i have returned.
actually, i returned yesterday morning.
so here is my hurricane story.
i decided to leave houston and head to killeen to stay with danny. news reports were continuing to claim that rita would unleash is level-five rage along houston’s streets, and my parents had reached an entire new level of worry and craziness. being the crafty girl that i am, i thought i would leave late wednesday night, avoiding the traffic that was bound to clog all thoroughfares heading out of town on thursday morning. so i packed up my car and set off at 11 pm (noting on my way out that the two or three gas stations surrounding my apartment were already out of gas).
by 6 am i was still in houston and going no where. the average speed on 290, the northwest corridor leading out of houston (and, unfortunately, the highway most evacuees from galveston traveled) was zero to one mile an hour.
at this point, of course, i have called both my father and danny in fits first of rage and then hysterics. every circumstance of this drive only served to heighten my rage. i found a gas station that actually (gasp) had gas about halfway to beltway 8, but the smug gas station attendant refused to open his shoppette, denying all weary evacuees food and potty privileges. i walked across the street to a far grubbier convenience store manned by a far friendlier man. i waited in line for about 30 minutes for the bathroom, behind a very drunk and very barefoot woman who proceeded to enlighten me on the perils of crohn’s disease, as experienced by her eight-year-old niece. there was much talk of bowels, which wasn’t helping the had-to-pee situation.
the rest of the drive was much of the same. houston reached record temperatures for that time of year; it was about 102 degrees on the highway, where most travelers were trying not to turn on the air conditioning to save gas. most people parked their cars on the interstate. walked their dogs. changed their babies’ diapers on the roof of the car. ran through the traffic with a reckless abandon born of stress and exhaustion. i sat in my car on the phone with my father, trying to convince him that if i turned around and headed back to houston i could be unlocking the door to my apartment in twenty damn minutes, even though i had already been driving for ten hours.
to make a stupidly long drive short, it took me a total of thirty hours to make the usual three-hour drive from houston to killeen. my 11 pm wednesday departure didn’t grant me any advantages; i pulled into the parking lot of danny’s apartment complex at 5 am on friday, hallucinating and smelling like a foot. thankfully i am engaged to a wonderful man who, despite the early hour and the fact that i had called him once an hour all night long, greeted me with a huge hug and the suggestion of a long, hot shower. i went to bed at 6 am and slept until 4:30 pm (i had not slept since tuesday night).
here i will offer a short list of particularly savory moments of flight from rita 2005:
1. a woman at a small grocery store at eldredge parkway “noticed my cross” and, trusting that i “had accepted jesus christ into my heart as my lord and savior” tried to convince me to return to houston and trust in the lord to protect me from the storm. she’s lucky i was in a state of extreme emotional turmoil, or i would have severely injured her with my can of pringles.
2. the radio stations thought it appropriate to play, over and over again, “lovely rita metermaid,” “raindrops keep fallin on my head,” and “riders on the storm.” as if i thought this was funny and not cruel.
3. i was freakin pulled over by a cop for driving on the shoulder during the last three hours of my trip. i had abstained from shoulder-driving for over 24 hours and only finally did so in a fit of desperation (i had finally gotten to 190 and thought i was home free when i hit yet another bumper-to-bumper small slice of hell). the moment my tires touched shoulder i was harassed by this cop. he asked me if i was “suffering from a medical emergency.” i deifnitely should have said yes, i am losing my mind.
in any case it’s over. i actually spent a nice weekend with danny, and my trip home on monday morning (thank god classes were canceled) only took three hours. and i had even prepared for a long trip by purchasing the 25-CD unabridged audio book of tom wolfe’s new novel. i only made it half-way through Disc 2.
of course, after all this turmoil, houston experienced what could be generously termed a thunderstorm. for a while i felt quite sheepish for having left in the first place, but obviously i was not alone in my assumption that this storm might roar down westheimer. but i do know one thing… the hammer of god could visit houston tomorrow and i would lock myself up in my bathroom with a few cans of spam and a full bathtub, hoping for the best. i would happily live without power or running water for weeks as long as i did not have to sit sweltering on 290, staring with contempt at the HOV lanes, which remained closed, damn it, despite the fact that the traffic had caused houstonians to devolve into neandrathals.
some of the english graduate students are considering having a hurricane evacuation party. only those who evacuated would be invited. for every five hours you spent in the car, your name would be entered in a raffle.
i think my chances are pretty good.