Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Breaking Wind Has A Whole New Meaning - Weenie Enema Meets Gustav.

As most readers know, Weenie Enema has temporarily moved headquarters to the Crescent City, specifically the sweltering bayou south of New Orleans, down the street from the Bayou Barn, which bears an eerie similarity to the hangout Turkey Point in Crybaby, minus Hatchetface. The last several months have been chock full of adventures, including encounters with stereotypical inbred rednecks who derive endless amusement from noose jokes, as well as a random job at a prestigious law firm that hosts pizza parties to boost employee morale, a very noble and successful technique, in my view. At any rate, on August 1, the head of the firm sends out this email reminding everyone to solidify hurricane preparations, because the season was upon us, and tropical storms were already a-brewing in the Atlantic basin. Heavy stuff, though I felt the extra preparedness was mostly an offshoot of post-Katrina neurosis, understandable of course. I conferred with a mentally disabled Weimaraner who lives next door, who agreed with my summation.

Cesar Millan, please help.

The last week of August arrives. I am excited, as my birthday is coming up, and my plans are simple but tantalizing - honey BBQ ribs at Chili's. Also, since I'm very far away from my parental figures, I assume excellent presents are in the mail, including the Collector's Edition of the 1986 World Series and Paypal money for Paul Newman posters. The Monday before my birthday, I turn on my brand new HDTV (my older Japanese television, which I'm pretty sure my mom bought for her art studio around the same time that Hill was trying to get her socialized healthcare goodness going, had developed a rather aggravating habit of opening and closing the VCR door, and then inexplicably shutting off. I had actually devised a technique whereby I immediately unplugged the tv as soon as the VCR door clicked open, and that usually saved about 30 seconds of time, but when it decided to turn on in the middle of the night and scare me shitless with a televangelist special, it was time to go.) and discover that a tropical storm named Gustav is hanging out in the Atlantic and appears to be heading toward the Gulf. Hmm. Interesting.

Goodbye, chum of mine.

When I get to work, I'm greeted by masses of nervous creatures constantly checking weather.com and making hotel reservations as far as Memphis and Atlanta. For some reason, and perhaps it's because of the rebel in me that never lurks far from the surface, every single lawyer, paralegal et cetera was convinced I would never evacuate. Not sure when rebel got confused with stupid, but if I had a nickel for every time someone frowned in concern at me and said, "You know, you should really consider getting out of here if that storm looks like it's heading our way," I would have $4.35. Because apparently I have a reputation for being Gary Sinise in Forrest Gump.

I'm not sure how a friendless, legless alcoholic would evacuate anyway, but the comparison stands.

When I get back to the bayou compound, I decide to at the very least confer with some of my associates to measure their concern and hurricane plans, and am pleased when my famous taxidermist friend breezily says, "Oh, we'll drop off my exotic ducks and go to Houston." As this could mean a second rumble at Minute Maid Park with braindead Astros fans who still haven't gotten over their inability to sign my center fielder to a long-term contract, any feelings of anxiety were assuaged, and I go back to reading my amazing, incredible feral cat warrior books.

I'm not kidding. Everyone needs to read these literary treasures, especially the second miniseries "Warriors: The New Prophecy."

One of the paralegals at the law firm has a boyfriend who works on the oil rigs in the Gulf, and his company hired this locally famous hurricane expert Nash Roberts as a consultant for the hurricane season, so by the middle of the week, everyone is getting two or three emails from this guy a day documenting Gustav's projected path and current status. Also, I was informed that every single hotel up to Little Rock was booked up, and yes, when I see "Little Rock" and "hotel" in the same sentence, I too think of Paula Jones. Friday, the day before my 24th womb exit anniversary, was insanity. Bobby Jindal - who I HEART and wish he had been the governor of New Jersey instead of that crazy gay American who likes to get nookie at the Alexander Hamilton Rest Stop (a really sketchy place that has a Roy Rogers that somehow successfully operates without their excellent chicken nuggets. Go figure.) - had taken massive measures to ensure a smooth evacuation if there was one, and the National Guard was swarming all over the CBD (Central Business District, for the uninitiated). A good percentage of buildings had already boarded up their windows and doors, and every publicly accessible television had swarms of people around it glued to the Weather Channel. Creepy.

