Tuesday, September 27, 2005

take it from there.

From: Bethany
Subject: when i moved to Houston, i never bet on this...
Date: September 21, 2005 12:21:20 PM CDT

hey all...

case you wondering, i am safe and will continue to remain so, since i am evacuating Houston and going to Austin for a few days. I'm going to be staying with my friend Amanda's sister. i think i am going to leave tomorrow afternoon, and i am anticipating more than a few hellish hours in traffic. hopefully i'll be back by Sunday morning. i'm going to be spending the rest of the day packing and flood proofing my studio and house as best i can.

i really wanted to go to Austin, but i never thought it would be like this.

take care,


it’s funny how things went so quickly from vaguely annoying (like the last entry) to completely terrifying. on wednesday morning, i had work until 10. as usual, i was pressed to stay until 11 or 11:30, because, as usual, someone had called out or simply not shown up. i lied and said i had a meeting at the Craft Center.

one of my coworkers came in a bit after me and said there was chaos at the Kroger down the street. he had claimed the last case of bottled water, he said. i thought this mass hysteria was something akin to the bizarre milk-and-bread rush that usually happens with large snowstorms up north, and thus scoffed.

he looked at me and very seriously said, “you should be scared.”

i went to the Craft Center, and was expecting to spend the day working as i usually did. but when i walked in, it was chaos. everyone was busy packing up the gallery and retail shop. boxes and tape and packing material were everywhere. it was then that it hit me.

went in to my studio and started ripping it apart. already i’m imagining how it might look with the large window blown out. the roof gone. my couch, my bookcases, the drafting table from spain that was my parents’, soaked and ruined. everything that could went on top of my work tables. everything else was regulated to the top two shelves. phone and lamps unplugged. i briefly considered sweeping the floor, but i don't think hurricanes care if your floors are clean.

all the essentials into my car. my filofax of dumb but important papers. all my books, laptop, ipod, computer discs, speakers, basket full of yarn.

then home. i spent most of the night knitting and watching stupid television. i put off packing as long as possible. how do you go through your stuff, knowing that the decisions you make right then may mean you never see those things again? i mean, sure, you can say they're just things and it’s not that important, but it’s hard. so hard. i never thought i would have to do this. already i was thinking of the things from the studio i should have brought, but didn’t. all my paper, maybe ruined now. the pictures of the WTC that were John’s. i’d promised to frame them someday and never had. i couldn’t forgive myself if something that was someone else’s got ruined.

went out around 11:30 to top off my gas tank. i didn’t even have to wait in line.

Amanda and i agreed to leave the next morning around 4:30. anxiety kept me up until 12:30.

up at 4. i had showered the night before, so brushed my teeth, washed my face. mark’s door was still closed. he said to me the night before that he was staying.

went downstairs. the first floor was turned upside down. everything was off the floor, and there was a note from Mark. he had left about an hour before for Baton Rouge, it said. it left instructions to lock the door and padlock the outside gate. good luck.

i made it out the door, hauling all the stuff i didn’t trust to leave in my car overnight - clothes, laptop, ipod, slides and negs. Germaine greeted me as usual, and it was then i lost it. would he be okay? i cried and petted him and gave him a kiss. locked the gate, and looked back. he was sitting on the porch facing me, with that querlerous look on his face.

the streets were weirdly quiet, quieter even than when i went to St*rbucks in the morning. i drove up to Amanda’s house, crying the whole way. i passed about five gas stations, and none were open.

Amanda and i were taking separate cars. we decided to try interstate 10 instead of 290, since we heard that it was gridlocked. as we drove up Studemont, i could see the overpass. traffic was not moving. we got on anyway. complete and utter gridlock. people were walking next to their cars. having conversations in the middle of the freeway. i was wary of my car overheating, so i shut off the air conditioning almost immediately. the engine stayed cool, and so did i, fanning myself with a folder full of rejection letters from all the residencies i applied for last year (i’ll leave it to you to mine the irony in that one). i was cool, at least, until the sun came up. then i started baking. stupid me had only brought a tiny bottle of water, so i was parched as well. sat. and sat. and sat. bored as hell. called my dad, called Amanda, called Del Val.

1-10 is the way that Amanda and i have often taken to get to IKEA. from her house it takes about ten minutes, with no traffic. that same distance took six hours. SIX HOURS. 8 miles in 6 hours. i was so anxious that i ended up biting my nails down to the quick, something i haven’t done for almost a year and a half.

i kept in constant contact with Amanda via cellphone (when they worked, which wasn’t that often). she was worried about running out of gas. we finally decided to turn off and ended up in a gas station. i’ll call it post-apocalytic gas station #1. there was no gas, but people were still lined up at the pumps. waiting for who, for what? there was a line in front of the store. they were only letting three people in at once. there was trash everywhere on the ground. some people had already run out of gas. i got two bottles of gatorade, and then Amanda and i decided to head home. it was useless, and i was hot and tired and most likely dehydrated. we got back on I-10 going east. it took me ten minutes to go home. it was surreal going back past the area i had sat still on for almost six hours.

