Monday, October 24, 2011

Nightmares of Katrina 9

Having been forced from our planned route, my traveling companions and I decided to alter our itinerary, and alter it again, and again.

The places we needed to go included the Convention Center, two food warehouses, and the university campus where there were several logistics units bivouacked.   

We managed to wind and twist and fumble our way through the blocked and semi passable streets, alleys and highways.  The city seemed to be forcing us out and around.  PFC Brown was driving, the Chief was in the passenger seat and I was in the back.  I had the map in my hands because I didn't know the way.  I tried to keep track at each turn we had to make, but since half the time we were traveling the wrong way down a road so that the signs were pointed the wrong way, or they had been completely blown away, I spent most of the time spinning the map and trying to at least orient it correctly.

Though I didn't know it at the time, our judgement of time and distances would greatly suffer that day.  I've never been a great one for a sense of direction, but the Chief was, and shockingly she was lost part of the time that day.

The Chief was anxious.  She wanted to make sure she could visit her food warehouses before the storm blew in.  She was responsible for switching from the MRE based food source to a more normal, American way of eating.  She must have had trouble judging time too, as the whole blasted day she kept looking at her watch and pacing, when she wasn't actively badgering us about the goals of her mission.

Because of the ways we seemed to have to turn, and the constant divergence the city seemed to be demanding on us, the Chief decided to head for the first warehouse, which was on the outskirts of town.  We made our way to the modest commercial food warehouse where the owner had managed to save a good deal of his inventory, in part because they were mostly canned goods.  He was nervous because of the storm and anxious to try to sell what he had saved.  He would not be getting insurance money so he had to make his wares profitable.  The Chief made a deal with him and he bid us a fond, but nerve-wracked farewell, hoping that his corrugated steel walls and ad hoc generators would hold out against another storm.

As we tried to make it to the second warehouse, again just outside the city limits, we suddenly found ourselves being forced toward the city center.  Chief Mac asked for the map.  "We might as well head for the University.  It's right down this road.  Go straight to the lake."  She pointed and gave me the map back.  PFC Brown complied.

Along the route we went past washed out roads; water stained, and water logged houses; and swamped yards.  There were blown down signs, pieces of houses and vehicles of all kinds.  There were even a boat and an airplane washed onto side roads or parking lots.

We didn't have to drive through any water yet, but each flooded yard or road we past I would look down.  The water looked wrong, not just dirty and polluted, but greasy, tainted and just a bit too thick.  It didn't quite move right when disturbed and didn't reflect the way I would have expected.

We finally came to the University.  The campus clearly was lovely in better days, right on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain.  Chief Mac knew the campus well and once there she directed Brown with confidence and ease.  We pulled up to where the Logistics Unit headquartered and the Chief got out.  I stayed with the private and the vehicle, parked in a lot overlooking the lake.

I stopped to look out on what some consider to be New Orleans toilet.  I wasn't expecting any beauty.  Strangely enough I could clearly see how the lake could have been beautiful, had been beautiful so many years ago.  But I also saw it for what it was, poisoned with waste, churned by storm and battered by aftermath.  She reminded me of a drug abusing prostitute.  Finally I glimpsed something more, something not right, not right beyond any punishment that tortured body of water could have had at the hands of man or nature.  The water didn't move right, didn't reflect right.  It shined blue as reflected form the sky, but also too purple and too red somehow.  It looked like the spectrum thrown up from some puddle of unidentified auto fluid when you move your head.  Only I wasn't moving my head and there wasn't any sort of breeze to stir the too heavy air into shaking the prism of water.  It gave me a chill despite the insufferable heat and I had to turn away.  I never looked back on that cursed lake that day, and I hope never to again.

I instead busied myself with testing the satellite phones.  Strangely enough I could not make them work.  The codes were correct, and the system showed green, but I would mostly get a timing error.  When I did get through the distant end could barely hear me and there always seemed to be bleed through, cross talk from somewhere else.  It sounded surprisingly like myself, but it was out of sync with whom my fantasy self was speaking, and had no connection at all to whom I was trying to talk to.  Sometimes the cross talk was more clear and louder than my own voice.  It was unnerving.

I put them away when the Chief returned to the vehicle.  The unit had given us something to take to the Convention Center, which frustrated the Chief.  She had earlier decided to avoid the Convention Center since we were getting behind and she felt the other warehouse was more important.  When she got in she complained about the lateness of the hour and the detour.

"But we still have hours before nightfall and the skies are completely clear," PFC Brown told her confused.  This was true,  not a single cloud marred the blue sky which I had seen so crazily reflected in the lake.

The Chief stared at Brown a moment and then at me.  "What time is it?"

I told her.  She looked at her watch.  "Still, I'm not comfortable with this."

PFC Brown suggested a route that they had been meaning to try.  She seemed to think it was between the University and the Center.  The Chief sighed, looked out over the waters, shuddered and nodded agreement. 

We left to discover if the route to the Convention Center was passable, and despite ourselves we found much more than that.

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