Friday, September 19, 2008

Road Trip! (Houston)

Heather Direct Sunlight!

So there we were, loose in Texas, free to roam... or rather, forced to roam. When we were preparing to leave UTMB, the Wyle folks arranged flights for each of us to get back home. Since we were transported to Austin via ambulance, I was close enough to have my family fetch me, but Devin had a few wrinkles. He lived in Iowa, but had driven to the study and left his truck with relatives outside Houston. We didn't figure we'd have much trouble, since we weren't trying to enter the city itself, but we underestimated how much the damage had affected all of southern Texas.

We set out from Georgetown, but were advised not to take the main highway toward Houston, which is US Route 290. So we headed north toward Hearne, and planned to go down through College Station... mostly to avoid any road closures. We played tourist briefly at the Bush Presidential Museum & Library, to exercise our legs and see a space display with a model of Shuttle Atlantis.


Space Exhibit, Bush Museum

It was smooth sailing into Navasota, but on Highway 6 we saw signs flashing "Do Not Attempt To Reach Houston" and "All Brazos County Shelters Full." Any time we pulled off at a stop or a junction to change roads, we ran into traffic caused by dead stoplights.

We increasingly spied debris, work crews, and empty gasoline stations that had been closed due to power loss (some had gas but no way to work the pumps). Even a good 100 miles north of Houston, lights were out, water was off and the one fuel attendant we spoke to said he expected a supply truck that day, but there was no telling when they would show. There were over 100 cars lined up, just waiting for a CHANCE that gasoline might arrive. And we were nowhere near where the greatest force of the storm had struck! Inside the mini-marts, shelves were picked clean and the coolers had defrosted, giving off a watery, metal odor -- but the worst was the "sour milk" stench from all the melted ice cream.

Buzzy swamp bugs and mosquitoes were everywhere, and we had to keep shooing them out of the car each time we stopped to stretch or walk around to keep our bodies from becoming stiff and sore. We finally made it to Devin's family ranch in Magnolia, passing numerous crews clearing trees from power lines; water pools still blanketed much of the ground... yet more breeding grounds for bugs! We truly could not believe the devastation, and it made me shudder to think of what the coast must look like, because I had the sinking feeling I was seeing the absolute least of what Hurricane Ike had wrought.

We drove alonside a train at one point, with Devin filming and waving, then laughed when the engineer caught sight of us and blew the whistle. They were towing many tank cars, and we speculated as to whether they were trying to get gasoline to the south, given how difficult it was for trucks to get around.

The trip back wasn't too fun, since I had to drive myself the entire way. Devin headed to Georgia to pick up his motor home, and I headed back to Georgetown. I was pretty tired by then, and had to stop many times because my legs were constantly shaking. Even with cruise control, I was surprised how much it took out of me energy-wise just to drive! I got home around 9:00pm... and I'm pretty sure I've been asleep since then. What day is it????