Thursday, September 22, 2005

Traffic, the real killer..

I am safely back at the "base," i.e. Kavah Kanes coffee next to the Rice. Traffic steals center stage today as all the major evacuation highways morphed into parking lots. Just heard from my dad, he has been driving from the North side of Houston and has only made it to Navasota after nearly twelve hours of driving! Unfortunately, our family beagle Snoopy succumed to the stress of the experience and passed away this afternoon. This experience has ignited my fuse. The traffic jams resulted from a lack of planning on the state level. The Contre-Flow plans to make the major thouroughfares one-way should have been implimented upon the issuance of the first evacuation order. Mayor White has done a great job, thus far, however the Texas Department of Transportation needs to evaluate their disaster plans to ensure a more timely response. TxDOT waited too long to implement the Contre-Flow, for whatever bureaucratic reason. The government should behave more like a military organization -- act decisively and swiftly. An faulty plan executed quickly oftentimes is much better than a perfect plan not executed at all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Driving North

I just rode up to the north side of Houston with a friend of mine.. It turns out that US highway 59 was fairly smooth, up until about Humble. The gas stations began to demonstrate signs of gouging. Gas exceeded 3 dollars for regular unleaded and most of the stations were out of gas. The weather is still clear, albeit hot and muggy. I am about to head back to downtown. Some of my friends are having a good time at Suede -- the only downtown place still open. I ran into several friends from the Whiskey Bar at Hotel Icon and of course, they are having a blast. Rita's winds are now exceeding 175 miles per hour.. The storm is still tracking directly towards Houston. Now back to downtown..

Duct tape and Starbucks

Giant X's of black duct tape now protect my century-old windows from the predicted flying debris storm that could ravage downtown. I returned from the store laden with a fresh pound of Starbucks Gold Coast coffee, a few gallons of Arizona Iced Tea along with the paperback edition of the most recent Tom Clancy novel. A few cans of soup (storm hoarders raped the ravioli section) and two bags of Black Pepper and Sea Salt potato chips now await consumption during the boring power-free days of the upcoming storm.

My dad, step-mom and their pets are now safely packed and on their way to Austin. A few die-hards and myself are expecting a jovial time at the "Camp Rice." One neighbor proudly proclaimed, "I'm ready, I cleaned out the wine aisle at Randalls." Forget about State Farm, like a good neighbor, I'll be there!

Evacuees are transiting downtown in a wide variety of interesting configurations: Little cars towing big boats, large pickups filled with various dogs, tarps and some guy trying to hold a couch steady. The coffee shop from which this report comes, Kavah Kanes, still hosts a few customers most of which are soon to leave downtown. As most everything is or has closed, downtown begins to resemble the desolate ghosttown of the early 1990s, when only the panhandlers prowled the streets. The classy restuarant Sambuca has moved all of their interior and exterior furniture to storage on the second floor -- employees have been hard at work since 7am. Azuma, the high-end sushi restaurant next door has securely sandbacked their doors from expected flooding. Luckily, the founders of Texas had some foresight and built the original Texas capitol building on a slight hill. Incidently, the Rice sits on that site. During Allison, the aggressive floodwaters spared this block. the tornados however, pose a substantial concern.

For now, I am going to enjoy a fresh cup of coffee and the solitude of an partially evacuated downtown..

Lovely Rita..

Perched high on the 16th floor of the historic Rice Hotel, I am maintaining confidence that Jesse H. Jones knew a thing or two about construction. He built this place in 1911 and it has survived everything which the heavens and man have been able to throw. Interestingly, It was neglect and a wrecking ball that nearly took the building rather than the snarling hand of God. I am confident that the construction style of "like they used to" will foil Hurricane Rita.

As a fomer Reuters photojournalist, I chased hurricanes all over the Gulf Coast, pointing my Ford Explorer towards the hole in the radar that represented the eye of the strorm. I've driven, albeit somewhat insanely, through sideways rain, on the edge of tornados and amongst the apocalypse ruins of destroyed towns and shattered lives. Of course, when the preverbial smoke cleared, citizens vowed to rebuild stronger and more productive communities. Sometimes, a good storm is not unlike a forest fire. It seems that the "old growth" of our communities, or more accurately the paradigms in which we live our daily lives need to be cleared and replaced with new thinking, new habits and new inspiration.

Living steps from the Preston light rail station, the conversations of the New Orleans refugees maintained a consistent theme: "Let's get back and rebuild it better." With Rita, Houston has not only danger with which to contend, but opportunity..

Although I enjoy a flood resistant poisition within my small apartment, I am not minimizing the prepararations required for the expected Category Five hit on the Houston/ Galveston area. Gallons of water, a few cases of leftover military MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat) and a good supply of canned ravioli form the core of my storm kit. Spices serve as another essential aspect of my storm supplies. While I have most major spices already, ensuring I am fully stocked will assure that the bland nature of canned or pre-cooked food will be easily negated. Try adding a dash of Caynenne pepper and a Basil to a can of chicken noodle soup.. As Emeril would say "BAM!"

Those in the low lying areas -- get out. Those choosing to stay, grab some canned Chef Boyardee, a bit of fresh cilantro and BAM! -- have a tasty storm.