Garbage, garbage everywhere

BEAUMONT, Texas — Having experienced two major hurricanes and the deluge-producing Tropical Storm Harvey over the past  12 years, one becomes accustomed to certain sights over time.

After hurricanes Rita and Ike, the blue tarp became the symbol for damage for many and the recovery for some. The blue covers mostly came from a U.S.. Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA program called “Operation Blue Roof.” This is a free service in which damaged roofing can be covered for free for homeowners who sign a right of entry (ROE) form for contractors. The “blue” in blue roofs is so called due to the fiber-reinforced sheeting used as covers, or tarpaulins. Those tarps are blue.

I recall flying into the local airport  when returning from a trip in 2008 in Washington, D.C., and noticed an abundance of blue roofing covers still in place from the September 2005 Rita.

So, Southeast Texas is now several weeks in recovery efforts from Tropical Storm Harvey. The majority of the storm damage from the Houston to Sabine River in Texas was a result of the unprecedented flooding.

Like the blue roofs from past hurricanes, now the symbol where I live and in many other places in Southeast Texas, is trash — and lots of it.

September 4, 2017, Houston, TX – Debris on the side of the road in a Houston area neighborhood affected by Hurricane Harvey. FEMA file photo

The Category 4 Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 26, 2017, on the middle Texas Gulf Coast, where it caused severe wind and storm surge damage. But Harvey wasn’t through there.

Harvey moved inland becoming a Category 1 hurricane before being downgraded to a tropical storm. The track continued until reaching an area about 55 miles southeast of San Antonio.  The storm then took a southeast turn before making a southwestern direction. And, it turned again, making a southeastern leg and eventually hugging the upper Texas coast. TS Harvey was a large-enough storm that its center never came all that near Houston even though the rain it produced was devastating.

The tropical storm made landfall for a final time on Aug. 30, 2017, near Cameron, La., about 50 miles east southeast from where I live in Beaumont.  I remember when the center of the storm was about 45 miles south of here. It had rained for, I lost count of the days, it was flooding and the tropical storm actually had some pretty good gusts of winds. While I had no weather station, I could see the trees outside bending to and fro.

Most of the folks I know from this area, and I tend to agree, could never remember it raining so hard for for so long. This entire area and extending up into the East Texas pineywoods and into Western Louisiana saw an unbelievable drenching. Some preliminary National Weather Service  reports put the rainfall around the Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange Metropolitan area ranging from 36 to 60 inches over the course of the storm. Many of the unofficial  reports in my area put the rain total at 55 inches. Our area has an average annual rainfall of almost 60 inches.

I have no idea how much damage was received from the time it made its first landfall until when it landed again as a tropical storm. In the area from Houston to the east in Texas, at least 70 people died from the flooding.

Recovery from Harvey, still undergoing, will take a long time to accomplish.

Living through another pain-in-the-ass disaster

If I could sum up the past week here in Beaumont, Texas, in one sentence, it would be: Natural disasters suck!

The town I live in has been in the news quite often over the week during the tremendous flooding that was a result of first, Hurricane, then Tropical Storm Harvey. The first hurricane I experienced was 12 years ago this month, Hurricane Rita. Three years later, Hurricane Ike, blew in from the Gulf and left a good portion of the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast flooded.

Rita had extensive wind damage and it took quite some time for Southeast Texas to rebuild. As was the case with both Rita and Ike, I was fortunate enough to sustain no property damage from Harvey. I did evacuate Rita though in my hometown some 60 miles northeast, although the damage there was also quite extensive as it was in Beaumont.

The biggest problem in Beaumont I have faced with Harvey’s deluge was having no running water due to the city losing its water supply system. That is, after the brief power outage we faced.

The water pump station is located along the Neches River and draws water from the river as the main source of water for the City’s water system. The City also lost the secondary water source at the Loeb wells in Hardin County. At this time there is no water supply for the City water system. It looked like after going through all of this, my apartments faced evacuation due to management’s concern about water supplies should a fire threaten us. We were given about 24 hours to find somewhere else to live.

But, we were told the next morning that we would be staying. Albeit, it was without running water.

The next day, a somewhat weaker water supply was evident with running water in the taps and in the toilets. However, we are required to boil any water we get from taps. One hopes boiling it will be a good fix because who knows what all kind of pollution is in the floodwaters.

There was a shortage of places to buy needed staples. Those stores are slowly but surely opening. The same goes for restaurants. I had a burger and onion rings yesterday from Willy Burger. Today, I bought a buffet carry-out meal at Golden Corral. It is the water supply that is also hampering regular operations of restaurants.

 

An Army vehicle carries a woman through flood waters in Orange, TX. The troops are from the 1-143 Infantry Regiment, Airborne Battalion. Army photo by Spc. Austin Boucher

Next in my big bag of flooding complaints is the fact that the flooding has cut off Beaumont from pretty much the rest of the world. First, almost every road leading in or out of the city was shuttered due to rising water. Today, Interstate 10 from Beaumont to the Louisiana line is closed mainly due to flooding in an around Vidor. U.S. Hwy. 96 which leads to Jasper and points north is closed due to the collapse of a bridge over Village Creek from flood waters. I-10 from Beaumont is open again, and I will have to use it to drive to a medical appointment on Wednesday at the Houston VA.

