Saturday. December 26, 2015. My phone rang; it was my friend Bobby, with whom I share office space. Oh no, I thought as I answered.
“Hey Bobby, what’s going on?”
“Dude, you need to get down to the office and salvage what you can. The water is rising. Fast.”
St. Louis, Missouri was in the midst of one of the most devastating rain events in history. A solid four inches had fallen in a mere twenty-four hours, with at least another four inches on the way before it would end. Every body of water began to swell, unable to hold the sheer volume of liquid.
Deer Creek, a normal trickle of a waterway approximately five-hundred feet from our office, overflowed its banks. Normally, the parking lots in nearby businesses would bear the brunt. However, because the creek was so swollen, unable to expunge all of the water, it looked for different outlets.
Tornados may be the most violent, hurricanes the longest lasting, and wildfire the most frightening with its unpredictability, but there is nothing more insidious than water. Water is patient. Water needs no source of fuel. The Grand Canyon is not quite so grand without the sheer determination of water.
The rainwater found another way to dissipate itself: rising from the drains in the ground directly outside our office.
Stephanie and I had just arrived for a Christmas tournament basketball game for our son, Sam. He and his brother Ben had been going a little stir-crazy in the house, and this provided a nice batch of relief. Or so we thought.
Stephanie could see the look on my face; she knew something was desperately wrong. When I told her I had to leave to save my business, Chris, another basketball dad, offered to drive me while Stephanie stayed with the kids at the game. There was no sense in dragging them into what was, at the moment, a very uncertain and potentially dangerous situation.
As we dodged cars on the verge of submerging, my phone blew up with text messages and calls.
You can’t get in from this road.
You can’t get in from that road.
This road is under four feet of water.
And sure enough, as we tried to get to the office directly, police officers and a barricade greeted us. As it happened, we saw Bobby’s wife, Amy, heading a different direction. We popped a u-ey to follow her and ended up across the street from the office. I thanked Chris and told him I’d make a run for it.
God, I wish I’d chosen different shoes than loafers. Whiskey tango foxtrot was I thinking?
I raced into the office through the side garage. The carpet was dry. Thank God.
Bobby, his co-workers, and members of his family were racing around trying to save everything electronic. As I ran towards my office, near the back of the building, I glanced out the front door. To my horror, our front parking lot, a former loading dock, was submerged. The water was rising about three inches a minute. If my math was correct, we had approximately twelve minutes before we would be inundated.
I’m a video producer by trade. This means that almost everything I have to do in my job resides in the electronics family: editing systems, cameras, printers, and approximately a mile of cable. I had twelve minutes to get it out, or up, or my livelihood would temporarily be over.
First things first: I jumped behind my desk, approximately two feet away from the wall, and unplugged literally everything. I remember Bobby asking me when I moved in, “Dude, why so far off the wall?”
This is why.
After I unplugged approximately fifty of the cables, I hopped back over the desk and disconnected the important things: Mac towers, monitors, printers, decks. Thanking God above, Bob had a twenty-foot enclosed trailer. I shuttled back and forth between the office and the trailer outside the garage, glancing at the water outside with each pass.
We would be engulfed in six minutes.
After the computers were safe, I raced back to my storage area for my production equipment: lights, sound gear, grip gear, the cameras. Some of these cases weighed close to seventy pounds. I tore them through the office like Emmitt Smith with a touchdown addiction.
Computers? Check. Gear? Check. Now what?!
Cables. Lots of them. All on top of the desks. As I ran back to my office, there were six people inside, disconnecting cables from other cables. Then the chairs in my office went on top of the coffee table (it’s a nice-sized office). Then everything on the lowest shelves went to higher shelves, thanks to Bobby’s office manager, Chrissy. His sister, Mandy, made piles of spaghetti out of my cables to make sure they wouldn’t fall off the desks. His brother, Ed, helped carry boxes of books out to the garage to get them onto higher shelves.
And then…it arrived.
It was slow at first, creeping under the walls. Then, in the space of sixty seconds, it was two inches deep. The electricity was still on. The water was only going to get higher. The rain continued unabated. The moment of truth had arrived: we had to evacuate.
I walked out of the building into the rain, completely and utterly numb from everything I had just witnessed. I thanked God and Bobby for enough warning to get the editing systems and videography gear out. I wondered how much I was going to lose, and how fast I could get all of the cables replaced. I had no idea how high up the water would go as I watched it continue to rush in, even with the doors closed.
