I don’t share the contemporary taste for the apocalyptic, as in zombies and climate change zealotry. Like anything histrionic, it’s tacky and tedious, and appeals to adolescents of all ages. So, when the rain started falling Monday evening I hardly noticed except to bring the dog inside. We’ve had a wet spring in Houston. Then the lightning started and soon the gap between the flash and the boom of thunder narrowed and disappeared. The barrage was almost continuous, rain hammered in a drone of white noise and the lights repeatedly dimmed but never went out. The circle at the end of our cul-de-sac, where a few hours earlier we and the neighbors had had a Memorial Day picnic, was swamped. Branches and a foam-plastic cooler floated by. The thunder was still crashing when I went to bed.
“Now in contiguous drops the flood comes down,
Threatening with deluge this devoted town.”
In Houston, the storm-drainage system consists of “bayous,” natural and man-made waterways, some paved with concrete. As you drive around the city, you can gauge upstream rainfall by the level of the water. Tuesday morning, all were overflowing. The main street near our neighborhood has a grass-covered median, partially paved with river stones. Most of the stones, along with branches, assorted trash and at least one dead dog had been washed onto the roadway. On the way to work I saw a dozen abandoned cars, usually parked at cockeyed angles and straddling multiple lanes, suggesting they had stalled in place. A plastic bumper with the license plate still attached blocked one lane. I saw a young man with a yellow inflatable raft preparing to cast off in one of the swollen bayous. Two main streets had disappeared under the brown water, and crowds of pedestrians took “selfies” with the flood and the downtown skyline in the background. My university was the only school in the city remaining open.
“Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all hues and odors seem to tell
What street they sailed from, by their sight and smell.
They, as each torrent drives with rapid force,
From Smithfield or St. Pulchre’s shape their course,
And in huge confluence joined at Snow Hill ridge,
Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn Bridge.
Sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts, and blood,
Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,
Dead cats, and turnip tops, come tumbling down the flood.”
Jonathan Swift’s eyes and nose, as documented in “Description of a City Shower,” are more acute than mine. Every flooded street in Houston looked and smelled the same.