When Hurricane Ike blew through my neighborhood (and he did, quite literally – the eye went over my house), he swept away much of the area’s history. The TopWater Grill in San Leon is gone, as is the shrimp fleet that supplied the best restaurant in the area with fresh catch. Never mind the Boardwalk, that generic tourist trap that locals never go to unless relatives come to town and demand the tour. The Classic Cafe is flooded, and Portofino. Skipper’s (breakfast 24 hours a day), Okie’s Liquor (do they really still sell Everclear out the back door?) and Joe Lee’s (never give in to the developers, damn it!) are nothing but shells. Even Marybelle’s, an honest-to-goodness waterfront bar with dead bodies in the restrooms (in the old days) and home to the infamous “Miss Wharf Rat” contest is gone, swept away by the back side of the storm into the shallows of Galveston Bay.
Between nervousness over Gustav, twinges of anxiety over Ike and the need to think about all of the “what if’s” associated with each storm, it became hard to focus, and harder to post. I haven’t posted here in so long it seems like months since WordPress was part of my life. When it became clear that, this time, Texas was in the sights of a mammoth hurricane, it became impossible to think about anything but preparation. When it became even more clear that Houston and Galveston were not going to escape at the last minute, survival was all that mattered.
When it comes to hurricanes, I take the Chicago-school-of-voting approach. I evacuate early and often. Remembering the disastrous evacuation for Rita, I pitched a sufficient number of fits that I managed to cram my mother and my cat into the car two full days ahead of landfall, and we landed in Tyler, Texas for the duration. Now, Mom is in Kansas CIty, I’m back home, and I’m assuming the cat will come out from under the bed eventually.
I still can barely think, but the time has come to begin life anew, and so I am going to post some entries from a little blog I kept going through the events of the past week on a weather-related site. It will bring me back to WordPress, help me remember how to do this, and allow me to begin thinking things through, one entry at a time.
I am so grateful to those who have contacted me in one way or another. I’m grateful to be alive, and grateful that I’m in a position to begin helping others. One day, I’ll probably have a really good cry – but just now, I’m going to just enjoy remembering, and telling you a little of what it’s like to move through a hurricane……
Monday, September 15
One of the things you learn when traveling with an (ahem) older person is that a running start for the day isn’t always possible. So, having wakened my mom for the trek to KC, I wandered out to find coffee, and found a group of AT&T workers as well. Eight restoration crew vehicles were parked outside our room, and the guys were getting ready to head down the road. We had breakfast together, and it was wonderful to be able to say “thank you” to some real people who are going to be helping put things back together.
Driving north from Nacogdoches yesterday, it was amazing and deeply touching to see the caravans heading south, toward Houston and Galveston. I’m sure similar groups are heading south, albeit a bit more east: down to Orange, Beaumont, and so on. There were 26 — yes, 26 — large Salvation Army vehicles/trucks, many with generators trailing behind. There were tree trimming services convoys, from Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, New York. I saw Army vehicles, some sort of power restoration convoy with “thingies” (booms?) on them, fuel trucks from Shreveport, and electrical service trucks from North Texas. It was an amazing sight, that brought tears to my eyes. Thank God there are people in the world willing to give of themselves for others.
I said “thank you” to those AT&T men, and shook every one of their hands. If you happen to see someone around who helps you on a daily basis, you might think about saying “thank you” as well.
Monday, September 15 (Evening)
After a nice, long day full of driving, we got as far as Joplin, MO, about 2-1/2 hours from our destination. That’s when I called it a day. For the first time in a couple of weeks, I found my thinking a bit “bloggish”, and one of the things I was thinking was: I’ve got plenty of gas for the car, but I do believe I’m out of gas! So, here we are in Joplin. It’s cold here (70s?) and utterly beautiful, with clear blue skies, light northerlies and some very nice people. We had supper at the Olive Garden next to our motel, and we’ll head out after a good night’s sleep.
Oklahoma was full of wonders – pollen, for one thing. I don’t know what’s floating around in the air, but it’s potent and far more annoying than mosquitos. All you sunflower lovers and growers would be astonished at the fields filled with what I assume to be very small wild sunflowers, but there also are fields full of cultivated flowers. It’s true – they do face the sun! We saw lots of turtles on the side of the road, no doubt due in part to the terrific amount of water everywhere. There were hawks soaring, as well as egrets and great blue herons. I’ve never seen OK look so green.
