Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A 36-Hour Ordeal

I've been working on this post for a few days. I hope someone, some where finds it a bit interesting. I'm not happy with my telling of this story, but I had to tell it now.

Let me begin by saying thank you to Valerie, my younger sister, & my older brother. All of them listened to my frustrated, anguished calls, complete with tears and indecision and never lost their patience with me or made me feel foolish. I could not have made it through this ordeal without them. Also, I have to thank the crowd of fellow evacuees who waited in a mostly orderly gas line for several hours on US Hwy. 59. They kept me calm and positive by just being nice and helpful and not too negative. Thanks to the Polk County Sheriff Dept. deputies who were controlling traffic and crowds in Seven Oaks on Friday, especially a deputy named Mark. He was honest and helpful and patient with all. Finally, thanks to the dude who let me use his hotel room bathroom instead of the woods. Desperate times really do call for desperate measures.

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Here are the details of my evacuation.

I left home about 5:30 a.m. Thursday, 9/22, stopped to give Valerie her computer and get a cup of coffee and a coke--no water available at the bagel shop. I figured that I could stop somewhere else along the way to buy water and more food, if necessary. I had some snacks, but I planned to stop somewhere and get real food later. I truly had no idea that all stores and restaurants along the way would be closed. I was amazed at the traffic, but even when it took me all day to get out of Houston, I still didn’t think that it would be 36 hours before I arrived at my older brother’s home in Jacksonville. I was listening to the radio news reports, which were reporting exactly what I was experiencing. I even saw a woman, perhaps overcome by the heat, being revived by paramedics on the shoulder of the road in Humble, but I still believed I would be in Jacksonville before the night was over. Was I being na├»ve or merely avoiding the obvious? Late Thursday night, after sitting for about 30 minutes, not far outside of Houston between Splendora & Cleveland, without moving and seeing that my gas gauge was nearing a quarter of a tank, I decided to turn around go home. I knew that I could get back to my apartment easily on a quarter of a tank. I really didn’t want to ride out the storm alone, but I also didn’t want to ride out the storm in a shelter or stranded on the side of a road. By this time, tears of frustration were streaming down my face. I had to make a decision and neither choice was a good one.

I turned around and headed back to Houston. I stayed on the feeder hoping to find something open, some place to buy anything to eat or drink, some place with a restroom. The only place I could find was The Back Room, a bar. That bar was an oasis to me. I was able to get some ice water--the owner/barmaid was very apologetic about the lack of bottled water but she assured me the water was filtered. I was just grateful for the water, and even more grateful for the chance to charge my cell phone battery and use the restroom, which was surprisingly clean for a dive bar. I sat there for about an hour, calling family and texting Valerie. My brother told me to drive on and when I ran out of gas that he would bring me gas. I appreciated the offer, but I was worried about him being stuck in the same traffic, but he said we would find some back roads way back to J’ville. I trusted him and decided to turn around again and keep heading out of Houston. Also, I really didn’t want to ride the storm out alone in my apartment in Houston.

So, I got back onto the road around 10:30 p.m. As I drove, I passed so many small and large groups of vehicles parked wherever the drivers could find a space, probably hoping to rest for the night because by now we had wakened to reality of our overly long journeys. Any space on the shoulder of the road or in a parking lot was fair game for "camping space." I kept expecting my car to die, but it kept going. I decided that I had to find a place to park--side of the road or parking lot. I drove, well crawled, until 2:30, by that time my gas gauge was sitting on E. I pulled into a closed convenience store parking lot. People were parked everywhere, a line had formed beside the gas pumps. Obviously, there was some hope that the store had gas & would be open for business in the morning. All I hoped for was a restroom. I thought I remembered stopping there sometime and the restroom was around the back, but I was too afraid to check it out in the dark. The only lights were in the store, nothing was on in the parking lot. The scene was surreal. I couldn’t see a face anywhere, only forms moving here and there. Finally, I shut my windows but left the sunroof open, called my sister Susy so she knew where I was, and slept, off and on for several hours.

