What it’s like to recover from a natural disaster, Part III: Getting your shit together (Part 1)

This will probably be the longest post I write about this whole ordeal so I’m splitting it into two parts. Yes, I’m parting the parts. There’s so much shit that goes into getting your ducks in a row before you even begin to start tearing out your walls. It was confusing and overwhelming. Not even 24 hours after we’d been plucked from our flooded house by boat we were digging through more information than our minds could handle. We hadn’t even come to grips with the fact that we’d just left our home to be consumed by water – when we had to begin the circus act of getting help.

And what a circus act it is. Actually it’s more of an unorganized clusterfuck of flaming hoops swinging back and forth – and you’ve got to jump through them, but your leg is in a cast and you’re on crutches.

Hopefully this can help to serve as a bit of a primer for y’all.

FLOOD INSURANCE
Let’s start with the basics. If you live in a 100-year flood plain you are usually required to carry flood insurance. If you’re in a 500-year flood plain I believe it’s optional depending on your situation. Insurance is available to anyone, though. Our home is not in a flood plain, so we did not carry flood insurance even though we could have if we wanted. This would (should?) have been disclosed to us when we were signing the bank documents to secure the loan, and/or when we went to State Farm to get our homeowners insurance. Neither my wife or I can recall if it was brought up.  I’d estimate roughly 40% of our neighborhood had flood insurance – some from experience, others were just prudent.

The great thing about being insured is you’re covered usually up to around $250,000 or so – depending on damages. That amount is split between personal items and home construction. Depending on how much water you took on, $250,000 should cover you just fine – assuming you even qualify for the max payout. You can always appeal the decision and have another inspection as well should it come to that.

The bad thing about being insured is the insurance companies and NFIP are notorious for taking an exceedingly long time to conduct inspections and settle your claim (read: give you the monies). By the time we were already starting to build back months later some of our neighbors with flood insurance were still waiting to hear back. Many ended up appealing the insurance’s low-ball settlement as well.

In the end, having insurance at least guarantees you a pretty decent chunk of money. It may not be enough to replace your collection of X or get brand new marble floors – but it’s supposed to either. Because we were uninsured our only options for assistance were FEMA and the SBA.

We now have flood insurance. – though we are still not in a flood plain. This allowed us to get it for the cheapest possible price – $450/yr. The flood maps may be redrawn at some point and put us in a flood plain. Had that been the case our yearly premium would have been well over $1000. But now we are grandfathered in. I should also note obtaining flood insurance was a requisite for receiving an SBA loan for assistance (I’ll get into that later as well).

Important Note: If you have flood insurance you cannot apply for FEMA federal aid. Well, you can, you’ll just be denied because it’s double dipping. If they do by any chance grant you FEMA money you’ll have to pay it back once your flood insurance payment is disbursed.

So, the first thing you should do once your feet are on dry ground and you’ve got your wits about you is call your insurance company to get the ball rolling. Those in the neighborhood with insurance were still waiting for payouts, and some even for inspectors, or re-inspections, for months after we had already received FEMA aid and could start doing stuff. In the end you’ll probably be made a little more whole again but you’ll probably wait a little longer to get started and to get all your money.

FEMA AID & FEDERAL GRANT MONEY
The day after we evacuated I was already on the phone with FEMA and the FEMA website registering us for federal disaster aid. My first piece of advice is: DO NOT WAIT to start this process —- because it is quite a process.

Side note: WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING. Registration numbers. Logins. Passwords. Phone numbers. EVERYTHING. You will need all of this stuff for all the websites and people you talk to. Take notes on EVERYTHING. When you talk to FEMA on the phone, write down whatever directions they say. Write down any people or numbers. Write down dollar amounts or quotes. Everything. This applies to everyone you talk to and any service you register with for the entire duration of the process of rebuilding. Remember, this is the federal government and they are terrible at everything they do.

