Making the decision to evacuate Houston was not an easy one to make for me and my sister. Not only did we realize that traffic would be more hellacious than we could imagine, but we didn’t know how long we would have to be away from our Mom. At the time we needed to make a decision, Rita was headed straight at us and Mom was stable, but critical. The deciding factor was my nephews. We just couldn’t keep them in harms way if there was a way to avoid it. So, we stocked up, loaded up and headed out.
Or should I say crawled out. Slugged out with the speed of a sloth. Never before have I seen so many cars in one place. It was beyond description. Every median, shoulder and lane had cars filling them. Cars along the side of the road had their hoods up as they wandered along talking to other stranded motorists. At first, I was still in a good mood. I had my humor and the radio to keep me entertained. After a couple of hours and only a few miles, the grins were fewer. I was SO over being in the car. With no air. Not moving. Over. It. I also realized that I had made a crucial traveling mistake. (Women, you can back me on this one.) I wore an underwire bra. *gasp* Yes, I know the horror of such an idiotic wardrobe choice. I wasn’t thinking. I had no choice. The bra had to go. I did have on a shirt with a built in bra (Yeah RIGHT), so I didn’t care. Whooosh. Off it came.
At this point I needed something to lighten my mood. What better way to do that than to call someone who can make you giggle. I called Jenny and began to replay the events of the day to her. I knew I was becoming delirious when I told her what I had in my Hurricane Survival Kit. Note the Pull-Up for emergecy potty situations. (Little did I know how much I might need it later!)
Sometime during my conversation with Jenny, she told me that she saw the Mass Exodus on television. I asked if she saw me. I told her that I would hang my bra off of my antenna to ensure that my family and friends could keep track of my progress. “Yeah, I am the one in the white car with the bra flapping in the non-existant breeze.” I even offered to flash a bus full of prisoners who are being evacuated. I mean, they’re bored. I’m bored. We are already going through hell. How could it get worse? It’s not like I would get arrested. The police just want everyone to get the hell out of Dodge. They certainly aren’t going to get pissy about a middle-aged woman with a bra hanging from her antenna flashing various evacuees to pass the time. As if they could get to me anyway!
If you know me, you know I really have never met a stranger. There I am in the worst traffic jam in American history and I am chatting it up with people in the other cars. (It’s not like we were moving!) I am hooting and honking at the people gawking at us from the overpasses. I am shouting sarcastic comments to the idiots that are trying to cut in front of other motorists. (Just WHERE do you think you are going to go, idiot?) I can’t just sit. I have to talk. And wave. And whoop it up to the best of my ability. Hey, that is me. (To the woman whom I asked to “turn up her jam so I could get my funk on”, forgive me. I know you were probably close to 90 years old and you were listening to the likes of Lawrence Welk, but really I just could not resist it.)
During the entire Mass Exodus, I kept the radio on to keep up with the “Late Breaking Situation” regarding the Mass Exodus. Other motorists were calling in to report anytime they found a gas station open or a convenience station that had a restroom. Even better than counting on the radio, I had my amazing Geek Husband at home in Dallas logged into both Google Maps and Houston’s local NBC station. He would check in every couple of hours to see where we were. (Not much further than last time you called, dear!) He would then tell us how far to the next exit, what kind of facilities they had and he was able to let us know exactly where we were. When you go only 40 miles in 9 hours, you can get disoriented. Trust me on that one.
It was around our 7th hour into the Mass Exodus, I realized I had to pee. BADLY. Normally, I can go longer than 7 hours if the situation calls for it. However, one of the things the radio DJ’s continually reminded people was to stay hydrated. If you had water, drink it. Drink . Drink. Drink. I mean, afterall, it was one of the worst heat waves in Texas. 102 degrees. That does not even take into account how much hotter it is on the road with thousands of other cars. So I drank water. A lot of water. Too much water. And now my bladder was PISSED OFF. (No pun inteneded. Or maybe just a little intended.) But there was NO WHERE to pee. You just can’t get off of the freeway. There are too many cars and too few exits that are open. When we finally did decide to just cut through the grass to get to the service road, the police officer eyeballed me a bit. I told him I was in tears because my bladder was about to explode! Rather than let me off of the road at the exit and risk having hundreds of other cars do the same, he just explained the best way to cut through the grass in order to prevent becoming stuck. Uhhh, thanks. I appreciate that one, sir. I had to laugh. The first time in Houston that you can do that and not get a ticket. But you see, there was NOTHING open. No where to pee. It isn’t like there was any privacy anywere either. Cars were lined up along every free space along the road. People were out of their cars in the middle of the interstate walking from car to car talking, sharing water and sharing stories. It was a giant tailgate party. If I was going to relieve myself, I would have to go deep into the woods. At night. With thousands of people around. No thanks. I can hold it.