While Harvey did quite a lot of storm damage as a hurricane upon landfall near Corpus Christi, it was its unending rain that caused so much damage in Houston. Upon the storm re-entering the Gulf and making another landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border, that rain only became worse. I did see a lot of trees swaying to and fro as the tropical storm moved to the south of us. But it caused little wind damage up here.

There is no doubting that I am very fortunate in not having severe hardships such as requiring military helicopters to pick me up and taking me to some shelter. Just how many homes and other abodes will require repair or rebuilding, it is hard to say. Likewise, the human loss seems to climb every day. The toll has surpassed 60, ABC News reported tonight.

Finally, many societal questions have risen in Harvey’s aftermath. The first responders from across the U.S., and at least one person from Israel, came to help. A lot has been made about the “Cajun Navy” who have come to help. During such a crisis, there is often a tremendous sense of “coming together.” But we are a nation divided that continues down that path, I think, until that moron in the White House is gone. Even rebuilding will be negatively affected by Trump and his fellow assholes. The easy reconstruction process made so easy by ready Mexican labor during Rita will be in severe demand because of the racist moves of the administration to rid our nation of immigrants.

Our newest challenge is once again North Korea which exploded a hydrogen bomb during a test this weekend. The concern that nation is causing makes a 1,000-year flood look like a spring rain.

 

Seeking shelter from the storm — at home

 

Hurricanes and other natural disasters often leave those people who are not trying to survive with little to do. Since I am off work until a week from today, I spent last night watching TV and surfing the internet. Thus, I went to bed about 1 a.m. I woke up at 7 a.m. and went back to bed until 12:30 p.m. During those times when I was awake I think I can safely say that the rain from now-Tropical Storm Harvey has not abated.

An Army National Guard soldier rescues a woman from her flooded home in Houston. Texas National Guard photo by LT Zachary West.

Beaumont, Texas, does not receive the publicity of, say, Houston. This is obviously because of a matter of scale. Houston, with a population of more than 2.3 million, is the fourth-largest city in the United States. Beaumont, with around 115,000 people, is not.

But, publicity be damned, weather does not play media favorites. Of course, that may have been difficult to fathom for some of the folks in other locations 12 years ago when Katrina inundated New Orleans and wrecked the Mississippi coast. Even now as Tropical Storm Harvey has moved into Louisiana, the national media seems fixated on New Orleans.

New Orleans suffered a significant loss in people and damage, there is no doubt about that. Houston, where thousands of refugees from Katrina sought shelter, will likely see much more damage from Harvey. Hopefully the casualties will not come even close.

It seems a lull in the heavy rain is taking place. The same for the pounding thunder and 35-40 mph wind gusts. But we likely have at least another 24 hours of tropical storm ahead of us. One only needs to look at the weather warnings from NOAA here in Jefferson County to know that:

 

 

The Uber rides to the Texas Senate

Lately I have been transported here and there by Uber.

The ride-hailing firm has received a ton of negativity during its brief existence. From knocking the taxicab business down through some, seemingly, inexperience at the top, there have been some turbulent times.

I am not really interested in the level of intrigue at the corporate level of Uber. I am most interested in making sure that there are Ubers around that will get me where I go during the times I need a ride to hail. Lyft, an Uber competitor recently were approved by the local government here in Beaumont, Texas, where I reside. I may check them out just to see what they like. But so far, I like what I have seen with Uber.

Most appealing to me is that Uber does not stick it to you for a ride like a taxi would. I have taken a Greyhound Bus to Houston and back a couple of times since December, when I had my first cataract operation at the Houston VA Hospital. Last week, I had surgery on my other eye. Both times, since I was not supposed to drive for 24 hours after the cataract surgery, I hailed Uber to take me to the bus station. When I got to Houston I walked the block up from the Greyhound place and rode the Southbound Metro Rail from the Downtown Transit Center to the Texas Medical Center Transit Center where I took the bus to my hotel that was located just behind the NRG Stadium. If I wasn’t riding the shuttle to and from the hospital from the hotel, I used Uber.

For whatever reasons that I can’t wrap my head around, Greyhound decided to move from the station on Magnolia Avenue in downtown Beaumont. Until a few years ago, the station was at that location for many a moon. The bus station was moved to the truck stop in Rose City, between Beaumont and Vidor. Because the physical address is in Vidor, the bus line calls the station “Beaumont-Vidor.” The latter city raises some eyeballs from some African Americans who have never been to the Greyhound station there but have certainly heard of Vidor. The town has a checkered past as a so-called “Sundown town.” It was once pretty much all white and was once a haven for the Ku Klux Klan. Although there are klan members living there some city officials have tried to distance the town from the KKK.

