Exploding House

Monday a house exploded in my neighborhood, on my street, catty-corner and one over from me. For a news story on the event, click here. My post is a personal account of a few of my neighbors who were involved, shocked, and saddened.

From my corner.
Jack being interviewed.

It was 8:23 AM according to neighbor Buster, who was working at home and looked up at the clock right when it happened. Neighbor Dale, driving home after taking his daughter to school, was directly in front of the house when it blew. The force moved his car. The roof of the house went up one story high and landed in the front yard. Debris began to fall over a larger area, and electric lines began sparking and exploding. He knew no one inside would have survived a blast like that and turned his attention to the house next door, moved off its foundation, windows blown out. Once inside he saw sheetrock blown off the walls, debris and possessions everywhere including boards and nails. The resident who had been blown out of bed by the force of the explosion wanted to stay and look for his dog, but Dale kept him moving out. The dog has since been found.

Dale

Neighbor Jack, next door to the blast on the other side, was just about to take cute Harley the pit bull on a run (Jack on bike) when the house exploded. Jack, too, first went toward the blast, and found immediately there was no way he could go in. He could hear continued explosions, and see flames already engulfing the house. He, too, turned his attention to others, nearby, his wife and granddaughter. He ran back inside his own house and yelled, “Get out of the house. Now!” I spoke with him again earlier today. He said that after taking his granddaughter to another neighbor’s place, “Apparently I told Candy to get in the car with the dogs and just drive. I don’t remember that,” he said.

Jack and Harley

My new neighbor next door, I heard from Dale, must have run out of his house exactly as the blast sounded, because he was barefoot and wore only shorts and t-shirt. It was cold and rainy. He ran behind the house to see if he could get in, and there met yet another neighbor, a teenager, trying to see if he could help. The entire back of the house had blown off, so they could see where the rooms used to be. Many neighbors ran from one street over in their pajamas to watch the tragedy unfold.

When I talked to Jack minutes after the blast, his mind was squarely on his next-door neighbor, Renald. He lamented the fact that Renald’s car was in the driveway. He lamented the fact that the blast occurred during the time Renald sometimes would have already left for work. He gave thanks Renald’s son was likely not there with him. The boy lives in Houston, and though he was there sometimes visiting his father, Jack didn’t think he was there now. We now know he wasn’t. Jack asked more than once of neighbors standing around, “The car was in the driveway, right?” Right. He stopped talking. His nine-year-old granddaughter, Alicia, was watching closely. She asked, “Is he dead?” Jack said, “I don’t know, honey. Maybe so.” Alicia ran off to the neighbor’s house to be with her grandmother.

View from my front yard.
Battalion Chief interviewed.

I keep thinking about these neighbors who dropped everything and ran toward a huge explosion, a rooftop flying up into the air and raining down, flames shooting out in seconds, engulfing a house in mere minutes. Then, they had the presence of mind to drop the first impulse to run into the fire, knowing the cause was lost, and turn immediately to the next most important concern, the people nearby who might still be in danger.

I keep thinking about our lost neighbor. I didn’t know him, but had said hello passing his place while walking the dogs. He was almost finished with the remodel and looked forward to his son moving in with him, says a KVUE report this evening.

Dale describes the blast (another neighbor Shirley speaks first, then Dale). Click here. (This is a report from Monday).

As the facts of the story come to light and the investigation moves forward, I’m finding out other places in the neighborhood are leaking gas. Even last night I heard another story from a neighbor I met walking his dog. He’s experienced the strong smell of gas off and on for some time on his property. He expressed frustration with the gas company’s response and especially the ongoing nature of the problem. But now crews are on the scene day and night monitoring our street. Today I checked on the neighbor who mentioned those problems, and the gas at his place is turned off and the line is plugged. I’m glad.

View from my front window.

Despite this tragic event and the ongoing worries, I feel grateful to live here with these neighbors, and grateful for life. I’m moved by the heroism and calm of the neighbors who ran to help. I’m grateful for the firefighters, gas workers, and investigators. And I’m so sorry Renald won’t be able to live here among us anymore.

