Part III – There and Back Again: The Desolation of Bobcat

Where were we? Oh yes, if you recall, at the end of Part II, our heroes were finishing up from a long day of hurricane cleanup in the small town of Ingleside Texas. The work had gone well besides a close encounter with a crowbar and getting dumped on by hurricane water and cockroaches. Crazy, right? But now it’s time to return back home and let Bobcat come back from the sidelines and taken center stage again. Got it? Good. Let’s get started!

Before we got back into the car to depart, our older leader who had joined us told us to meet at Sonic on the way home for ice cream. This was about at the halfway point and would be a good place to stop, stretch, and exceed the daily calorie recommendations.

After the morning’s journey, no one was inclined to sit in the front. So that designation fell upon myself again. I optimistically opened my book and found the passage I had struggled to get past that entire day:

“Do you want us all to die?” I asked her sarc…

My elation at having read an additional 3 1/2 words ended promptly as Bobcat yelled to no one in particular “HOW DO WE GET HOME??” I point out that the cars in front of us are the rest of the people in our group and are going the same direction as us.  We fall in line at a stop light and as a gap in traffic ensues, the cars in front of us begin making their right-hand turns without pause. 3 cars. 2 cars. 1 car. Then it’s our turn. It may have been my inability to turn off my backseat driver persona, but more likely that this trip had given me a heightened sense of paranoia, I’m constantly looking around all angles of the car looking for an impending accident.

Rather than looking both ways before pulling out into the road. Bobcat proceeds to pull out in order to keep the convoy intact. This road happens to be onto a freeway with a speed limit of approximately 65 mph. There happens to be an oncoming truck headed straight for us as we begin to pull into its path. Thinking Bobcat will stop once he’s aware of the danger, I calmly, yet urgently say “car.” We continue. I raise my voice: “Car.” We proceed. At this point I yell “CAR” with the same angry enthusiasm as the 1980-something space guy from the Lego Movie:

spaceship

Sensing the urgency in my voice, Bobcat stops.

Nah, not really. This story wouldn’t be worth telling if it was that boring.

Bobcat steps on the gas and attempts to take the 30-year-old Suburban from 0-60 in 2.5 seconds to beat the truck. We’re halfway into the road now and since it’s a 30-year-old Suburban, it takes 2.5 seconds for the car to even recognize the gas pedal has been pressed down. Still maintaining an speed of 5 mph and with everyone in the car yelling, the truck reaches our position.

The driver of the other car has had his horn blaring for at least 5 seconds now. He understands now that we’re not going to stop. In a sudden act of heroism I will never forget, this brave driver swerves off the road and into the brush to avoid a collision. As he steers back onto the road and drives away, I catch his silhouetted raised fist in what I like to think was a thumbs up to himself for avoiding an accident, but what was most likely the middle finger to us for nearly causing an accident.

The inside of our car descends like vultures on Bobcat and nearly in unison tell him to be  more careful, to which he responds with a subdued “ok ok ok geez.” As if loss of life was no big deal. Feeling rattled, everyone begins to settle back in. I open my book again with my finger marking my spot. With the pretense of pretending to read, my eyes remain peeled to the road for the next hour.

Similar to the trip earlier in the morning, our car continues to cut other cars off as we veer in and out of lanes. I keep my eye on the speedometer: 80. 85. 90. 95. If you look at any car’s speedometer, just because it goes up to 120-140, does not mean you should actually drive that quickly. In the case of the Suburban, it maxed out at 100, which we were nearly driving. I felt the internal vibrations of the vehicle as it strained to maintain the speed and sensing subtle speed wobbles from the car.  I quickly tell Bobcat to keep his speed under 80 and notice his grip on the wheel and consternation tighten as he slows down without a word.

As Sonic comes into view after an hour, the car collectively breathes a sigh of relief. As we pull in and quickly exit, I take Bobcat aside and tell him I would like to drive the rest of the way. He reluctantly concedes and walks away.

