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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Sunday before the storm...

The morning before Katrina hit I was still unsure whether evacuation was necessary until I turned on the news. We were hopeful that it would take a turn in either direction away from the city and spare us, but, it looked a bit too close for comfort and the damn thing was still listed as a category 4. Very dangerous! We had stayed in the city for several hurricanes throughout my life without any major repercussions but this one looked especially bad. So, I packed a few belongings in a carry on bag and a small suitcase, just a couple pair of pants, a few shirts, an extra pair of shoes and my entire stock of medications. I was very thankful I took all my meds as it turned out. I was thinking we might be away for only a couple days at the most, certainly not the more than 3 weeks that passed before we could return.

The traffic was backed up for miles in every direction headed out, gridlocked on some roads, but, the state police had enacted a plan that allowed all the roads and interstates to become one way only, with all lanes going outbound. The plan helped a lot but still it wasn't enough. It took me nearly 10 hours to travel a distance that would have normally taken less than 2 hours. I had pulled out of my driveway expecting to go to my brothers home in Hammond, La. but a call to my cell phone from my mom informed me that he and his family had decided to evacuate too, at the last minute, and I now had no place to go except for Fort Worth, Tx. where my sister lives. After a couple of quick calls to my sister, I confirmed that I could stay there and that I would try to make it there that same day, I really didn't have the money to start spending on motel rooms all over hell and back. Unfortunately, Fort Worth was a long drive and the traffic was crawling and people were driving like satan on wheels trying their damndest it seemed to cause accidents. The highways were just incredibly jammed with dumbasses, apparently never having driven a car before that very day!

Then I thought about my friend Magz, in Arizona who had been making plans to come visit me in New Orleans the coming weekend. I knew that wasn't going to be a good idea and she would have to postpone, after all, a major hurricane was bearing down on N. O. and no telling how bad it was going to be. I decided to call her from my car and we talked about the situation and we decided that I should come visit her for a few days instead. Now I had a plan, I would spend one night at my sisters home in Fort Worth and haul ass out to Arizona the next morning. It was an ambitious idea but I decided to go no matter what. I was still in bumper to bumper traffic in Mississippi and heading northwest on some backroads now trying to make my way to Fort Worth.

Finally I crossed the Mississippi River at Natchez and found myself creeping along inch by inch in some tiny town when I realized my steering was feeling awfully heavy and my car was leaning. I jumped out and looked in the middle of the road and godamnit, I was getting a flat tire!! Sumbitch! Just what I needed, stuck in a small town on a late Sunday afternoon with a low tire and I knew the chances of finding an open place to get it fixed were slim and none. Hell, everyone knows that the only places open in small town Louisiana on a Sunday are liquor stores and convenience stores (that also sell hard liquor), and I couldn't recall ever seeing any that both sold liquor and fixed flats. I knew I was sunk and I would probably have to stop and change it. That idea sucked because I had so much shit in the way in my trunk, no way did I want to unload all of that to get to my spare and jack.

Amazingly, I saw an Auto Zone just about a block away and I figured I would get some Fix a Flat and pump it up and hopefully it would hold till I hit my sisters house. I put 2 cans in and discovered that it was the valve stem leaking, cut by the stupid hubcap that had loosened and rotated on the wheel, slicing the stem. Shit! What lousy luck, I began cursing the assholes that had worked on my car last for not putting the hubcap on tight enough. Suddenly, the idea of an open liquor store was sounding pretty damn good! Then I remembered I had a small electric airpump in the trunk and between using that and the Fix a Flat stuff I was able to get it filled enough to continue, hoping I could make it to Monroe, La. where I knew my chances of getting it repaired were much higher.

I pulled back out into the crawling line of traffic and found a small backroad going in the general direction I wanted to go, finally hauling ass at a pretty good speed and spewing Fix a Flat juice out of my tire all the way to Monroe. I had to stop for gas and inspect the tire and I asked a couple people where I might get the tire repaired and they directed to me to a shop up the road that repaired heavy trucks. Luckily there was an old guy there that was just locking up the place to go home for the day and thankfully he decided to have mercy on me and my situation and he took the wheel off and replaced the valve stem, only charging me 8 bucks! I think I gave him a $5 dollar tip, thanked him profusely and hit the road again. Now I was finally on I-20, headed west towards Fort Worth/Dallas and things were looking up. But I still had a long ways to go. I finally pulled up at my sisters house at about 2 am, Monday morning, whipped out and bleary eyed from the long day, I had been on the road by myself since before 9 am the previous day!

I slept like the proverbial log and got up very early the next morning, washed up, said my hellos and goodbyes, thanked my sister for putting me up on the sofa sleeper and headed out on the road again. Arizona was a long, long ways off and I had high hopes of making it the same day, hoping to avoid paying for a room along the way. I did catch some news just before I left though and it was just about the same time that Katrina was actually passing over N.O. It didn't look too good! I was glad I had left and now I was looking for some fun on this trip, trying not to worry too much about the welfare of my family and my personal belongings back home.

To be continued...