And Baby I Love You

Pennybacker Bridge takes Loop 360 over Lake Au...
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This summer I haven’t gone to see my dad as much as I’d like, and I miss him. I’ve got a clunker car with no AC; so, I’m waiting until it cools off. I tend to stay close to home anyway, but I hardly venture out at all these days.

Dad loves to keep moving. He’s a car person. He drives all over, adventuring and visiting friends on Galveston Island every summer in a rented beach house, visiting me and my dogs and my sis here in Austin, and seeing the sites and visiting friends and relatives in the surrounding Texas Hill Country. He also takes day trips closer to his place.

I’m a car person like this:  I need a car; I have a car; I’m thankful for it. Sometimes I wash it. I get it repaired when I can. Dad’s the kind of car person who used to keep several different vehicles for different purposes, mainly making sure my sisters and I had back-up when we needed it. He takes great care of any car he owns; it always looks shiny and clean. When buying a new car Dad researches and gets great deals, and he helps other people get great deals. If you mention in passing that you’d like a new car, or even if it just crosses your mind, watch out, he’ll look up the blue book value and call you with information and ads he’s seen. He wants everyone to have a car. He once told his life-long friend, a wealthy man in Dallas, he should give a car to his long-time assistant. Why, the friend wanted to know. Dad told him, he needs it, and you should be the one to give it to him; you have so much, and he has served you so well.

Once when I was despondent from a break-up, Dad advised me to buy a new car.

“I don’t want a new car. I want my old boyfriend,” I said.

“All I’m saying is a new car makes you feel better,” he said.

“For, you, maybe,” I said.

But I was tired of being stuck, tired of wishing and lamenting. So, I decided to take Dad’s advice. He helped me find a fantastic deal on used 280ZX that had very low mileage and only one previous owner. What use do I have for a sports car? It had never occurred to me. The engine knocked and hesitated in my old truck, and I had gotten used to that. But, I was amazed at how the little Z car handled. Dad was right. The new car really did make me feel better. I felt safe and powerful. I could put that baby right where I needed it to go. When I pressed the gas, no hesitation, no moment of wondering if the car would make it.

I drove all over Austin every night at first, driving past my ex’s house and the restaurant where he worked. Yuck! What a crappy feeling for me and possibly for him if he ever saw me doing that. Soon, I forgot my ex-boyfriend for minutes at a time and began to feel the night air, the dark invisibility that comes from just driving around at night. The vice grip of the mind that I thought was love started to loosen into an awareness of space. In my night drives I experienced how each section of the city was connected to the others. They were not actually separate neighborhoods after all, but one continuous movement of a little brown and gold 280ZX whishing around town, freeing the one trapped inside.

In the same conversation my dad told me to buy a new car to forget my ex, he also told me he loved my mother. I’d been going on and on about my boyfriend and how much I loved him, how bummed I was over the break-up. The regrets, missed opportunities, even my other struggles within the web of my friendships. Then suddenly Dad and I were really conversing, not just the back and forth monologues that happened sometimes. I’d always known my mom loved my dad. That was part of the family story. It had been spoken aloud numerous times. And both my parents had told me and my sisters they loved us. But that piece, Dad loving Mom, I’d never heard it before. I was 29. They had divorced when I was 9. My dad had remarried when I was 12 and divorced again when I was 14. My mom had remarried when I was 15. She had divorced when I was 23, and she died very soon after that when she was only 46.

We also knew Mom had done some calling before she died. Settling old scores, telling the truth, making a general disturbance for which our culture likes to crazify women. I figure sometimes people talk too much about love and relationships, but the echo chamber is lonely, and maybe they just need to hear their own voices come back around to know there is love. Maybe Mom was making one last ditch effort to hear the words spoken, even if they were going to have to be hers alone, this time, not just words of love, but other words expressing anger and regret, the parts of her relationships with friends and family she struggled with.