The morning brought no relief. The store didn’t open. I think I talked to my brother at one point & told him that I was going to try to get into Livingston & would call him when I ran out of gas. I ended up driving past Livingston, and although, I saw no evidence of it, I heard on the radio that one of the stations I had passed had gas. When I had passed it, though, all I saw were cars parked everywhere in the parking lot, no movement, no lights on. An eerie sight repeated over and over until the sun came up completely. I drove on. I passed so many cars with hoods up and makeshift "Need gas." signs posted on them. I really believed that my car would join their ranks at any moment.

Finally, I arrived in Seven Oaks, a very small community between Livingston & Corrigan, I decided that I could not drive any further. My gas gauge was sitting below E. I wanted to be able to leave my car in a parking lot and not on the side of the road somewhere. I noticed a line of people across the road in the parking lot of a liquor store. I got out of the car and asked some people carrying gas cans if that line was for gas. They said there were 2 lines, one for people who had gas cans and one for people who needed to borrow one. I immediately got in the have not line. I had been in line for only about 30 minutes when the tank went dry. The Polk County sheriff’s deputy who seemed to be in charge of the situation said that more gas would be provided but it would be at least 1.5 hours before it would be there. Three hours later, we were still waiting; patience was thinning but still there. A group of us had formed a sort of tag team. People went in search of shade (it was at least 100 degrees & very sunny--I have a horrible sunburn on my face and neck to show for my determination to wait for the gas, OUCH!), water, restroom, a plug for cell phone charging. The first time I left the line, I was desperate for a restroom. I was headed to the woods behind this hotel across the street from the gas line, but I saw a young man go into a room and leave the door opened. I decided that I would see if he would let me use the bathroom or not. He did. Man was I relieved! I told him he was a savior. Later in the day, it was discovered that the restroom at the closed liquor store was not locked as had been previously believed. I was glad to know it was there, but I couldn’t have waited until it was discovered.

At one point, one of the deputies started recommending that if we had 1/8 of a tank that we should consider driving to the nearest shelter. He said that buses would be provided for those of us who had no gas left if we didn’t get more gas. I’m not sure what the hold up was on the gas, something about the TxDot driver not being available. Eventually, the deputy sent someone to get some kind of special trailer hitch put on his truck, and finally sent someone in his truck, pulling the gas tank, to refill it. When it returned, I had been waiting more than 4 hours. When I finally got my 5 gallons into my car, it was about 5 hours later. Some nice people loaned me a funnel, and a nice man lifted the very heavy can of gas and poured that nectar of the car gods into my car. I have never felt so relieved.

With the help of a couple of deputies and my younger sister, I mapped out a way of bypassing the chaos that was apparently going on in and around Lufkin and still get to J’ville in just over an hour. When I got to my older brother’s home in J’ville, I was so happy to be there, to be out of my car. I felt safe and secure for the first time in 36 hours.

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A lesson learned: I like living alone, and I crave solitude much of the time, but evacuating alone was absolutely the loneliest experience of my life. I will never evacuate alone again. No one should evacuate alone. I needed some company and some driving relief, another brain for ideas. I needed a present shoulder to cry on.

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During the early part of my trip, I passed the time between calls/text messages from Valerie and my younger sister by reading Cloud Atlas. Yes, I can read and drive. :-) It is a skill of which I am extremely proud. I have developed this skill over many years of commuting to college and work. Normally, I wouldn’t even consider practicing this skill while driving in traffic--I reserve it for the open road--however, traffic was going so slowly that I really had little fear of being too distracted by the book. When I wasn’t reading, I did some writing in my journal. I will post some excerpts from my journal later.

