WL: All right, this is Will Lang with the University of Houston and the Houston History Magazine talking with Susan Thompson and, do you prefer Joe or Joseph?
WL: Joe Thompson. Susan, I will start with you since we are short on time. Would you just like to say a little bit about where you live and a little bit about yourself?
ST: Well, we live north of Houston, about minutes in Splendora, Montgomery County. About me, I have worked at the same company for 12 years with McKesson and married to Joe for… Well, I have been with Joe for 12 years, so, what do you want to know about me?
WL: Well, I guess how you put up with Joe? No, I’m just kidding.
ST: Well, that might take a little longer than just a little bit.
JT: We don’t have that much time, babe.
WL: So, I guess just sort of walk me through what it was like for you when the rain started to come down with Harvey, what that was like.
ST: Well, when Harvey started and the rain started, Joe was in California and I was home with the two dogs. At first, it was okay, everything was running off, but the rains kept coming and coming and the water started to rise and got over our porch and started coming in that night. So, our neighbors said I could come over there and stay with them because they are a little higher ground. And, well, we have the two dogs, they have dogs, so, the dogs could not come in. So, I pulled the truck over into their yard and ended up pretty much sleeping in the truck because the dogs were scared. So, I stayed with them.
And the next morning, everything looked like it was starting to, you know, recede and come down a little bit. Then, we started hearing about them opening the dams in Conroe. So, at that point, my nephew and his stepdad came out with a boat and they got as far as they could and as close to the house as they could, and they took a boat to get into the neighborhood to get me and the dogs. And then we got out. However, on the way to my nieces and nephew’s house, the roads that they had come down to get me had started to flood because they had let the dams out. So, we had to find other routes to make it home, which was about 3 hours of trying to make it home. In the process of that, we rescued another couple and their dog, and another couple had tried to go through some high water and their truck had been swept off the road. And so, the guys took the boat off the trailer to help them get out of the truck and get them to safety, whatnot.
So I spent two days, because you couldn’t get back into the neighborhood or across the San Jacinto Bridge to get home, in Atascocita with my niece and nephew. And then, Joe
had flown to Austin so he could be closer to home and have his brother drive him back. So, we got back into the house, I believe, Wednesday of that week and back to work Thursday. But yes, well, underneath our mobile home, everything was saturated. All the insulation was full of water and water got a little bit in the front door and, from the moisture, all the floors started to buckle and swell. That’s all I have. You don’t want to hear my argument about FEMA, so…
JT: No, I think he does.
WL: Yes, if you have time.
JT: I think they do, babe.
ST: Okay, well, during all this ordeal, Joe posted that I was in the truck alone and people were calling and it was crazy. My job had people calling me every three to four hours to see if we were okay. My son, in Japan, he was pretty worried about us. He was on Facebook, calling and seeing what he could do from where he was, which wasn’t much, and he asked for leave and he came home. And during the process, we are filing for FEMA. We are filing claims through the insurance companies. We have lost a car that was at the airport. The insurance for the car – they were great. You know, it was a little slow but understandable considering the situation.
My son comes home, he goes up under the trailer, and this is almost 2-3 weeks later, he is cutting slices underneath the home and just gushes and gushes and gushes of water is coming down. We have already filed our claims with FEMA, and they come out. Well, first our insurance company came out and said that we were denied because we didn’t have flood insurance. Well, they don’t offer us flood insurance for the area that we live in because we live in a 100-year flood plain. So, we were denied by them. Two days later, the FEMA inspector comes out, he takes tons of pictures and tons of questions. I let them know what the insurance company said and told them it was homeowners only, that we didn’t have flood insurance, and within 24 hours, we look online and it shows that we have been denied by FEMA because we have homeowners insurance. So, we have no help whatsoever in this process.
We all live, you know, paycheck to paycheck and whatnot, so it is pretty devastating at this point. Not as bad as others but, you know, it is still a burden. My company that I worked for had gone out and got Joe a rental car so he could go to work because you couldn’t find a rental car anywhere in the area. So, my boss had somebody drive a car from Oklahoma to here for us.
WL: That was nice.
ST: Yes, and they gave us groceries to replace what went bad in our freezers and whatnot. The time that I missed work, they went ahead and paid me for those days without using sick time or vacation. And then, also, the hours that I was able to work that week, they gave me double time. So, then we also have McKesson Foundation for employees for devastating acts of God, like we just had, and I applied for that and they gave us $600 to replace the food in the deep freezer and then they gave… Well, actually, it wasn’t $600, it was $300 to replace that food. And then, we had to submit another appeal for the house repairs which were estimated at about $16,000, and they ended up sending us $5,000. So, even then, even though we were denied by FEMA, we are still going through the appeal process because $5,000 is just a small dent. We were able to get the house releveled and underneath repaired so no more damage can happen to what’s already been damaged, but we still have a lot of work to do.
WL: And there were other people, like, neighbors nearby that had been granted FEMA assistance as well?
ST: They have requested FEMA assistance. I am not sure if they were approved or denied. I do know there are people at my job who had their house completely flooded to the rooftops. FEMA denied them as well.
WL: How much of your home would you say was flooded? It was most of it or did it just…
ST: Oh, it wasn’t most of it. Like I said, we were very fortunate. I would say maybe… Coming through the front door is probably an inch deep going about a foot in. And then, probably an inch deep in the back door coming in was probably about 6 inches coming in.
