Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hurricane Katrina: Preliminary--The Year Before

September 14, 2004. Hurricane Ivan. A massive hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, headed toward New Orleans. Nash Roberts is no longer there to see us through this hurricane. He has finally retired from coming out of retirement every hurricane season. We no longer have a weatherman who communicates with the soul of the hurricane. We have meteorologist Carl Arredondo and his Super Doppler Radar and his computer models. We'll have to depend on him.

A voluntary evacuation is called for in New Orleans--and this time--for the first time ever--I prepare to evacuate. But they're saying that Hurricane Ivan will be strong and will move north and east once it hits land. They're advising people to go north and west. This time I won't go to Marcella's in Chattanooga.

The Loyola Intensive English Program, where I teach English to speakers of other languages, is in full swing. All of our international students live either in the Loyola dormitories or with relatives in New Orleans--they'll have their own hurricane plans. All, that is, except our Taiwanese student Flora, who lives in an apartment on St. Charles Avenue and has no family in New Orleans. I ask Flora about her hurricane plan--she doesn't have any. I offer to take her with me on my as yet undetermined evacuation route. Flora agrees.

At home I prepare my apartment--books in boxes in the closet, furniture moved away from windows and covered in plastic, large masking tape criss-crosses to strengthen the windows, all electrical appliances unplugged, food removed from refrigerator and refrigerator door propped open. I'm able to secure a reservation at a Best Western motel in northern Arkansas--in the town of Russelville. I pack what I think I'll need in case I'm away for a week, as well as things I consider important--like my stuffed animals Robert Bear and Amy Karen Rabbit and my stuffed doll Ashley Rainbow.

Early the next morning, I pick up Flora and we head north out of the city. It's a long twelve- or thirteen-hour drive to Russelville, Arkansas. I feel exhausted long before we get there and am revived with neck and shoulder massages by Flora. We have to keep going--there is nowhere to stop along the way--all hotels and motels are full. We make it and go straight to bed--sharing a two-bed motel room. I take Robert Bear, Amy Karen Rabbit, and Ashley Rainbow to bed with me--I'm not sure what Flora thinks of that.

I had told Flora that this would be an evacuation, not a vacation, and that she should bring books to read or study, as I am doing. I am working on my Qualifying Portfolio for Ph.D. candidacy in English Composition at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and I plan to use the time in Arkansas to work on this project.

BUT. I open my map the next morning, just to get a better grasp of where we are. And that's when I realize WHERE WE ARE. We are in gorgeous country--the Ozarks. This had not dawned on me when I made the reservation--I had just been trying to put distance between myself and New Orleans.

Russelville? Northern Arkansas? Okay. Sounds good. We'll take it.

Now, however, I am astounded at where we've landed. "Flora," I say, "we're in a gorgeous part of the country! We can't stay inside and study our books! We have to explore!" This sounds great to Flora. So we do.

We drive through miles of beautiful mountain country. We tour a cave--just the guide, Flora, and me. The cave is dimly lit with electric lights, but the guide turns them out so we can experience the utter blackness of the cave. We also stand on a ledge in a wonderful echo chamber and try out shouts and calls and hear them bounce back to us over and over and over and over.

We eat at Lambert's Restaurant, Home of the Throwed Rolls. When hot rolls come out of the oven, Lambert's servers stand in the middle of the restaurant and call out, "Hot rolls!" If you wave, they toss you one. Your meal also comes with unlimited sides. More servers circulate constantly around the tables, each with a tub of a different side dish, ready to scoop you as much as you want as many times as you want--fried okra, stewed tomatoes, green peas, cooked carrots, turnip greens, creamed onions, hash browns.

We visit the College of the Ozarks, where students pay no tuition but work in student-run businesses, such as the campus restaurant, the campus hotel, and the campus craft shop

And we go to the Dolly Parton Dixie Stampede Show in Branson, Missouri. The Dolly Parton Dixie Stampede Show, which takes place in a large arena surrounded by bleachers, depicts the history of the West. Buffalo come out and stampede around the arena, then cowboys riding horses and clowns riding ostriches. A story line accompanies all of this, with a picnic in the center of the arena at the climax, at which time we in the bleachers are also served a dinner of foods that have to be eaten by hand--fried chicken, a small roasted potato, corn on the cob, an apple turn-over--to the accompaniment of this song:

Ain't got no forks, ain't got no spoons.
Just use your hands--like ole raccoons!

Flora is appalled at the idea of eating with her hands--apparently this isn't done in Taiwan, where chopsticks are the norm. But she does it.

After two days, with New Orleans out of danger, we head back home--another long, hot, tiring drive. Flora, normally a quiet student, becomes quite chatty--telling me about her family, her plans for further study in the United States, her resistance to her parents' desire for her to marry.

Once we get to southern Louisiana, I realize that we'll be going through the tiny town of Manchac, home of Middendorf's Restaurant. People drive out by the hundreds from New Orleans to eat at Middendorf's--it's in the middle of nowhere, but there is always a long line waiting to eat there on weekends. Middendorf's is a seafood place, especially famous for their thin fried catfish. How wonderful to stop and have some with a tall glass of iced tea. I propose this to Flora, who readily agrees. My mental picture of those thin fried catfish and that tall cold iced tea is vivid and my anticipation high. But what am I thinking? When we get to Manchac and drive up to Middendorf's Restaurant, we are greeted by a CLOSED sign. Of course they are closed--they, too, have evacuated for Hurricane ivan--which makes sense as they're right on the sore of Lake Maurepas. What a disappointment, though! Nothing to do but continue on to New Orleans.

New Orleans has been spared--again. But not Alabama, which got the worst of the hurricane--and not the states in Hurricane Ivan's path, including North Carolina, as the hurricane blasted well up into the northeast, then barreled back down the Atlantic Ocean, re-entered the Gulf of Mexico, and slammed into western Louisiana before finally blowing itself out over Texas.

But New Orleans was not hit. I have only to unpack and re-shelve my books, uncover and arrange the furniture, plug in the electrical appliances, re-stock the refrigerator, and remove the masking tape criss-crosses from the windows.

I had a marvelous time on my first evacuation. Now it's back to business as usual in New Orleans. We don't know that we are now into the last year that New Orleans will experience business as usual.

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