we sat in front of Amanda’s tv for a while. there was no information. it’s amazing, really, how you can listen to the radio and watch the tv for hours and still manage to get absolutely no information. they were supposed open contraflow lanes on 45 at 9 am, but they didn’t. no one knew where to get gas, how to get out of the city, where to even get water. it was chaos. and the news wasn’t helping.

i went home, expecting to find everything as i left it, but Mark must have come back, the same as i did, because his stuff was all over the living room. i looked in his room, but he wasn’t there. at this point, i was so tired and anxious that all i could do was turn the air conditioner on high and pass out.

woke up three hours later, and Mark was home, cooking as usual. this time it was Nigerian fried chicken, he said. boil it first and then fry it, and you don’t have to refrigerate it.

perfect hurricane food, i commented.

i nursed my headache and drank a lot of water (i think i must have been pretty dehydrated), watched more meaningless news, growing increasingly upset.

want to watch a movie? Mark asked me.

sure, i said.

so we watched Spies Like Us, which is really what i needed at the time. i ate the fried chicken, which tasted fricking amazing. it may also have been because i was completely famished.

so Amanda and i decided to try again, but by this time she was on half a tank, so we decided to try to find gas. we drove up Shepard all the way through the Heights. the skies were dark and the streets were quiet. there was no gas anywhere. nothing was open. it was strange and scary.

we stopped at a gas station.

i’m not going to go, she said. i don’t want to get stuck on the highway.

then i realized i would have to go to Austin myself. i had nowhere to go, but i knew there were shelters there. i briefly entertained staying in Houston, but the thought terrified me. i was going to have to go, by myself, hope i could find a shelter of some sort, and wait it out there.

i was about to turn onto the ramp for I-10 when i heard a horn behind me. it was Amanda. we pulled into an abandoned Wendy’s. i waited by her and listened while she was consulting with her sister via phone. i glanced over at the shuttered drive-through window. “CLOSED DO TO KATRINA”, a small sign taped to the window said.

in spite of it all, Amanda decided to make a go of it. the parts of 1-10 we had spent hours on was now clear, and we made good time, 65 mph in the HOV lane, until we got to about Beltway 8. then things were deadlocked again. sitting again. it grew dark, and off went the air conditioning. once we were able to get
into the contraflow lanes on the eastbound lanes, things picked up again, only to slow after about 25 miles.

everywhere, on the side of road, cars, people, stranded or simply exhausted. trash, bottles, plastic bags, everywhere. it was humid and sticky. i was exhausted, with a cumulative 5 hours of sleep, listening to the radio that gave no information and then, later on, to the Eurythmics’ Greatest Hits (thanks, Dad). we had left at around 7. starting at around 2, i starting dozing and literally couldn’t stop. i almost ran into the person in front of me a couple dozen times - not like it would have done much damage at 5 mph, anyway. i literally fell asleep in the middle of text messaging Amanda. i don’t think i’ve ever been that tired in my life.

cell phone only worked intermitently. called Mom and Dad. Lauren called me. tried to get in touch with Koba, who said he would keep me up if i needed it. lord, i needed it, but i couldn’t get my phone to work. so it was quiet and lonely and hot on that stinking road towards Austin. i people watched as i could, and listened to other people’s conversations and music.

i wish i knew how i did it. i stayed calm. i didn’t lose it while we were on the road, not once. we’re going to try this, i would say, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll take it from there. take it from there. take it from there.

if you had told me i would have to drive 17 and a half hours in one day on 5 hours’ sleep in the middle of a Texas summer with no air conditioning, i would’ve never believed it. but i did.

once we were able to get off 10 and onto 71 heading towards Austin, the traffic cleared and it was smooth sailing. we had to abandon Amanda’s car at post-apocalpytic gas station #2 because she had ran out of gas. so we piled most of her stuff and her cat into my car. the gas station was dark and quiet, and although there was no gas, there were cars lined up 5 and 6 deep at each pump, waiting for morning. even more cars were parked in the grass surrounding the station, with people passed out in them, probably from sheer exhaustion. the trash on the ground was ankle deep.

halfway up 71, i was exhausted, and i was weaving in and out of lanes, so Amanda took over driving and took us all the way to her sister’s house in Manor, right outside of Austin. we arrived at 5:30 in the morning. ten and a half hellish hours, but still far better than those who spent two or three days trying to get to Dallas or San Antonio. i took a shower, and slept like the dead.

ps. my house and the studio, everything is fine. i'm fine. spent a nice weekend in Austin. more later.


alexis said...

i'm so glad you're ok, i actually tried to call you, but couldn't get through, must have been during one of the times your cell wasn't working. anyway, i'm so glad you're safe!

10:38 AM  
Jeanine Ciach said...

Hi "mom" --
"because of the hurricane in the area you are calling, your call cannot be completed at this time." What a strange message to hear when I called you during Rita. To hear the "telephone lady" say that was very surreal. I didn't know they had mass messages for natural disasters. Who knew!

I love ya and I'm so glad you're okay. I can't wait to see how this experience goes into your work, if at all.

J-9, your proof-reader and "grey dog laugh" affiliate.

2:50 PM  

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