Someone asked me if I needed anything. I simply said, “I’m going home.”
My house is a three minute drive from my office. It’s a twenty minute walk. I did not know this until that afternoon. I wasn’t getting any wetter. I simply wanted to be alone with my thoughts, so I walked home in the rain. Three people stopped and asked if I needed a lift. I remained polite in my haze.
That was, until a car whizzed past me, kicking up a wall of water that got me from the waist down.
“MOTHER#@%!ER!” I screamed at the passing motorist.
I got back to my house, stripped, and took a surprisingly calming shower. We were staying at my parents house in another part of town for the Christmas break, so not even the dog was home. It was just me, and the water. I kept going over in my head what had happened, and I simply couldn’t wrap my mind around it. I didn’t even know if any water got into the equipment on the way from the office garage to the trailer. I had no idea if anything would work again.
I was totally, utterly lost.
Three hours later, mired in a bit of a depression, I drove through the monsoon for one of the only things that can calm the nerves at a time like this: Buffalo Wild Wings. I had placed the order for my family and my folks not three minutes prior, and I left quickly as the rain had slowed to heavy instead of the now-normal bucketing.
As I pulled into the B-Dubs parking lot, I got a text from Bobby.
Dan: it’s time to call in a favor to your buddies. We should move as much out tonight as possible. Carloads is better than nothing.
The water, which had gone six inches up the walls, had now receded for the time being. It was time to act. I tried to think of who to call, but my friends mental rolodex was moving too fast. I couldn’t focus on a single person to call. So I threw up a Hail Mary: in other words, a Facebook post.
Okay. Anyone in or close to the Brentwood area. Our office has flooded. Water has receded from inside, but now it is a mad dash to get everything we can out. If any of you can help, we basically need cars, anything that can move stuff.
We can offload stuff at my house. 3 min from work. If you can help, please private message me.
Two minutes later, my friend Nancy sent me a PM offering her help. One minute later, Oliver called. Three minutes later, Linda called…she was coming with her daughter, Katie. A minute after that, Melanie called telling me that she was now at my office delegating what needed to go where. Richard called, telling me he was on his way. Subash offered his Suburban, boxes, and bags. Katy came. Phil and his wife Stephanie arrived, and they almost lost their car in the process. Marek came. Fred came. Anne, who was going through her own basement taking on water, came. Meghan, Jeff, Will, Drew and Matt offered help. Liz showed up with her son, Chad. Steve and Jill arrived.
Oh, and did I mention that this was before I was even able to get there myself?
More people called and texted. Aaron offered me his twenty-four foot box truck. I simply could not believe the outpouring of help.
When Stephanie and I got there, most of the storage area with my boxes was just about empty. Cables were being bagged. Papers were being boxed. Chairs were being lifted out and into waiting trucks. Bobby, who had his own crew of family and friends, could not believe how much help we were getting. We would pass each other in the chaos and say, “This could have been so much worse.”
People loaded their cars. In the rain. The day after Christmas. On a Saturday night. And they did this with a smile on their face.
And after everything was loaded, one by one, the cars showed up at my house to be emptied. Electronics went into the house, while boxes and “non-perishables” went into our garage. It was a thing of precision, of beauty, of friendship and love.
As the last of the boxes were offloaded, several of us stood on the covered part of our back deck and drank a beer…or two. We relived the events of the night, swapped stories of previous exploits, and laughed until we could laugh no more.
As I sit here in my basement, writing this blog using my editing computer, I can not even begin to fathom the sacrifice that so many made for Bobby and me. Apart from some furniture and maybe two boxes of paperwork and a few cables, literally everything was saved. All of my computers work. All of my video equipment stayed dry. Bobby is already set up in a temporary space, donated to him by a friend.
People are not out of the woods yet here. While the rain has finally stopped, the rivers continue to rise. On FOX 2 News this morning, I watched two people have to be rescued from their vehicles that were inundated with water in the blink of an eye.
So many people have lost businesses, homes, everything; I know how blessed and fortunate we are. Yet while I see these stories of devastation, I also see stories of absolute unbridled compassion of people helping those in need.
To those who helped us on Saturday night, to those who offered help, to those who offered encouragement, I want to give you my heartfelt thanks, which will never be enough. You not only helped to save two businesses, but you also helped to restore some much needed faith in humanity.
And know that if any of you are ever in need, I will be there. No questions asked. And if I have forgotten to mention anyone by name, I sincerely apologize.
Thank you, God bless you, and Happy New Year!