Saturday, July 31, 2010

Katrina fifth anniversary part 6

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Katrina Fifth Anniversary VI
No Rest For The Weary
Could I get away without finishing the epic adventure? Probably. But I wouldn’t have believed that the tale had ended so I’ll go on (and on and on) with the suspicion that someone in the future will want to know what happened after chapter five.
Okay, where were we? We made it up to Shreveport and our asylum where we had respite for two nights and a day. They, the folks that took us in, were a lovely couple in a large house in an upscale suburb and they opened themselves and their home to us as if we were better than kin. We were asked (and received) whatever we needed and we showered and shaved and shampooed like royalty. Kevin, it turned out was somewhat of an introvert; it took him a bit to come out, but with a couple of beers and non-threatening company, who wouldn’t. They even threw a cook-out for us and some other refugees that had landed in their neighborhood. They really went all out for us, no questions asked. Food, clothing and shelter.
We had Molly, the yellow Labrador, with us and Gallivan’s girlfriend was coming to pick her up. Little Trey, the bitty dog that was given to us by some evacuees in N.O. was taken to a refugee shelter where people and pets were treated with respect and he was almost immediately adopted by one of the workers. That left us with five of our own critters and Kevin.
We didn’t want to overstay our welcome and besides, Kevin’s sister in law, the one who had said we could keep the car, was threatening to call the authorities on us and have us arrested for car rustling, so we set up a time to be in Dallas to return the Toyota to her and took our leave of Shreveport (after finding that scamp Bob the cat wandering off in the neighborhood, obviously ready to relocate on his own) and headed to Texas.
We had agreed to rendezvous at the Dallas airport, where we had decided to rent another car for the trip to the west coast. Debbie was adamant that we have a car before returning the Toyota and I readily agreed that our baggage and pets should not and would not be left by the side of the road just because an ex alcoholic was reneging on a promise made in haste; that promise being that we could keep the car, her car (that we got out of New Orleans) as long as we needed it. In our heart of hearts we really couldn't blame her, but it was sort of a pain in the ass. We arrived on schedule and got a bigger and better car and waited and waited and waited for her to show up; we were wasting daylight at the edge of nowhere, and our nerves and patiences were fraying further than they already were.
Well, the sister in law finally shows up. It seems that she was so stressed about the ordeal that she had to go to a meeting before she could get her act together; by the time she showed up Debbie was fit to be tied and I believe that she wanted to rip this woman’s lungs from her body, and, to make things more complicated, she had brought Kevin’s spouse, Kathy, with her, who was there to plead with Kevin to stay in Dallas and not make the trip to California. All the time, it’s hotter than hell and no shade to speak of.
After a tearful reunion, Kevin decided to stay with Kathy and we hugged and left the lot of them and continued off on our own.
The drive to the coast was pretty much of a blur with us getting a motel room for the night wherever, and whenever we were to pooped to continue the driving. We would invariably order a pizza and get some beer and get the critters situated and zone out on television that we, again invariably, had tuned to the disaster reports from New Orleans; we had become media junkies and disaster ghouls. We would sleep and wake up to the awful motel coffee service, get a bite and head on out again, day after day, through Texas, Arizona and up into California. In the back of my head I was dreading the drive through Los Angeles, having had that experience before and not liking it one bit.
We drove up the coastal route, along the beach communities, keeping to our motel, pizza, beer, coffee breakfast, driving routine, never stopping for very long; burning gas and rubber and the demons from my brain.
While I was in New Orleans, I would wake up in the morning and have to wrap my head around the disaster and being there; on the road, I would wake up and it would take me a moment to realize that I was not still in New Orleans. Debbie kept me going and took real care of our charges: Ginger and Rosie the canines, and Phil, Pepper and Bob the felines. For the most part we talked little and I’m sure that I wasn’t good company. Like I explain to people: I really, really needed a long drive to clear my head and so I drove and drove, my copilot and our crew of critters reaching the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, where we rested overnight to get up the energy to go through that most horrid of stretches of highway, the L.A. freeway. I think that I had tried to warn Debbie of the rigors that we were about to face, as it turns out neither one of us were fully prepared for that ride.
If you’ve never driven through Los Angeles in the years around 2005, you have missed the most nerve wracking, patience and driving ability trying experiences of a lifetime and I wish you well. We started out at day break and drove six lanes to four and back top six as fast as we could, mostly to keep from being over run by the other cars, trucks and busses that were hell bent for leather to get wherever they were going ahead of the person behind them and in front of them; it took us until 9:30 in the morning to get through L.A. and in the middle of all that, Phil the cat decided to lean on the power window switch and almost jetison himself; and if that weren’t enough, he and Pepper decided to kill eachother, in the car, on the freeway at eighty miles per hour. I was practically in a froth by the time we reached sane driving conditions and this hero stuff was wearing a bit thin, I don’t know how I knew it or what those around me thought of my demeanor, but I was holding all of my emotions in check for the last week and they needed out. I had rationally explained to myself that I needed to be the strong one, in charge, when I felt the weakest of the lot of us; I wouldn’t have wanted to be in that car with me driving if I were anyone else but me, and maybe not even then.
We stopped, I think that it was in Capistrano, for the night and then up to San Francisco where we had a safety net in place; however, we never did need to strain any of the relationships that I had up there. The Red Cross was set up in town and they got us (with pets) accommodations at an art deco motel on the beach, gave us meals as well as food stamps and bus passes and people were right friendly. The Red Cross had expected tens of thousands of refugees and got less than nine hundred, so we had almost too much attention lavished upon us with Social Security, FEMA and disaster money and volunteers galore, plus we had a brand new luxury size Buick to tool around the area with.
There is one moment that I will never forget; as we were driving into town we had the radio tuned to the public station and they were broadcasting a benefit for New Orleans musicians. We were just getting in, with the San Francisco skyline above us and feeling pretty good about being at the end of our trip and the song that they happen to play at that moment was: “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?” I think that we were crying so hard that I had to pull over because I could not see the road for the tears that we both were crying. We both literally had our long overdue breakdowns, in traffic, sobbing for our lost city. I guess that that kind of took the wind out of our sails and I believe that at that point we both knew without speaking that we could not but return home, no matter what San Francisco or any other place might show us in the form of hospitality. At that point we fully knew what it meant to be orphans of the storm.
So ends part six. That was our journey out of the hell and high water and it got to be only better and better from there until we returned back to New Orleans. Five weeks in California.

Oh, Kevin did make it to California, to his relatives, without Kathy.

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