Don't Mess with Texas

With Harvey gone but not forgotten, Dan Rutstein visits a Houston showing its strength

October 2017

After a long day in Texas, I enjoyed a glass of Glenmorangie in a busy downtown bar.

The head bartender at Reserve 101 - which boasts Houston's finest (#Britishexport) scotch selection - told us stories of his favorite whiskeys.

It was good to talk about the 'water of life' (the meaning of the word whisky), making a distinct change from talking about the water of Harvey.

Although busy downtown bars and restaurants, open airports and dry, unflooded freeways show that life has moved on and is close to normalcy for many - there are still many more for whom Hurricane Harvey's impact is not finished.

The largest shelters at the George R. Brown Convention Center and NRG Center (next to the Houston Texans’ football stadium) still hold over 2,000 people. (At one point NRG Center was meeting the basic needs of over 8,000 people from 110 cities across Texas.)

Thousands are still living in temporary accommodations and many businesses are still using fallback locations as the corrosive, long-lasting impact of severe flooding is still felt. I was in town to see my team at the British Consulate. Although many had escaped personal damage, they all had seen friends and family suffer and, like so many in the Texan community, been out helping others - on boats or in shelters or mucking out flooded businesses and houses.

Britain is the largest investor in Texas but our contribution this week was different. My team volunteered with Meals on Wheels, who like so many other organizations here, has seen an upturn in demand but also is in need of support as many return to work and the immediate post-Harvey rush of help, like the floodwaters, subsides.

It was our small contribution to a community which has a long and deep relationship with the UK. After splitting from Mexico, the Republic of Texas opened up an embassy in London from 1842-1845 to shore up support in case they had to go to war against Mexico.

When I was here in February, the city was abuzz with the Super Bowl - we were hosting an event to promote the UK link to the NFL and the city was at its finest. The recent pictures of Harvey flooding were in stark contrast to when the city was awash with NFL fans and the city was flexing its credentials, boasting new hotels and facilities to match the splendor of the nation's most vaunted sporting exhibition. Ironically one of our guests at our event was British sensation Jay Ajayi, the London-born running back whose Miami Dolphins didn't play during the league’s opening week because of Hurricane Irma's devastating impact.

Of course, it is sad that Harvey came and brought such devastation to Texas - hopes that it would be all hat and no cattle did not materialize. But it also brought Texas together, in a uniquely Texan way. Even those who were suffering themselves were out volunteering in their community. Enduring images show people of all backgrounds (including us Brits) doing their bit to support their adopted homeland.

The Houston I visited was a proud city getting back on its enormous feet.

And drinking whisky.

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