*wolf whistle*

My birthday arrives, but the ribs do not. Since projections had Gustav making landfall roughly half an hour away, pretty much every business on the West Bank had shut its doors by noon, Chili's included. It was very, very sad, though I did manage to locate a po' boy establishment that sold me a Vitamin Water. Sigh. In the afternoon, it's officially decided that Bobbie Ragsdale, Beretta Mego and I will depart at 10 or 11pm for Houston, since Sugar Ray Nagin has issued mandatory evacuations for pretty much every parish in Southeast Louisiana, and despite his hyperbolic rhetoric ("THIS IS THE STORM OF THE CENTURY!"), it seems foolish to stay, especially since my current residence is below sea level. Traffic had been absolutely insane for the past two days, and this seemed like the right time to go, especially since 4am was when the contraflow would begin on the interstate. Two weeks ago, I couldn't tell you what contraflow was. I would probably have assumed it was the opposite of a period. For those who have never had to evacuate, it means that both sides of the highway go in one direction, in this case AWAY from New Orleans. And you definitely don't want to be anywhere near the city when that shizzle gets underway.

You are not ribs. Sniff.

To make my tale understandable to the masses, I have taken the liberty of drawing a set of maps. The most direct way to get to Houston is on Interstate 10, which runs through New Orleans, goes west through several major cities (Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles and Beaumont) and then goes right to Houston. If there's no traffic and you're going at a 75mph clip, you can make it to Houston in 6 hours. That is not what happened this time.
This is essentially where I-10 is in relation to New Orleans and Houston. NOLA is obviously on the right, and Houston on the left, though technically it's further west and that left dot is more likely Beaumont:

On my Paint thingy, I had the highway red. I have no idea why it's gray, unless it KNOWS highways are gray and just wants to keep it real. You decide.

My theory was that we should just GO on I-10. It would probably get pretty crowded towards the early morning, but it was a direct route, and traffic was fairly inevitable. Bobbie Ragsdale had a different idea. There is a smaller highway called 90 that runs basically parallel to I-10, but to the south on the West Bank. Halfway across the state, it intersects with I-10 in Lafayette, and Bobbie was a strong proponent of bypassing potential traffic jams in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. So off we rode on Highway 90. Here is a picture of the previous map, but with the addition of 90:

I successfully made 90 pink, which begs the question - WHY ISN'T I-10 RED???

The 90 portion went swimmingly, with minimal traffic. In fact, the only qualm with taking this route is that it went directly through the area most likely to get hit by Gustav, so there was tons of opposing traffic, all of which seemed to be screaming, "GET OUT! ARE YOU NUTS? IT'S COMING!" I bravely ignored it and drove on. However, trouble was on the horizon, and I'm not talking clouds. When we get to Lafayette, the ramp to I-10 is closed. No mention of this on the radio, or why one WOULDN'T want their citizens to be able to, you know, drive AWAY from a potential hurricane, and we're forced to go north. At this point, I'm getting kind of tired (it's 1 or 2am, and Emmas need a lot of sleep as a general rule), so in Opelousas, I make a fateful decision - I purchase two weird Community Coffee mocha drink things. It would prove to be a grievous error in judgment. You know who also has a propensity toward grievous errors in judgment?

As we continue north, we're met with a growing, gnawing problem - every single road, small and large, is closed to the west, usually with a cop car parked in the middle of it. This is proving to be an enormous inconvenience, and none of the policemen seem to have a clue how far this BLOCKADE stretches for. Finally, Bobbie Ragsdale has enough and just drives around one of them. I am forced to follow, and feel rather criminal, but since Bobbie is in the Army, the chances of anything coming from this action seem minimal. Oh, I should also mention - Bobbie has to report to Fort Polk on that Monday because he was being deployed to Iraq in a few days. Lots of drama.

Iraq, meet BRags.

Once again, we're going at a pretty fast clip, though we probably lost two hours in there. I noticed during a period where I had lost sight of Bobbie (and my car made a scary noise) that my cell phone signal was nonexistent. This would prove to be VERY important later on. The coffee drinks had done their worst, and since Louisiana didn't think to keep the public restrooms open, I managed to leave some brown markings on the backs of several gas stations. Serves them right. Also, it didn't take long for Bobbie to make a huge directional faux pas that took us 20 minutes away from Fort Polk, which, if you're wondering, is rather out of the way. Here is a new map that shows the wrong turn that could have been avoided if Mego hadn't been sleeping or if I had decided to call Bobbie and ask why we had been traveling north for an hour:

Just looking at it makes me exhausted all over again.

