Dustan Stokes

A Text Message I Sent To My Family Six Days After The Storm

Semi-stream-of-consciousness follows: Our reality (Sam and mine) is not bad. There are long lines for gas and ice which we stay out of because we don’t drive much and don’t feel an overwhelming need to wait in the sun for hours to have a cold drink later. Our power is out and will be for a long time. The phone service comes and goes and so does the water. Security is a little scary because you never know when a line for gas will turn into a firefight. Hopefully never! Our neighborhood is, as far as we can tell, better off than most of the island. But because of the communication issues, we don’t really know much about most of the island. We know there are entire communities that are inaccessible because of trees down in the road. We know that areas prone to flooding have flooded and that there are many homeless because of that. We know that houses which were built with wood did not do well. So there are more homeless. We know that, as of 36 hours ago, people were being turned away from at least one shelter because there was no room (we had a friend volunteering there). They didn’t know where to send people. So there is either no space, poor coordination, or both. We will probably not have power for many months (we’re looking at solar options). We are very much 1 percenters and so our concerns are mostly discomfort (it’s hot and there are no fans or refrigeration), convenience, (no power/no internet = no credit cards accepted) and fear of the uprisings of those who are less fortunate (if I lost everything and then was turned away from a shelter with my family in tow, a B and E might be in my future). Sam’s boss says it feels like a really shitty camping trip that you would abort if you could. We hear that there is gas/food/water in port but not enough drivers to get it to where it needs to be. So it’s hard to say what aid we need. Probably we need better on the ground coordination. I hear Blackhawks flying by right now, and I even saw one of those fancy helicopter/airplane Ospreys the other day–so it seems like some expensive support from the mainland is at least here. I heard there was an aircraft carrier with a bagillion gallons of water on it. But I don’t know if this stuff is being used effectively or not, because I’m not one of the people who needs it. Are they dropping national guardsmen out of those helicopters to rescue little old ladies from cut off towns in the mountains? Did they do an amphibious landing in mayaguez to get enough water to the west coast after the dam broke? No idea.  It seems like they could and should be doing this kind of stuff, but I don’t know if they are.  We definitely need people to keep giving a shit, because we’re going to need at least this level of support for a long time. If Halloween comes and no one is dressed as hurricane Maria, we’re probably on a much longer, slower road to recovery than we need to be. We need the trash truck to come through. We need the trees pulled off the power lines and the power lines pulled off of the ground; and then we need them to bury the power lines under the ground. Probably we need a lot more shelters with a lot more beds. Probably goalzero and tesla should be sending shipping containers full of lithium polymer batteries and solar cells. It’s an island with a lot of sun but there’s a line around the block for gasoline to fill up generators (?). Puerto Ricans are used to dealing with insane shit, so the moment the wind stopped, everyone was out with brooms and shovels and machetes clearing the streets. We have been barbecuing most nights with our downstairs neighbors. When anyone walks by the house, they ask if everything is okay. “Todo bien?” Is the most common phrase heard now. And the verbal nicety always has muscle behind it. People are all trying to help each other. Our small fruit trees were blown over, so our 72 year old neighbor and I decided we’d try to hoist them back up and have a little victory over Maria. A stranger walked by with his wife and baby in a bjorn. He asked if we needed help, we said we were okay, he didn’t believe us and basically lifted the tree by himself while I fussed over some ropes. This kind of thing has happened countless times and is undoubtedly happening all over the island. Our realtor had a connection to some strip club with an ice machine, so he brought some ice over. There is also bad human stuff happening, but I have not witnessed it, so it could be mostly rumor. The rumor mill right now is like a climate-change fueled wildfire. But we’ve heard of home invasions (not uncommon on the island in the first place) a diesel truck being hijacked, and people impersonating the national guard so that they can rob you. The fuel trucks have police escorts for the most part now. We went by a gas station that looked like it was defended by blackwater. That kind of shit makes me feel less secure, but apparently I’m in the minority. People are saying things like, “I wouldn’t leave my property without a weapon right now.” And I certainly don’t go on the back porch to barbecue without tongs, that’s for goddamn sure. We have a flight scheduled for Monday. We are leaving mostly because Sam never gets time off so this seems like a good time to take a free vacation but also because of the discomfort. I was a little torn about buying the ticket. I don’t want to leave if we can be helpful. Yesterday I helped start the coals, today I escorted my neighbors (just had a hip-replacement and her mother) through the early-morning super-market line and I’ll be assisting an oil change this afternoon. Probably we are mostly dead-weight here though. Every bag of ice delivered to my house is one less for a neighbor. And Sam has never been to Paris. And we’re in this weird transition zone between young (I have time but no money) and established adult (I have money but no time) so we want to maximize Sam’s time off, if we can! They are saying the courts will be open that same Monday. The prisoners were all shipped off of the island, so I’m not exactly sure how they plan on holding court, but who knows. The judges’ parking spaces have been cleared of water, the court has AC–what are we waiting for–let’s get to incarcaratin’ some fake national guardsmen who didn’t have a place for their family to sleep.