Sunday, August 31, 2008

Down to the wire...

It's now less than 12 hours from Gustav's landfall on the coast of Louisiana. Unbelievably enough, I'm still receiving phone calls from friends who JUST found out what was happening. This seems unbelievable to me, whose life is consumed by this current crisis, but I realize that the world does not revolve around the Big Sleazy for most people outside Louisiana.

After Katrina, countless people suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome resulting from the disaster. Somehow, I think that even if New Orleans remains relatively unscathed after Gustav, that most people will STILL suffer from PTSD after the fact.

Here in Mississippi, my friend and I spent the day a Lake Grenada, a lovely little haven in the hills of Mississippi, at which we could while away our troubles for a little while. While floating in the cool water, I was almost able to convince myself that the constant hum in my ears was caused by distant outboard motors, and not by the not-so-distant freight train of my own fears roaring through my brain.

At dinner at a local barbecue joint, we both fought off tears as we realized how close to triumph or tragedy we really are.

When this is over, if all is said and done and we head back to an intact New Orleans, we're all still going to need a vacation and a prescription for Prozac.

Jen and I are in for the night, with the TV tuned to MSNBC. Jim Cantore is now in Houma, Louisiana. Sadly, that means that Houma is fucked. For those who don't know who Jim Cantore is, he's the Weather Channel's very own Weather Ninja. The saying goes that if Jim Cantore shows up in your town right before a storm, you know you're the target and it's time to get the hell out of Dodge.

Gustav is scheduled to make landfall somewhere around 8 a.m. Monday morning. We will not be sleeping tonight. We are exhausted, but there will be no rest for us until this drama has played itself out entirely and Gustav has taken his final curtain call.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

This story could not possibly end like this, could it?

Well, could it?

That's what I keep asking myself from the Dead Roaches on the Floor Motel in Bumblefuck, Mississippi, where I am currently holed up after a torturous search for open hotel rooms.

We left before they called for the mandatory evacuation. After about seven hours in the car, with the battery light coming on and my constantly having to pull over, shut off, and restart the car, we finally found a fleabag hotel that would take our fleabags . . . two rooms for two refugees and two feline furballs, please.

Gustav is now expected to become a Category 5 hurricane in the Gulf by tomorrow morning. The models shift west. The models shift east. The models are playing tug-o-war with my sanity. Regardless of which shift comes next, Gus will have a huge impact on the Gulf, and I fear for my city. He's a monster, and we are officially under a hurricane watch.

There's a tiny part of me that says that Gustav will not destroy New Orleans . . . that small voice in my brain that believes that the Fickle Finger of Fate could not possibly be so cruel as to take my father and my city from me within a span of just a few months.

I, for one, am not ready to close this chapter. I have not been to nearly enough parades, or Jazz Fests, or secondlines. I have not sat on my porch nearly enough times waving at the tourists passing on the streetcar. I haven't written nearly enough poems about the musicians who inspire me, like Paul and Shamarr and John. I haven't gotten nearly drunk enough on shots of Jaegermeister at the Erin Rose on Sundays.

My hotel hell room has no wireless connection, but my friend's room does, so I will not leave her alone. I'm not ready to face the hours of unknowing desperation alone. My room has a refrigerator, but it doesn't work, so I'm forced to drink my beer quickly. Hell, we're lucky we've got running water in this dump. The soda machine has cobwebs that probably date back to the 1980s. Then again, we're lucky to have found a dump with two vacant rooms.

Waiting is torture. I want to write my own story and not wait for the ending to be written for me.

This is my story, and this cannot possibly be how it ends, can it?

Friday, August 29, 2008

No was an exercise in preparedness after all.

Just a quick note, as it's getting late and I find myself working manically to prepare.

As of now . . . about 10:30 p.m. on Friday night . . . Hurricane Gustav is still looming just south of the Gulf of Mexico. Orleans Parish officials have announced that contraflow (both sides of the highways going north) will begin Sunday morning, possibly Saturday night. Jefferson Parish officials have announced that their mandatory evacuation will commence tomorrow morning.

I live close to and work in Jefferson Parish, so my ass is hitting the highway tonight/early tomorrow to avoid the traffic.

While the models are showing Gustav taking a west turn and heading more toward western LA/Texas, we're still in the National Hurricane Center's three-day cone of uncertainty, and Gus hasn't even hit the Gulf of Mexico yet. Despite the trends, all bets are off, as Mother Nature is notoriously unpredictable.

Better safe than sorry, methinks, so we're bugging out and heading north. After all, it is Labor Day weekend, and it certainly can't hurt to be sipping drinks by a pool somewhere instead of waiting out a potential storm.

So we'll see how far my car makes it. I need a vacation anyway.

Here's hoping that Gustav continues west into anywhere else but southeast Louisiana. I really don't want to see any fellow Louisianians get the brunt of this storm either, but I think wishing Gustav would disappear in a poof of smoke is probably unreasonable, despite the voodooish ceremony my roommates and I performed involving two voodoo dolls and my rubber alligator, Boudreaux.

What can I say? We tried.

By the way, am I the only one who thinks it's just wrong to give a hurricane a name whose first four letters are "GUST"?

Friday, August 22, 2008

An exercise in preparedness? Or an unhealthy obsession?

I’m being told increasingly often these days that I’m far too obsessed with the weather.

In my defense, I do have reason to be a little obsessive in the middle of hurricane season, in a city below sea level. In some ways I think I’m still suffering from a Katrina-induced paranoia. But my habits and obsession aren’t new…they’re simply a great deal more pronounced than they used to be.

I’ve always had a fascination with severe weather. I don’t often understand much of the mechanics behind it, as I barely passed my science classes in high school and college, but still it fascinates me. I used to sit for hours watching marathons on the Discovery Channel about tornadoes ripping up the Midwest, typhoons flooding helpless coastal towns, mudslides bringing homes careening down the side of a mountain, and, of course, the hurricanes.

At the time, my fascination was just about limited to this never-ending parade of TV documentaries. When the movie Twister came out, I watched it over and over again, not because it was a good movie, but because I wanted to be out chasing twisters too.

Years ago, my friends Jen, Irene, Jim, and I went driving around in the middle of some severe weather in our hometown of Bumblefuck, Pennsylvania. We were forced to turn back because of falling trees, but the adventure was exhilarating. Two days later our area got hit with an F4 tornado with a base a half-mile wide. It was devastating for the area . . . and fascinating.

Now, this “hobby” of mine includes about 15 weather Web sites bookmarked on my computer, weather forums, books about Katrina, and my constant companion at home, the Weather Channel.

I spend every day lurking on the Gulf Coast Weather Forums. With Topical Storm Fay poised to re-enter the Gulf of Mexico now and head west, I can scarcely stay away for longer than three minutes at a stretch. This is like crack to me. I’m a complete addict . . . from June 1 until November 30.

In fact, I just took a break from typing this to go check on Fay’s progress. I can’t help myself.

With new invests (94L and 95L) skulking about in the Atlantic, I expect my behavior will change little for at least the next few weeks. I’ll be exhausted but unable to pull myself away from the computer, watching the models and my clock and realizing that eventually I’ll have to sleep. Eventually, I’ll have to get some work done too. It’s a shame that this whole “working for a living” concept is getting in the way of my weather watching.

There are worse things to obsess over, and there are even worse things that I obsess over, but generally not all day, every day, for six months.

So is this healthy? Is it preparedness or paranoia? Fascination or fear? Intense interest or cause for an intervention? Am I going crazy?

I don't know. I'm not even sure that I care. But I don't have time now to consider an answer to that. I need to go check the weather.