I have some old and very dear friends who live in Dallas. Since Sunday, their power has been off and on. Mostly off, although Wednesday (when I'm writing this early evening) it was mostly on.
Joyce and Tom have a fireplace, but their wood supply is dwindling. They'd planned for a normal Dallas winter, not for a no-power deep freeze with temps in the low single digits, and "real feel" temps well below that.
Their pool is frozen over, and each day, Tom goes out and hacks away at it, hoping to prevent the ice from destroying the pool. Which he shouldn't be doing, as he has a bad hip and is waiting for hip replacement surgery. So he really shouldn't be hacking at the pool ice.
And Joyce can't help any. She's nursing a couple of stress fractures in her foot, and even without the stress fractures, she weighs all of 100 pounds, so probably couldn't contribute all that much to the ice hacking.
Joyce says that the news reports are showing empty shelves in the grocery stores, but they have plenty of food around.
And as native New Englanders, Joyce and Tom have relatively good cold-snow-ice coping skills, even if those skills have eroded over their decades in the Big D. And Dallas does usually have a few winter-ish days each year, so folks are a tiny bit accustomed to winter.
It's been awful for them. At least Joyce and Tom haven't had a frozen/burst pipe, as a neighbor has.
And they haven't lost water, as entire towns in Texas have. And as one former colleague in Austin has. He just posted a picture on Twitter of the snow that he's shoveled into his bathtubs so that he'll have enough water to flush their toilets.
Overall, Texas is one big mess.
They've asked for, and are getting, Federal relief - something that most Texas reps (including both Senators Cruz and Cornyn) in Washington voted against giving to New Jersey and New York in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. And please note that we haven't heard Joe Biden making snarky remarks about Texas needed to do the power equivalent of raking its forests. Or whining that he doesn't want to "be nice" to a state that doesn't like him, beg him, or kiss his ass.
It almost goes without saying that many of the officeholders in Texas are on Tweet record making fun of California for its recent summertime power outages, cracking wise about states run by Democrats and liberals who believe in climate chain and green energy.
The current sitch in Texas hasn't exactly humbled their government officials, of course. Their governor is gaslighting his citizens by (falsely) claiming that the energy problems Texas is experiencing are due to reliance on wind energy, when mostly they aren't. Yes, some of the wind turbines have frozen, because they weren't set up to withstand bad winter weather, but so far wind energy is over-performing in terms of their contribution to the grid.
And that grid? As we've all learned, Texas - perhaps in preparation for the secession that they keep on threatening - has an independent, Texas-only grid set up. So, unlike the other 47 continental US states, they can't share power with their neighbors when they need it. But they didn't want to follow any Federal regulations, which joining the grid would have required, so Texas decided to go it alone. But of course.
Despite - or perhaps because of - their rotten government, I feel terrible about what the people in Texas are going through.
Decades ago, coming back from a long winter flight from Berlin-via-Heathrow-via-Newark - which my husband set up because flying through Newark let us fly first class - we arrived at our then-home (a poorly insulated, charming brick walled carriage house) to find that the furnace was out. I'm usually not a big baby, but I was just beat. And, after all, I hadn't been the one insisting on flying through Newark, which added several hours to our trip. So I just looked at my husband and told him I was getting into bed, and that he was welcome to deal with it. Which I did. Which he did, bless him.
And years ago, a burst pipe on the top floor of our (small) condo building came cascading down on our heads. We were out of our unit for over a month, and the damage ran into the tens of thousands. But we weren't stuck there the night of the burst pipe. On a frigid and icy February evening, we were able to take our roller bags and roll into a perfectly nice hotel with all the things we no longer had, like heat, light, and water.
For a lot of Texans, that's not an option. For some, it's financially not an option, for others it's the fact that the roads remain dangerously icy and they're advising people to stay off of them. (There was a major car pile up in Dallas last week, involving well over 100 cars and trucks, and resulting in six deaths.)
The worse thing I've seen so far coming out of Texas was the Facebook post by the mayor of Colorado City.
Colorado City was hit hard. And, understandably:
Residents turned to a community Facebook group to ask whether the small town planned to open warming shelters, while others wondered if firefighters could do their job without water. But when Colorado City’s mayor chimed in, it was to deliver a less-than-comforting message: The local government had no responsibility to help out its citizens, and only the tough would survive.
“No one owes you [or] your family anything,” Tim Boyd wrote on Tuesday in a now-deleted Facebook post, according to KTXS and KTAB/KRBC. “I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!”
Boyd’s tirade, which also demanded that “lazy” residents find their own ways of procuring water and electricity, immediately drew backlash. Later on Tuesday, Boyd announced his resignation and admitted that he could have “used better wording.” (Source: WaPo)
Colorado City, Boyd wrote, "owes you NOTHING." Nor does Mitchell County. Or the power company. Residents who were without water or heat need to "step up" and "think outside the box." He had no suggestions for folks, other than offering these words:
“Folks God has given us the tools to support ourselves in times like this,” he wrote, claiming that those who expected the city to come to their aid were “sadly a product of a socialist government.”
Just what are these God-given tools? I mean, you could melt snow for flushing your toilets, as my buddy in Austin has done, but in an unheated house, it might take a while for that snow to melt. And if you don't have power, you might not have a way to melt it on your stove.
What if you don't have a fireplace in your home? Are you supposed to clear a space in your living room, forage for some wood, and take your chances? And if you don't have a generator, how do you make your own electricity? Rubbing two sticks together, even if you have two sticks together, won't help much.
“Only the strong will survive and the weak will [perish],” he wrote.
Well, thanks Mayor Boyd - make that former Mayor Boyd - for that.
If I were a citizen of Colorado City, I might have just shown up on his doorstep and tell him that taking me in would be the right neighborly thing to do.
I mean, "self sufficiency and rugged individualism" and all that, but Boyd's remarks take that game to an entirely different - new and frightening - level.
Inevitably, Boyd has made the preposterous claim that his words "were taken out of context." But I've seen the FB post in its entirety, and can't imagine just what the context those words were taken out of might be.
Helping its citizens out during an emergency is precisely what governments at all levels should be doing. When there's no power, you set up emergency shelters with generators (and food) that folks can head to. You truck in or otherwise deliver needed supplies. (C.f., the Berlin Airlift.) You activate your state version of FEMA. You have the National Guard rescue folks.
Unfortunately, Texas is turning into another Katrina situation. Fortunately, it's expected to warm up into the sixties next week. Plus, while burst pipe damage is awful, houses haven't been swept away.
Sure, it's great when neighbors help out neighbors. I'll all for it when people from all over contribute funds to local organizations a million miles away from where they live. When complete strangers donate on GoFundMe so you have replace your sodden mattress.
But sometimes you just need the government to actually do something. Even in the cold, cold heart of Texas.