Sunday, September 25, 2005

Friday September 23: Rita Watch

At 7 a.m., I left my home in the Medical Center area on the south side of Houston and headed for my I-L's house, near the intersection of SH 290 and FM 1960 on the northwest side of town. I had been urged by my wife earlier in the week to take them with me to Dallas, but he stubbornly refused to go. Now I was joining them, in what still seemed to me to be a foolish place to take refuge from Rita.

The freeway was wide open. I made the trip in the usual forty minutes, accompanied by about half a dozen other motorists. The freeway bottlenecks, big news the previous day, had apparently managed to plod their way out of Harris County, with monstrous traffic jams now in exurbs like Sealy, Brenham, Conroe, Lufkin, and Baytown.

I had awakened at 3:30 a.m. and immediately turned on Local2News, which IMHO had become the best source for current and accurate information. I had thought that if the exodus had softened up I might attempt another escape to D-FW in my other still-gassed up car; Mrs. Diddie was flying in that evening from her business trip and we had a hotel room and she would be worried and lonely by herself. No dice; Local2 was talking to a doctor stuck in stop-and-go in Huntsville. He'd been on the road 18 hours coming from Friendswood.

A digression about the local media coverage here:

I usually never watch the channel mentioned above; it's the NBC affiliate and is renowned for its tabloid journalism. The anchors are all surgically enhanced and the weathermen are all flaming (not that there's anything wrong with that). And the worst pair of talking heads is their Chocolate-and-Vanilla early morning team (I'll be kind and not name them, but you H-Towners probably know who I'm talking about). I'm certain it's actually the set of a porn flick, with Seventies music cued up and the two of them ready to undress each other at any moment. But the station's field reporters were everywhere, from The Woodlands to Port Arthur to Lake Charles, seemingly outnumbering the competition of the other three affiliates combined. And they didn't seem to focus so much on the inane, such as Rick Perry's say-nothing press conferences or pictures of Air Force One taxiing down the runway after landing in San Antonio or Austin or wherever it was Our Leader was, safely doing nothing as usual. FWIW my usual pick for local news, Channel 11, had the funniest moments: video of the arrested surfer -- handcuffed by Galveston authorities wading in the surf after him -- following his plunge off the pier at the Flagship Hotel at 4:30 in the morning. And an on-location with the twenty or so hurricane partiers at some gin mill on the Seawall Friday evening about 5:30 p.m.

Mostly at this point -- Friday midday -- I was concerned about family and friends in harm's way: my mother had evacuated at the same time as me, heading from Beaumont for northeast Texas and ultimately northern Louisiana. I had received no word on my father and stepmother, who had been planning on taking the RV to Lake Sam Rayburn -- just north of Jasper, Texas -- as they had done for Hurricane Lili last year. Neither of them were answering their cell phones. I had spoken earlier that morning with my neighbor, who had made it to Conroe in 17 hours and was on the side of the road with thousands of others but with still a half-tank of gas, and my friends living in League City who had traveled to Kirbyville (in Jasper County) and Lake Livingston respectively. None were contemplating returning, even as Rita's track was bending to the east.

Finally around noon my brother called and said that Dad had indeed headed for Henhouse Ridge, the previously-mentioned RV park near Jasper, which was developing into Rita's inland bulls-eye. When I had last spoken to Pop on Tuesday, he bragged that the tall pines in that area would shield them from the storm.

Yes, I thought that was monumentally stupid, and I urged him to reconsider, as did my brothers, sister, stepbrother and stepsisters. All of our pleadings had failed to dissuade them.

So I spent most of the afternoon worrying about my peeps and worrying about the weather. The aftermath of the bus fire which claimed the lives of the Bellaire nursing home patients on I-45 near Wilmer was the horrifying news of the morning, and I was glad again that I hadn't tried to get to Dallas. And I went to bed early, as Rita was expected to land early Saturday morning and I had no intention of being asleep when she did.

I'll finish this journal with the rather anticlimactic events of yesterday in the next post.

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