JT: We had a lot of water in the air conditioning vents, too.
ST: Yes, the air conditioner was completely covered and when I got home, of course, with all the water, there is that moldy water, that smell that started coming. And then, all of our air conditioning vents that are on the floor were completely full of water at that time. And so, of course, my company gave me their Shop Vac so I was able to get all of the water out before it damaged and the mold started to produce.
WL: Where do you work again?
ST: I work for McKesson Pharmaceuticals.
WL: All right. In the days leading up to Harvey actually making landfall, were you guys watching with any concern or anything, or had you experienced anything similar to this…
ST: Well, we watched and we prepared with, you know, since I knew Joe was going to be gone, we prepared… I made sure I had water and just non-perishable foods, but, I mean,
leading up to it, it was just going to be a small hurricane. It wasn’t anything to worry about… That we have had those in the past and, you know, we live so far north that we didn’t expect it to impact us so greatly.
WL: You sort of mentioned the start of the cleanup process. What’s that been like for you guys?
ST: That is very hectic, I mean, because you still have to go to work, you still have to go on with your everyday life. You have to find contractors and people to come out and do it. And then, FEMA and the insurance company don’t want you to do anything until they come in and that was almost two months after the fact. So then, you are still waiting on contractors to come out and they are booked up for months on end to come out and do any repairs.
WL: I have to look at my questions.
JT: Want me to jump in here?
WL: Yes, if you have anything you feel like you want to add, sure. I mean, we could cover you later.
JT: Oh, you could cover me later.
WL: No, we can but, I mean, if you’ve got something you think is relevant, I don’t want to forget.
JT: Well, no, if I start talking, I won’t shut up. So, I let her talk first.
WL: That’s smart. So, I can’t remember – which day did you say Joe came back in from California?
JT: Well, my flight got cancelled and I was able to book a flight to… I think it was the 31st or something? I can’t remember.
ST: It was Wednesday, that Wednesday after…
JT: Yes, that Wednesday I was supposed to come back when I was in LA…
ST: No, you were supposed to come back that…
JT: I didn’t end up staying any extra days in California. I left the day I was supposed to leave California.
ST: Yes, so you came back that Wednesday but you couldn’t fly into Houston.
JT: Yes, my flight to Houston got canceled while I was in the archives but they offered me a couple of different cities I could fly into, and because I like to look at the weather map, one of the cities they offered me was Beaumont. And I am, like, no, I’m not flying into Beaumont. So, I flew into Austin because my best friend is there, my brother is there, and I figured… Well, flying to Austin, they could probably drive me back. United didn’t charge me anything, of course, for rebooking, so I just took the different flight to Austin. And came back… I think my flight actually left earlier than I was supposed to.
JT: The flight I originally got flying back to Houston, I ended up leaving, like, an hour earlier and flying to Austin.
WL: Susan, what was it like with your family down in Atascocita during those two days you stayed with them?
JT: She hated it! No, that’s not true.
ST: I mean, it was fun. My great-niece is there. We actually made a post on Facebook or my niece did, that there were some churches who needed things for people who were staying there, like blankets and non-perishable foods and clothing. People had lost everything. So, they were bringing things to the house and we were taking it to a couple of the local churches until unfortunately one of them was flooded. The first day, we could get into the store because it was very dry, there was no flooding around their immediate house, but we were still able to get into the store. The next day when I was there, they were only letting so many people in, like, to Walmart at a time. Yes, it was an experience. And then, on Wednesday, that morning, I was like, well, they say some of the roads are opened up so we tried several different attempts to get home. It wasn’t until Wednesday evening until I was able to get home through back roads and whatnot that had finally cleared enough water for us to go through.
WL: I have to backtrack a bit. You had you reached out to them to come get you?
ST: Actually, well, my son reached out to them to come get me.
JT: And she got upset with me because I was putting crap on Facebook while I was in California. And yeah, I was worried. So, everybody in our whole family started to call her. So, Josh reached out to them but, by then, everybody was calling her.
WL: At that point, it wasn’t too flooded to where they couldn’t reach you, thankfully?
ST: They did try one attempt that night when everybody started calling, however, the way he came that evening, he had, like, a kayak and a raft and things like that because he thought he could get at least to the neighborhood and we could go that way. But when he got up
to 59 and 2090, he said the water was almost up to the top of the freeway and it was just gushing water and there was just no way anybody could come in or out either way. It wasn’t until the next morning when things had receded a little bit before they opened the dams where they were able to get close enough in to be able to get me.
WL: And what was the type of boat that you were riding in?
ST: It was a little Jon boat.
WL: And you guys were able to pick up a few other people along the way? That is pretty cool.
WL: Did you take them anywhere, the people you had picked up?
ST: We dropped the couple and their dog off at a local store and we waited for their family to come and pick them up to make sure they made it okay. And then, the other couple, we dropped them off at a family member’s house.
WL: Well, I think we have covered pretty much what I had questions-wise for her. I know you are short on time. I really appreciate you being able to join us. Unless there’s anything you think is relevant that we didn’t talk about that you might want to add?
ST: No, I mean, I just thank God that I work for the company I have, been for 12 years.
