The coat is long, all the way down to my ankles, with furry stripes in electric colors, like matcha green, bubblegum pink, and Barney purple. It came into my possession last month during a visit to Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, the costume and vintage shop on South Congress Avenue in Austin. It was love at first sight—an unnecessary and silly purchase, but one that embodied the city’s unofficial motto: Keep Austin Weird.
Last November my boyfriend and I temporarily left New York for Austin, where I grew up. We brought only the Texas winter essentials: sneakers and shorts for hill country hiking. When I modeled the oversized coat for my mom, she shook her head, laughed a little too hard, and said, “Looks like Dr. Seuss and Dolce & Gabbana had a baby.”
I called it my Texas technicolor dream coat.
February in Austin is almost always warm. Hot, even, compared to most everywhere else. But last week brought in snow with a force so strong that the state’s power grid and many of its water systems collapsed. When the temperature dropped from 70 degrees to 7, our home lost heat, power, and water. And we—like so many others across the states—were unprepared for it all.
The first night of freezing, near-total darkness was a one-off adventure. I took pictures in the snow and built a pallet in front of the fireplace, where, as a little girl, I tucked into sleeping bags with friends, sipping Capri Suns and watching episodes of Sailor Moon.
Now, with no juice or TV, we found fun in unrefrigerated beer and an ancient Scrabble board with missing tiles. My boyfriend threw on an old sweater for warmth, while I slept in the only cold-weather item in my closet: the technicolor coat.
By the third night without power, the sleepover stopped being fun. I was cold and miserable and I missed normal times. Not even normal-normal times, I was nostalgic for pandemic-normal times. At least then we had running water.
Around midnight, we woke up to a pounding on the door. Turns out that while we were Scrabbling, the neighbors’ entire house had flooded when a pipe burst, and their second story caved in. While trying to control the situation, their puppy Dan ran out into the cold. He’d been missing for an hour and a half, and it was 9 degrees outside.
My boyfriend brought over tools and bath towels, while I circled the block looking for the dog and thanking the sartorial spirits for my extra layer of fluorescent fuzz; the coat I never thought I’d need.
The flooding eventually stopped, and Dan returned on his own, no worse for wear. But they got really lucky. So many suffered so much worse. And all across the state people stepped up to help out.
Neighbors ran extension cords from their garages to the street, so those without power could charge their phones. On South Padre Island, volunteers rescued 5,000 cold-stunned turtles from hypothermia. When this good San Antonio samaritan saw a lost dog, she lured him to safety with a tortilla (yes, a tortilla). My best friend, a prenatal nurse in Houston, volunteered to manually remove her patient’s waste after the hospital’s toilets stopped flushing.
This Friday, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden fly to Houston to survey relief efforts and honor all the resilient Texans who offered up hot food, clean water, and warm beds. But there’s still recovery work to be done, and on a massive scale.
The snow melted days ago, but basics like gas and food remain scarce. Millions of people are still boiling their water, and for those with broken plumbing—and there are hundreds of thousands—water damage remains an ongoing headache.
I went for a drive to survey the damage in Austin, past the still-standing homeless encampments downtown and Franklin’s Barbecue, and onto gentrified east Sixth Street, where storm survivors in cowboy boots sipped cold brew and bros in burnt orange toasted their long-neck Shiners to surviving #Snowmaggedon2021. The only reminder that last week ever happened were clumps of grassy snow piled up against a wall with graffiti that read, “#FlyinTedCruz.” We are exhausted by it all, but we will never forget.
Back home, I hung up the technicolor coat in the closet. A little bit of color in a bleak time.
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