LISTENING TO KATRINA
PAGES IN THIS BLOG ARE RATED 'R' AND DO CONTAIN
PROFANITY, VULGARITY, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE, NUDITY,
SCENES OF HUMAN EMOTION, DEATH, DESTRUCTION, MAYHEM, AND VARIOUS
EVENT - Eject! Eject! Eject!
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES ON THIS PAGE
KNOW WHEN TO PULL IT!
'It' being the ejection handle. Both the real one and the metaphorical one.
My friend Rick (Hi Rick!) told me that when he was learning to fly military aircraft, one of the instructors said, "When you need to eject from the aircraft, you will not have time to make that decision. You need to make that decision now, today, and then follow through when the time comes."
I'm paraphrasing here, but if the airplane is on fire, it's time to get out.
If you HYST, then you have a parachute. If you don't HYST, then you don't have a parachute. It's going to be a hard landing. If you rely entirely on the helping hand of Jesus, that doesn't work out so well sometimes.
Knowing when to eject - which is a metaphor for bug-out, evacuate, head for the hills - is harder than actually doing it. There is another principle that military pilots use, called the OODA loop, which is Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. It looks sort of complicated on paper...but it's really a fairly simple idea.
Observe - "Hey! There is a massive hurricane coming this way!"
Orient - "Holy atmospheric disturbances, Batman!" For us that's GET A CLUE.
Decide - "Hey! We need to get the flock out of Dodge!"
Act - "OK, Fire up the 12 Hour Plan!"
Problems arise for various reasons. One of them is sheer laziness. You don't really *want* to pack all your crap in the car and take a long drive. Especially not with little kids. It's aggravating, it's expensive, and you'd rather download porn off the internet. There are plenty of reasons - excuses, actually - not to make the hard decision. There's also a little voice inside your head that says, "Well, these weather people have no idea what they're talking about anyway, so maybe they're wrong. Let's just wait a little longer and see what happens..." Of course, if Nash Roberts had said we should go, then everybody would have went - but like I said, he wasn't available. Why? Because he was evacuating. If we'd have known that at the time, every man, woman, and child would have fled instantly. When the Weather High Priest gets out of Dodge, you should too.
This leads to the second lesson. If a train is coming, GET OFF THE TRACKS. Pedaling faster isn't really an effective strategy... If you happen to find yourself standing between two steel rails with a train coming - no matter how slow - it's a good idea to get off the tracks. You cannot play cat and mouse with a train. For the metaphorically challenged, that's both a metaphor and a concrete rule. I'd turn it into a simile, but I'm going to get off this track now.
I was standing dead smack in the middle of the tracks on Saturday morning, August 27. I was stuck in the STUPID loop - endlessly fascinated by the approaching train. I just sat there in front of the computer, hitting the REFRESH button. Fortunately, I was not always a domesticated male, with wife, children, and a mortgage. I had long ago thought clearly about my hurricane evacuation criteria. My criteria was that I would stay for a slow moving category two, or a fast moving category three. Katrina was possibly going to be a category five storm at landfall. A category two storm is a bad weekend. A category three storm is a bad weekend during which the neighborhood bully takes your lunch money. A category five storm is like Hiroshima or Nagasaki, just not so much fire.
After the domestic man hit the REFRESH button for the thirty seven thousandth time, the Man with The Plan said, "OK, dumbass. It's time to pack the car." Not being the kind of person to argue with myself, I reached on down to pull the ejection handle...but then I realized that it's just a metaphor.
"Get in the car, kids! We're goin' on a road trip!"
Unfortunately, not Having My Shit Together, things weren't that easy. Yes, I could just toss a few things in the car and go. Pre-Katrina, that was the usual thinking of most people. Just pack a weekend bag, leave town for three days or so, and come back when the coast is clear. The other prevailing plan was to make sure that you had three days of food and water in the house, because for some reason three days is the magic number - after which everything supposedly goes back to normal. I'm really not sure where that rule of thumb comes from...but somebody should GET A CLUE...
Let's play a game. Really play! Don't just fake the orgasm on me. OK. Ready? Pretend you're going to leave your house in 12 hours. Now get up and go walk around your house. Try to figure out all the things you're going to pack, the things you're not going to pack, how you're going to fit all that shit in the car... Is the car ready? Have enough gas? The things you pack are the only things you will save. Everything else will never be seen again. REALLY imagine it. Are you really only going to pack three days worth of clothes, a few personal items, and your collection of Elvis CDs?
My personal theories on such matters were radically different from the norm. If nothing else, I appreciated the magnitude of a category 5 storm. I had read and seen many things about many hurricanes including Hurricane Andrew and the aftermath of that in Florida a few years before. I had a CLUE. If I was going to leave, I was going to leave like I was never coming back. I had a clear understanding that my house might be nothing more than a pile of sticks within 72 hours. I was going to be sure to take everything with me that I knew I should take, and that was going to cost me something that I was quickly running out of - time - because I absolutely did NOT Have My Shit Together.
I did manage to pack it all up in about 12 hours - which is a ridiculously large amount of time. When we start putting together our 12 Hour Plan, I'm going to tell you about my experience with that nightmare... Let's gloss over that for now, and just say that without the agreement, cooperation, and support of my wife, it never would have happened.
I stopped my furious escape preparations long enough to watch the 4:00 PM NHC Advisory. I kept a radio on, and Mayor Nagin first called for a voluntary evacuation of the city of New Orleans at 5:00 PM (August 27) and subsequently ordered a citywide mandatory evacuation at 9:30 AM on August 28, the first such order in the city's history. In a live news conference, Mayor Nagin predicted that, "the storm surge most likely will topple our levee system," and warned that oil production in the Gulf of Mexico would be shut down. President Bush made a televised appeal for residents to heed the evacuation orders, warning, "We cannot stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to Gulf Coast communities." Many neighboring areas and parishes also called for evacuations. By mid-afternoon, officials in Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, Lafourche, Terrebonne, and Jefferson parishes had called for voluntary or mandatory evacuations - because by this point, the tracking map first did this:
And then did this:
Which leads me to another lesson called LISTEN TO YOUR BOWELS!
While everyone who was under this particular gun understood the gravity of the situation, little did any of us suspect the the full magnitude of the colorful, overly dramatic nature of the play that would unfold in the coming weeks involving the social, economic, emotional, political, and personal dramas that would engage the nation for many weeks to come. Many of us - almost three years later - are still engaged. All we knew at the time was that the politicians were so stirred up that they had called for MANDANTORY evacuations - which is something that they could not legally do, something they did not have the power or resources to enforce, and something which did not work anyway.
Why it did not work, what might have worked, and what actually happened are topics for future pages. At this point, I'm only trying to paint a very broad picture of the stage upon which this play is performed.
Any person with as much brains as a cucumber ought to have had a CLUE by
4:00 AM on Sunday morning, August 28th. Unfortunately, for reasons that we will explore in time,
some people failed to make the right decision...
In less than 48 hours, people would start dying. The events that we had all prayed against - to whatever gods - were about to unfold. The fuse was lit. There was nothing left to do but get as far away from the bomb as possible. To pull the EJECT handle. To GET OFF THE TRACKS before it was too late. For some people, it was already too late - they just didn't know it yet.
We are quickly passing from the time when I am boring you with metaphors to time time I start letting reality speak for itself. I cannot apologize for reality...