20 September 2004


What can I say about this past week? Disjointed, crazy, fun, horrible, sad and happy at times. It's like telling four or five stories in one. I can say the weirdest holiday I've ever been on.

We started out on Sunday driving to Lafayette, where we were stalked by turtles and pigeons. Was going to be an overnight getaway. We visited a little recreated Cajun village. We played checkers in the one-room schoolhouse. We got caught in the old Catholic church during a sudden thunderstorm, then finally decided to run for it in the rain.

We stayed in the most charming bed and breakfast for the night. Right off the highway but felt like another world. T'frere's is supposed to be haunted. I don't if it's because we had just listened to Amelie's ghost story, but as soon as I turned out the lights I got this creepy weird feeling. And the whole night I was awake from nightmares. Dreams like I hadn't had in forever. The odd thing is that at breakfast in the morning (which, by the way was wonderful...) the girl from the next room said that she had terrifying nightmares all night and wondered if it was the ghost.

We left early on Monday from Lafayette when the hurricane decided not to turn east right away. We got home in time to stock up on cans of tuna, water, Gaterade, batteries and flashlights. We boarded the windows and unplugged the house and moved everything to the tops of closets and chests. We packed the important papers and all of my photographs and loaded the car. It's quite a depressing feeling to sort through years of belongings and try to decide what is worth keeping. It's very strange to drive away knowing nothing might be left to come home to.

You assign values to your belongings and stack them accordingly on different levels of furniture. It the water rises past the beds, I wouldn't mind losing these things. If it rises to the chest of drawers, I wouldn't mind losing these. If it rises to closet tops, I wouldn't mind losing these. And if it gets high enough to get these things, well, I tried at least. Because I figure the attic heat would be just as damaging as the water once the power's out and the heat's on.

For I was quite certain that New Orleans would get this storm, that the bowl would fill and everything remaining would be dead and destroyed. I've been hearing theories for years on what would happen to New Orleans if a real bad hurricane hit directly up the mouth of the river. We have a disadvantage anyway by being so far below sea level, and everyone remembers Betsy, whether you were alive then or not. So, I don't take my chances, I leave whenever I can.

This time, we left midday Tuesday, and after twenty-three straight hours of driving in a six-car caravan with walkie talkies to keep connected, we arrived in Dallas. I stopped for gas at every available station, because I was certain we would run out and end up stranded on the highway during the hurricane. I had toilet paper and tuna fish and flashlights and enough water to last a while, so we would have survived, but I hated to take the chance.

My sister had booked rooms at the Best Western for all of us, which was a horrible mistake. I have to add all of this here, just because they really did wrong us. Why I will never stay at the Best Western again (and why you shouldn't either):

They wouldn't let us stay with pets even after we offered to put deposits, pay charges, give credit card numbers, and also keep the pets locked in their carriers the whole time or keep them out on the balcony. But, they were kind enough to cancel our rooms without charge. So, half of us moved to the Sheraton (which was much nicer anyway) and half stayed at Best Western. Later that night, owner's and their dogs were swimming in the hotel pool. When we asked the front desk about it, they pretended they didn't know anything about it, then admitted they made an exception since those people had evacuated from the hurricane. Then they said they couldn't make an exception for us, and their solution was that the manager promised to kick those people with the pets out (which was ridiculous and needless to say they didn't do it). In all, we saw about five different families walking their dogs around the hotel.

From talking to people around the hotel, they gave half price rates for evacuees, however they charged us full price. My sister told them clearly when she booked the rooms that we were fleeing New Orleans because of the hurricane. They refused to discount, again, their solution was for us to tell them what room numbers and they would charge the others full price. My cousin's boyfriend asked if they offered military discounts, and they did, but it was twenty bucks more than the regular nightly rate.

They refused to give the owner's name or address so we could complain, and would only let us talk to the manager (who was no help at all).

I've never had such a bad experience at a hotel before, and even though I know the hotel was independently owned, I still will never stay in a Best Western again.

But, the Sheraton was really nice, classy, and friendly. We had our cats and dog in the room with us, and they didn't even charge us the standard fifty dollar a pet deposit. We slept for a day and a half once we checked in Wednesday, waking up now and then to watch the news. It looked like New Orleans was in for it until the last possible minute. Later, I watched footage of the destruction to Alabama and Florida, and I wonder what it would be like to drive home to nothing but mess and destruction. How do you start your life over?

We made a mini-vacation out of the rest, spending time at the Galleria (I fell in love at Sephora, thankful I don't live in Dallas), dinner and swimming, until we left Saturday morning. And the drive back only took ten hours and our house was hot, but hadn't even lost power or flooded. We lucked out, but the scary thing is this validates people who decide to ride it out, and makes people who left wish they hadn't. I can't tell you how many people said they will never leave again no matter how bad the hurricane is projected to be. But one day, that bowl will fill up. I will be long gone, because I just don't take chances like that.

And the next day was such a gloriously fall day, with a nice breeze cutting the sun. We spent the morning out on the boat. I had to wrap a torn-up flannel shirt around me to keep from freesing when we were moving, but standing still shorts and tank top were more than enough for basking in the sun. I love being outside on days like that.

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