Helping Houston

We’ve been lucky so far this year. For a week or so, it looked as though we’d be revisiting the anniversary of Katrina with another flood, though this time not due to levee breaches. Instead, as of this writing, we’ve been spared, but our good fortune means that in this case some other folks are suffering.

I like Houston. I know there are people who paraphrase Gertrude Stein in describing Houston, but I think most of those people, at least the ones from New Orleans, criticize Houston for the same reasons we criticize Atlanta. We’re insecure, and a little jealous, and while we know we’re the best city in the world, we still feel as though perhaps we should be as big and economically important as cities that have passed us by in the rush to modernity.

I’m not saying I want to move to one of those megacities, mind you. I’m just admitting that sometimes when I say “there’s no there, there,” I’m really saying I think we deserve to be a more important city.

We are, of course, an important city. And we’re irreplaceable in a way that other cities aren’t. But Houston, too, is irreplaceable, and watching the slow motion destruction of that city brings back very unpleasant memories. 12 years ago, as I write, I was in Memphis, in a hotel bar, drinking heavily and crying while watching coverage of the aftermath on a cable news network. For months afterwards, I found myself defending New Orleans from people who argued we shouldn’t rebuild.

I haven’t watched the coverage of Harvey with anything like the energy I spent watching coverage of Katrina. I don’t have the energy, and I’m old enough now to know that watching the news from hundreds of miles away isn’t going to help anyone. It certainly won’t help me.

I have friends and family in Houston, but I’d like to think that even if I didn’t, I’d be motivated to help. I evacuated for Katrina. I was extremely fortunate to have friends in Memphis and Columbia, Tennessee to whom I will be eternally grateful. I remember saying at the time “I hope I never have the opportunity to repay you.” I still hope that’s the case, but while I don’t have anyone coming to stay with me, I do plan to help as much as I can.

Here is an article by my colleague Stephanie Carter, of Eater, that rounds up some of the New Orleans restaurants doing their part. You can find the latest list of those restaurants, and more details on how to participate at this Facebook page.

The Louisiana Restaurant Foundation is also in on the act. They’re focused more on the hospitality industry: “Criteria is being established to award individual grants and the HERF [Hospitality Employee Relief Fund] will donate to restaurant and hotel workers who are in a position of hardship during the recovery period. The partnership will work with the Texas Restaurant Association to help award grants through its Greater Houston Restaurant Association.”

Restaurant workers are among the most vulnerable populations, and if you remember how you felt when one of your favorite restaurants re-opened after Katrina, you’ll understand how important it is to get Houston’s eateries back up and running. That can’t happen without the low-income employees who are the backbone of the industry, and these are precisely the people who need to be back in Houston ASAP. Here’s a link to a page where you can donate.

A final note: if you venture onto the internet, and particularly if you venture into social media, you will come across people who opine that we should not be rebuilding Houston. Or at least we should be rebuilding in a “smarter” way. “Smarter” in this context generally means “not,” but whatever the meaning, and however it is expressed, I would like to suggest that you not respond. It is a great and wonderful thing that we live in a country where foolish people are free to express ignorant, unfounded and even bigoted opinions without threat of reprisal from the government. If you point out that as a private citizen, pointing out a moronic, selfish and dumbass opinion is within your rights, you are correct. But arguing with idiots is ultimately a waste of time, and Houston is going to be rebuilt. Those who argue otherwise are utterly meaningless and irrelevant and should be treated as such.

Don’t feed the trolls, kids.

If you have other suggestions on how to help folks in Houston, please feel free to leave a comment. This is an opportunity for New Orleans to repay some of what Houston did for us, gang. Let’s not let it pass without action.



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