Monday, August 13, 2007

Walking Out of New Orleans, Part Three

The closer we came to downtown, the more people were coming up asking us where to go. Most of them were going to the Super Dome or the Convention Center. We just kept walking to the bridge over the Mississippi. Nick had left a message for his dad, so we were looking for him as well. But, how do you find someone in this mess? Bill and John, as well as Sebastian, were over heating. Somehow, in leaving the house in the middle of the night, we had all forgotten our hats. Can you imagine that?

As we came to where the interstate and the start of the bridge happened, we had to take the long way around, as there were trucks and military guys coming into town on the shortest way for us walking. But in all these people coming to "save" us, no one would even acknowledge that we were there! And no one had thought to bring water!?! If my cell phone had worked, I could have called WalMart, used my MasterCard, and had them deliver a truck load. The roads were clear so why did it end up taking them 5 days to bring in water?

We could hear people walking on the road beneath us, who had been turned away from crossing the bridge. Nick and Mike walked on ahead of us. Nick was talking to folks in pickups who had come to help, but were being told to leave. Some of these people had been here helping on a daily basis, but now that the official rescuers were here, they were being ignored. Nick found us a ride in the back of a pickup!

When Bill, John and I finally made it to the truck we had been joined by a gentleman who heading to his daughter's house in Austin. He was retired Air Force. A black man with light colored skin. Now the color of his skin is important to the tale. I asked the owner of the truck if Sebastian could ride it in, and he said sure. But he looked really closely at the man with us. Bill said, "He's with us, ok?" The truck owner didn't look too pleased, but agreed. He had already made some disparaging remarks about a woman who was yelling at her kids.

We all piled into the truck. As we started over the bridge, we were stopped by a policewoman. The man driving the truck said we were family. Well, she looked us over and looked really, really hard at the black man, who had taken the seat next to me. Since his skin was lighter, he might be related. I smiled at her. She seemed to hesitate, then looked back at the driver and told him to go ahead.

Sebastian was the funniest. We had carried him most of the way up to the truck. I was sure he was dying. But when that pickup started moving, he insisted on puttin his head over the edge of the bed, so his nose was in the wind and his ears were flapping. He still couldn't stand, but I knew his doggy survival instinct had kicked in. How could he die when he was going for a ride in the back of a truck?

Crossing that bridge was entering a different world. There were very few people on the other side. No flooding, but quite a bit of wind damage. We were let out at the toll booth parking lot, as the man was heading home to the east and we needed to to west to Gonzalez. As we stood in the parking lot, two young men from Lafayette, in a small truck with a boat on the back, asked if we needed a ride. We piled into the bed of the truck, putting our suitcases and back packs into the boat. They gave us bottles of ice cold water!!

The vehicles going west were few, but the ones coming east were a solid line. The guys in the truck drove really fast, and the boat behind bounced and wiggled. I was sure all our suitcases were going to fly out! About 10 miles out of Gonzalez, we ran out of gas. Everyone piled out, but I stayed in the truck bed, stood up and waved, putting my thumb out in the hitchhiking position. A couple in a big pickup stopped. They gave Nick, Sebastian and I a ride to Nick's parent's house, even though it was a bit off the freeway.

When we pulled up in the driveway, two women came out on the porch. One was saying, "Where have you been? Where's your dad?" Nick explained, while the other one asked if I'd like to take a shower. Oh yes! There were no introductions, just welcome home. I later found out they were Nick's aunt and her sister, who had come there from Slidell to weather out the storm.

Back at the truck, another car had stopped. This was a woman who had filled 5 gallon cans with gas and was driving down the road helping stranded folks like us. We were given her last can of gas, but since she was heading farther west, the black man hitched a ride with her. I hope he made it safely to his daughter's home in Austin. The guys continued to Gonzalez, where Nick saw them at the gas station. Bill paid for their gas and thank them from all of us. I don't know any of their names, but they know who they are. Someday, the good will come back to them.

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