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.

When Your Roadtrip is not Hecka Awesome

Do you want us all to die?

My finger had been under this line in the book in front of me for the past hour and a half. For a week, I had been looking forward to some valuable time away from school to enjoy some personal reading from a book that had captivated me from the opening pages. *

Do you want us all to die?

My mind wondered as I attempted to proceed to the next words on the pages. My eyes darted up as they had so frequently during the car ride I was currently in. The long, flat landscape of Texas loomed in front of me as the road passed beneath. Ironically, the line of words in the book are precisely what I wanted to yell at our driver sitting next to me. A quick glance back to the other wide-eyed and white-knuckled passengers tells me that they are thinking the same thing, which is a coincidence since none of them have read my book. I stare forward again.

Do you want us all to die?

My mind wonders again. I thought back to the start of the day. How had such a well-intentioned day to do service deteriorated into a state of constant fear for our lives? It all started with a bad choice at 6 A.M. **

In light of Hurricane Harvey, relief efforts were quickly underway by a number of organizations, including the LDS church in Texas and the surrounding states. On September 9th, I was a team leader over seven other individuals going to the Gulf Coast to assist in cleanup. We were a small part of the church’s larger effort of volunteers assisting. In San Antonio, there were over 1000 people going down that day.

Six members of my team I already knew. But the seventh, who I shall refer to as Bobcat, I knew not. As we prepared to embark with our assignments, Bobcat spoke up, and said he had a suburban which could seat us all. In an effort to save gas and create unity (really?), but not really knowing this fellow, I made that fateful decision which would weigh on me from that day forward, and agreed to the suburban.

Since the rest of the group knew each other already, they stuck together…in the back of the car. Leaving the passenger seat open. I climbed in, thinking it as an opportunity to briefly get to know Bobcat, then absorb myself in the pages of the novel I was bringing with me.

I asked the basic questions for the first 30 minutes of the drive: general upbringing, what his life story was, and whether he thought pineapple belonged on pizza or not***. It was a decent enough conversation, although I had to tell him a few times to keep his eyes on the road as he drifted out the lane a few times and took some corners a bit quickly. When I considered my job finished, I decided to wind the conversation down and told him I’d like to start reading my book and opened it up to the earmarked page. I found my spot:

Do you want us all to die?

“So…..”

Bobcat had spoken. I glanced up.

“What kind of cars do you like?”

I guess he wasn’t ready for the conversation to end. I responded with Toyotas, but I’d take a Subaru if a Toyota wasn’t available, and went back to my book.

Do you want us all to die?

“So….”

I paused again. Waiting for it.

“What kind of shows do you like?

Only somewhat chagrined, I listed off a few of my favorites: Parks and Rec, Arrested Development, Master of None, and the first two seasons of Law and Order: SVU (because who has time to watch all 18 seasons). He hadn’t seen any of them. So I asked about some of his favorites. His first response was Power Rangers. Thinking he must have TV confused with movies, I told him I hadn’t seen the film yet. Neither had he. Realization dawned on me that he must mean the Saturday morning Power Rangers I was forbidden to watch as a child.

I listened with my mouth slightly ajar as this twenty-something man proceeded to tell me about the different Power Rangers series on TV. Did you know there are 20 different themed rangers? Jungle Fury, Dino Thunder, Ninja Storm, Time Force, Wild Force, in Space, Megaforce, SUPER Megaforce, etc. I just listed those off the top of my mind. I shouldn’t have remembered all those, but for some reason they’ve been ingrained. And why does each season sound like the year they jumped the shark?

I have absolutely nothing to add to this conversation so I just keep quiet and nod. Like when someone speaks to you in a foreign language (or an organic chemistry class) and you can’t understand but you still nod your head anyways like you do.

Without skipping a beat, Bobcat transitions into Web series’ he watches such as PragerU, Stephen Crowder, and Fox News. Getting a better idea of who this guy is, I silently make a bet with myself and ask if his favorite talk show host is Sean Hannity. I’m wrong. It’s Rush Limbaugh (I owe myself $10 now). Before I can stop it, the Trump-Train toots its horn and is full steam ahead now. Bobcat begins listing off Trump’s accomplishments, particularly that Trump visited Houston quicker than it took President Obama to visit New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (which happened in 2005…so you tell me what’s wrong with that statement).

At this point, morning traffic fills the roads and rather than slowing down, Bobcat is maintaining a constant 85 mph, weaving in and out of lanes and unknowingly (knowingly?) cutting off cars. I quickly spot a McDonalds 20 miles away on my GPS and signal a break. Although disagreeing with everything political being said, I say nothing since my life is in the hands of the driver. I don’t want him to get any ideas that he can MAGA by crashing the car and ridding the world of a non-supporter.

The golden arches looming ahead of me bring an overwhelming sense of joy, such that a McDonalds has never brought me before. As I quickly exit the car, I burst through the doors, order a McMuffin, and soon remember why my McDonalds never brings me any lasting joy. As I return apprehensively to the car, I realize to my dismay that once again, the front seat is mine.

Do you want us all to die?

I quickly realize that my silence may be taken as an interpretation for Bobcat to continue his monologue. I abruptly turn around and interject myself into the conversations occurring behind me. For 30 minutes, a kinked back and strained neck provides me with a normal interaction. A small price to pay until we arrive at the small town of Ingleside. As we pull up to the house we’ll be helping, the car doors burst open before the car comes to a stop. The people in back clamber out and away from the car. Safe for now.

If only we knew what the rest of the day held in store.

Part II coming soon involving mold, cockroaches, pants, and Subway sandwiches

*Red Rising – The Hunger Games meets Ender’s Game meets Game of Thrones

** Actually, the first bad choice was deciding to wake up at 5:30 A.M. on a Saturday

**Pineapple should never go on pizza