Post-Rita Work Blues

I'm heading back to work this morning after 5 days off thanks to Hurricane Rita. I'm dressed and ready to go, waiting on Valerie to pick me up--it's her week to drive. I would rather go back to bed and hide under the covers, forever. I have to figure out a way to put that good-worker-bee facade back in place. It crumbled into tiny shards a couple of weeks ago.

Ah, dear reader, you are saved from more of my wallowing in self pity diatribe. Valerie is on her way. I hope we all have a good Wednesday.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Safe but Longing for Home

I have spent the last 2 nights at my older brother's home in Jacksonville, TX. Now, I'm ready to go home. I will write about my 36-hour evacuation ordeal when I am at home on my computer and can be comfortable.

I spent yesterday waiting for the storm to pass through East Texas. Jacksonville got some high winds, some rain, and some power outages--nothing very scary, thank goodness. Today, the weather is absolutely beautiful. I checked the return plan, and it looks like people who live inside the loop in Houston are not supposed to return until tomorrow, but I'm probably going to go back tonight. I love my family, & they have been wonderful to me, but I hate to feel like people think they have to sit around and entertain me instead of doing what they usually do. Plus, I feel like I'm being unsociable when I just want to go in a room by myself and read--I would have finished Cloud Atlas yesterday if I couldn't have found some space away from everyone. Of course, I could be in a shelter some where, which would be so much worse. I am grateful for having family that could and would take me in. And I'm grateful that I could get here because I was worried about even making it here for a while. More about that later. Now, I have to run some errands and return to being a houseguest.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Running from Rita

I am evacuating tomorrow. At first, I thought Valerie and I could get a hotel room in East Texas, but they were all booked up. When I spoke to one hotel clerk, she suggested that I try north of Dallas. I tried a number of hotels in surrounding cities, and Valerie checked several more cities online, but the answer everywhere was "No availibilty." So I decided to go to my childhood hometown. I will stay with my brother. Valerie is going to her grandparents. Last night, we did some shopping for supplies, just in case we decided that we could stay here and ride it out. Since we couldn't get any water anywhere, we bought really important supplies like wine and chocolate. :-)

I live on the second floor in an apartment that faces into the center of the complex, and I'm really not worried about my apartment being damaged. Until it turned into a Category 5, I really thought I could ride the storm out here, but I have decided that I would rather be safe. Besides, I don't want to be here for several days with no electricity. Too damn hot for that!

I spent today cleaning my apartment, watching the weather reports, chatting with Valerie online, and avoiding packing for what I hope will be only a long weekend trip. After returning from eating dinner tonight, I finally packed things for my evacuation. I did have one packing dilemma--how many books to take and which ones--but I finally decided on 5 books. I know I won't read all of those. I read too slow, but I like to have a choice, and I will finish Cloud Atlas tomorrow or Friday for sure. Now, I sitting here watching the weather reports with Valerie. I guess I will leave here around 6:00 in the morning; Valerie said she might leave at 5:00, but I don't know if I can get up and be ready to go that early. Hopefully, I will be able to return on Sunday.

I'm really worried about my friends, co-workers, and students who live on the coast. If the storm comes in where it's looking like it's headed, they could get the worst of the storm. I hate my job, but I don't want to be out of it for a while as a result of this hurricane. I'm afraid that we might not go back for well over a week, maybe even 2 weeks or more. I was surprised when they announced yesterday afternoon that the schools would be closed today. Of course, when I see pictures of the traffic coming from that direction into Houston, I'm grateful for the decision made by the powers that be. I'm glad I didn't have to drive in that traffic to get home today. I'm sure I will have to drive in major traffic going to East Texas tomorrow, but I have my Scarlett persona on, and I will worry about that tomorrow morning. :-) For now, I think I will get off here and read for a while before I go to sleep. I will be back online as soon as I get to East Texas. Be safe everyone!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Procrastination

Yesterday, I got my car's brakes fixed, read more of Cloud Atlas, and slept too much. Today, I cleaned my kitchen, paid bills, bought groceries, cooked lunch and dinner, read the paper, , watched baseball (Yea! Astros!) and football (the Texans SUCK!), went to the library and 3 bookstores.

