You wouldn’t expect to get a glimpse of the soul of a city while stranded in the middle of flood waters, but on Tuesday night I was stuck in my dad’s car on a North Houston road, and that's exactly what happened.
In my dad’s defense, the steady drizzle of rain from Tropical Storm Beta was deceptive. It had been coming down for hours—since Monday night, in fact—but for those parked at home on the north side of Houston on Tuesday evening, the rain had mostly amounted to an inconvenience. So when my dad announced his intention to go grab some dinner from Barbecue Inn, I told him there was a chance the streets would be flooding, but I understood why he dismissed it. And when he wouldn't be persuaded to stay home, I hopped in and went with him, just in case.
Cut to his car motoring down Crosstimbers, only a couple of miles from my dad’s GOOF-area house (where I’ve been squatting in my childhood bedroom since the pandemic started and my fiancé got locked out of the country, but that's another story). The water didn’t seem that high, and it usually isn’t more than a few inches in that area during a heavy rain. A minivan splashed past us, breaking waves. “Um, do you think there might be too much water here?” I asked, just as my dad’s gray BMW sputtered and stalled in the middle of the inundated street.
I’d always wondered how on earth anyone who was really from the Bayou City could end up in the middle of a lake of water, and now I was getting my answer. On the upside, we weren’t the only ones. There were at least three other cars stalled out behind us, and a small SUV in the other lane. Roadside assistance said a tow truck would come eventually, and I listened to the water slap against the side of the car and tried to make peace with the prospect of a couple of hours in the water and the dark, just waiting.
We’d only been sitting there for about 15 minutes when our whole car lit up from behind. As I craned my neck squinting to see what was going on, the guy in the SUV, who’d been pushing his car trying to move it out of the water on his own, tapped on my window. “You want help?” he asked, and I stared at him confused. “Sure, but who’s here that can help?”
“They are,” he replied, pointing back to where what I could now see were three or four lifted pickup trucks. The trucks popped over the median, engines rumbling, drove around to the front of our cars, and the occupants piled out and started examining each water-logged vehicle. A sprightly woman in workout clothes and rain boots called, “We’re gonna get y’all out if we can!” I took off my shoes, and waded through the water to where she stood directing the team of more than half a dozen people who had fanned out from the trucks. “Who’s we?” I asked.
“The Relief Gang,” she said. The nonprofit team had positioned themselves earlier in the evening in a spot in the city near where they expected flooding so when cars started stalling out, they were able to be on the move fast, she told me. She pointed at a tall Black man in a yellow rain slicker and waders, whose face was familiar. “That’s our leader over there.”
“Wait, is that Trae Tha Truth?” I stared, mouth gaping like a fish.
“Look at you, fan girl-ing out,” the woman replied, laughing.
The famed rapper was knee-deep in the water hooking up the SUV to the back of his truck, and I stared, realized I needed to take a picture of this, and then stared some more.
Then his crew of volunteers turned to my dad’s car. At first it looked like they could haul us off the street, too, but the car wouldn’t shift into neutral. “Oh hell, it’s a BMW,” one of the guys said. “This kind has the override under the car, so I can’t force it into neutral. I’m really sorry. You’re going to need a different kind of tow, a flatbed,” he explained. My dad offered them some money for their trouble anyway, but they turned it down. “We just do this to help,” another guy said. I thanked them for the effort. “It’s nothing. We do what we can,” one of the guys replied.
They rumbled off, and we climbed back in the car to wait for the tow truck that was supposed to arrive in the next couple hours, but within five minutes officers from Precinct One’s Constable’s Office had pulled up, asking if we needed help. “Ah, well, here’s my cell number,” a woman said when we explained our situation. “Call me, and we’ll be here in a flash if you need a ride or anything.”
It went on like that for another half hour, a panoply of Houstonians—the only thing they for certain had in common were their trucks, which could make it through high water—pausing to offer help, to make sure we were okay. But nobody had the gear to actually move the car. Even as the water drained off, we waited in the dark, now the only ones left on the road.
I’d been staring at my phone for so long I didn’t realize a pair of HPD officers had pulled up behind us until I heard my dad talking to them about a tow—they would get us one, I heard one of the officers say as he went to radio the request in. By the time I climbed out of the car, a tow trucker had pulled up. Again, his truck wasn’t right to get the car off the road, but he said he’d have a flatbed on site in about 10 minutes. We laughed and talked with the officers, both of whom almost looked too young to be policemen, until the tow truck driver pulled up. “We were going to be here for hours. Thank you so much,” I told them as we climbed into the driver’s truck. They smiled. “It’s nice to hear that,” the mustachioed officer said. “We’re glad we could help,” the other chimed in.
My dad’s house was only a five-minute drive away, and our tow truck driver, who, like my dad, grew up in the GOOF and is a lifelong Houstonian, made me laugh the whole ride telling stories of all kinds of people—H-Town's celebrities, elected officials, law enforcement officers, and, in particular, “drunk rich white ladies”—who've tried to pull rank and get him to bend the rules for them. “I always tell them the same thing,” the driver said, as he turned onto my dad’s street (he’d deliver the car to the shop afterward). “Lady, this is Houston. We don’t care who you are. That’s not how things work down here.”
He dropped us at our drive and went off to deliver the car and then work until the early morning hours, hauling other vehicles off and delivering exhausted people at their homes. He gave us a cheerful wave as he pulled away. “That’s what I tell them every time!” he called.
“This was the most Houston night I think I’ve ever had,” I told my dad.
He nodded. "I swear the water wasn't that deep," he said.