Evacuation Story, Pt. 1
By this point, the evacuation stories have run their course. For the first two weeks after my return to New Orleans, the bars were brimming with what amounted to post-Katrina pissing contests- My car broke down in Lafayette; I stayed for a couple of days after the storm and hotwired an Impala out of the city; My house got flooded and I had to spend two months in Houston; My wife was assaulted at the Superdome; I stayed the night in Baton Rouge- and so on and so on. Here's mine:
I evacuated to the rural backwoods of Lousiana with my mulatto girlfriend, her mixed-race parents, our Hindu friend Sunny, and a couple of Yankee intellectuals (Dr. Mike and his fiancee Ashley). The hurricane came right through and battered the area. It knocked down most of the trees, which blocked the roads and trapped us in for days with no power, running water, or telephone service. We had no contact with the outside world except a little battery powered radio with one station that was reporting Armageddon in New Orleans.
After a couple of days, we walked down to a nearby sheriff's house to find out what was going on. He told us in rather vague terms about the disaster surrounding us, and said we should go back to our house and that the parish would cut us out of there eventually. I was ridden with paranoid visions of redneck neo-nazis using the opportunity to take over. I am used to neurosis running my life, but it was all too much for Sunny. With a crazed look in his eye, he packed a backpack and went down the road looking to hitch a ride back to civilization.
It took a sympathetic neighbor with a chainsaw, a tractor, and a Mexican work crew to clear enough of the road to let us escape. Dr. Mike and Ashley were gone as sson as the last branch was cut. I wasn't far behind. I loaded my 1988 Dodge Ram pickup truck with a change of clothes and my dog and headed west to our friends Bebe and Jeff's house in Baton Rouge. Jordan stayed behind with her folks to face the white supremacist militias.
Normally, I would strongly advise against spending any amount of time in Louisiana's capital. However, under certain circumstances- namely that you're outrunning the greatest natural disaster in your country's history and you know some really nice people with air conditioning and olives from Whole Foods there- Baton Rouge can be reasonably pleasant. I spent the night there and was no worse for the wear. But, when I saw images of New Orleans on Jeff and Bebe's TV, it was apparent that I wouldn't be returning home anytime soon.
I should say at this point, that I'm not one for change. I'm perfectly content with the inertia that gets me through my days. So, the prospect of spending the near future in the white Christian wasteland that is Baton Rouge was, well- unsettling. Especially without the codependent comfort of my girlfriend, with whom I had spent nearly every day of the past seven years like Paul and Linda McCartney (I was going to go with John and Yoko here for my own sake, but I thought it would be insulting to Jordan- now I'm thinking I did us both a disservice).
The next day I ate at Baton Rouge's finest restaurant and bought some more clothes at a great local retailer. I made plans with Jordan to meet up that night in Douglasville, Georgia. Gricus and Kate had evactuated there to Kate's father's house. Once again Lenny and I were back in the pickup and out on the road.
I'd rather not relive the hot and lengthy journey blow by blow, so here are the highlights: 1)The car was overheating the whole trip, 2)There was no gas to be had in all of Louisiana and Mississippi, 3)Lenny and I both got stomach aches from eating beef jerky all day, 4)In a vain attempt to fill up my nearly empty tank, I got off the highway near Philadelphia, Mississippi (please don't go here under any circumstances) at around 9 PM and got stuck in a ditch, 4)I thought I was going to die there until some truckers (who assured me that "Jesus himself was a Jew") generously pulled me out, 5)I got some gas just on the other side of the Alabama border, 6)I called into the jazz program that I was listening to on Birmingham's NPR station and got "A Love Supreme" to accompany me nearly to Georgia, 7)Lenny and I reunited with Jordan in Douglasville.
We spent a very comfortable few days at the Orvald residence (highly recommended if you're planning a vacation in Douglasville) with Kate and Gricus, Ted and Jan (Kate's generous father and stepmother), and Dr. Mike and Ashley (who had arrived the day before). Sitting back and drinking beers with our New Orleans friends felt just like being home- except that we were watching around-the-clock news footage of our home on TV and it looked like a wet Auschwitz (I half expected to see a sign at the Convention Center reading "FEMA Macht Frei").
That weekend, Jordan's college roommate happened to be getting married in Jeckyll Island, GA. She decided she might as well go, after which she would return to Covington,LA to be with her parents. I decided to head back to New York, where I could stay with friends in the city and my mother on Long Island. Halfway to New York was Charlottlesville, VA where my strange and beautiful ex-neighbor, Annie lives... (to be continued)