot here.
In the process, The Leader has been like every other small business in our community that has dealt with much more than just water damage. Employees have been sent home because we couldn’t let them breathe untreated mold. Then, once we fixed that problem, we had to send them home again when the carpet was ripped from the floor and the legions of dust were released upon us.
At the end of last week, I made the decision that we’d seek a temporary office, just so we could all gather in the same room. Wayne Norden and the saintly crew at the Near Northwest Management District adjusted their schedules Monday morning, organized a make-shift office, and even fixed a pot of coffee for us as we unloaded all of our computers and tried to find some sense of normalcy before we published one of our larger editions of the year.
About 30 minutes after settling into our new office there, with our team finally assembled in the same room, we discovered that our main production system wouldn’t connect to wifi. And 30 minutes later, the employees in our company were all packing computers back into their cars and heading back home to work. Meanwhile, a skeleton crew of folks are all huddled around an air purifier and scented candles as we publish the newspaper you’re reading today.
In the process of losing about a month’s worth of work at our company (and the clock is still ticking, because new flooring doesn’t arrive until sometime late next week), I’ve learned a few wonderful lessons.
First, general liability insurance on most small businesses only covers the worst of the disasters – you know, because the 1,000-year flood doesn’t quite reach that level. This isn’t my insurance agent’s fault, because he’s tried every way possible to get us some help. But the reality is that an alien needs to crash into your building, take all four walls down with it, and render the property useless before insurance will pay to replace your stapler.
It also turns out that if a broken sewage line is the culprit, that happens to be exempt from any sort of coverage. My mom won’t like reading this, but in legal circles, I think they call that being “sh!t out of luck.”
Here’s what I’ve also learned: The reason so many people love working for small businesses is because the folks in our office are nothing short of a family. That doesn’t mean we’re not a little dysfunctional, but the employees that produce The Leader every week are some of the most resilient people I know, and I’m more grateful for them after this disaster than I’ve ever been before.
And that leads to a quick update about The Leader and some of the changes we’re making over the next few months as we try to scrub this place clean. Next week, we’re still holding our annual Senior Expo. Normally, we have about 50 local businesses gather there each year to hand out goodies to seniors and their families. This year, because of such tough timing, the event may be a bit smaller than in years past.
We’ve also made the decision to delay our Guide edition, the biggest copy of The Leader we deliver each year. Normally, that publication hits streets on the last week of October. This year, we’re going to deliver it on Thanksgiving week.
And last, because of Harvey, we’ve delayed our newest publication called 30 Under 40, where we spotlight 30 of the great young leaders in our community who happen to be under the age of 40. That edition will now publish on Oct. 14.
We’re so grateful this community has stuck by our newspaper through the delays we’ve seen. And I’m so grateful to be surrounded by a staff that doesn’t blame me when the toilet runneth over.