Instead of all of the above, I needed to grade papers, but grading is the one thing I didn't do.

I have spent the entire weekend avoiding grading a huge load of papers. I just cannot bring myself to work on them here at home. Tonight, I have even thought that it would be better to just die than have to ever grade another paper or go back to work tomorrow or any day after tomorrow. Of course, I'm being melodramatic, but I really could have stayed in bed all day and could probably do the same tomorrow. Yesterday afternoon, after spending $500 on my car's brake system (a depressing but necessary expenditure), I came home planning to work all evening so that I wouldn't have to work today. Instead of working, I slept all afternoon and into the night. I realized when I woke up at 8:00 last night that I must be really depressed. I love to nap, but I don't usually sleep that long unless I'm hiding from some bad feelings. I have been trying to be positive and put on a happy face for work. I have been doing this successfully until this week. I'm not sure what triggered the failure of my facade, but I have to find a way to patch it back together if I'm going to get through the rest of this school year and Open House tomorrow night.

I would love to just walk away, but I can't afford to do that. I have a plan to get out of teaching next year, but somehow I have to finish this year without ruining my reputation as a teacher. You never know when I might need a recommendation.

We are supposed to wear our school shirts tomorrow, but I don't think I will. My newest one shrank in the wash, it's a man's shirt (they are always men's shirts), and I hate it. I have no idea what I will wear instead. I wish I could just call in sick and not go at all ever, but I will be out next week for two days, visiting a school in Amarillo. I'm on a committee that is going, but I wish I weren't going and that I was no longer on that committee. I feel that the committee's work is so futile. No one really listens to us teachers anymore. I don't feel that the administrators respect or appreciate us at all. They don't listen to our ideas and rarely, if ever, respond to our emails, at least not for a month.

Enough. I have to stop writing this now. I'm just depressing myself even more. For now, I will play Scarlett, "I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow." Later.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Where have I been?

I can't believe that it's been almost 10 days since my last post. Pretending to be a good, dedicated teacher is hard work, and it makes me tired. Most evenings, I come home after work and have no energy for anything other than watching television and veg-ing in my big comfy chair. If I find the energy to do my three mile walk, I feel good until I step out of the shower, then I just feel exhausted. While I don't like being so tired, my pretending has worked so far. I haven't had any really bad days, but I am beginning to feel depressed about the whole teaching situation, especially the feeling that I work so hard and do so much yet I still have so much to do. Thursday, I'm going to do two things to start the ball rolling on changing jobs after this school year. I know I have to be pro-active this year because nothing is going to fall in my lap. Also, I know that I don't have the right kind of connections to get out of the classroom without leaving the school district I now work in. I don't play politics well enough, unfortunately, but I don't want to think about that now.

