My first time in Houston was on a trip with fellow Six Flags over Georgia workers, to visit sister parks in Texas. One night, we got to go see the Braves lose in the Astrodome. (It was the early 80's; they always lost.) We had fun and our hosts were great.
Twenty years later I was working between coasts, and would find myself in Houston from time to time. It never went well.
"Don't curse this place," I heard, and stopped dead in the concourse to look around. I knew I hadn't said "I hate Houston" out loud, but somehow I'd just heard a response. It was an audible voice. But no one was near me, and now there was silence. Clearly (to me in my world), God was telling me to change my attitude toward a city in Texas. Okay.
From that day, I began to see Houston news everywhere. And I began to pray for its people. And I went to a conference there, and did some mission work there, and even learned I'm kind of from there. Huh? Yeah, I had no idea my dad spent some early years there growing up. So Houston, you got my attention.
And then -- Katrina. It was a couple years after my airport encounter that Houston became the new home of countless evacuees of Hurricane Katrina. One of the main shelters was the abandoned Astrodome. News of conditions there hit me hard.
Here was this great facility, with room to spare, but no one knew what to do with it, how to organize it. Government agencies were understaffed, and collaboration with other groups was chaotic. The place was dangerous. Water scarce. Toilets overflowing. Workers stealing from victims. People fighting, raping, and killing. A horror show. And conditions weren't much better in other locations.
This time, even before Harvey struck, lines of buses were helping Texans evacuate. The buses came before, not after.
And as the storm lingers today, pouring a year's rain within a week, civilians are mobilizing themselves. They're not waiting to help. A loose band of boaters dubbed the Cajun Navy was first launched post-Katrina, trying to find stranded survivors. It was brutal work, but these Samaritans found they'd rather be wrung out by weather than pelted by news images of people dying on rooftops.
So the flotilla is back, helping with Harvey early. They've learned time equals lives, and that anyone with a boat is on the front lines. Small towns still await help tonight, hoping this casual coast guard has enough sailors, speed, and stamina to get them in time. We are in a life-and-death window right now.
That Houston interstate where I nearly wrecked is a lake today. And so is the airport where the city first got my attention. The convention center next to the old dome is open for evacuees, but the stadium itself has not yet recovered from Katrina. It is being rebranded and developed.
Harvey survivors are being taken to local aid stations, and to facilities farther away. People are opening their businesses and homes to them. So far, this response seems better, calmer.
But it's still raining.
One group was notorious for hosting long events. My boss advised me, in her thick southern accent, that reading might not be enough to entertain me that night. "Brang a craft," she said. I did.
My favorite way to pass the time became talking with the guy who actually did heavy lifting for events. A young, kind soul who loved Jesus. I was fresh out of theology school, where everyone spoke in nuanced arguments about all things Scripture. So when this sweet young man started to share a prosperity gospel with me, my instinct was to tell him he might be taking those verses out of context. But I punched that instinct and made myself just listen. If we'd stayed on the verse where we disagreed and argued all night, I would never have heard him open up other verses like they were ripe fruit. Here was a man who heard from God. Who loved his family and did his crappy job as unto the Lord. I was going to enjoy this being out in the real world.
But before I made a friend, the job was lonely, and one night I sat in a classroom browsing a pre-social-media internet. There was a new travel site called IgoUgo, where you could write about places you'd been. It was social, but I didn't know to call it that. I just knew I'd been places I wanted to share. And I needed a username.
Usernames had been difficult in these early internet years. I'd been in school since '92, when the internet first started being used by mortals. Back when email was miraculous and you said "double u double u double u dot" before every site name. Already, my name was taken wherever I would go, so I tried creating usernames like donnawga, or atldonna, but those were often taken, too. And in school, who had brainspace to solve such problems?
So that night at work, I got to think about who I wanted to be on this travel site. Someone from Georgia, who was frightfully uncool, but who might have some fun insights into places I'd been. It just came to me. Peachgeek. I began entering it everywhere and it was always available.
That's not true anymore, as the internet has become crowded. Not everything peachgeek out there is me. But this is.
Oddly, I never wrote for IgoUgo (now defunct). I felt my travels didn't measure up to what was already on the site. Like I had to be a travel writer or something, telling people the best hotels, when I didn't travel like that at all. So IgoUgo missed out on my series on How to Stay with Friends and See Places as They Really Are. But you are stuck with all of it. I thank you for being here.
Happy Peach Month, y'all.