The weather was deteriorating rapidly. Tropical Storm Imelda had appeared out of nowhere and was sitting on southeast Texas, pouring buckets of rain on soaked ground. But the weather radar showed the storm sitting well north and east of where I needed to go, and there were very few road closures at that point. So it looked like things would be fine. At 7:59 a.m. Thursday I made the decision to drive from Austin to Pasadena, Texas,, south of Houston to see an address by Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton at the Gulf Coast Industry Forum.
The drive in was uneventful until I topped a hill on I-10 eastbound and saw a blackening sky split by flashes of lightning. Soon enough, the rain reduced visibility from normal to 100 feet to just a few, and drivers flipped their hazard lights on to make themselves more visible. Driving speeds slowed to a crawl. Several times, I thought I would either be late for the event or not make it at all, because the traffic was moving so slowly and roads were turning from yellow to red to black on my Google Maps.
But I made it fine, the event went well and I hit the road immediately to get back to Austin at 1:30. The drive out was worse than the drive in and about five minutes after leaving the convention center I hit the first flooded road. The police had just arrived to block the street, now under about 18 inches of water.
I turned around and went through a parking lot to the next street over and let Google Maps figure out another route. We complain about Google a lot and they may be a trust in need of breaking up, but Google Maps re-routed me more than half a dozen times as road conditions deteriorated. At one point as I was driving on an elevated stretch of road I saw a low-lying spot to my right, crowded with flooded cars abandoned by their drivers. Cars just like mine had water up to their fenders and could no longer move.
The media and many politicians often say we’ve never been more divided as a people than we are now. Twitter provides most of the evidence.
Set aside the fact that our forefathers fought an actual civil war, it’s a favorite trope but is it really true?
While trying to find a way out I turned on KTRH radio to hear which roads were closing and what was happening across Houston. The station canceled its syndicated talk shows and went hyper-local, taking in call after call from Texans all over the region. The host would say the caller’s name and ask: “Where are you and what are you seeing?” Callers of all backgrounds crowd-sourced routing each other around the rising flood. Radio provided vital information and a lifeline to everyone who tuned in.
If you don’t know much about south Texas, you’ve probably never heard of “Mattress Mack,” but he’s a legend here. “Mattress Mack” is James Franklin MacInvale. He owns Gallery Furniture and is a well-known philanthropist. You may have heard of him during Hurricane Harvey for taking in storm refugees and raising money for them. Mattress Mack called in to KTRH and probably other talk stations and told the city he had opened his stores to anyone who needed a place to eat or stay. Churches and other businesses followed suit and added their facilities to the shelters cities and counties throughout the region had opened up.
And with the roads closing rapidly, and with the city and county stretched to keep up, Mack also offered to send out his trucks to pick up anyone stranded and bring them to his store. You could call him or text him and he’d have them come pick you up. The thought crossed my mind more than once: I might need Mattress Mack.
Mattress Mack wasn’t the only citizen who showed character and generosity during the flash flood. Food truck driver Reggie McCoy got stranded on I-10, and decided to use the food in his truck to help others.
McCoy was stranded on I-10 for more than 36 hours, he says. With a truck full of food and nowhere to go, he asked his boss if he could share.
“He was like, ‘Hey, whatever anybody needs. Let’s get it off the truck.’ We’ve got water. We’ve got milk, toilet paper,” explained McCoy.
Then he met another stranded driver, Kenny the cook. McCoy had some chicken, so they got a grill and Kenny was able to prepare it right there on I-10.
“We had chicken wings last night and a few grape tomatoes and chips and milk,” said McCoy.
21-year-old college track athlete Satchel Smith was working at Homewood Suites hotel in Beaumont when the storm hit. He happily manned his post, alone, for 24 hours until the waters receded enough for other staff to arrive and relieve him. His story went viral when a hotel guest posted about him on social media.
“The access road is underwater and I-10 is shut down due to flooding,” Chandler wrote in her post. “We can’t get in or out. The hotel a mile from us is under water. Satchel has been here all night. His coworkers couldn’t make it to work, so he stayed.
“He has manned the phones, answered each of our questions, ensured that we have had a hot cup of coffee or tea, and helped serve us a hot breakfast.”
Houston Chick-fil-A and its staff stepped up for Texans yet again. They handed out sandwiches to stranded people.
Medina said the employees took about 200-400 sandwiches over to families stuck on the highway.
San Antonio’s city council should take note. Chick-fil-A is consistently a great corporate citizen.
The Cajun Navy crossed in from Louisiana and helped south Texans again. Local Rodair Roadhouse restaurants fed the Cajun Navy and first responders.
And this man became a Texas hero.
As ABC13 News cameras rolled on Thursday, the man caught the fish while he was stranded in the flood water created by tropical storm Imelda. Unfortunately, footage of the you-gotta-see-this moment has not been released (yet), but one viewer did manage to get a couple screenshots of the broadcast that’ll we’ll cherish forever.
“This dude caught a 4 pound bass on the feeder road near I-45 and Cross Timbers in front of Whataburger while he was stranded waiting for the flood waters to recede,” Andrew Mattheis captioned the photos in a Facebook post. “If this isn’t Texas, and especially Houston, I don’t know what is.”
Willie Nelson may have to amend his old song – “My heroes have always been cowboys — until now.”
Adversity forges and reveals character. The overwhelming evidence from what I saw during Imelda is that people want to help other people and the vast majority will when the moment arises. I saw the same during Harvey, when I was on one of the teams that worked days and weeks on end to get relief to storm victims as fast as possible.
We’re less divided, more genuinely American, than our coastal media thinks. It serves them to divide us and exploit those divisions. It serves many politicians to do the same. It’s not the reality on the ground, even when the ground is under a couple of feet of water.
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