Shortly after registering with FEMA for federal aid for Harvey, we were contacted by our case worker and they scheduled an inspection date for the house. Many of our neighbors had already had their inspections and said it was pretty simple: the inspector would come in, look around, take some pics, ask a few questions, notate stuff on their tablet, and peace out. Some even mentioned their inspector told them how much money they would probably get. Our guy wasn’t very talkative. He asked about what rooms were upstairs, what we were able to save, what we lost, etc. I didn’t get the best vibe after it was over. But all we could do was wait for the outcome.

The maximum amount of aid you can receive from FEMA is $33,000. The money is split into different categories such as ‘house repairs,’ ‘rental assistance,’ and ‘reimbursement.’ House repairs covers what they think you need to make the house safe and livable again. Rental Assistance helps pay for temporary housing while your house is repaired. The catch with that is they’ll give you what they think two months rent is (hint: it’s not), and then if you want more you have to reapply. But you can still only receive up to $33,000 so if you can swing rent on your own, just do that. For the 3rd category, they gave us some money back for the dehumidifiers we bought to help clean the house.

FEMA only gave us a little over $18,000. That’s it. $16,000 of that was for repairs, $2,000 for rental assistance since we had to rent an apartment, and about $300 to reimburse us for the dehumidifiers. Most of our neighbors received close to the maximum. So we didn’t understand why (like always) we got the shaft. Our house had exactly the same amount of water in it as theirs. We also lost everything on the first floor. But we basically received half of everyone else.

There is an appeal process, of course. In your account page on the FEMA website, where all the details and correspondence is kept, you can click a button to indicate you want to appeal a decision. Then you have to write a letter, submit evidence, and have your letter notarized. You can then either upload it to the website (what we did), or risk mailing it to FEMA and pray that it gets where it’s supposed to go. They tell you it could ‘take up to 90 days to get a response’ – and what they actually mean is ‘we’ll not do anything for 90 days, then on day 91 we’ll look at your letter, call you, and set up another inspection if your letter lends any credible information.’

So, we had another inspection. This guy was way more personable, and felt bad about how we were shafted before. He went through everything thoroughly, and told us we’d hear soon. Four days later, FEMA gave us another $6,500, bringing the total amount for house repairs to about $22,500. Still well short of the maximum and what our neighbors received. Let me tell you, though, when you’re rebuilding your entire first floor from floor to ceiling from the studs – $16,000 is a drop in the bucket. And that $6,500? Well, a master electrician will run you anywhere from $6,000 – 10,000 depending on how much work is needed.

We took what we could get and that money is long gone. FEMA will tell you their aid is not supposed to ‘make you whole again,’ it’s merely to help obtain the most basic elements to make your house safe & livable again. But it really doesn’t. Spend it wisely.

GETTING AN SBA LOAN
So; you don’t have flood insurance, you’re not independently wealthy, and FEMA barely gives enough to build new walls. What do you do? Well, you have to turn to the Small Business Association for a low interest loan. It’s just like getting a real bank loan except there are lots of other caveats that include things like liens on your house, and having contractors sign the papers as well. It’s all quite complicated, but they run a pretty tight ship. We were able to fill out all the paperwork and take care of everything at one of the many FEMA pop-up tents around the area.

After applying online, I received a call from our case worker for an interview about the condition of the house. I honestly can’t remember if they sent an inspector or just asked about what we lost. In the end, we were approved for a 30-year loan of $84,000 with an interest rate of 1.75%. Not too bad. They split it up and dedicate certain amounts for different parts of your reconstruction. For instance, they initially told us $45,000 was allocated home repair, $25,000 for personal property, and the rest for other things like landscaping and fencing, etc. The good thing is you can request to have the allocations moved around – which we eventually needed. They begin by disbursing $25,000 to you to begin with but require filings of court documents and bank forms and insurance forms before they will disburse the rest. There are a lot of hoops to jump through but in all honesty it’s been the easiest of everything so far.