I never wanted to be the one fishing for love, grabbing at at, trying to fashion it out of the thin air of a relationship that’s ending. I never wanted to be the one who talked so much about love it left no space for the other to speak. Or, the other felt compelled to speak, and his words of love were forced and fell flat, not love at all; or the other felt so judged for his love he chose to keep it quiet, lest that be judged, too.

I never wanted to be the one who drove by the ex’s house and had a tough time letting go. I identified so strongly with the parent who seemed the strongest and most in command of himself:  Dad. But the truth was I ended up like Mom. I was lost after a break-up, feeling just invisible enough to drive by a few nights in a row, looking at the facades of a duplex and a restaurant for the spirit inside I couldn’t see or feel. Not realizing then that’s what that relationship had become. It had been a worthwhile experience. It was simply over. I just didn’t know it yet.

Sometimes I think I might not have chosen some men who pushed away my love if I had known earlier that my dad actually loved my mom. But it’s good news to find out when you’re 29. And it was extra nice, seeing it as their struggle, not mine. Dad says it often, now:  they loved each other but were too immature to rise above their problems, and their break-up was devastating to him, as well. We just didn’t know it back then.

In those free, breezy nights driving around Austin in the Z car, literally moving through the grief of a break-up and its corresponding origin in my childhood, I realized I believed certain stories just because they were spoken. There are other stories not yet told. But they’re lived. They’re real. And the storyteller has to tell them when he’s ready. When the listener is relaxed and open. Defenses down. Judgment tucked away. I’m glad for that moment in the car, talking about cars and the way they can help us move through pain. And I’m glad my Dad told me he loved my Mom. It was a story I was ready to hear and believe. And it was true.

Did any of your family stories catch up to you at the light after driving around for a long time?

There Are Places I Remember

KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD by Red Wassenich

Next week, here in Austin, I’ll be showing off the largest urban bat colony in the world, eating great Tex-Mex food south of the River, and listening to some live music somewhere in the city each night with my old friend and boss, Bill Presley. We worked together many moons ago at Charley’s Seafood Grill in Addison, Texas. Bill had a way of organizing our world back in the day by creating mix tapes and throwing a series of parties for each season. If I recall, Summer Party # 3 was the best. But who can say? There was a pool, a ton of beer, several excursions to the 7-11 for cigs, and for some unknown reason, copious amounts of high-fiving complete with hand injuries. The next day at work, Bill awarded me the mix-tape from the party, saying I deserved it, because I had had the most fun. I count this as my highest honor. I had performed the choreography to “Manhunt” from Flashdance, then made out on the front porch for a really long time with my good friend, David, home from college for a visit.  I guess I had to go on a manhunt to find the boy next door who actually came to the party with me and turned out to be not just my date, but my date-date. I was in my early twenties.

While Bill organizes by celebration, I organize by place. When I think of each house, apartment, and spare room I’ve ever lived in, I can tell you where I worked, who my roommates were, who my boyfriend was (or the guy I wished was my boyfriend if I was single), the major things that happened in my life and in the world, and even what I wondered and hoped. Since I had to move every six months to two years, depending on the roommate-money-landlord situation, when I recall the place, all the other details follow like ducklings.

During the Bill Presley days I lived in a three-bedroom brick house near the edge of Plano and Richardson with roomies, Melanie and Martin who both worked with Bill and me at Charley’s. We had THE party house. Melanie and I were waitresses; Martin was a bartender; Bill was our manager, friend, and experience instigator. He organized outings to Ranger games and water parks and movies and concerts. Bill got tickets from the owner of our restaurant to the ZZ Top Eliminator Tour Concert. We couldn’t make the show, because we both had to work that night, but those tickets got us in to the after-party. We hung out at the bar all night talking about our lives and loves and trying to convince the bartender to trade his ZZ Top shirt for entres at Charley’s.

