Friday, January 13, 2006

Aftermath

The last time I saw my apartment, it was a bit crowded.

I'd brought in the porch furniture, a tore-up but comfy black foam couch, my plants, and two rickety outdoor chairs. The television was tuned to the Weather Channel long enough for me to develop state-of-emergency television paralysis and, in keeping with the emergency motif, the weatherpeople were blaring what sounded like the evil beep-beep-beep of my alarm clock every five minutes, complemented by the fast-moving text at the bottom of the screen.

Most of my clothes were dirty; I was at the end of the laundry cycle and, fortunately, the grocery shopping cycle. I'd scarfed down some leftover chicken wings and noodles at 5 A.M. The phone began ringing at six.

"Pack a bag."

"We're going to Arkansas - you're welcome to come with."

"This might actually hit us."

"Pack a bag," Angela insists.

I finally call Cat and Bruce, who had invited me to evacuate with them to Bruce's parents' spacious home in Diamondhead, waking them. Five minutes later, they concur, now that the storm has turned much more definitively toward us than the night before: we're leaving.

I pack my three cleanest summer-in-the-subtropic outfits and try to prepare as best I can for a massive hurricane I don't believe will happen - every storm, after all, is the worst storm ever and I vividly remember watching Ivan gust in Alabama last year from a television in the Platte Motel - as the sun shone in New Orleans. I also remember being bumper to bumper for 12 hours to go 50 miles, the state of the Baton Rouge reststop - one open stall for the fifty women waiting in line, garbage everywhere because the bins were too full to fit any more - and my car's black leather interior combined with its lack of air conditioning. This time, I don't drive.

Everything is fine until we get to the bridge outside Chalmette, coasting first through the side streets of the Quarter and then down a nearly empty 90.

The bridge - a drawbridge - is stuck in the upright position.

The sky is getting darker.

Bruce goes to see if it's worth it to wait. Or not. If not, we face an inferno: the I-10.

I remember Rosary's comment: "I'd rather die in my home than on the highway."

Cat and Bruce's dog runs off after Bruce.
My cat is happy for once to be in his carrier.
The dog comes back with the help of a man 50 feet up the road.

Repairing the stuck bridge could take as long as 12 or 2 hours, Bruce reports.

I'm in no rush to get on the 10 and also in no rush to remain a sitting duck. Bruce wants to wait. Our friend Rebecca wants to turn around. I'm somewhere in the middle, wanting to do both simultaneously.

This sensation persists for the remainder of my evacuation adventure through the Deep South.

Angela picks me up at the airport two months later.
We cut over to Carrollton from Airline Highway, heading for Mid-City.

I must have been expecting the worst.

I've also prepared ahead of time, viewing and downloading pictures from the 'rents house in New York. So, it doesn't seem so bad.

The traffic lights are out. Every intersection is a four-way stop; people patiently wait their turn. There is garbage and debris lining the roads and cars with water marks still perched on the neutral grounds (i.e., medians), some stray refrigerators, closed shops. We continue through Bayou St. John, harder hit but still beautiful to me. Everything looks and feels...gray, though. We cut down St. Claude, enroute to the CBD and then on to the main uptown thoroughfare, St. Charles Avenue, largely intact. It's getting dark out now.

We pass the pile of rubble and bricks that used to be my apartment manager's house; somehow, the fire across the street and two doors down has taken out her house but not the two right across from it.

The corner of Camp and St. Andrew is literal ruins.

There is an untouched black metal staircase, ascending to nowhere.

Wires are down on my lawn. I don't see or hear anyone, though I know a few of the old house’s other occupants have been back. I climb the stairs.

Like Angela, who checked the place for me a few weeks ago, I have trouble with the lock; it takes what feels like a very long time to engage the deadbolt. I know from her that the apartment hasn't suffered any real damage, but when I open the door, everything is disturbed. My plants have shed leaves everywhere, save for the aloe, curtains hang limply, posters are half off the walls, and one set of mini-blinds is up as high as it can go, definitely not how I left it.

The refrigerator.

I left it nearly empty, save for the one wing I didn't scarf down in my strange slow-motion panic, some milk, butter and condiments. I don't smell anything aside from the must of a closed-up house. I open the windows, then the fridge. There are dead things in there and a few stains.

It's not so bad. It's dark out now.

Written November 7, 2005.

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