I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself as the newest member of the New Living team. I recently quit my consulting job in Boston, packed up my car, and drove 2,000 miles to help with this green and mighty endeavor. It was a homecoming of sorts. I was born in Houston, but spent the last 25 years watching the Red Sox and shoveling snow in Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts. If you would have told me that I’d return to Houston, to build a company grounded in living a healthy, eco-friendly life nonetheless, I wouldn’t have believed you. For that matter, my Boston friends didn’t believe me when I told them I was leaving–Work in a green store? “Sure.” A green store in Houston? “Impossible.”
What did seem impossible, however, was my first day at the store. Jeff and I opened New Living (and Wagner Hardware, the community hardware store whose space we are slowly taking over) yesterday morning, two days after Hurricane Ike left us in its rear-view mirror. A projectile had left the front door shattered and unhinged. Glass was scattered across the entranceway and stuck to damaged merchandise and water-logged bags of American Clay. I didn’t know what to do first. Should I clean the store? Should I learn the store? How do I turn on the cash register? (Fortunately we had power, save the credit card machine). As customers began to stroll in, my insecurities surrounding never having stepped foot in New Living subsided. People needed help. They lined up to use our restroom. They scoured the store for duct tape and rope and rakes and nails. They cleaned out our batteries in minutes. We let those without cash take the much needed flash light and told them to come back when they could pay. I heard one man offer up his generator to the woman standing beside him, as his power had already returned. “How’s your roof holding up?” “Some holes and water got in, but everyone’s okay.” I must have heard these questions and answers a hundred times. People’s homes and cars are damaged. Tree trunks and limbs, not to mention the flooding, have turned meandering Houston’s streets into a video game. The night of Hurricane Ike was probably the scariest night of my life, and the aftermath is both sad and confusing. It is not very often we are reminded of how small and powerless we are.
What I really want to say in this post is that Ike’s aftermath–and specifically my first day at New Living–showed me how incredible the people of Houston truly are. Many boast that they moved to Houston for a job and stayed for the people, and I now see why. This city has come together like nothing else I’ve ever seen. The sharing of food, air mattresses, and homes has been fluid. Rather than a state of chaos, people are methodically going through their days, focusing on what’s important and helping their neighbors. Standing behind New Living’s cash register, I was greeted with many more smiles than I anticipated–even if I couldn’t point you to where the tarps were.
It may have been an unsettling homecoming. But it’s good to be here.