The good thing is there’s no penalties for paying it off early, and payments don’t start until 1-year after the initial disbursement of the $25,000. Thankfully so far we haven’t had to touch any of that money since we’ve been fortunate to have money from friends, family, and donations from work. If all goes according to plan we should be able to pay back the entire $25,000 when the first payment is due. *crosses fingers*

Why did we get it, then? you’re probably asking. Well for one FEMA won’t take you seriously when you apply for your initial federal aid unless you’ve also applied for an SBA loan – it’s like they don’t want to give you much money if you can get it from someplace else. Secondly, it’s common sense because how else are you going to rebuild your entire first floor? The only other catch is that in order to get the SBA loan, you have to get flood insurance. So as you can see the whole thing is one big lasso of circular logic.

Like with FEMA – SAVE EVERYTHING. They require receipts to prove that you spent their money on rebuilding your house and not on hookers and blow. Though, it doesn’t say anything about not hiring hookers to rebuild your house or writing off blow as necessary materials….but I digress…

So that’s the, uh, brief, run down of everything we had to do to even get started. The follow-up to this post will be a kind of continuation – but deal more with the absolute bullshit we went through with everything else.

I hope this can help serve as a bit of a primer for anyone that finds themselves in a similar situation (but I hope not).

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments.

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What it’s like to recover from a natural disaster. Hint: It sucks balls. Part II: Aftermath & Advice

It’s safe to say we were not prepared for what we found when the water was gone. I’ll mostly let the pictures below do the talking, but it was devastating to say the least. We walked around, taking as many pictures as we could to document everything. I was finally able to get into the garage and look at the car and the bikes, too. Later in this post I’ll discuss what decisions we made during demolition and remediation.

But first – depressing photos (with captions)! NOTE: everything you see as how it it settled after the water. We didn’t touch anything. It was a goddamn mess.

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The first thing we saw when the front door opened.

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Entryway, looking toward the dining room.

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The living room – yes there is still about 4″ of muck water in the sunken living room. Had to pump it out. YUMMY.

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Dining room

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You can tell which way the water mostly flowed.

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Dining room, again.

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We lost so many books (and DVDs)

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This used to be our coat closet now it’s a mold storage unit

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Now the fridge is a 400 pound smell-box. Plus the 1970’s cupboards were falling apart. Note the mold.

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Utility room – the washing machine floated and tipped.

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My poor car.

Even though our lives were in ruins, we had to act fast. As you can see there was already fucktons of mold everywhere.

So here’s where the advice comes in. We’ve learned A LOT about remediation since this happened, so I’m here to share it with you should fate ever decide to drop this steaming pile of donkey shit on you as well. Here’s a quick list of bullet points to start you off, then I’ll get into more detail about our situation specifically.

DRYWALL
Many people in my neighborhood made the mistake of only removing the first 5 or so feet of drywall from the floor up. This was a huge mistake. You’ll hear the general rule of thumb is to take it out to ~3 feet above the water line. This works well if water depth was only a few inches, and if the water came and went relatively quickly. But you’ll remember the water was in our homes for two weeks. Drywall, and whatever moisture barrier/backing board you have on the outside of the studs will soak it up. and up. and up. Initially, we took it up to around 6-7 feet but in the end ended up taking out all the walls floor-to-ceiling on the entire first floor and garage.

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Drywall and insulation removed in the living room before we decided to remove it all.

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Demo in the downstairs bathroom.

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Demo in the hallway & kitchen.

In addition, we removed all the gypsum board that was originally put on the outside of the studs during the house’s construction because it too had been soaked and compromised with mold. Some folks in the neighborhood thought that it was OK to leave it and it would “dry out” so they left it – which again is a huge mistake. In a later post I’ll get into what further complications this caused during out rebuild.

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After we decided to take out everything.

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Everything removed in the dining room.

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The kitchen is a blank slate.