Humanis Evacuatis is everywhere, too. I’ve talked to folks from Beaumont (on their way to Tulsa), High Island (on their way to Dallas), Texas City (on their way back home), League City, Deer Park, Clear Lake City, Nassau Bay and Shoreacres-the-town. Everyone wants to tell their story, again and again. There’s something about us that must be recognizable. People keep saying to me, “You must be an evacuee”. Maybe it’s the flip-flops and sunglasses – I left home looking like a poster for Ron-Jon’s surf shop.
Little by little, people are making contact, and comparing notes. There is damage, there is uncertainty, there is grief – but there is a great deal of realism as well, and what appears to be a commmitment to small, achievable goals on the way back to normalcy.
One note of particular interest to me is the list of marinas in the area with their damage reports. I work primarily in Portofino and Lakewood Yacht Club. I have four Grand Banks trawlers on the west side – I’m going to be nervous as can be until I can get back and see which of my “babies” are all right.
Blue Dolphin Marina – 95 percent undamaged
Boardwalk Marina – 80 percent undamaged
Clear Lake Marine Center – 90 percent damage
Clear Lake Shores Marina – 70 percent damage
Hilton Marina – marina wiped out; 15 percent of boats undamaged
Lakewood Yacht Club – 80 percent damaged/destroyed on west side; 90 percent undamaged on east side
Portofino Marina – 80 percent undamaged
Seabrook Ship Yard – marina 50 percent damaged; shipyard 80 percent damaged
South Shore Harbor Marina – most boats undamaged, some torn sails
Waterford Harbor Marina – minimal damage
Watergate Marina – 60 percent damaged; many boats sank
Tuesday, September 16
Rolling up Highway 71 from Joplin, I made a sudden decision to bypass the Harrisonville cutoff and follow the freeways through the heart of Kansas City. I suppose my sense of sudden displacement was making me a little nostalgic. My first apartment was in KC, not to mention my first exposure to the blues, good barbeque, and “cultural diversity”. (Does anyone out there remember the Jewel Box on Troost?) Pulling a little Muddy Waters from my stash, I couldn’t help but smile, listening to the soundtrack of an earlier life.
I’m in my aunt’s living room now, after an afternoon full of errands, discussion and planning. Some cousins dropped by, and we had a homey midwestern supper of stew and cornbread. Then, I repacked all the bags. Tomorrow, I’ll leave early in the morning for Tyler, where I’ll repack those danged bags yet again, pick up some supplies for friends in Seabrook and Kemah, throw a couple of gas cans in the car and set off. Like Dorothy, I expect to say a time or two, “Nope. We’re not in Kansas any more”.
I’ve heard from three of my customers, and the reports are mixed. One fellow, whose boat was at Portofino Harbor, sustained little damage. He’s moving it on to Waterford Harbor, where it will be available for me to continue working on it. Waterford is about two miles from me, so the location is good, too. On the other hand, a couple for whom I’d worked for fifteen years, through three boats, called to say that they had lost their current vessel. It was tied up on a fixed pier at Lakewood Yacht club when the surge arrived. It was torn from its dock, picked up and deposited in the middle of a grassy area in the center of the club, split down the middle. The grassy area used to be the location of some Club cabanas, now gone. What makes it especially grievous is that their boat, “Family Time”, was in fact the center of their family life, home for sail-camp grandchildren, church outings and the “alone time” so important for couples. I nearly cried when I heard the story – only one of thousands still to be told.
Two other customers who are moored next to each other sustained damage when a bow line came free and they smacked against each other during the storm, but they are repairable. An entire dockful of luxury yachts – 60 to 90 feet – sank together, still attached to the dock they tore loose. Diesel tanks from shrimpers were found in a nearby parking lot, metal gangways were twisted off and thrown onto boats, and rigging gave way. But it still isn’t as bad as it could have been.
I’m even more anxious now to be home. As power is restored, communications become more reliable and people begin to make contact, the desire to SEE what has happened is almost overwhelming. Today I’ve talked with people in San Antonio, Phoenix, Dallas, Little Rock and Tulsa – all waiting to come back, preparing to come back, longing to come back…. to our home. With Mom safely tucked into the heart of the family, it’s time to turn around and head back, to find out what needs doing, and do it.
To be continued……