Although I haven't been posting lately, I have had some ideas for posts. I will just list them here with a few comments. Maybe I will expand on them later, when I'm not needing to go to bed so I can get up for work in the morning.
  1. I have an extreme case of book lust. I am in the middle of reading and enjoying Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, yet I am constantly thinking of other books that I want to read. Since Thursday, when the short list for the Man Booker Prize for Literature was announced, I have been obsessing over how I can get a copy of The Accidental by Ali Smith. The book is not out in the U.S. I'm sure I can order a copy from some online bookseller, but I haven't pulled out my credit card just yet. Of course, I should & probably will just wait for it to come out here, but I can't seem to stop thinking about it. I read and loved the author's first novel, Hotel World, so I want to read her new one. I think that I would feel this way even if the novel wasn't shortlisted for the Booker Prize. To truly understand how silly this desire is, you would have to see my "to read" shelves on one of my bookcases plus I have a stack of at least three books by my bed. These books are supposed to be next in line, but I have no fidelity to that line. I am always wanting more books to read and thinking of more books to re-read. To make the book lust worse, I surf literary blogs often. Yesterday, I checked out Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind. The most recent post concerned a novel called Taming the Beast. The blogger's review made me want to read this book, which is not out in the U.S. yet. I guess I should be glad that these two books are not here yet--money saved is always a good thing, right?
  2. It's football season!!! I love football, especially professional football. I grew up watching the Cowboys (they won today!!!), and I still love them. However, I will watch whatever NFL game that is on, and I know the rules too. I'm not sure why I love football so much. I am an intelligent, intellectual woman, but I love to see a man get "jacked up" on the football field--ESPN Monday night pre-game show fans will know what I'm talking about. Maybe instead of a librarian, I should become a football coach. ;-)
  3. I've been thinking much about my singleness. I enjoy my solitude for the most part, but I know that some people who know me irl probably think I'm a lonely, old spinster or that I have an easy life with few responsibilities (I'm sure some envy me that). Sometimes I am a lonely, old spinster, but most of the time, I enjoy being single and living alone. I don't have to explain my every move to anyone. I can make choices and not be concerned about anyone else's feelings. I can come and go as I please. Does my desire for a solitary life make me some kind of weirdo? I hope not, but I have a feeling that other people would say yes. I will definitely have to write more about this later.
  4. The Katrina aftermath. My friend Penny thinks Bush's mishandling might lead to some kind of political shake-up. I wish I could be that hopeful. I'm afraid Americans have short memories. My positive feelings are for all the people of Texas, especially Houston of course, who have aided people affected by the hurricane and its aftermath. I'm not one of those Texans who is more patriotic to Texas than to the U.S., but I have to say that I'm proud to be a Texan and a Houstonian these days. I still won't say the Texas pledge at work though, but that's another story.
I guess I better go to bed now. I told Valerie earlier that I wanted to stay up all night reading and writing and play hooky from work tomorrow, but I have to miss work on Thursday, so I can't play hooky tomorrow. Therefore, I need sleep. I need to clean my kitchen too, but I guess I will do that when I get home tomorrow night.

Wait before I go, I have to recommend the movie Junebug. I gave up watching the Cowboys win today to go see it with Valerie. Before we went to sit down, we read some comments by previous viewers. The comments were not good: "Worst movie ever." "Malo pero autentica." "Very slow but authentic." I think only one was good. We talked about slipping out if the movie was that bad and going to see another one that we wanted to see. It started 30 minutes later than Junebug. Well, I don't know what movie those people watched, but I liked the movie. I didn't think it was slow at all. It was quite funny and very interesting. I didn't even think about the Cowboys game that I was missing. Believe me, that is high praise for a movie. :-)

Good night now.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Ineffable and Futile

I've wanted to post something about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, but I just really haven't been able to write what I want to say. Mother Nature can be an awesome and terrible thing. Human nature can be even worse sometimes. I am appalled by the lack of a plan/desire to get the poor out, and I'm appalled by people shooting at police/aid workers. I have watched entirely too much news coverage of this event. I really should stop watching because it just angers and saddens me. I really can't watch the footage of people talking about what they lost because I just cry. I want to do something to help, but I feel helpless, even donating my little amount of money seems like a futile act. Even worse for me, I really do feel at a loss for meaningful words regarding this catastrophe. (I'm sure Valerie is thinking something like this, "But Kim, this is almost all we have talked about for days now.") I can talk about specific things I see and hear, but I just can't seem to get my feelings down on paper in a coherent way. I feel a need to write, but the words are hiding from me.

Last week, I had an idea to write a series of poems/essays/stories about how some people are "invisible" our society. After seeing all of those poor, stranded people in New Orleans, I know that I should pursue that idea. Maybe I will share some here if I stop locate those words that are hiding from me.

I have to cut this short. Valerie is on her way to pick me up for work. Later.