JT: Well, I wanted to get Susan’s perspective because it is two different perspectives; you know, where I was and she was, like, right in the middle of it while it was happening. I thought if you could get her perspective on things before you get mine, it would probably be better, you know, because I tell… Now, the after effects are the same because I was home by then, you know, during the storm itself. But when it comes to watching weather and things like that, she sort of leaves that to me, you know, because I watch it like a hawk. I don’t know if you want to transition… Do you want to stay online and make sure I don’t say anything that’s wrong?
ST: No, I have to go pick up bandit. I took him to the groomer.
JT: Yes, that is our little dog.
WL: So, what kind of dogs do you guys have?
ST: We have a 3-year-old, four-pound Yorkie, and we have a 20-year-old, 13 pound Chihuahua.
WL: So, sleeping with the two dogs must have been quite the experience during the storm then.
JT: No, we are used to it. Basically, for us anyway.
ST: Well, not in the truck. I had the dogs in the kennel in the back seat and they just cried all night long. So, I wasn’t going to leave in there because, I mean, you’ve got the storm going, which, our Chihuahua is really frightened of them, so she was just beside herself and scared. And then, we have our little Yorkie who doesn’t care about everything that says play with me, pet me. But yes, that was an experience in itself in the truck with the dogs.
WL: I can’t imagine. Well, thank you for taking the time to do this and I am glad everything is… it is not great but it sounds like…
JT: We’ve still got a lot of work to do.
WL: Yes, you’ve got a lot of work to do but it sounds like the company…
ST: Well, we still have a place to live and a roof over our heads and we are good. The cosmetic stuff can come and go.
WL: All right.
ST: All right. Thank you.
WL: Thank you.
JT: All right, babe, I will talk to you later.
ST: All right, bye. I love you.
JT: Love you. Bye. All right, now, piggybacking on her, you can ask me other things.
WL: Sure. Now that she is off the line, why were you in California, Joe?
JT: Are we going to go there? Well, I am part of this group – maybe you have heard about it – the University of Houston History Department.
WL: Oh, really, no, tell me about it.
JT: You know, as a grad student who just passed his comprehensive exams, I have this thing I have to do and it is called writing a dissertation, and this trip had been planned long before. It is a little complicated because I was also asked to teach the Saturday morning course the first half of the U.S. history survey.
So, anyway, I am Joe Thompson. I am a Ph.D. student here at University of Houston. I just passed my comprehensive exams in the spring. And I decided to take my first trip, my first research trip, to Los Angeles because I had written a book with you, Will, and
Michaela, about Mexican-American baseball in Houston. And the founder of the book series invited me to come out and he said, “We are having an event anyway about your book,” the Houston book that had come out in July. I was, like, “Well, while I am out there, I can do a little research, anyway.” He was like, “Yes, just come out.” So, about a week, week and a half before I was about to leave, I started paying attention to the weather and the storm Harvey that they said was going to go up and go into Austin and go up that way. And, in fact, the day I left was when it was churning over, sure enough, that Corpus Christi area. But they said there was a chance it could go up and stall and come back down and sort of go hit Houston and just sort of bounce around the Gulf because there was a low-pressure system that was coming down, that was going to push the storm back into the sea, back into the ocean. And that made me real nervous because I had a feeling that was really going to happen. I was hoping it would just sort of die out. But it didn’t. It just sort of sat there and churned.
So, I started to watch it. I had left on Thursday or something like that or Wednesday, I forget when… By that time, they had canceled all the classes and everything anyway. My wife and I were going to handle my first class on that Saturday because usually it was just a hello, how are you, and I was going to Skype in and talk to the students and that kind of thing. So, they weren’t going to miss anything. But they had canceled classes. And I was, like, well, I will just go out there, do some research, and then come back the next week and that will be that. And sure enough, what they were afraid was going to happen did happen… I guess that low pressure system sort of caused the storm to stall and sort of push it back down and pushed it towards us. And, of course, we were on the right side – we got the dirty side which is where all the rains and crap was. It just sat there and churned.
So, my last couple of days I was there, I was really nervous and people that were… Dr. Santillan [ph. sp.], I was staying at his house, noticed that every time he looked at me, I was looking at the weather. So, I think the last night I was there, one of the people from the Institute of Baseball Studies took me out to an event. They had taken me to, like, Denny’s or something, and we were talking, and that is when everything really started to get bad. So, I was really nervous. I couldn’t sleep. Even though I had to try to find some way to get back the next day or so, well, the day after that. Yes, it was pretty rough. I was a nervous wreck. I don’t think I slept right for about two weeks after.
WL: How long have you guys been up in Splendora?
JT: Well, I grew up there. I graduated from high school there. Long time ago in the late 1980s. Splendora High School. But we moved back… Well, we had lived there together in 2006, 2007, something like that, and then, we bought a double wide in the Lakeshore subdivision in 2010. It was funny because the neighbors, when we were talking about buying the house, they were like, “Oh, you don’t want to move here. It floods here all the
time.” I am just, like, whatever… And we lived there pretty much nine years, eight years… Well, we bought it in 2010, so we had lived there, like, 6 years – nothing had happened. We had some rain here and there, a little flooding, whatever, but the way our house sits, like, the gully is in our backyard.