I do not know much about how Uber goes about letting people drive wherever. But there are no Ubers to be found on one’s iPhone app when looking for a ride at the Beaumont-Vidor Greyhound station at the truck stop in Rose City. Got that? I have been told by the service’s drivers that there are no Ubers to be found in Orange County, which is where the bus station is located. I was told a way to circumvent the problem though. One can enter the location of where you want to go and then put a physical address of where to be picked up across the Neches River in Beaumont. I usually use the McDonald’s on I-10 near Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. Then you can look up your driver’s profile and press a button to call and tell them where you are. I have had no problem. It’s a good $15 or so cheaper that a flat taxi fare of $30.

I have found the drivers for the most part as courteous and nice. Many are just downright personable. I’ve met a couple of military reservists driving. One is a former Navy Seabee and still another driver a former SEAL. Many can make a nice little sum driving around the city. Sometimes the drivers will be asked to be taken to Houston, almost 90 miles away. I was told by drivers that it is almost $100 fare to be taken there with the driver making about $70 of that $100. Those who are not registered in Houston as a “Transportation Network Company” driver — a permit costing about $12 for two years as well as a sticker with an “U,” can drop off but not pick a passenger.

One note here. Uber passengers may only use a credit or debit card for pay. A person may tip a driver, but it isn’t required. I have found a reasonable and appreciated gesture is to give the driver a 4 or 5 star rating when you get the receipt back via e-mail. I point this out, not so specifically to ask one to tip. I am just saying the drivers have little to no cash on board lest one would want to do something stupid. I hope you get what I mean.

Some city governments are downright hostile to Uber or Lyft. Beaumont City Councilman Mike Getz helped these hail-riding firms get a foot hold here. Getz, an attorney, has been quite controversial at times but I feel he deserves much credit for his support of ride-hailing companies.

Those who do not deserve our support are the knuckle-heads in the Texas Senate who want to place stricter controls on ride-hailing drivers.

Senate Bill 176, authored by Sen. Charles Schwertner, a Republican and orthopedic surgeon from Georgetown, authored the bill which is captioned: “Relating to the regulation of transportation network companies; requiring an occupational permit; authorizing a fee.

While requiring some screening measures which some drivers already face in cities where hail-riding companies are allowed there are measures which seemingly regulate the corporations as well. This includes a sliding-scale fee for companies with the highest number of employees to pay $125,000.

I thought Republicans want no regulation!

This afternoon I called the Capitol office of my state Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Republican from The Woodlands to let my voice to be heard. He also serves as vice chairman of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. That body will hold a public hearing on this bill tomorrow, March 14.

An analysis of the bill by the nonpartisan Senate Research includes the intent of this regulation by the bill’s author. In it, Schwertner’s concerns conclude:

“However, no consistent and predictable statewide regulation of TNCs exists in the Texas. This has resulted in an inefficient and confusing patchwork of rules across local jurisdictions. These myriad regulations are often arbitrary and onerous. As a result, they may inhibit TNCs from growing their business and network or providing their services in many areas. The loss of TNCs results in less mobility and fewer safe transportation options, as well as a withering economic climate.”
Some of the Tea Party/Trump types have a great disdain for government, at least anything above the local level. But I also believe that some locals in many towns across the state have a dislike for technology.
I think that merely piling on regulation to where similar regulation exists would hinder the growth of such business which could benefit many as well as the environment. I especially think that when any amount of money going to the state, whether it comes from a company or a contractor driver, would increase the prices which make such ride services so attractive. This is what I told Sen. Dr. Chreighton’s office this afternoon. If indeed, a ride service being regulated by a local government and the state is allowed to exist, I see a pathway to disaster. Perhaps a reasonable state permitting system with limited cost to the contractors with some city or county government input might just be something acceptable. Then again, maybe not.
I have found nothing wrong nor expensive with Uber on my end and live in a town in which I once could not get ride home from the bus station on a Christmas night when the  station was downtown. And taxis are just too expensive to hire. One may also find that the only game in town gives its employees a sense of entitlement. I know many hard working cabbies, past and present, who drive after coming from another job. Some are bleary-eyed after working a shift in a cab and going to English as Second Language classes or even coming to the job after a grueling afternoon at law school.
Tech has changed the American face. Perhaps grabbing a little here and a little there — the taxi industry and ride-hailing might some day come to pass. It will take a lot of changes in attitudes but, we need to drive on outside the 20th century into the 21st, in 2017.

Listening to “sports” with Fred and A.J. in Houston. Happy Labor Day.

It is Labor Day and it has been a slow day for me. But that is good. I decided to mute the TV and the madness that, in all reality, surrounds what is the real presidential race. There is plenty time for me to comment, or vent, about that contest.

Instead, I am listening to “The Blitz,” with Fred Faour and A.J. Hoffman on Houston’s ESPN 97.5. I think it is hands down the best sports show in Southeast Texas. Of course, these radio rangers have plenty to talk about with all the football kicking off in this football heavy state. Right now, Fred and A.J. are talking to producer Jong Lee are talking about his upchucking after four beers after the University of Houston win over No. 3 Oklahoma in NRG Stadium. Hey, these guys keep it real.

Oh well. That’s all I want to talk about today. If you like sports and degenerates, and live in the Houston/Beaumont area, tune in to Fred and A.J. Oh, if you call and they ask you what’s up, answer “Sports.”