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February 20, 2021

Winter came. All at once. In one Weekend.

What started as a funny meme and something I didn’t take very seriously, turned into the worst storm that Texas has seen in a very long time. A very eye opening experience for me, personally. Never did I think that the longest I would be without electricity, heat and water would be in a place that is supposed to be above freezing temps year around.

When living in Minnesota and would hear that the South dips below 32 degrees and/or they get a little bit of snow, we laugh. Because for us it’s any given day during our 5 month winter season. But living it in the South, while that happens, is a completely different experience.

Certainty

Over the course of 3 days we had nothing but rain that ultimately froze and made the trees look very pretty. The first day, Thursday, February 11th, I drove for Favor in the Kyle/Buda zone which is pretty close to where I live. This was the day of the 100+ car pile up in Fort Worth that resulted in 6 dead. Throughout the day, reports of major roads were being shut down and that there was many accidents in the Austin area. I-35 splits the zone that I was working in half and at one point in the morning, someone hit a guardrail which caused a large traffic jam. Thankfully, everyone was driving slower than normal but black ice was still prevalent in all areas. On my way home, there was a stretch of the highway that was already out of power.

The next day, the roads were still slick but manageable. I ran basically all day because I didn’t know if or when Favor would shut down and wanted to be financially prepared in case it did. There was less traffic this day but still needed to take it easy.

Over night, everything froze. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to run in the area of Westlake because that’s where I get a majority of my good tips from. I figured people would be tipping better because of what was going on outside. I was wrong. I received bare minimum tips on all the grocery deliveries I made. Frustrated, I decided to call it a day around noon. I was out there risking my own safety – just to make minimum wage – was not my idea of a good time. The roads were very icy this day. Many vehicles could not make it up ramps, up or down hills and people would constantly be sliding on the curves in the road.

The fourth day, Valentine’s Day, I decided to not take any non essential deliveries. I’m not risking my safety just to bring someone their coffee or even valentines stuff. My focus was on getting people their groceries and that’s it. Deliveries took more than twice as long and many times I would have to make up my own route rather than what GPS was telling me to do. Some roads were simply impassable due to ice and being blocked by other vehicles that weren’t able to make it where they were going. The “speed limit” was 25 mph or less. I remember yelling at people out my window to slow down because I could foresee the inevitable happening to them. There was no presence of salt or sand on any road. I stopped running around 4:45 pm because it was simply becoming too slick to drive. It was constantly misting and eventually turning into a rain/freezing rain mix. On my attempt to get home I couldn’t make it up the hill to the apartment complex. It is a pretty steep hill and it was all ice. I slid back down, thankfully no one was behind me, got turned around and headed towards the other entrance into our complex which was off of the I-35 frontage road. This worried me as well because the couple times I had seen it earlier in the day there were many vehicles just sliding down the hill and into ditches. I cut through a couple parking lots, came out onto the frontage road and slowly made my way home. I’m glad I came home when I did because within an hour of being home the rain turned to snow.

Uncertainty

The wind picked up that night and started to snow harder. It was a blizzard, in Austin freaking Texas. At 2 am we were jolted awake to that most deafening sound, silence. The power was out. We literally cannot sleep without a fan or fan sound so Molly turned the sound on her phone and we went back to sleep, not thinking this could last for more than a couple hours. After all, in MN we were never without power for more than 4-6 hours.

Day 5 of the storm greeted us with a 9 degree temp and a -6 degree feel. 5 inches of fresh snow laid undisturbed on top of ice. Everything was still. There were no sounds of traffic, no tracks in the snow. Just silent.

I had gotten a notification the night before that Favor will be closed today so no work for me. We didn’t realize the gravity of what happened until we ventured out. Our cell signal isn’t the greatest at our apartment anyways but today it was pretty much non existent. My thinking was, 1) We would have to use the car for warmth and to charge our phones. 2) We needed food because the only things I bought would need the use of a microwave or stove. 3) It would be nice to have some cell signal to keep in touch with people. I filled up a couple water bottles because we still had water and I headed out to start the car. I used a trash can lid to “shovel” my way to the car and clear out the area behind us as well. We have told a couple of our neighbors that we are from MN so I’m sure they were thinking just another day in paradise for us.

My SUV is front wheel drive but I have brand new tires, thankfully. The knowhow of driving on snow/ice and with the new tires, we would make it anywhere I pointed the car. We got in and slowly headed out. I wasn’t going to even touch the hill because there were no tracks going that way and the frontage road would probably be a little bit more “clear”. Upon getting out, there it was, riddled with cars in ditches, cars just sitting on the road in fear of going down the hill and cars not able to make it up the next hill. Slow and steady “wins the race” and I was able to make it down and up those hills.