The gully that comes down and empties out into Peach Creek, okay, and I think the water comes out from Lake Conroe and that sort of thing. So, I guess the Lake Livingston Dam sort of empties out the other way, going toward Cleveland and down that way to Crosby and Dayton, that kind of thing. But the gully empties out from Conroe and goes behind our house, which is nerve wracking because in 2016 when it flooded, it flooded real bad that weekend, Memorial Day weekend or something like that. I was taking Dr. Walters class but we had to cancel class because I woke up in the morning. I had heard it was going to rain all night and the water was getting high and the highest I had ever seen it. And I was lucky enough to leave work. I closed that night, and I was lucky enough to get in the neighborhood. It was still raining. And something told me to turn the central air off. So, I turned the central air off but we had ceiling fans so we were okay. I woke up the next morning… My backyard looked like a running river in 2016 and the water got to the third step. And it was rising and I was nervous. And it was kind of like that for, like, two days. And then, this happened.
WL: So, based off of your experiences with Memorial Day…
JT: I wanted to move.
WL: You wanted to move?
JT: I was nervous, man. I mean, there is nothing like walking around the house and you hear water slosh underneath you, but the power stayed on the whole time. It was just weird. But we had the AC off because the water had covered the AC, the outside unit… Because the way the neighborhood is, it sort of slopes down toward that gully and it is, like, our house, that row of houses, our house and the gullies and the back, it used to be old Lake Splendora. That is what they called it. Now, it is nothing but trash… Well, the woods. But then, again, because of these floods the last two years, I don’t think there is anything back there now. I am sure it has all been flushed out. I would like the County to go back there and dig it all out but… I am just a citizen.
WL: What made you first put up a post on Facebook about that your wife maybe needed help?
JT: I was scared shitless.
WL: What was the thing that made you… Because, I mean, you were scared and a nervous wreck the whole time… What was the last deciding factor or the moment that made you start…
JT: Putting a post up there?
JT: Well, I had called her all day and she said, sure enough, the water, that whole day, it kept raining and raining and she said, “Well, the water is up. And it had gone down a little bit. But it is sort of, like, coming toward the house.” Then, as the day went on, it got higher and higher. And I told her to take the tape measure and measure the steps. And where is it at? When she told me it was at the second step, then I started to get nervous because the highest I had ever seen was the third step. And I looked on the radar and the storm was just sitting there. It wasn’t moving, you know? And if it was moving, it was only moving, like, 2-3 miles an hour. And it looked like those big bands were just going to sit there and pour and pour and pour. So, I put something on Facebook because I was just nervous as hell. I am 2,000 miles away and I can’t be there to protect my family. By that time, she couldn’t get out of the neighborhood. Yes, that is when I decided to put something up. And I knew, George, our nephew, had a boat, where somebody would call them. I knew somebody in Splendora had a boat. Just as a worried husband, you know? Somebody go get them. Like she said – George came out there but they couldn’t get them.
And then, just like she said a few minutes ago, the water was up to the bottom of the freeway. I had seen pictures of that but I think that was water coming down from Lake Livingston, those other, sort of, creeks, but I think the one that goes behind our house is the one that came out of Conroe, which, now that I think about it, I think that is why our house didn’t basically get washed away. We were extremely lucky, even though we got water in the house because, if what she is telling me is true, man, we should have been washed away. But I don’t know how… It made me nervous, man. Yes, I prayed. I grew up in a Christian house, I mean, you know, what do you do? You pray. So, that is what I did. In LA. I am sitting in the bathroom at Dr. Santillan’s house. I am worried sick.
WL: Were you paying attention to any of the reports about dam releases?
WL: What were you thi
inking about when you were…
JT: Well, I was more worried about the storm. I was more worried about the water that was coming down. And now that I think about it, when they let the water out of the dams, yes, that can cause a ton of damage, but I guess the way I thought the gully was set up, I didn’t really start to think about it until after she had been rescued, because, you remember, the storm started to move away a little bit but that is when they said… It is, like, the next day, okay, now we are going to release the water from the dams, and that is when all the damage happened. It wasn’t necessarily the
it did some, it was the releasing of the water from the dams that did all damage. So, that made me nervous. Well, they are going to release the water from the dams and my wife is not there now. Is my house going to be washed away? So, what I would do is, there were people in the neighborhood who would post stuff on Facebook, and I found somebody that lives close to our house and it also ended up our next door neighbor had posted video. So then, I would ask them how high the water is, and she had told me that it was starting to recede and it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought. So, that made me feel a lot better.
WL: What was it like coming back in from Austin, the drive up?
JT: When I flew in, I stayed two days with William, my best friend, and I am glad I did. By that time, the storm had moved off but it was still flooded everywhere. Nobody could get into Houston. People were trapped. And when I was driving back, once you got in between Brenham and Navasota, there is a point there where you cross the Brazos River – I think it is the Brazos River…
WL: Then it gets all flooded?
JT: Yes, there is that part that comes down. I think it is the Brazos River. And it literally looked like there had been water in the streets the night before. And there is a point there where you can see the water spots. And I was, like, man, if I had tried to come back yesterday, which I almost tried to, we would not have ma
de it. It is like that water had just moved off. But by the time we went over the bridge, I’m am, like, good Lord, the water had receded so much, but if I would have left the day before, I would have been stuck in Brenham. I don’t think I would have been able to make it back home. You can just tell… I just felt helpless, you know, because things like this, you depend on everybody else but it is just that you take care of the family, man. I don’t know. We lose our stuff, we lose our stuff, but we’ve got each other, you know? We got the dogs. I mean, we don’t have any kids anymore because all three of our kids are grown. And our youngest, he is in the Marines. He lives in Okinawa. My oldest lives in Washington State. And my daughter lives in Porter. So, we are by ourselves with the dogs. It is her taking care of everything and that kind of made me feel helpless.