We proceed to order from their more than 30 delicious shakes which are half-priced after 5 (I was not paid to say this) and I enjoy a delicious Oreo Cheesecake flavor. After 30 minutes, we get ready to go. With a satisfied stomach, bladder, and reestablished fortitude at the thought of a safer drive home, I head towards the car. My resolve begins to crumble as I see Bobcat sitting in the driver’s seat with his hands gripping the wheel. As I approach, he rolls the window down and without looking at me asks:

“It’s a straight shot home, right? No turns?”

“I believe so.” I respond.

“Then I’ll drive.”

Even as I begin to protest diplomatically and petition for the safety of others, I can tell he has no intention to give up his seat and rolls up the window while I am in mid-sentence. The other cars have left at this point, so I cannot petition their help. As the rest of the passengers in our car realize what is happening, they begin raising their voice in protest as well, but to no avail. With trepidations, we climb back in the car.

The next incident catches us by surprise, as we have been in the car less than 1 minute. As we make a left-hand turn out of sonic, rather than wait in the safety of the median between both sides of traffic, Bobcat makes a straight shot for it and pulls in front of a car heading our direction. For the second time, we are the recipients of a blaring horn as the oncoming car swerves out of our way. 

The rest of the ride home is completely silent.  No secondary conversations in the back. Not even a text conversation. Everyone was concerned with making it out of this trip alive. So there were now five additional pairs of eyes fixated on the road. If only everyone else could have driven as attentively and aware as we were, the world would be a much safer place. Unfortunately, this didn’t apply to the driver.

We enter the San Antonio city limits around 8 pm. Bobcat drives past our turnoff. Ok, maybe he just made a mistake and knows to get off at the next exit. He drives past that one as well. 

“Uh Bobcat, that’s where we were supposed to turn off.”

“I know.” He replies curtly.

He keeps going.

Where are we going? Worst case scenarios begin filling my mind. I want to pull out my phone and see if we are near any landfills he could be taking us to. A voice from the back reminds Bobcat again of the missed turnoffs. 

“I know. I’m getting gas.” 

He responds as he continues to drive past multiple gas stations along the side of the road. The tension in the car at this point is so thick that you could stuff it into a Bavarian Cream donut and then cut that with a knife and eat it. Unfortunately, it would probably taste like a combination of panic, fear, and two-week old standing water. He finally pulls into a Shell station at the edge of the city which has what looks like the most expensive gas from anything we’ve passed. I tell Bobcat I have a code that gets him 5¢ off/gallon. He doesn’t want it and gets out of the car to begin filling up. 

I turn around and begin offering words of encouragement and to hang in there for 10 more minutes. I can tell that some people are close to breaking down.

10 minutes later, we pull into the church parking lot where our cars are gathered. Earlier that morning (although it seems like much longer), the lot was full and we had all parked in the back. The lot was empty now, and rather than drive to where our cars are for us to easily transfer our equipment, here pulls into the farthest spot from our cars, turns off the car and says bluntly:

“I’m parking here.”

It feels like he’s ending our trip with a swift kick to the groin as I get out of the car and waddle around to the back (more due to the fact that I was chafing terribly at that point and it was quite painful). I get out the my tools, bottled water, cooler, and bags I had brought and begin carting them over the last expense of space between where Bobcat had parked and where my car was.

 I throw my stuff in the backseat of the car and drive away, hoping to repress this event, forget about it, and put Bobcat out of my mind for a long time.
It has been nearly a month since the events of this story transpired. The author is doing well and has vowed never to drive a Suburban, even if that means driving a minivan.

He sees Bobcat every week at church.

 

Boots on the Ground, Roaches in the Ceiling

Please keep in mind that this blog is written as an outlet of satire and humor. My experiences presented here are insignificant when compared to those who were in the direct path of Hurricane Harvey.