A few years ago in an OCD-like energy burst, I decided to write down not only all the places I’ve lived, but all the times I’ve moved. Some of those times I moved back in to places I’d lived before, like Mom’s house, my sis, Kim’s, dining room, Dad’s living room a couple of times. My dear friend and talented performing songwriter, Dana Cooper, a road warrior musician if there ever was one, once told me I was the person most crossed off and rewritten in his address book, (in the olden days before cell phones). Out of all those fans, all those years. As I was trying to remember every time I moved, I lost count at fifty. But the images of the houses, apartments, and rooms-for-rent float into my mind’s eye, and I still see the roommates, bosses, and customers. I hear the concerts, smell the fajitas and margaritas, taste the cold beer and all-you-can-eat breakfast bars after a long night out, feel the sun and sand from Hamilton Pool, its waterfall crashing down cold and powerful on the top of my head on a hot Texas Hill Country day.

Now that I’ve lived in the same house for over seven years, I find it difficult to differentiate events, goals, and relationships, when they happened, how long they lasted. Entire years blob by. I started organizing a memoir around the places I’ve lived, not because they’re all over the world and fabulous. In fact, all the places I’ve lived are in or near Dallas or Austin. I just needed to get it straight in my head, try like hell to get a handle on memory and therefore, perhaps, life. It works. Writing memoir is an exercise in memory, which leads to discovering or creating meaning. One of the nicest places I ever lived was actually my childhood home, the little brick house with the magnolia tree in the front yard, near the Richardson High School baseball field. The discovered meaning:  I’m actually living the collective dream of my home town backwards. We were supposed to grow up, get an awesome lucrative career that made us rich, and buy a house three times bigger than the one we started out in.

I’ve never owned a house, but I’ve lived in some wonderful places. My homes come with persons attached to them:  landlords. For instance, I now have the greatest landlord in the world (thank you, Sandra!), who not only lets me rent this cute little house with a huge backyard for my four dogs in a great neighborhood, she once proclaimed, “You can live here forever as far as I’m concerned!” (The Greatest Gift ever given to this renter). I also had the second best landlord in the world, Sonny “I Think We Can Work That Out”  Rhodes. Not Sonny Rhodes, the “Disciple of Blues” from Smithville, but the music-loving Austinite, who is, however, friends with performing songwriter, Chip Taylor, who wrote “Wild Thing” and “Angel of the Morning”. If you live in Austin, you’re either in the band or you know it personally.

I lived in the top right unit of Sonny’s tiny four-plex in the North University neighborhood in Austin for the long stretch of four and a half years. Not having to turn around and move again after six months is always a plus. I’m creating a TV drama set in Austin and was looking for location ideas in the book, Keep Austin Weird:  a Guide to the Odd Side of Town by Red Wassenich. I turned a page, encountered a photo of Sonny’s four-plex and realized I do not need to do research to find interesting locations that say something about the characters and their situations; I’ve lived it. There it was, the tiny beige brick box, the stairs, railings, and shutters painted Longhorn orange, the facade accented by chairs, mirrors, macrame, and other possesions all painted bright Caribbean blue and spilling out of the downstairs apartment into the yard and parking spaces. In the photo it really did look weird (in a good way; that’s how we mean it here). When I lived there, it was burnt orange but didn’t have the ocean-blue embellishments outside. A small space in a wonderful neighborhood, it served as my crash pad after doing massage therapy, nannying for two families, hanging out at Kerrville Folk Festivals, going to house concerts, and hosting, along with family and friends, a House Concert Series of our own in whatever space we could find:  one backyard, one Methodist Church sanctuary, and one home on Shoal Creek Drive with great-sounding hardwood floors. We heard some fantastic performing songwriters at our concert series:  Ruthie Foster, johnsmith, John McVey, Dana Cooper, Pierce Pettis, Chris Rosser.

We were just about to book our favorite Austin musicians for the next series when we had to take a break for a while. That break ran long, and I’m still on it, having had nose to grindstone ever since.

With Bill coming to town and Summer party # 3 about to start (he’s informed me Summer Party #’s 1 and 2 have already come and gone) where should we go next week in Austin, “Live Music Capital of the World?” What’s your favorite bar, coffeehouse, or living room in Austin to listen to music? What are the places you remember?