Finally we righted the course and got into Beaumont, Texas. I had been given a driving reprieve in West Louisiana and felt a bit more refreshed than, say, Bobbie, who didn't get much of a break at any point. At this juncture, it was around 7 in the morning, and we finally caught sight of the elusive I-10. It was pretty packed, very close to bumper-to-bumper, but was moving a bit. My stance was to take it. Beaumont is about an hour east of Houston, and although this traffic meant it would take considerably longer than that, at least this road was assured of being open. Bobbie had another idea. Our goal was to get to Mego's mom's house, which is northwest of downtown Houston. To get there involves negotiating with three major highways, and traffic is always a problem there, even in non-hurricane situations, so I don't fault the logic of BRags' plan. He thought that instead of going west on I-10 we should go NORTH for awhile, bypassing the major arteries and then go west and approach from the north. However, something very, very sad occurred. None of us knew it at the time, but Texas had just ordered mandatory evacuations for the three counties directly south of Beaumont. Guess which direction they were going in? Here is a new map with our proposed route in dotted lines, and a bunch of Texans bearing down on us:


We ended up in Cleveland (see above map). It took six hours to get there. I remember little of it, except for an uprising by 12 billion lovebugs that kept flying into my car (my air conditioner doesn't work and it was 96 degrees out) and trying to hurt Big Bear. They were all viciously eliminated, and Big Bear was spared. At some point, we found a road going west that we needed to go on, but wouldn't you know? Blocked off. By about six cop cars and a concrete barrier. Did BRags care? Nooooo, and off we went.

Best. Picture. Ever.
A cop did pull us over and inform us that we had committed a Class B misdemeanor, which I suspect is slightly less serious than a Class A. Or maybe C. The classes confuse me.

So by 2pm (we had been on the road for 15 hours at this point), we were right back in Beaumont, though sweatier and infinitely more disgruntled. This time, my argument about I-10 was agreed to, and once again, we headed toward Houston. For 20 minutes, it was smooth sailing. The traffic had all but disappeared, and we were making excellent time. And then 55 miles from Houston, BOOM! Traffic. Lots of it. Not moving. At all. This time, I managed to locate a news report on the radio. They were of the impression that the traffic jam lasted to Houston, which, if you recall the words three lines up, meant 55 MILES. Although the 6-hour jam north of Beaumont was nothing to write home about, lack of food and water was starting to take its toll. I had packed enough liquid goodness for a 10-hour ride, and I hadn't eaten anything since 8 the previous night. I was also sleepy, though again, I would contend Bobbie was sleepier. Just as I was thinking this really couldn't get much worse, it did. My beloved GMC Jimmy had had enough, and my car broke down on the highway.


Jeffrey Grimshaw got an hysterical call from me, which I suspect made little to no sense, though I managed to get out the fact that Mariska (car, not actress) broke down on a major highway during a hurricane evacuation. Then I discovered more bad news. Apparently when your phone is trying to locate a signal, which it spent a great deal of time doing in central Louisiana, it loses battery power. And though I had fully charged it right before we went on this hellish excursion, it was down to one bar. So I screeched, "MY PHONE IS DYING! I HAVE TO GO!" and tried to figure out my options. I wasn't able to contact my parents until the next morning, the interval of which involved my mother calling the Houston Police Department looking for me, who of course already had an APB out for me because of an April run-in at a downtown Burger King. Thankfully, Bobbie and Mego were only several car lengths ahead and had managed to get on the shoulder with me, or I probably would have hijacked a car, robbed a Burger King, and then figured out a way to get all of my crap into the stolen vehicle. AAA seemed baffled about my desire to get the car towed to Northwest Houston. This is legitimately a very accurate transcription of my call to them:
Emma: I need you to tow me to Northwest Houston.
AAA: We can't.
Emma: You're AAA. What are you talking about?
AAA: South Houston is evacuating, so we can't tow you to a place that's evacuating.
Emma: See, NORTHWEST Houston is not SOUTH, and they're not evacuating, so you totally can.
AAA: Don't think so. We have someone who can, but they won't.
Emma: Eat shit and die.

Then I called 911. They said they COULD tow me, but it would cost over $600 and they wouldn't be there for at least three hours. I was pretty sure I could see vultures swirling over my head. My feeling was that I could have fought them off for MAYBE two hours, but not three.

Insert lyrics to "Every Breath You Take."

Admittedly, my opinion of Bobbie Ragsdale had taken a nosedive in recent hours, but then, as BRagsies are prone to do, he redeemed himself:
"Hey, maybe it was just overheated. Let's try to start it again."
It was very exciting, but I insisted that he drive it. I was gracious enough to accompany him, but I was starting to think my beloved Mariska hated me and would be more amendable to a military driver. And so she was.

We got to Houston at 5 or 6pm. Clearly the powers that be thought I had suffered enough, because guess what was waiting for me?

It was a hamburger. A juicy bovine that died for my sins.


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