WL: But once you got back once, once you managed to actually end up back home, how did you address not feeling so helpless anymore?
JT: Well, I try to do as much as I can but I still had to depend on the neighbors… When I finally got back and she is home and we are sort of assessing the damage underneath, we are looking underneath the house, and sure enough, I missed this because it is real dark underneath the house, but I took a picture. And now that I go back and look at it again, there is a part underneath where it was, like, bowed down. And I completely missed that. If I would have saw that, I probably would have gotten underneath there and cut it open
but it just looked so dark under there. I picked up what I could around the house and tried to straighten up as much as we could.
And then, we started focusing on the car because, well, FEMA is not really going to do anything, the power is back on, so let’s just do what we can? So we started filing paper… I actually started filling out the FEMA paperwork when I was in Austin. And then, we just started making sure that was all right. And the company I worked for, the part-time job, the Domino’s, have a partners foundation and when I started back working again, my boss was telling me, “Look, just try, Joe.” The partners didn’t help me before and FEMA didn’t help us before, the year before with the flooding in the house or flooding in the backyard that kind of messed some stuff up. They had denied us the previous year. So, I didn’t really expect anything from anybody. But I just applied. Like, my wife’s job, Dominoe’s came through and gave us just a couple of hundred dollars spending money. What that mostly did is ended up helping… Actually getting us another car.
WL: Tell me about the car.
JT: My car was parked. It was kind of funny because, again, you get those feelings and I was, like, well, my flight was early in the morning so what I like to do is, when I am leaving, I like to drive down to the parking spot in Humble, parking spot 2, which is right there at the corner of Will Clayton and McKay, and just drive right in there, park in the covered parking, get in the shuttle and go to the airport. That is what I’ve always done. So, why would this be any different? So, I took my Sentra and I just parked it there. And while I was coming back, I saw the pictures, the pictures of Humble, and I am, like… Because I thought for sure we were going to lose the house, the car. I was certain we were going to lose the house and both cars. I just kind of figured that. But then, I saw pictures of Humble, I am, like… our Sentra is gone. And it is kind of funny because we drove up to the parking spot and you know how you can just look at your car and there is something not right? Like, when it is fogged in from the inside, when all the windows are fogged on the inside, I am, like, this ain’t right. And I literally opened the door and the biggest poof of stale moldy air you have ever smelled came out of the car. And the water spots that I saw, it looked like not only had water went completely over the car, but on the inside, it had gone pretty much all the way up to the top of the seat. And it’s funny – one of the books I was going to use for my students in the class was in that car. So, I had to throw it away. See, this is why you talk to her. I talk too much.
WL: No, it is fine. So, what day did you go back to go see the car in the parking spot?
JT: It was the night we got back. So, that would have been… August 25th, 26th, I had left. I came back the 31st. I am guessing that was the 30th is when I finally got back in town, the 30th of August. I’ve got some pictures of the car.
WL: Other than your family coming to help out, did you notice any tighter bonds among your community or did you pay attention at all to any of the stories going on around the city with, sort of, the volunteer efforts or fundraising or donating?
JT: August 31st is when I came back, and when I took those pictures. Well, Houston always comes together, man. When Allison hit, I worked downtown. And it was the same kind of thing. The storm just sat there. But people were helping people get out of where they were getting out. People came to help each other. People in boats were helping people get out of… People on the freeway were helping each other get out of their cars. But, this time, it just seemed different. It was just that every time you turned on the on the TV, you would just see people helping each other and people rescuing other people – some people, especially elderly people, who can’t get around. A friend of mine at work, Kevin, his house pretty much got washed away, but Kevin picked up a neighbor from across the street who was in a wheelchair, picked her up and took her to safety. It is that kind of stuff. Even though your house is gone, you know, that kind of characterizes what the city is all about. And we have always been that way. It doesn’t really matter who you are. If you are hurting, we help you, man, you know, because that is just what you do. I would say that Houston is just… I mean, it is a big city but it is really a neighborly city. You know, we are going to help you if you really need it. And people are good about donating things, donating food. Of course, what Mattress Mack did even up to now with helping people get back on their feet, it’s just people coming together and helping each other. It is refreshing.
It is really satisfying to know that your city is all about helping each other when it really comes down to it. Especially a city as big as Houston. If you are a little town, you are a little town, but even my little town, Splendora, on Facebook, people are helping each other. “Hey, we got this going on. Come here.” The cops in Splendora were helping people get food and water and that kind of stuff. The volunteer fire department. They were helping people. They were helping people getting rescued and giving them food and water and setting up shelters and stuff.
WL: So, this long after Harvey, what all left do you still have that you are looking at to work on in your home?
