Any Sort In A Storm II
It is a given that you meet many interesting people during a hurricane evacuation. It’s not as if most modern Americans live any kind of rigid, protocol-laden lifestyle, anyway, so of course a grand event like bugging out ahead of a hurricane will toss us all together like a salad. You’re cooperating with, traveling with, bedding down next to folks you’d perhaps never meet otherwise. Certainly you’d seem to have nothing much in common with them on the surface; but, for the most part, people are people are people.
We left Hurricane Gustav’s bull’s-eye, Terrebonne Parish, Sunday afternoon. We were a caravan — Middle Son having taken his young family out the day before, and extended family all having their evacuation plans in place, we were only four vehicles. Navigator was the Spouse, driving point in his Great White Explorer, carrying the youngest son and two large dogs in kennels. I mean, the dogs were in kennels. Not the son. You know what I mean!
Then came the daughter and her spouse, in their brown Taurus; then me, blessedly alone in my little brown Saturn. (Oh, bliss!! To listen to all the overexcited radio reports I wanted to, then to listen to any style of music, or to have utter silence, if I wanted it, with no complaints from anyone else!) Bringing up the rear, watching for disoriented sheep as it were, was Dad-in-law in his big red one-ton diesel pickup, carrying its load of Useful Items, among them several bright red plastic containers of gasoline.
The routes we use for evacuation tend to be lonely. Long, straight stretches of sameness, empty of traffic. Just the thing for a Sunday drive, lots of wildlife, good fishing spots in the canals dug out along the raised roadbeds through marsh and swamp and forest.
We were zipping along one such stretch, in the beautiful desolation between little towns, when we met a stranded traveler.
Let me establish the scene, here, you’ve simply got to see this:
Visible in snatches through the trees, off to the left, is the raised road, the high-rise highway, a road yards above our heads. The traffic is heavy but flowing smoothly at about 60 mph, a steady stream of evacuees headed eventually north, northeast, northwest. All that activity is only visible in brief flashes through the treetops, though. Perhaps because of the distance, or perhaps because of the oppressive overcast day, there are no traffic sounds.
The two-lane road is blacktopped, coated with a thick layer of tarry black asphalt stuff, usually mixed with gravel. It’s laid down in patches for upkeep and repair, and the whole roadbed layered anew with about a foot of blacktop every few years. If we’re lucky, the foot or more added in each resurfacing just about compensates for the inevitable subsidence of these soft-land roads.
This being Southeastern Louisiana, the aging blacktop on the old roads turns salt-and-pepper, then silver-gray, due to the white clamshells instead of gravel in the mix. The shoulders of the raised roadbeds were for many years also blinding white clamshells. Some roads still sport sparkling limestone-white borders. Beyond that gleam lies black water, or beds of bright green duckweed or emerald-and-violet water hyacinths, or the shadow-and-light of dark water between cypress trees’ knees.
No fishing or hunting traffic on a hurricane day. Only our four-car caravan on that perfectly straight endless road, swamp and marsh and water-loving trees all around, the only clearing the road itself. It’s a silver-gray ribbon with white and yellow striping under the dimly blue overcast sky, the end invisible in the distance as all those straight lines meet on what passes for a Louisiana horizon. On we glide, making good time with no other traffic.
Can you see it?
Then, small in the distance – something up ahead. On the left, on the shoulder – the speck becomes a dot becomes a blob as we draw near. The blob resolves itself into a mid-size car, a brownish color not unsuited to the colors of Nature around it. Two cars – behind it, another similar car, similar color. They are parked trunk-to-trunk as if they are two mating dogs grown tired of the experience. Adding to that reproductive imagery is a length of green garden hose stretched from gas tank to gas tank.
So far, nothing seems out-of-the-ordinary. One expects to see exhausted automobiles (every possible pun intended) on the side of the road in a mass evacuation — out of gas, out of luck. Neither is it so odd that someone fleeing a potential natural disaster would try to siphon much-needed gas from an apparently disabled vehicle into his own.