10 hours into this Mass Exodus, I can no longer feel my bladder. It has gone completely numb. I had to look down to see if I had wet myself, but with all of the sweat, who could tell? (By that time I had lost 5 pounds in sweat.) I have a blister on my right heel from going from the gas to the brake and back for an entire day. I am slightly dehydrated (because all fluid is backed up in my BLADDER!) and more than a little exhausted. And for the love of all things rancid, I smelled awful! My sense of humor? Left it on the side of the road a few hours prior. Now what? I had my Dad and Clint calling me to see what our plans were. They were greeted with, “How the fuck do I know. I am just going to DRIVE until I can’t drive anymore.” You see, at this point, we still think Rita is heading that way.
I am not sure that I can put into words the helplessness that enveloped me. As I sat in traffic, I watched my gas gage get lower and my engine temperature get higher. I knew that if I ran out of gas or the car overheated there would be absolutely NOTHING I could do about it. There was NO gas between Houston and Dallas. There are NO hotels with vacancies. The shelters were all full. Even if we can get off the road, we had no where to go and no way to get there. I’ll be honest. It was pretty scary. Twelve hours. 56 miles. How would we ever get to Dallas?! What would we do if we can’t make it? There were no options. It was the most helpless I have ever felt in my life.
11 hours into the Mass Exodus, my sister’s husband called. (Again.) He had a friend he works with that lives in Conroe. We were just a few miles from the exit, but we both knew that translated to hours until we got there. We decided we had no options. We would have to go to their home stay the night there. Even though we didn’t know them personally. They have a 3 year old and the woman is 37 weeks pregnant. And here we come with 2 kids, a new puppy, and we stink with the funk of a thousand locker rooms.
It took us another hour to get to their house. Just a few miles away. I was so gross I wouldn’t even sit on their furniture. I mean, I was BAD smelly! Watering eyes and flies swarming smelly. I am not sure that I even spoke to these amazing people when we first arrived. I may have mumbled something polite initially, but then began to yell loudly “BATHROOM! BATHROOM! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHERE IS THE BATHROOM?!” I am pretty sure I just knocked the poor pregnant woman out of the way as I waddled my full, numb bladder towards their bathroom. Five minutes later, and after much rejoicing, I could once again move without fear of wetting myself. I tried to do the polite small talk thing, but eventually had to just say to the sweet woman, “I am sorry to be so rude. You have no idea how much this means to me. But seriously, my eyes are watering from my own funky smell. May I please use your shower. I fear that if I don’t, your lovely wallpaper may begin to peel off of the wall from the fumes I am emmitting.”
Never before have I wept openly when stepping into a shower. I had no idea what we would do in the morning, but at that moment, I was delirious with joy that I was taking a shower in a safe place. I washed and wept and washed and wept.
After crawling into a soft bed, I managed to sleep for a couple of hours. As soon as I woke up, I was hit with that helpless dread. “What were we going to do?” We decided to head back to my Dad’s house. We just knew we would never make it to Dallas without gas. We had no more options. We thanked our gracious hosts and headed out. Again. It took an hour to get to Dad’s home. AN HOUR. On the way home, taking all backroads of course, we saw one lone woman at a gas station appearing to be pumping gas. But, the gas station was closed and the sign said NO GAS. I stopped and asked her if it was pumping. She said as long as you used a debit or credit card, it worked. BINGO! I pulled in and began to pump gas. Before I was finished, the cars were 6 deep at every pump. Either this station got a delivery after they jumped ship or they were hoarding for post-Rita. Either way, they were empty by the time they opened up again. There was some relief knowing that I had a full tank, though. Actually, I felt IMMENSE relief knowing there was a full tank. Who knew when there would be another chance to fill up?
Once I reached my Dad’s I took off as fast as I could to get together my things to go to the hospital. They were going into a disaster lock-down mode in 30 minutes. I had to get there before that time if I was going to stay with Mom.
Next time I write, I will tell you about the amazing people I met. The friendships I formed. And hospital secrets to rival Grey’s Anatomy. People who are in lock-down together talk. A lot. For a writer, it was sheer heaven to hear so many stories in such a short time. I can’t wait to share them with you!