This is not like the stories I usually tell. There are no monsters here, no ancient cults, no demons. There is a whole lot of city bureaucracy, however, and as some of us know, city bureaucracy can be nearly as horrifying as the worst baddies the imagination can conjure.
This is a story about the West Gray Multi-Service Center. The Center looks like this:
Or, well, it used to look like that, anyway.
If you live in Houston – and I hope that you do! – then chances are, you recognize the West Gray Multi-Service Center. After all, it’s starred in almost every tv news segment ever made about early voting in Houston.
There are lots of places to vote early in this city, but West Gray is our superstar. It’s the Kim Kardashian of Houston early voting sites.
You probably already know that, but did you know this? The other eleven and a half months of the year, when it’s not starring in tv news reports? The Multi-Service Center is home to a whole network of programs for people with disabilities.
Blind people can take classes and play sports there. There is wheelchair basketball and walking trails and weight-lifting. There is the city’s only public wheelchair-accessible pool.
My schizophrenic friend, Stan, hangs out there all summer, just enjoying the a/c. With Claudius, his cat, naturally. It’s the only place in public the two of them feel comfortable.
It is a real community and always chock full of people.
Isn’t that fantastic?
* * * * *
Last spring, it started raining in Houston. And it rained and it rained and then it rained some more, until finally, it had rained so much, it seemed there ought not to be any water left for raining anywhere.
Well, all that water started shoving things around. Especially underground. My neighbor’s driveway collapsed. Out back of my house, I had a pipe burst.
And on April 20, at the West Gray Multi-Service Center, a water main split wide open. Water came rushing out. First, it filled up underground and then, when the water ran out of room there, the ground began bubbling up. Upwards to the foundation of the Center and upwards right on through it!
Mud and water broke through the floor, filled the halls and the weight room and the basketball court. And the City couldn’t find the water main, so workers just kind of started digging around in the back yard, searching.
The City cut the power and put up a storm fence and a sign that read, “Closed Until Further Notice.”
That is how things stayed through May.
…and through July…
And Stan and Claudius, well, they almost never left their house anymore.
Isn’t that awful?
* * * * *
On Wednesday, August 6, the Houston City Council approved one-point-eight million dollars to fix the West Gray Multi-Service Center at last.
* * * * *
I was talking to a woman from the Center. I was there and we were working out of one half of one half of a moldy room.
This would have been back in August.
I said, “I heard that City Council approved the money last week. Isn’t that great?”
She said, “Of course they approved the money! Now that it’s about to inconvenience their early voting, they approved it! But when it was just hurting a bunch of disabled people…”
She didn’t seem impressed.
Hell, when she worded it that way, I wasn’t impressed, either.
* * * * *
Houston had early voting again at the West Gray Multi-Service Center this month. The Center’s main entrance was still fenced over like before but people could go in through a side door to vote in that moldy back room.
The tv reporters showed up like always to broadcast standing in the forest of brightly-colored campaign signs.
But early voting ended yesterday and now the reporters are gone and the campaign signs are leaving.
The City can breathe a sigh of relief.
I mean, who knows? The place might even be fixed before next year’s early voting starts.
Wouldn’t that be wonderful for Stan and Claudius?