My advice is to err on the side of caution when tearing out your drywall. It’s all dependent on how much water was in your house and how long it was there. Don’t be afraid to play it safe and rip it all out. Yes, this will initially cost more to replace and rebuild but the peace of mind is worth it. Also, it’s much easier to replace full boards of drywall from floor to ceiling than it is to try to patch the bottom 4 feet. It takes really good drywall skills to create a nice smooth wall.

STUD CARE
Once the drywall is removed you’ll start to notice how your studs have been affected. Remember, water gets everywhere – even inside the walls. Our studs were surprisingly in OK shape. There was evidence of some mold, but thankfully there was hardly any wood rot. We were pleasantly surprised – and relieved.

Assuming you don’t need to replace any studs, you definitely need to treat them. We painstakingly used a small wire brush to brush clean every single stud that was exposed. This helped get any residual mold or flood gunk off. This was a vital first step, as after we finished that we painted the bottom 1/3 of each stud (higher in some areas like the kitchen) with Zinsser mold killing primer. This kills any remaining mold that didn’t get brushed away, and also seals and protects the wood before you seal it up inside the wall again. Hopefully, should it encounter any water again, it will help protect the stud from further water damage. Make sure you don’t skip this step.

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Picture from a little further along – but to show how we treated the studs and sills with the Zinsser.

MOLD REMEDIATION
Finally, before you put up any new drywall, or seal up anything, make sure you get a qualified mold remediation specialist to come examine the house, take mold and wood moisture readings, and perform any treatments. We had two separate treatments at different intervals. The first was a treatment from a local Servpro that took moisture readings after we’d let the house dry out for about three weeks. He checked the studs and sills and gave us the all clear. He then sprayed every exposed stud and sill with a chemical compound that kills mold, treats the wood, and protects it from further infection. A month or so later, we decided to have another treatment – one that becomes aerosol and filters through your HVAC system and kills anything that has been transported in the time you’ve been back working at the house. This was a chlorine dioxide treatment. It’s been roughly 6 months since then and there’s been no sign of mold.

Mold is the biggest concern you need to worry about after a flood. It can be anywhere, and grow in places you weren’t expecting. Make sure you rip out everything in the walls – drywall, insulation, moisture barriers, etc. If you aren’t careful and do not remediate properly, it will come back – and it will be sealed up in your walls growing and there won’t be anything you can do about it except rip it out again.

While this post is pretty short I must stress that these various tasks took months. There is nothing short lived about recovering from a flood.

In my next post I will talk about all the steps we had to go through and all the flaming hoops we had to jump through for FEMA, the SBA, the city, county, banks, and God knows what else to get things rolling on repairs.

 

What it’s like to recover from a natural disaster. Hint: It sucks balls. Part I: The Happening

So this series of posts has been a long time coming. I’m going to try not to make it too long, but, I’m a talker. At least since I’m typing you don’t have to watch me constantly gesticulate with my arms. I’ve got a lot to say. This will mostly be about the hoops we had to jump through to rebuild our lives – but also tell the story of how we went from ‘oh look it’s raining’ to ‘I’ll step into the boat then you hand me the dog.’

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Taken from the 2nd floor on Monday 28 August 2017, around 10:00am. The floodgates are open & the neighborhood is filling up.

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As many of you know, our entire neighborhood was flooded (intentionally by the Army Corps of Engineers) during Hurricane Harvey. All told, the water line inside the living room when we were finally able to get back to the house two weeks later, was 41 inches. That’s nearly 4 feet of water on the ground floor. Since we weren’t expecting the flood, we hadn’t moved anything to the 2nd floor of the house, so, we lost everything. From every piece of furniture, to every book on the shelves, to every major appliance and piece of cookware in the kitchen, to the car sitting in the garage. It was all destroyed.

Everything.

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The high water line was about 10 inches higher that shown here.

Where do you even start?