But now — now we see the unexpected. Someone waving. A lady in distress? As the caravan glides to a halt by the stalled cars, we see a lone figure, a woman, one supposes, en deshabille, hair wildly protesting any rumor that it may once have been restrained.
I say, one supposes, because a closer look reveals a rangy musculature reminiscent of Wesley Snipes’. That’s a man, standing there in little-girl jammies, cute little top pulled up and tucked into the band of his lacy black brassiere, due to the heat, one again supposes.
Can you see him? Standing there, apparently a city guy… certainly a girlish guy… shining deep ebony limbs and hot pink girlie sleepwear and hair every which way but loose? Wilderness all around, earth and sky and trees and swamp, and four vehicles filled with rough-dressed Cajuns coming to the rescue?
We can’t hear all of the conversation, but we can piece it together from later discussion —
The Football God husband steps down from his SUV to see how he can help. Such contrasts between his height and build and that of the pink-clad… transvestite? Never did settle on the correct term…
Anyway, there’s the tall, broad Spouse, welder-bronzed, dressed for emergency travel in cargo camouflage walking shorts, T-shirt and a baseball cap bearing the logo of his college football team – and joining him, his leathery Marlborough Man father, dressed the same as every other retired trucker in Cajun country, in jeans and a cotton shirt. (Dad always appears ready to buy you a cigarette and coffee and breakfast in a greasy spoon diner.)
Both of them listen solicitously to the twitchy, gesticulating fellow, standing there in his rosy sleepwear. Dad is just as courtly and congenial as he would be toward any… lady. Hubby is, in his usual choleric take-charge way, mentally solving all the man’s problems in order to save his life – I can almost see Mike having visions of the sadly drowned fancy man, afloat on a hurricane tide.
I roll down the car window and hear a snatch of conversation from the Man in Pink: … I know it looks funny, me trying to siphon gas out of that car… No, it looks perfectly normal to me, that he should take such steps to get away from Hurricane Gustav. What looks funny – or at least, very incongruous in that semi-wilderness – is his choice of outfits in which to enact his great escape from New Orleans.
Ahead in the second car, my daughter thinks Oh, the poor thing!, while her artist husband is undoubtedly mentally adding the man to his catalog of character portraits. Up front in the SUV, youngest son is wondering of we’re going to bring Lingerie Man along with us… and if there’s a suitcase in that car packed with a toothbrush and a rainbow of various pajamas.
Aha! The conversation concludes itself. Action!
Grandpa ambles back to the pickup to grab a red gasoline container, and pours the fuel into the brown car’s tank while the Husband and the Pink Person continue to chat… about routes to safety, I imagine. The fellow already had the right idea, having chosen the back roads – possibly his city-boy raising never taught him about extra gas cans.
With a glad flurry of thanks and good-byes, our Pajama Party Pal roars away to safety. My menfolk gaze after him a moment, then walk back to their vehicles, each shaking his head, slightly stunned. I guess they never expected to meet a man dressed in pink pajamas and a black lacy bra, stranded in the heart of the Sportsman’s Paradise.
We drove into Brookhaven, Mississippi, in the waning light of early evening. Unlike the brilliant weather before Hurricane Katrina – she sucked everything to herself, leaving behind a pleasant sunniness until she hit us – with Gustav, there were driven ahead of him nasty stretches of dismal gray day, alternating with the feeder bands of thunderstorms and potential tornadoes. The driving was clear and relatively speedy, at least, even if the scenery was depressing.
Other than one mind-numbing eternity-long stretch of perhaps 10 miles on the Official Government-Planned Contra-Flow Route, we kept to the old roads, the ground-level roads, the roads from town to town rather than the Interstate Highways. If it was a favored route of the Model T and the horse-drawn buggy, then we were interested in following it. Those would be the ways less traveled and therefore, theoretically, smooth sailing. And for us, and for one unique other, it proved to be so.