JT: Well, I have a car note I was not expecting. I was getting ready to pay my Nissan off and then, this happened and they paid whatever was left on it. It was pretty much almost paid off. I was about a year from getting it paid off, but they had to pay all that off and I only got so much after that. It is kind of funny, it is kind of a weird story how things kind of work in different ways. The transmission in my Nissan, the Sentra, had pretty much went out six months before this happened. So, we had to buy a new transmission. That costs $4,000 that we had to spend to buy a new transmission. It is because we bought the new transmission and it being a brand-new transmission, that Liberty Mutual was able to give
us more money. They ended up paying everything off, because the car had 150,000 miles on it. Because of that transmission, they valued it high enough to where they paid the car off and gave us a little extra money to buy a new car. It wasn’t much. $500, $600. But it was enough for us to at least get started with a new car. But, again, I drive around so much, my wife drives around, we have to have two cars because of our work schedules. I pretty much have three jobs and I doing writing and stuff like that. She’s got her jobs. So, we have to have two cars.
But as far as the car, getting used to that again, I am having to work a lot extra now to pay for stuff. We had to pay upwards of $3,000, $4,000 to get the underside of the house fixed. The leveling costs, like, $1,600. We want to raise the house. With a double wide, you could just set a block… We want to set it, like, two blocks up and then just kind of make sure it is leveled. The underside just got done. We are going to have to replace all the floors. We are going to have to replace some sheet rock on the inside. Fix the inside door part that bowed out, that swelled up. And our front porch is pretty much ruined. It was going that way anyway, but the storm really ruined it. So, every time I walk on the porch now, I hear it… like it is going to fall. It is probably going to take… Christmas is going to be lean this year. But it is probably going to take a year or two years to get back on our feet. And the funny thing about it is, we want to move because this is two years in a row now where we have had to deal with something like this. So, want to sell the house and go somewhere else. But that really depends on where I get a job after I finish my degree which hopefully will be in a year once I finish writing this dissertation. I’ve got a lot to do. I had to get the lawn mower fixed because I haven’t even tried to start the riding lawn mower, because that was pretty much covered in water. I am rambling.
WL: No, it is fine. I just want to clarify a point that I probably should have earlier. How many steps up to your home is it, because you were talking about measuring how high the water had gotten on the steps?
JT: It is, like, 4 steps and then the top step on the back porch. And then, it got to the third… Because once you get up to the third step, it is pretty much 3/4 of the way up on the air conditioner because it is the central air conditioner which sits right next to it. And once you get over that, with the way the air conditioning is set up, once that water gets over that, it starts pouring down into it. And that is where your central air gets all jacked up. But that’s how high it was. And even the watermark, you know, that last time, it was about 3/4 of the way up. But this time, it went over it. But even the day after, Susan took a picture, after the water had receded 6 inches, and it is still pretty much just like ½ an inch… It is, like, probably ½ an inch to an inch below the top step. I mean, where you walk out the step at the porch area, it is still below that, and that was the next morning after it receded. So, yes, I would have been freaking out.
WL: Well, I know you are a pretty big sports fan.
JT: A little bit.
WL: Were the Astros going through the whole Houston strong thing?
JT: First off, let’s talk about J.J. Watt.
WL: Okay, let’s talk about J.J. Watt.
JT: We will get the Astros here in a second. You talk about people giving back to the community – I am just going to say one thing here and people can take it any way they want. The fact that Colin Kaepernick is on the cover of GQ, and J.J. Watt himself… I know he is an activist and what he’s done, the whole take a knee movement and that kind of thing, but when you are one person and you kind of lead a nationwide movement to help the city, where movie stars like Ellen and Kimmel or Fallon maybe – these people are giving money… Where you raise $37 million by yourself to help the city when he wanted to only do like $250,000 or whatever, or $20,000 or something and it turns into $37 million, that, to me, is an accomplishment that deserves some type of presidential medal, much less a cover of GQ as Man of the Year or whatever it is. And I understand the whole thing with Kaepernick. But J.J. Watt not getting these accolades is a shame, you know, because he did more…
And I will give you another example. About a week or two weeks after this, my wife is sitting at home and there is a knock at the door. Okay, she knocks at the door, opens it, and she is handed… Now, granted, we are by ourselves… She is handed this huge tray of food about this big with hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken things, and it was from the J.J. Watt Foundation. The foundation was driving around our neighborhood and just handing food out to people. My wife is, like, we are just by ourselves. “Take it. Here.” And they came the next day and did the same thing. And we are just a little city, Splendora. I mean, that kind of stuff deserves recognition, man. I do not know if it is a Houston bias, a nationwide Houston bias, but…
WL: Oh, you are the sports historian – you can tell me.
JT: That guy deserves not just a key to a city, but some type of presidential medal. I mean, it really tells you the power of athletes and communities coming together and you segue that into the Astros. So, go ahead and ask your Astros question.
WL: How did you feel being a big Astros fan with the whole Houston Strong thing going on afterwards, their deal with the Rangers immediately…
JT: Well, I will tell you this about the Texas Rangers – This whole idea that we can’t change home stadiums or home dates because, it would not work out for us, that kind of thing, so, you go play your home stadium in Tampa, which, I don’t mind Tampa, but how many people there, you know, really, to see an Astros/Rangers series? And it is, like, okay,
baseball, why don’t you step up and do something about it, because the last time a storm hit us, Ike, what did they make us do? They made us to go up Milwaukee and play the Chicago Cubs, which is right down the street from Chicago. So, it is pretty much a home series for them when it should have been a home series for us. And that is that day that Zambrano pitched a no-hitter against the Astros in Milwaukee, which should been a home game for us. So, baseball… upper management should have stepped in and said, “Rangers, no, okay? You are going to flip it here.” Just think about somebody besides yourself. They could have done something, you know. The city was in trouble. You couldn’t have people come to the games.
