Come Hell or High Water
I was driving the '94 Honda in a thunderstorm that spun off from Hurricane Emily (or Hurricane Ebony, as I prefer to call her). Tropical storms blast Houston almost every summer, but with hardly enough street drains, the city remains ill-equipped to absorb the downpour. When storms like Ebony (and Daekwon and Keondre and Ayesha) blow through town, they blanket most of downtown in knee-deep water. The streets become rivers; the citizens become boat people.
As I drove home that day, a steady stream of brown water flowed downhill toward the front of my car. Initially, the flow was light and navigable, but as I sat there, trapped by traffic on all sides, the water level grew higher and higher and eventually submerged my tires, my bumper and then my car hood.
Despite what you may have heard to the contrary, we darkies are not afraid of water. I braved that flood in the tradition of my ancestors. I turned down the Mike Jones CD and hummed slave spirituals. I became a runaway slave splashing through the water to lose massa's bloodhounds. (Really, I just needed to get to my apartment ASAP so that I could pack some luggage and rush to catch a flight to California. But California is kinda like freedom.)
I should have pulled over to let the car dry and the flood subside, but I would have missed my flight. So when I came to the intersection where the water was deepest (almost up to the windows), I drove on through like a damn fool. Water seeped in through the floor boards. The engine started to skip. White smoke rose from the hood. But I kept going. If a slave could walk a thousand miles, I could drive a few feet.
The car dipped completely below the water. Water leaked in through the windows. In a moment of panic, I forgot the words to all the spirituals. Out of nowhere, I heard a deep voice: "Now's your tiiiiiime, Negro. Now's your tiiiiiiime to goooo." But I wasn't ready. I mashed the gas one last time. The engine gurgled, then sputtered and then revved. The car resurfaced. I saw a guy in a Starbucks drive-through flailing his arms in an attempt to direct me to dry land. I pulled up on the curb, shut off the engine and took a moment to catch my breath.
I made it. I beat the storm. My car, on the other hand, did not. It hasn't run since.