Monday, February 22, 2021

Winter Storm - February 2021 Part 5

Well, Texas being Texas, it's now a high of 70-something degrees.  Skies are blue, and this is the weather people from out of state get duped into thinking we have all the time when they visit during the spring-times.  

Today is the first day that hasn't felt like a total disaster.  Yesterday I was still just sort of wandering around the house trying to figure out what to do and checking to make sure I wasn't spotting leaks or holes in the house that weren't there before.  And, the inside of the house was and remains a bit of a mess.  We've had a hard time keeping tidy during COVID to begin with, but add in our inability to just cook and clean with running, clean water, and it's all a bit of a mess.  

Jamie's dialysis situation is pretty solid.  She had treatment on Friday, and then again on Sunday.  And, today, Monday, she's back on her regular schedule at her regular clinic.  So, despite an ugly week of uncertainty, she's doing well, if a bit knackered.  She did some chores for about two hours yesterday and then tapped out, for which I could not blame her.  

I can't thank the nurses, technicians, social workers and others from Jamie's clinic enough.  While it was clear this was an improvised effort, she had multiple people calling her, giving her information and driving in awful conditions (and with minimal experience) to make sure Jamie and tons of othersothers could get the care they needed.  That's not nothing.

Austin Water has worked around the clock to restore water - and then drinking water - to the city.  Austin Energy did what it could, kept people apprised and got power back when possible.  Police, ambulances and firefighters stayed on duty.  And I have to assume university staff stuck around to feed the kids on campus.  I know there were also people on the UT campus keeping data centers going, keeping the heat on best they could - and power (UT has its own power plant.  No fooling.  It's at about 24th street).  

In my own neighborhood, people offered food, water, and.. maybe most importantly information and tips.  They helped each other out in countless ways that will be forgotten, but I was able to keep an eye on my own home and understand where we were at as the storm carried on as those in the know shared information about what to expect, what to do and not to do, how to deal with water heaters, how to care for pipes, etc...

Look, I'm on twitter and I've seen the idiotic discourse there about how Texans can only blame themselves for (a) a winter storm? and (b) voting Republican, which so clearly led directy to things like impassable roads, broken water lines, etc...  And, look, there is a sort of indirect causal relationship of bad policy that has not slowed global warming which - look - I'm blaming for historic crazy bad winter weather.  Our elected officials, if they're going to be Republican, can't expect that they'll stay in charge if this happens again and they've done nothing.  

My generation, the one before and all that have followed, have grown up with luxuries of civilization previously unseen by humanity.  Clean running water at a tap anywhere you go, electricity that you get with the flick of a switch that costs way, way less than you'd think.  Natural gas lines running into our homes for heat and cooking.  And don't get me started on computers and the internet.  

In the past there was an idea that there was a fixed amount of living animals - that you couldn't see an animal driven to extinction because nature abhored a vaccuum and would just make more of the animal.  The exitinction of the Passenger Pigeon and dodo showed that not to be true, and so we adjusted our thinking - and in my lifetime, the possibility of extinction is no longer even up for debate.  It just is.

But I think the notion of this idea that animals will just be there (I think it was called "the plenum", but I can't find a source for that here 20-something years after college), is how we think of our utilities.  And we need to start thinking of it a whole lot more how we now think of conserving wildlife.  We didn't lay the infrastructure of our cities, we've inherited power systems built on assumptions and populations and notions that may not work anymore.  If our habitat is changing - and the winter weather tells us it is - then we need to adapt and evolve.  Statements like Rick Perry's about how Texans *want* to go without power rather than have the grid working at 100% are - psychotic.  For a bunch of people who don't believe (publicly) in evolution, this thinking only works for the healthiest and wealthiest - and leads to people doing things like flying to Cancun while children freeze to death in their own beds.

Yesterday at 4:30 AM I was awakened by the sound of the faucet running in our masterbedroom bath, which I'd left open (but dry) to both make sure the pipes didn't explode when the water came back, and to give me an idea if we had water back.  

We do!  We can flush toilets, which you'd think isn't as big of a deal as a lack of drinking water, but... man.  Plumbing is what defines civilization for yours truly, and I was glad to have the confidence to know we could now use the restroom with impunity.

My neighbor told me part of why our pipes did well in the storm is that we have PEX pipes vs. PVC, and there's no seam in the pipe - so nothing tends to pop open like a sausage on the grill when pressure builds inside.  Anyway - I'm deeply grateful.  We seem to have exited the storm with - at best - minor damage to the house.  Others in Austin have lost *everything* as their apartment buildings or houses have burned, and - of course, flooding as pipes gave way.  

Jamie reported to me that a number of her fellow dialysis patients have gone missing, and others are known to be in the hospital.  And that's just one clinic, for one thing.  It's inconceivable as a leader in a civilized society to stand up in front of a microphone and say "this is what we'd rather do than share a grid with our fellow Americans".  It's inhuman.  And wildly, inconceivably irresponsible when you *wanted* a career in serving the public.  And, so, yeah, we need to be much, much smarter about who we're voting for - because Rick Perry is Rick Perry.  That motherfucker is the same idiot he's always been.  And his responses to our disasters during his governorship were profoundly lacking then.

Anyway - it's not the same as recovering from a hurricane, flooding or tornado.  Those are things Texans understand.  Instead, we're dealing with the surprise information that pretty much everyone who lost power and had a tankless water heater won't have hot water for months as all of those tankless water heaters have kind of died. during the blackout.  Others will be waiting months to get the attention of a plumber to get water back on in their house and replace piping.  I expect people will also be out of their leases as apartment complexes deal with the same at scale.  

It's a goddamn mess.  

And, of course, we need to sort out our local water issues and statewide energy management.  

And, no, I won't forget waking up to a silent house that had plunged into the mid-40's for quite some time, watching Jamie wandering around in multiple layers, a hood over her head and a blanket wrapped around for a week straight.  

But here's the other thing - I'm not forgetting how my neighbors stood up for each other.  This is what people should and can be like.  No one was arguing politics or who was to blame - we were in it together, sink or swim.  And as we're coming out the other side, people are checking on one another.  Folks either did their jobs or they stepped up in ways they could.  Heck, in my own neighborhood, by the time I got to read people's questions or needs on facebook, someone else would have stepped up (or provided much better informed info).  

If we can apply this same sort of spirit to the larger scale - and we can and we do - maybe we could dig ourselves out of a whole lot of what ails us.

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