To make matters worse, the house sat in water while the ACoE emptied Barker Reservoir for two weeks. Two weeks of stagnant, flood, sewer water. Then, even after the water level was low enough to have emptied the house, it still wasn’t low enough for us to reach the house. Wading through the water was not recommended for health reasons and the police weren’t allowing it anyway. Drywall is like a paper towel – dip it in water and capillary action will take care of the rest. Our walls were wet and mold-ridden almost the whole way up to the ceiling – that’s 8-9 foot ceilings by the way.

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Oh yes, let’s talk about the mold.

Two weeks of stagnant water, & moisture filling the house with no circulation. Mold was on almost anything open to the air, or touching the water that would allow it to grow. You do the math. Yes remediation was possible, and we did, but, holy crap. And now every house in the neighborhood was have that stigma of a “moldy, flooded house.” It’s something that will always need to be disclosed when a house goes on the market. We’ll have to show proof we properly remediated and took every precaution to prevent the mold from coming back. The integrity of the house will now always be in question. Sure we scrubbed every. single. stud. By hand. With a wire brush. (All credit to my wife who did most of this). Then painted every. single. stud – with mold killing and prevention primer (Zinsser). While many floods occur quickly, with water flowing in a few inches or a few feet, then receding the next day – this was obviously a different situation. We couldn’t take the first few feet of lower drywall out and call it a day. It all had to go. It was the only way to get rid of the mold, and the compromised drywall. So before we could even think about rebuilding, we had to rip away everything we’d worked for in the last 2.5 years. Strip it bare and throw it on the front lawn in a disgusting pile of destroyed memories.

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Our first floor on the front lawn.

The Day Of… (Monday 28 August 2017)

It had been raining since Friday evening and the streets in the neighborhood were flooding and emptying cyclically as the bands of rain rotated over. Even during the day on Sunday I was riding my bike around the neighborhood between rain bands and checking things out after the water had receded. Our neighborhood drains into the Bayou that runs behind it (and is the outflow for the reservoir), and once the rain gave it a rest, it was able to pull the water out and things were basically back to normal.

Sunday evening around 5pm it started raining again. It didn’t stop until after 11pm.

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Neighbors checking out the water between bands of rain on Sunday afternoon.

Earlier in the evening the Army Corps of Engineers released the info that both reservoirs were nearing their critical tipping point and the gates needed to be opened. The first reservoir gates would open at 2am, and the second reservoir later that afternoon. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the first opened around 11:30pm that night, and the 2nd shortly thereafter. This never gave the bayou a chance to lower, or the water in the neighborhood to drain. When I awoke around 7am Monday morning, the water level hadn’t gone down like we’d expected. By 9am it was at the front door and still rising.

 

Over the course of the morning from our windows on the 2nd floor we’d watched many in the neighborhood hop on boats and leave. Some floated out on inflatable air mattresses, others waded. We wanted to remain as long as possible – especially since we had three animals relying on us for safety. Around noon, after watching so many leave, and our neighbors across the street throw in the towel and get picked up, I said to my wife ‘I think we need to go.’ So, we grabbed our backpacks, filled them with a few pairs of underwear, a shirt and shorts, a pair of sneakers, our IDs, iPads, cat litter, cat food, and dog food. Basically only enough for 1 or 2 days. We put the cats in their tiny travel kennels, and the harness on Chainsaw. We flagged down a boat.

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Monday morning: the water reaches the front door.

It was about 1:30pm now, and water was already filling the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen. When the boat pulled up to the house, it was floating at our front door. For a bit of perspective- our house is up on a small berm, and this meant the water at street level was already about 4 feet. I stepped into the boat first. My wife handed me the cats in their kennels one at a time. I set them on the floor of the boat. It was still raining and they were less than excited about this. Then she handed me the dog, and I held onto him in my lap. Then she climbed into the boat, closed the front door, locked it, and we pushed off. We stopped next-door to pick up our older neighbor who had also retreated to her upstairs. We promised her if we decided to go, she was coming with us. The ride to the front of the neighborhood took about 8 minutes. Let me tell you how surreal it was to be boating through the streets, looking at the submerged cars and houses as we trolled toward the only dry land on the main road at the entrance to the neighborhood. Once there, we got out and the boat left to retrieve someone else. Thankfully, we had a place to go. We spent a few hours at a friend’s house on the other side of the street that wasn’t flooding. Eventually our friends came to pick us up and take us to their place a few miles away that wasn’t in danger of flooding. There we stayed for the rest of the week.