It is kind of funny now that you think about what has happened. The Houston Strong thing, it almost reminds me of the Red Sox right after the Boston Marathon bombing. I mean, the Red Sox… When Ortiz stands up there on the field at Fenway Park and says, “This is our fucking city.” He says that. And, what do they do? They go win the World Series. So, the whole Houston Strong thing is, like, all right, fine, you know? There is no bias here. Nobody is trying to do this, that, and the other. But the way the team came together was like, okay Major League Baseball, you going to send us to. Tampa let us get our butt kicked by the Rangers or whatever at Rays Stadium? It is, like, okay, it just kind of motivated.
And, again, it is kind of funny because they played. So, you look at August. Okay, so, August 30th, the 29th, 30th, and 31st, they play those three games in Tampa against the Rangers. What happens August 31st at 11:59 p.m. with 30 seconds, when we are, like, at our worst? What happens? I am sitting in my bed laying down and all of a sudden Twitter blows up with this whole thing about is Justin Verlander coming here? Oh well, Verlander’s not coming here. And people are, like… You had people from the East Coast saying Verlander is not going to come here and this is why Houston sucks and this kind of thing, and 30 seconds later, people are, like, wait a minute. We are getting different reports. And Justin Verlander comes to town like the same day the Astros lose, they get swept by the Rangers in Tropicana Field. It is, like, the end of the game and Luno [ph. sp.] is on the phone. I know he has to be. And then, that night, when they are coming back because they are off the next day, the reports come out – Justin Verlander signs with the Houston Astros. And the Astros had been struggling in August, obviously, because they went through that and plus, their heads weren’t in the game. Their heads were about their families back here, which is why baseball should have stepped in and told the Rangers what they can do with their elitist mentality. But yes, I think the Verlander signing, I was happy they got Cameron Maybin. I was really happy they got Verlander. But I think that moment was sort of, like, okay. It is like the baseball gods were, like, okay…
WL: You could sort of see it from that moment on, I mean, obviously knowing what ends up happening with the World Series, but it sort of felt like a shift with everything that had
been going on in the city. The city started to really get into baseball at this moment as sort of a way to heal.
JT: Heal itself. It is kind of the way baseball and sports, in general, is really good about healing communities that go through a lot. You know, football does this. But you go all the way back to the Civil War – baseball helps heal the nation.
WL: I mean, and you have been a fan for so long and you going through with…
JT: Coming out of the womb, man!
WL: And going through with what you guys went through with Harvey and everything, what was it like seeing the Commissioners trophy come down…
JT: I didn’t think it was going to happen.
WL: You didn’t think it was going to happen?
JT: I made a bet… I made a foolish bet when I went to Vegas in July… The Astros win the World Series? Yes, it is a couple of bucks. Well, I’ve got to cash that thing in now. But, you know, you have been a Houston sports fan your whole life. I mean, you have had major sports… Soccer is a major sport. But when it comes here, it will change but right now, it is fourth. But really, the only time you have been excited for a major sports team or the last time was the Astros in 2004 and 2005, but the only time you have had a championship was the Rockets teams in 1993 and 1994. And that city… I wasn’t here for that. I was in the Air Force. But the city came together and it really helped the healing process. And it is like the whole team kind of took the city on its back – Verlander did, too – and they were just, like, we are going to do this.
WL: And Mattress Mack is out there giving out World Series tickets and a flight on a private jet to go to LA. He is making those mattress deals, those deals he makes for championship games.
JT: Mattress Mack had a lot to do with it and the Astros themselves had a lot to do with it, but I will tell you one story. When I was in LA, right when Harvey was hitting, I got an extensive behind the scenes look at Dodger Stadium with Dr. Santillan who is really connected with the Dodgers, and I always wanted to go there and I had never been there. So, I go to Dodger Stadium the day I get there and I am wearing my Astros cap and my orange Saber shirt. I get this extensive behind the scenes tour of Dodger Stadium where they take me on the field in the dugout and I’m sitting there standing in my orange shirt right at home plate at Dodger Stadium, where George Springer hits a home run three months later, you know, in Game 7 or one of those games. And then, I am sitting in the Dodgers’ dugout, in the Dodgers’ dugout with my hat on and my orange shirt on saying, “Hey, Astros invasion of Dodger Stadium.” So, I like to think I had something to do with
that, too. I brought that Astros magic to sit it right there in the Dodgers’ dugout. Well, it was in the visitors’ dugout, but I sat on the Dodger bench.
WL: Getting the stadium ready.
JT: Yes, I was getting the stadium ready. I just think Houstonians didn’t really know what to expect because we’ve been heartbroken so many times over the years. We’ve been so close. But you just kind of had that feeling once Verlander got here, and once they brought Maybin in, because they needed a little offense help, but especially once Verlander got here and when he started doing what he was doing, that something was different. I think it really started to click for me, because they will tell you at work, when the Astros, during the ALCS… they just rolled past Boston in the first round, they played the Yankees in the second round, and they lose three straight games in New York. And I am just, like, well, it was a nice run. This was done. And then, I came home from work on game six, and the moment I came back, they started scoring all these runs in, like, the 8th inning. They ended up scoring like four or five runs in the 8th inning, and I am, like, this is different. The Astros don’t do this. And so, they ended up beating the Yankees, like, 6-1 or 7-1 in game 6. And then, game 7 when they pretty much… When Gaddis hits the home run and they shut them out in game 7, I am, like, we clenched at home. We clenched at home. And then the World Series starts and we got our butts handed to us in the first game when Kershaw did what he did to us. But then, game 2 of the World Series, the way they came back and won to beat that Mighty Dodger Pen that had not given up a run to nobody, the way they came back and won. And I’m, like, wait a minute – there is something going on here. This is different. Sports teams in Houston don’t do stuff like this. So, I really started to think.