I headed to a gas station that I saw had power and got us some things that could tide us over for a few hours. But everything else had no power. We sat in the parking lot of a strip mall because we found we had good signal, ate our food and people watched. It literally looked like a snowy zombie apocalypse. Bundled up folks just wandering around doing their best to stay positive, people gathering around rear wheel drive vehicles to give them a push and people going to the HEB grocery store across the street from where we sat to see if they were open. Nothing was open. Nothing had power but a few gas stations.

We went home a few times that day to check on the cats, see if we had power, use the bathroom and fill up our water bottles. At least once an hour, we would hear sirens in the distance. During our driving around, we saw countless stuck and abandoned vehicles, people currently unable to make it up a hill or around a corner and eventually encountered an apartment complex by a hill where people were sitting outside seeing who would make it and who wouldn’t. Simple entertainment. We made our way to another gas station to fill our tank and get “dinner”.

By this time of the day the snow was starting to get packed down and slick. I took the frontage road home again because it simply would be our best bet. People were lining the road motioning everyone to take the trail that others had made out onto the highway instead of taking the hilly frontage road. When we got home we lit candles and I read Green Lights by Matthew McConaughey aloud. Ironically we hadn’t seen a green light all day. Any traffic signal was either out or flashing red. We went to the car once more to charge our phones for our fan sound hoping they would last the night. Mine didn’t make it through the night. Molly got the laptop to charge my phone for the rest of the night, knowing that it would drain the battery to our laptop. We put on an extra blanket and all the cats slept with us to keep us and themselves warm. Come 2am the power would be out for 24 hours.

The difference between MN and TX is that Minnesota has the infrastructure to deal with the snow on the roads. Trucks with salt come through before it starts snowing and then after a snowfall the plows come through. Even after a heavy snowfall the roads are clear enough to drive within a matter of hours. Here? There is nothing. No salt trucks. No plows and hell no one even owns a snow shovel. The energy in Austin is green energy but with the wind turbines frozen and snow covering up solar panels there’s no power. I was told by a buddy of mine that any power available was directed at grids that have hospitals, fire and police stations. We happen to live about as far away from one of those as you can get.

Deep Breath

Day 6 started as a sunny but cold day. Once again venturing out, the grocery store by us already at a line forming at 10am to get into the store when it opens at noon. We made our way to another gas station and this one had a sign that read “No Unleaded. Super and Diesel Only.” The gas shortage had begun. There was no line outside but inside went from one wall to the other and stock was dwindling down. We had good cell signal here so we sat until we got restless then started driving again. I got out onto the highway to see how it was and see if there were areas better or worse off than us. Normally 3-4 lanes, the highways had been reduced to a single trail in the snow. Along the route cars were stranded on the sides and on the frontage roads. A couple different times we encountered roads blocked by jack knifed 18 wheelers. It was surreal to see the aftermath and it felt like a scene in a movie where you venture into a city that has been abandoned.

We had seen that a few places such as Mcdonalds that had power and were accepting customers but the lines were ridiculously long, of course. I figured we would be just fine for a bit but the hunger and upset stomach from eating just gas station snacks was making us feel sick. We needed something more. Around 4:45pm, I saw that a Chili’s restaurant had power and even saw someone go in. Wonderful! 5 minutes later I parked and walked to the door. It was locked. Defeated, I started back towards the car. A gal that worked there was outside by the curbside spots and I asked if they were closed. She said yes but asked if I needed something. I said if they could give anything I would need enough for my wife and I. She gave me two little things of soup, two side salads and some chips and salsa. I was willing to pay but she said no need and I left. We ate it in the car in the parking lot. While there, we saw at least a dozen more people come and leave with that same defeated look I had. As we were getting ready to leave, a couple in their late 50’s drove up. I rolled down my window and told them it was closed. I saw the man’s face drop as he looked at his wife and said in a low southern drawl, “It’s gonna be a loooong night.” I fucking cried. I wish we hadn’t eaten our food. We both sat in silence, feeling the weight of that regret.

We went home, lit the candles and I read more Greenlights. As I finished the book I noticed something wasn’t quite right. The faucets that we had let slowly run had dwindled to just drips, they didnt turn on anymore than that and the toilet didn’t flush. Our water was frozen. Now it’s getting old and we were tired but almost too worried to go to sleep for fear of waking up to busted pipes. We went out to warm up and charge the phones again when we heard water from another building. I went to investigate and water was pouring out of the ceiling of a walkway. Shortly after that, a maintenance guy came to look. I told him about our water and he said that this leak here was caused by the busted sprinkler system. Eventually, they shut down the water to the whole complex because there was at least one busted pipe in each building and was getting too much to keep under control. Come 2am it will be 48 hours with no heat, power or hot water.

Hope

That next morning, a friend from another town offered her shower to us and a warm place to hang out instead of driving around all day. Thankfully one of the gas stations there, a Buc-ees, still had gas but a quarter of the pumps were already closed. She fed us some breakfast and we watched a couple of movies. I went to a Target to see what I could find because even if we couldn’t cook at our place we could come here or another one of my Favor friends that had power. I found some frozen meals, a gallon of drinking water and litter and food for the kitties.