The Return…(Friday 01 September 2017)

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Residents & volunteers at the front of the neighborhood, Friday September 01.

When we returned 4 days later, a Friday, volunteers from all over the state, and surrounding states, were taking residents in by boat to their houses so they could grab any belongings they needed to get by. We went in with two other couples who lived nearby. It’s quite an experience jumping out of a boat into almost 4 feet of water at your front door. We were fortunate our front door seemed mostly undamaged, and wasn’t too swollen into its frame. We unlocked, and went inside.

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Getting ready to go back to the house for the first time…

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W. T. F.

The Flood
The Flood
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Rounding the corner to the house.

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The first thing we saw when we opened the front door.

Yes it was as bad as you can imagine. What wasn’t already floating was either sunken out of sight, or was covered in mold already. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking, but suffice it to say there wasn’t much we could do at this point. We went upstairs, grabbed 2 carryon size suitcases and a dufflebag – filled them with clothes and some important papers and waited for the boat to come back.

And that was it. All we could do for the next week and a half was wait. Below is some of what we saw when we opened the door for the first time since leaving.

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Looking to the right from the front door.

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Main entryway

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Looking through the living room into the back yard.

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Living room.

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We lost 6 shelves of books, plus many above the water from mold.

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Fridges float in floods, FYI. Look at the dirt line on the lower cabinets.

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The view from the landing at the top of the stairs.

So that’s what happened. I couldn’t get into the laundry room and subsequently the garage because the doors were swollen shut, plus the washing machine had floated and tipped and blocked the door, too. So unfortunately I wasn’t able to get pics of our car in the garage submerged in water.

In the next post I’ll write about the immediate aftermath – demolition and figuring out “where do we go from here?”

If you read through this lengthy post – thank you. And I hope you’ll read the follow ups, too, which will have a lot of important info for you in case you’re ever in a similar situation.

Tuesday Tirade: When is copyright law worthwhile, and when is it a petty kick in the junk?

So the other week I received a notice from YouTube that two of my videos were taken down due to a copyright violation. I could chose to go with it, or fight it – and if I lost I could end of up court. The offending videos were two less-than-30-second snippets of songs from a Garth Brooks concert I went to here in Houston all the way back in 2015 (almost 3 years ago).

Here’s the email:
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It’s a forgone conclusion that people take videos at concerts to relive the fun and of course to share with friends and family on various social media. It’s going to happen. It’s 2018 and we all have pocket sized video cameras, and we live in a technological world where data is shared in large quantities. This includes clips of songs from concerts.

So, Pearl Records Inc. – get your head out of your ass and get it into 2018.

But that’s not really my whole tirade. To be honest I didn’t really care. I ignored the email. The vids were gone, they were 2 years old and I’d probably never need or watch them again anyway. A few weeks had passed until today, and I found myself needing to go into my YouTube account settings – something I rarely do.

I was greeted by this:
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Which in itself isn’t bad on the surface – except for the part where you can’t do anything unless you “go to Copyright school,” watch a video, and pass a 5 question quiz. There’s no way around it.

What.

The.

Fuck.

So now it’s time to circle back around to the title of this entry. Is this truly a worthwhile copyright violation or is it just petty bullshit? I vote for petty bullshit. And on top of it, being forced to do YouTube’s asinine quiz before I could get to my account settings was infuriating.

At the end of the day, it’s not a big deal. Just something worthy of a good ol’ fashioned
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Let’s talk about giving teachers guns.

I’m not a teacher anymore.

