Saturday, July 30, 2005

Come Hell or High Water

"Negro Dies After Choking on Rainwater While Driving with Mouth Open." That would have been the headline in the Chronicle had fate not spared my life. I've only just gotten to the point where I'm comfortable talking about what happened two weeks ago. Almost drowning inside my car was more traumatic than I guessed.

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.

16 Comments:

Anonymous shell said...

Gosh, how terrible!

"Tropical storms blast Houston almost every summer, but with hardly enough street drains, the city remains ill-equipped to absorb the downpour."

So has anyone sued the city gov't for negligence? From what you've said, something should have been done long ago!

6:45 AM  
Blogger The Quintessential Negro said...

The state of Texas prides itself on its small government. There's no state tax. And property taxes are lower than most places. This equates to fewer social services. (The legislature is still trying to figure out how to fund public schools weeks after the regular session ended. No one wants to come out of pocket.)

The city of Houston is no different. It spends more than 80% of its small budget on public safety -- the police and fire departments -- leaving paltry funds for stuff like storm drains. It's a trip because our well-funded officers shoot more unarmed citizens than most cities. That's what we're paying for. That, and for every officer on the street to have a Taser.

Add all that to the facts that the city has no zoning laws and that it was developed willy-nilly during the oil boom, and you can understand why things are the way they are.

People are used to this place being a jungle. It breeds a certain Wild, Wild West survivalism. Poor fools like me from the Northeast (and before that, the Southeast) have to learn the law of the land or...drown.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Camille said...

"California is like freedom?"

I'm glad you inserted that 'like' in there. Cuz for the Natives, it's far from.

State tax: 7.75%
..and while we have zoning laws, the potholes here are MURDER!

arrghgh! which reminds me, i need a front-end alignment.

Sorry about the Honda...Glad you're okay.

LMAO @ singing slave songs!

Peace

8:32 AM  
Blogger sJea said...

i'm laughing so hard i'm about to throw up...glad you made it...sounds like you could have used a moses miracle...the parting of the murky brown waters...

10:29 AM  
Blogger The Quintessential Negro said...

Moses Miracle. That's exactly what I needed!

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Blogger Grandpa Earl said...

Pleeeease...

We're 40 feet above sea level, flat as a pancake and prone to 24 inches of rain in a day. For goodness sake, we nearly broke a world record with 36 inches in 24 hours when Allison hit. I'd think it a fool who says we ought to sue the city of Buffalo, NY because the snow piles up so deep. And pity the poor city fathers in Pompeii because they didn't build a dome over the entire area in anticipation of Vesuvius erupting. Some things you just have to put up with.

How much for the car?

2:55 PM  
Blogger Grandpa Earl said...

Pleeeease...

We're 40 feet above sea level, flat as a pancake and prone to 24 inches of rain in a day. For goodness sake, we nearly broke a world record with 36 inches in 24 hours when Allison hit. I'd think it a fool who says we ought to sue the city of Buffalo, NY because the snow piles up so deep. And pity the poor city fathers in Pompeii because they didn't build a dome over the entire area in anticipation of Vesuvius erupting. Some things you just have to put up with.

How much for the car?

2:56 PM  

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