WL: There is a different feeling for the team and the city at that point, especially compared to where we had been before.
JT: And the Dodgers are so good, man. They are really, really good. People just don’t realize how good they really are. But then, game 2 and then I am kind of heartbroken. And then, game 5 happens, the game that goes to 1:30 in the morning. It was back and forth, back and forth, which I consider probably one of the greatest World Series games ever. I am, like, we can do this. And lucky for us, we got Darvish in game 7, so we had his number, which is ironic. He didn’t want to come here so… That is why my wife is off the phone.
WL: I have pretty much gone through everything I planned on asking.
JT: Yes, probably way too much.
WL: But if there is anything that you were thinking that you wanted to talk about…
JT: Well, I guess my biggest problem is I have been trying to get caught up so much. You have to remember… I was teaching the Saturday class… Not only did U of H cancel my first class, they canceled the next week’s class, too. So, our first class wasn’t until the 9th of September. And there are students that have been in school for Dang near 3 weeks before my students finally met for the first time. And I am sitting in here right now and it has been a struggle, man. It has been a struggle. The first half of the semester, we just flew by as much… A lot of the stuff I wanted to talk about, I just took out because there was no time. When you have one day a week, it really messes things up when you basically missed the first six hours of course. So, my students have had to hold on to me as we whirl through the first half of the semester. And then, the first class of the second part of semester, I was, like, okay, look, let’s all take a breath now. It has been a whirlwind.
But even then, I mean, I have had to adjust, readjust, change things, adjust assignments that I wanted to do. I had to completely change that. I talked with them before… It was funny… This is the first class, really, that I kind of got to know before I met them. And I had them do assignments. And this is the first class I really had to do an assignment before we had actually met. But that is what the storm did. It has really made this semester kind of tough. And I am fortunate that I don’t take coursework anymore but what I am having to do is do all this dissertation research stuff. I’ve had to change things. So, it has really been a rough semester. And I probably could have applied for different things, like, through U of H. There was this Cougar Care or something like? The Astros had something for veterans, I think. And, as a veteran, I probably could have applied for that. It is not that I didn’t want to, it is just I have been so busy because I have had to work extra at my other jobs, plus working here and catching up with students – I just haven’t had no time.
And with everything that’s going on with trying to pay, pay, pay to fix the house because FEMA is doing what it is doing and everybody else is doing what it is doing… We’ve got to come up with thousands of dollars to buy a new car. I mean, I just haven’t had time to. So, I just wish that may be in the future, we can use this as a learning tool to help students and instructors to better prepare for something like this. I do not think there is really much you can do but it just sort of puts everything on hold where you are trying to get caught up which is funny because I am going on another trip the day after Thanksgiving to Chicago to do more research. So, it is just… And I am trying to save up money for that because you only get a certain amount of money. $750 to pay for a trip to Chicago, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, right? It is causing me to borrow money to take the trip and do what I am supposed to be doing. But anyway, it has been a learning experience, man, a learning experience. But everybody’s been nice. Nobody’s really been an ass. People have helped. Students have been very understanding. But I seem a little more distant this semester especially in the first half of the semester than I have in
other semesters because I really didn’t get to know the students until October, because they didn’t know me. I kind of feel like the guy giving them way too much work. But they like me now. Anyway, that’s all I got.
WL: That’s all you’ve got?
JT: I can keep going but I’ve got to go to the bathroom.
WL: Well, thanks for doing this.
JT: Is there anything that they wanted me to say?
WL: Just your stories. That is pretty much it.
JT: Well, is there anything they wanted to know in particular? Houston messed up with their drainage plan. What can you really do?
WL: Yes, I don’t know. I mean, you are built on several different bayou systems.
JT: You are a bayou city. You are called the Bayou City for a reason, you know? I mean, Harvey… I guess what they could learn more than anything else is maybe we need more dams. Yes, maybe we need more dams or maybe we need to build more drainage systems or make the drainage systems we have deeper. Like, the gully behind my house in Splendora. I have always said not only should they just dig that whole thing out and make it as deep as possible so our neighborhood doesn’t get flooded, but the little bridge area that comes in from 2090 that goes into our neighborhood, I swear it is probably 20 feet wide and maybe 15 feet deep. I mean, really? For a whole neighborhood? And it is that one little part that goes over and then the backside of it, it is that little part that is even smaller. It is, like, come on, really? So, maybe cities and towns can work together to help these drainage systems to help work together in communities and come together and say, hey, we have to come up with a better water drainage plan, which I hope Splendora does. Montgomery County, too. We are not going to let them off the hook. And Harris County, especially. Anyway, that’s it.
WL: Well, thanks. That is a lot. I appreciate it.
JT: Now go transcribe it.
[End of Recording]