But for 6 years, I had the sincere pleasure of educating elementary school children. 10 year olds. 5th graders who still looked to me for band-aids, were excited to show me their LEGO sets, and stared wild-eyed when I could answer 50 multiplication problems in under 50 seconds. I loved it. I loved those kids. But I hated the system. I stuck it out as long as stress would allow me, and then I left. And even though I don’t stand in front a classroom every day anymore, I’ll always consider myself a teacher. It was the job I wanted to do since I was a kid – inspired by so many of my own great teachers. I sometimes think by leaving I let them down. But teachers want nothing but for their students to be happy and successful.

And I doubt their idea of my success would include drawing down on a shooter who has just mowed down the classroom of 10 year olds next-door and is now coming for us. I often wonder what they would think of the entire situation. When I think back to my 1st grade teacher, Miss C., she was fresh out of college, young, and eager. That was 1987. I can’t even imagine her standing there, teaching me how to do simple addition, with a Glock strapped to her side.

I can’t imagine it now, either.

Because it’s insane.

It’s fucking insane.

I’m just going to skip listing all the of the responsibilities teachers have on a daily basis that extend far beyond the letter of the job. It’s a long list. It’s a stress-inducing list. A list that now includes active shooter survival and lockdown training. Yes, teachers now need to figure out how to heard a class of 20+ kids who are barely old enough to understand the concept of death into a classroom closet, or an out-of-sight corner, and keep them quite and calm. Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep a class of 7 year olds quiet? And now it could mean life or death?

But that’s OK – let’s just add gun handling, and combat training to it. It’s the obvious answer right? Fight fire with fire. Give those teachers guns. I’m sure little old Mrs. Anderson in room 106, who still doesn’t quite grasp the use of email, will certainly be able to squeeze off a few rounds and take down a person with a semi-automatic rifle.

Yeah, yeah ok ok. I know you’re saying we don’t need to arm all the teachers – just some of them. Some young, active ones who can run, tuck & roll, and have all that video game shooting experience, right? They’ll be perfect. Because of their age, and physique, they must volunteer to put their lives on the line and run toward the gunfire, instead of away. But, if there isn’t a gun in every classroom that must mean that some children and teachers must be sacrificed before those with guns have a chance to react, compose themselves, make sure their classes are safe, before running toward the danger.

You’ll read that what Trump really meant when he said to give teachers guns, was to only give them to ex-military who have since become teachers. While the sample size of a single teacher is low – I can easily say that of the 3 schools I’ve taught in – in 3 different states – none of them has former Marines (or any other branches) working as teachers. So, I guess that means we all die. And let’s not get into giving these supposedly existing teachers a bonus or extra pay of some sort; teachers can’t even get funding for classroom supplies, or special education assistance, or even just a raise every once in a while. Where’s that extra millions for hazard pay going to come from?

Does this sound stupid as fuck yet?

The only way everyone is safe is to keep the guns out of the schools. Away from the schools. See, the thing is, despite what all the gun-wielding, 2nd amendment humping, NRA cock sucking Republicans will tell you, this is a gun problem. It’s a gun access problem. They’ll be happy to tell you if we got rid of guns, then two things will happen: 1) the government will immediately initiate a hostile takeover of the country and declare martial law, and 2) all the criminals will now have all the guns and we’re going to be robbed, mugged, killed, etc constantly. Nevermind that a large majority of firearms in criminal possession are legal guns stolen from gun owners. It seems any schmuck can buy a gun at a gun show without proper papers or checks. But this is whole thing is a different argument for a different day.

A school is a safe place. A place of learning. A place of respect. It is not a place of violence.