Part II

Eager to let Bobcat take the sideline in this part of the story, I made my escape from the car which had been my all-encompassing prison for the past 3 hours. Ingleside is a sleepy coastal town just under 10,000 people. Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Harvey, debris litters the side of the road, half-destroyed buildings stand, mangled and deserted, and residents are out early on this Saturday morning, doing what they can to assist in cleanup.  Speaking with many of the residents, it is apparent that their incomes are fixed, many have no insurance, and it will be months before FEMA offers any assistance, if at all.

We pull up to our job for the day and introduce ourselves to the homeowner. Our job for the day is as the “muck-out” crew – a term I originally thought to be made up, but really means “the strangers who are here to gut your house and then leave as fast as we arrived.” She takes us inside her house and immediately a musty smell fills the air. It is a small house, but every room had been flooded during the storm and is now showing remnants in the form of thick mold spreading up the walls.

As our eyes moved up from the floor, we see that the ceiling is in the same state. Black and green blotches cover the once-white plywood ceiling. Realizing I am about to fulfill my childhood “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” dream of being able to demolish a home, I ecstatically put a glove on and punched the wall to kick off our day of service. A sudden throbbing sensation in my hand and realization that I just punched a stud causes me to grab a crowbar instead and throw it at the wall in anger. Not wanting my enthusiasm to diminish, I quickly grab the nearest tool, wincingly yell “yeeeeeaaaah!” and get to work.

We begin working on the walls first. With a combination of crowbars and power-saws, drywall and insulation begins to litter the ground and a few people are assigned a wheelbarrow to carry it out and dump it in the front yard. As I begin working on a sidewall that connects to another room, I faintly hear people in the other room discussing a particularly difficult portion of the wall. At that moment, I am bending down next to the wall to remove some lower insulation. I suddenly hear Bobcat yell out “WATCH OUT I’LL DO IT!” Without warning, a crowbar bursts from the wall to the left of me, inches from my head.

I slowly turn my head and look at the crowbar as I hear Bobcat grunting and struggle to pull it out, not having contributed to the solution of the wall. I half expect him to stick his head out from behind the wall and with a menacing grin on his face, yell “Heeeeeeere’s Bobcat!” I walk to the other room and talk about safety first, common sense, and assign him a broom instead.

As we get to work on the ceiling, I developed a strategy for removing the panels. I would use the crowbar to begin creating large, square-shapes in the panels, and when three sides had been completed, the panel would easily come away by pulling it down on the fourth, unfinished side. About an hour into working on the ceiling, I am nearly through cutting through the third side when the entire ceiling comes down unexpectedly on top of me.

Now normally, if a big piece of plywood comes down on your head, you’d call it a day and go get an x-ray. But since this piece was saturated with mold, it merely broke to pieces over my head. However, I quickly discovered the reason it collapsed was that water from the hurricane had been trapped in the ceiling and made its way into the insulation. Furthermore, this area was where a number of large cockroaches had decided to nest.

So allow me to paint you a picture with my imagination brush of the situation. I have a moldy ceiling break apart on my head while 2-week old standing water pours down on top of me with waterlogged and moldy insulation. Due to my intrusiveness, the serenity of what was once the home of a happy cluster of cockroaches has been destroyed as they come crashing down above me in a torrential downpour of filth. In their confusion, they crawl in fury over the first thing they can find, which happens to be my body.

It was only 10:30 AM. We were there till 5.

Back to work.

The rest of the day went by rather uneventfully, except most people kept a greater distance from me than before. But by the end of the day, everyone had the same dank stench with a thin layer of dust and mold covering their clothing.

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When we finished, we gathered outside by the cars. I took my shoes off to remove my socks and burn them. I put my chacos on and not 2 minutes later was stung by a bee on both feet. I was ready to head home. As I climbed in the car, I apprehensively opened my book and found my place:

Do you want us all to die?

I wanted to believe the car ride home would be better than the car ride here, but that was just me being naive. How could I have known that it was going to be worse. So much worse.