We made it. Here’s how.
We were 7 days without water when the Paratrooper Plumbers dropped from the sky into our apartment complex. At least that's what it seemed like they had done.
In reality, they flew into the Austin, Texas airport from Connecticut, Maine, South Carolina and Florida. You know, states that actually know how to deal with extreme weather emergencies.
However they arrived, it seemed like they parachuted into the complex, and swiftly spread out among the 15 buildings in the Park at Monterey Oaks, Austin, Texas, like troops into a besieged city. While not turning wine into water, they did coax frozen pipes to cooperate again and water to flow. That makes them our miracle workers.
The previous 7 days, we had one maintenance worker for two days, then two briefly, one of whom was a jerk who threw a few of us out of a maintenance building on site that had power and water. When we complained enough about him and the dark, cold, waterless conditions, Northland, who owns the complex, sent in the Paratrooper Plumbers.
How did we survive 6 days of cold and dark and 7 days of no water before our plumbing superheroes arrived? I’m glad you asked. Togetherness.
Togetherness isn’t a word you hear often referring to apartment dwellers. Unlike in New York, where if you manage to get a rent controlled apartment, you don’t leave until they carry you out, most apartments have a large number of transient people. Ours has people who’ve been here from 16 days to 16 years, and everything in between.
Two of my immediate neighbors have lived here for 16 years and 9 years respectively. I know them, but had never been in their homes, nor they in mine, until we were in survival mode. Okay, one of them, Nate Rice, had been in my home as my designated strong person to help me haul up heavy things like furniture I bought on Facebook Marketplace. He’s nice like that. I sort of kept him a secret, so everybody else wouldn’t bother him to do things.
He’s not a secret anymore. Not after a man in our complex, Nabil Yazdani, took it upon himself to knock on every door, sign us all up on a phone tree, and later on WhatsApp, and then begin organizing us to help one another. During a pandemic. Not only was he herding cats, he was herding cats who needed to stay at least 6 feet apart at all times. This at a time when all I could think about was someone, anyone, to huddle under blankets with. No offense to my two cats, Quila and Trixie Minx, who did keep me as warm as they could in an apartment that reached 40 degrees inside. .
Nabil did, indeed, herd us. People, like Nate, Pablo Martinez, David Burley, and Nabil, voluntarily kept the entryway clear of snow and ice. One day they dug out the mail truck as the mail person foolishly tried to continue bringing the mail. “Neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night (or day in our case) shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” I’m pretty sure after that day of having to be dug out, our courier was stayed. Austin Texas either doesn’t have or didn’t utilize sanding trucks. Tire chains are non-existent.
Benson Kerley brought 5 gallon buckets of water from the swimming pool for us to flush toilets. Nate, Pablo, Victoria, and Debolina Deb and her husband Ishan Ghosh all lugged buckets of water upstairs to me. First world solution to a third world problem.
Michelle Powell and Nabil kept their garages open and we all dropped off supplies there. Food, water, shovels, buckets, camp lights, bleach and alcohol wipes, and anything else people put out a call for. Anybody’s wish was our command if we had it or could do it.
I’ve never seen this level of cooperation and community before, and I grew up in a small town. Austin is a huge city, and while our community was without power and water longer than anywhere in the rest of town, I hear similar stories of people who came together all over the city to survive.
What other tips do we survivors have to offer? Besides paratrooper plumbers, whom you have no control over.
- Get to know your neighbors now, before you have to.
- Have at least one amazing community organizer as a neighbor. I’m looking at you Nabil Yazdani.
- If you don’t have a fireplace, cut wood for those who do, like Pablo Martinez did for those here with fireplaces.
- If you have a fireplace, share. Six feet apart, with masks of course.
- You’ve heard the Zen instruction, “Chop wood, carry water.” Do that.
- Try to live near a swimming pool, or a pond or stream. Preferably ones that are deep enough not to freeze through. Use them to get water to flush toilets. (See 5).
- Own a shop vacuum, or have neighbor who does. Nate Rice voluntarily used his to suck up water in a flooded apartment a day before the paratroop plumbers, and their fellow troops, the clean-up cavalry arrived.
- Have neighbors with outdoor grills. Mine, Gayle and Dan, used theirs to warm water for us while we still had water, heat food, and then loaned it to the community for all of us to grill and share food.
- Maybe don't live in a state where officials take short cuts with wind power, don't properly insualte pipes to nuclear plants, and hoard all the oil and gas reserves for summer. You know. A state with its own private power grid, and Republican leaders who play dice with Mother Nature. Mother Nature will always win.