|Rita has brought additional residents to the area, seeking homes and
shelter. There are no rental cars available. A fact I found out this
weekend when I encountered some car trouble. Even out here in Opelousas,
the traffic has quadrupled. It hit closer to home this time, though
minor in comparison to the other outlying parishes south of Lafayette.
Thursday mid-morning, we knew the hurricane had wobbled over towards
Louisiana, and there was talk about closing school early, but they held
out and cancelled for Friday instead. We covered the computers with
plastic bags and tried to keep our panic down. Cell phones don't work in
Louisiana during hurricane panics, so none of our phone messages were
received all afternoon. After work, I high-tailed it out the door and
stopped at Target for the necessities (cat food, cat litter, water and
cookies.) Then I joined the throng for the drive home up I-49 North,
with my one working headlight. Lots of campers, trucks loaded with those
big wheeled toys and people hauling boats and lots of gas cans... The
car radio spelled it out loud and clear. Time to go. When I got home I
discovered a phone message from my friend and fellow evacuee who I will
refer to as Lulu. She was already heading up towards the last hotel room
available near Little Rock, Arkansas. The message: "It will take
you about six and a half hours, Moe..."
On with Plan B: Lulu was half an hour ahead of me....So-o-o-, I started loading up the car. Of course, I hadn't prepared, because the hurricane wasn't headed our way the day before. My Hurricane Katrina supplies were still in my grab it and go box. My cat was very pissed. I opened some cat food but she didn't want any part of it. I'd already decided she was going no matter what. I had the T.V. and the radio going full blast, and I was in my Whirlwind Flip-Out Stage. I started cussing, even at the cat. This time I wasn't gonna leave Ma Chere Bébé Broussard behind. Why didn't I get all this stuff together the night before? Out comes the cussing, flashlights, batteries, cat box, cat kennel, toothbrush ... a whirling dervish of panic and mental check-off lists. Why didn't they close the school early? I did make time to map.quest directions to the hotel in Bryant. I grabbed some clothes on hangers from the closet. I forgot a swimsuit. I couldn't find a duffle bag. I couldn't find the plastic file with the important documents. I found the passport and the social security card. One headlight. 6:00 p.m. Got money. Got gas. Got a real phone call in the car from my fellow evacuee (which is a really good plan to go with someone else!) She waited in Nacitoches (pronounced Na'-ki-tish) for almost two hours for me. We dumped my car in a hotel there and took off. Needless to say we were not alone on the road to Arkansas. I realize I'd left my clothes back in my car in Nacitoches. Oh well.
2:00 a.m. We get to the hotel, exhausted. We sneak the cat in the side door. She won't stop meowing. She is not easily amused. We watch the Weather Channel. We cuss. In the morning we watch more of the bad news as Rita takes aim for Lake Charles and Beaumont. Lulu knows people there. Fiddler and friend, Eddie Poullard lives in Beaumont.
In the morning, it's time for Retail Therapy, since I have no clothes or underwear. Where else but Wal Mart for that? Just down the street. The $3.00 rack. They were out of swimsuits. Lulu buys a beachball for her back exercises. Back at the ranch, we luck out and they give us a second room since this is going to be a longer stay than expected. They won't tell us what room #, but it turns out to be adjoining. Just like the Ritz in some Fred Astaire movie. We decide it is now going to be a "fun" weekend. We call each other on the hotel phone even if the door is open. Later in the day they deliver a note under the door about tornados. Tornados go with hurricanes. We are instructed to pull the mattress over the bathtub in that event. We discover that they have lifted the pet ban when we see all the pooches in the lobby.
We spend the next 48 hours or so watching the weather channel and old movies. Shirley Temple and West Side Story and the Truman Show. No Fred Astaire. We plan to have Margaritas at the Mexican restaurant. But we don't. It's a dry county. I look at my friend, who likes to tell this story, "Moe just looks at me and says, 'you booked us in a dry county for the hurricane?' End quote. We picnic inside instead. It's surreal. Saturday the hurricane shows up in Arkansas and Lulu gets the phone call to go downstairs because of tornados. Our rooms are adjoining so in that moment of chaos, I put my fiddles in the bathroom, then take my fiddles out of the bathroom, put the cat in the bathroom, ask if I should take the cat downstairs, take the fiddles...leave the cat...Lulu says, "Aren't you going to leave the light on for her?" I guess not. By the time we get downstairs, we are the last to arrive. Someone brought a kitty downstairs and I feel terribly guilty. My fiddles or kitty. It's a tough choice. I'm going to hell. We are excused to our rooms. We decide to play tunes. Bébé goes into the other room. She's a little miffed.
We lose power late that night and the hotel quiets down. We got our rain, but we were safe and sound. Power came back on sometime Sunday morning, and the weather report had changed. No longer are they predicting that the hurricane was going to sit for four days in Arkansas. We decide to check out. We have hopes that the Lucinda Williams Benefit for Katrina concert scheduled Monday night will still be on in Lafayette No dice, she was in Texas.
We meet up with the two couples we had befriended in the hallway during the tornado scare. A Creole couple who have a house on the lake in Lake Charles had just learned that one of their big oaks had indeed crushed their house into two, just as they feared. Later radio reports described the lake as rising. That made us cry. The other Cajun family we had met from Iberia parish, had learned that their house was eight feet in water. That made us cry again. Another woman from Lake Charles was still on her cell in the parking lot. We gave her our supply of coffee filters and coffee and gave Lulu's Wal Mart beachball to her kids. We made it back safe and sound, with the only visible evidence in Opelousas, piles of leaves and limbs from yard clean-up. It took a few more days to get my power back so I found alternative housing with friends and left the windows open. Many people are still without power and potable water, north and south of Lafayette. And the stories are everywhere. Just picking up duct tape at Lowe's yesterday, people with real damage and loss unload their story. And others just ask you, "How ya doin'?"