When a motorist hits and kills a cyclist, the answer to the problem isn’t give the cyclists cars to start demolition derby style revenge- it’s to build better infrastructure, educate motorists, fine and/or jail the motorists, take away their license, and change the local laws and ordinances to better protect the cyclists. Of course there is pushback from motorists who couldn’t fathom riding a bike – just like there’s pushback from gun gurus about changing gun laws. The only difference is adding a bike lane saves lives. Adding guns doesn’t. Adding well timed bike signal lights saves lives. Add guns doesn’t. Taking a license away from a repeat drunk driver (not that this ever fucking happens) saves lives. Selling guns to domestic abuse offenders does not.

The point I’m trying to make is you don’t solve the gun problem by adding more guns. It’s like saying I’m going to fix my leaky sink by pouring water on it. And you sure as fuck don’t solve a school shooting problem by giving guns to teachers.

If I was still teaching and I was asked to carry a gun, I would refuse. It’s probably cost me my job but I’d rather not work in a place where I’d be forced to shoot a kid. But when it comes down to it, the blame falls squarely on the NRA and gun owners who put their desire to own guns above my desire to not shoot children.

Fuck those guys.

And fuck your guns.

Donate to support the National MS Society – My 4th MS150

33544421214_f0ffcb764d_bThis April I’ll be riding in my 4th MS150 – a two day cycling event where more than 10,000 cyclists ride from Houston to Austin to raise money and awareness for Multiple Sclerosis and the National MS Society. There’s no other event like it in the country.

For the last 3 years, with the support of my readers, friends, and family, we’ve raised almost $4,000 for the MS Society. This year I’ve once again set my fundraising goal at $1500.

So, if you’re in the giving mood, please head over to my personal page and make a donation to help support research to make a world free of MS.

The evolution of my 1984 Raleigh SS commuter

In June of 2014, I had my parents send me my Aunt’s old bike. I was excited to dive into the world of single-speed cycling, and lots of people use vintage road frames to build them up. I chronicled the rebuild (my first time doing things on my own) in this post, if you’d like to see the full story.

Since then, it’s been through a number of iterations as I’ve continued to tailor it to meet my needs both stylistically and for utility.

When I took it out of the box it looked like this:
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When I was done with my rebuild, it looked like this:
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Since it was for commuting to work, I added a rear rack for my pannier:
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I eventually decided to ditch the rack, since it really took away from the cool factor of the vintage frame. I now use a backpack to carry my stuff to and from work. Around that same time, I decided I wanted to try pursuit bars. So I replaced the bullhorns, and got some regular brake levers. I also finally found a seat post that fit, since the existing old one was actually too short. So iteration #2 was a pretty decent overhaul:
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I liked this overall but got uneasy when I would really get down in the horns and my hands were very far away from the brake levers. Eventually I decided to go back to regular drop bars.

At the same time I decided to chop 2cm off my quill stem, and switch from an 18t freewheel to a 17t freewheel. So, here’s iteration #3:
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Then Hurricane Harvey struck, and our house and garage were flooded. The bike, along with all the other bikes, was half under water for almost 2 weeks. The frame was salvageable as were most of the parts, but after giving them a decent clean they started to exhibit signs of damage – especially the freewheel and the rear hub.

So, I ordered a new set of wheels, a new chain, and a new freewheel. I went back to 18t this time. I find it a lot easier to start with it, but I miss the speed I could reach with the 17t. Oh well.

So finally, almost 4 years later, we’re at iteration #4. It looks very similar to the above pic,  but the new wheels are the biggest difference. I had wanted to ditch the fixie-style deep rims for a while, so I was happy for the excuse. The regular wheels look better with a classic lugged frame.
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So we’ll roll with this for a while. I’m already contemplating moving to riser bars – but, we’ll hold off for a while.
I guess that’s the beauty of these old road frames; you can do anything with them, and they are so easy to change around. This bike was originally a 10 speed, but it was very simple to make it single, and would be just as easy to put it back.

Twitter blocked my account because I told Ann Coulter to die in a fire

In response to this tweet:

Pretty sure it wasn’t the worst thing that’s been said on Twitter today.

I’m free to tweet again in 12 hours.

I guess next time I should just threaten nuclear war against her instead.