It was 32 degrees out so the snow was attempting to melt. We had it in our minds that we would come home to power this time but no dice and we felt defeated and frustrated about how ridiculous it was that we had gone this long without power. But instead of seeing the negativity and political things people were posting online about the situation we decided to be grateful. We acknowledged what needs weren’t being met by this whole ordeal and we agreed that our need for security, stability + safety wasn’t being met. We both took turns stating what we were thankful for and then around 9:30 we went out to the car for our nightly charge. Our anxiety + fear was subsiding.

At 10pm the power flashed back on. We sat in disbelief and blinked. After 66 hours of silence and darkness the hum of heaters and inside and outside lights were prevalent. It felt surreal. Molly describes that moment where we stared in shock out our windows was like we had just seen a UFO. The thermostat read 56 when we went back in but it definitely felt colder at certain points in those couple days. Our bedroom window looks out to where all of the HVAC stuff sits for our building and one of them kept smoking when it would start up. Molly insisted that I should call someone since it was dangerous and she worried that it could cause a fire. I reached out to a friend about it and he said I should pull the plug on it since that is a major fire hazard. Thankfully it was for a unit that no one was currently living in, I pulled the plug and would tell maintenance about it the next day.

Day 8 we decided to stay home to conserve our gas. I heard maintenance in the apartment upstairs that I had pulled the plug to. I ran out and caught them. They were a little frustrated at first but after explaining myself they understood and one guy said “You right. If I see a child in a burning building, I ain’t gunna ask permission”. We didn’t use any power other than the oven for our brunch baked ziti and then baked mac n cheese for dinner. I left the TV and Xbox unplugged and played with Lego’s the majority of the day. Every couple of hours, the power would go off for about 10 minutes and come back on. One time the power went out while dinner was in the oven. Not having water and not enough snow to fill up our bathtub made it interesting when needing to go to the bathroom. Molly had the idea of taking a plastic bag and putting it in the toilet. I had the idea of putting it in one of the buckets I used for trash for irrigation work after we were done, put the lid on it and set outside in our patio. So now we have a poop bucket which I will be throwing away.

Friday, day 9, is usually the start of our promo weekend for Favor but the market still hadn’t opened because nothing else had either. All grocery stores were out of everything but with the roads becoming more and more clear, the trucks would be on their way soon. We were low on drinking water and I wasn’t going to hunt around at stores and waste my gas. Another Favor friend said she had running water and could spare both boiled and non boiled water. We went to her place, had coffee and another friend joined. We all sat and chatted for a few hours. They said there should be some places open near them to get take out since its warming up. So we got ourselves loaded up with the water and got us some pizza to take home. Later that night our water did come back on.

This morning, for the first time in four days, I heard something other than silence in our neighborhood. The hum of traffic coming from I-35 was in the air. The night before, Molly said she heard a train. I shared that I heard a plane. The feeling of “normal” was in the air.

The ordeal is not over but things are starting to come back to life. Restaurants are opening up and Favor is opening tomorrow morning for the first time since last Sunday night. The first few days will be interesting as stores stock their inventory again and I’ll be using an app to find places that actually have gas but we have food and had water but they turned it off again and even if we did have it we are under a boil notice. So for now no laundry, no dish washing and no showers.

I will certainly no longer trash talk another state for being unprepared for something that doesn’t normally happen. This was a natural disaster for Texans. Many people were scared, people lost property, homes were flooded due to burst pipes, people died taking extreme measures to stay warm, some froze to death because they had no shelter and people died from lack of food and water. We were pretty damn fortunate throughout this whole ordeal, some had it better and some had it much much worse.

My biggest takeaway from this is that Texans will band together and act in whatever capacity they are able to help. I would see daily posts about someone offering shelter, food and water. I would see posts of people caring for the homeless and disabled. There was no looting, there were no fights at grocery stores, there was no violence out on the streets. People came together and lifted each other up in a way that I hadn’t seen before. Politics were set aside, North vs South was set aside and race was set aside. Im proud to call this place home. It would be nice if something like this never happens again but if it does I know I will be prepared better and willing to help out more than I did.

Help

So many have asked us how they can help. To be honest, this makes us extremely uncomfortable. We don’t like to ask for help for ourselves. We were so fortunate and survivor’s guilt is so real. However, this is the reality we are all living in right now. For us, it’s financial. This is the first time in a year and a half that we have been without work for this extended amount of time. This is our only need.

There are several organizations that are set up to help those in our city who are more in need. Please message us if you are interested in helping on a greater scale!

Molly’s cash app is: $MollySchweim and her Venmo is: @Molly-Schweim

Molly Schweim

thank you so much for coming on this journey with us!

with love,

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