September in Denton is busy. Quite literally, there is a festival every single weekend this month. My planned writing schedule for this column included features about these events, the first being this coming Saturday’s Arts & Autos Extravaganza.
Then came Harvey.
The entire gulf coast of Texas is in shambles. Houston is devastated. Many thousands of people are displaced – homeless even – and now there is a gas shortage and prices are soaring. How can I write about fun as if none of this horrible reality is unfolding?
Since we opened this past Monday morning, our office has been fielding calls from Harvey escapees. “Where can we stay?” “We don’t know our financial situation moving forward. Is there anything free to do?”
These are typical questions from families and individuals now in Denton. Some are in our hotels already, and that number will undoubtedly grow in the days and weeks to come.
This got me thinking. These people are severely shell-shocked, desperate for a distraction. They long for something to remind them and their children that life will go on, that community and simple pleasures are alive and well. They seek peace and normalcy and a break from horror. They long to feel safe.
Denton is blessedly untouched by Harvey. We’ve known our own despair in the past. Remember the great flood of 2007? More than 10 inches of rain fell on our city in just a few hours, turning downtown into a lake. The Chamber of Commerce building where I work took months to put back together. Historical documents were lost, equipment was ruined, cars destroyed, employees displaced. Many tears were shed, and mountains of labor were required to put it back together when the waters receded.
As traumatic as our 100–year flood was for us, it is a fraction of the devastation these Harvey victims have experienced. I cannot fathom their despair.
Our hearts ache for our Texas brethren. Our community is hungry to make a difference. Dentonites are donating, eager to relieve the suffering any way that we can. I realize now that one of the ways we can help is to be ourselves: open, inviting, and continuing on with that which was normal before Harvey.
This Saturday, the Denton Main Street Association’s 18th annual Arts & Autos Extravaganza is downtown from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is a perfect distraction for everyone, our visitors included. Free to the public, hundreds of vehicles will surround the square for judging. We’re talking everything from Model As to muscle cars, trucks and motorcycles. Chalk Fest will showcase artists of every level in action along the sidewalks. Music, arts, crafts and local food round out a full day of fun and friendly competition.
The next weekend, we celebrate with the Denton Blues Fest at Quakertown Park. The weekend after that, UNT plays football at home, which means an exciting Mean Green Game Day, followed the final weekend in September by Green Fest, a festival highlighting Denton’s outdoor recreational opportunities from fishing and kayaking to hiking and horseback riding.
Dentonites know, love, support and participate in these events with fervor. At this devastating moment in Texas that will certainly make history, many from outside our community will be drawn to do the same. Perhaps, they need these original, independent celebrations even more than we look forward to them.
A message to our visitors: Denton welcomes you! You are invited to be part of and engage in our community. We are tight-knit, and we love our city. We come together regularly throughout the year to laud our diversity and amenities. For as long as you are among us, we encourage you to join in.
There is an old saying, “Home is where the heart is.” For the foreseeable future, many among us will be pining for their own homes and cities. Denton has long been reputed as a haven of hospitality for visitors, sojourners and seekers of safe self-expression. We are not clique-ish, but open to new ideas, people and cultures. It is this ideology that has made us Denton.
We must turn it up the volume, Denton. Without Harvey, nearly half a million visitors are among us every year. Because of Harvey, we can expect many more in the coming months who, for whatever reason, choose to escape the devastation of their lives in Denton. Our task is not to question why, but to open our arms and assimilate these fellow Texans into our community as long as they are here.