Thursday, September 29, 2005

Rita & the Smiths - my Cajun convert

“Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Cor. 14:39, about to be taken wildly out of context)

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work." (Ecclesiastes 4:9)
Recipe for mayhem
One - blistering hot, very humid day

One - easily bottle-necked, undivided highway (Hwy.146 between Baytown and Dayton will do nicely)

Dozens of thousand - mostly inadequately prepared people (from as far south as Galveston, as far west as Alvin and as far east as Beaumont)

One - category 4-5 hurricane bearing down your direction (Hurricane Rita is an excellent choice)

One - ill conceived mass evacuation plan (the current evacuation plan for the greater Houston area will do just fine)

A dash - of record high temperatures and very high humidity

A pinch - of civil authorities blocking off all alternate avenues of travel other than the highway designated earlier

Loosely stir ingredients together for a few hours and then do nothing. Allow ingredients to simmer for several more hours. Serves all, but none well.
The Smiths ate our fill of that very recipe last Thursday during our seven hour and thirty-five minute creep to Dayton (normally a 25 minute trip). Here's a smile from that experience, though . . .

How do you totally shutdown the flow of evacuation from a city when the line of traffic is dozens of miles long? It's quite simple - try to cut to the front. Grow impatient, jump out of line and start your own lane up the shoulder, off the shoulder or better still, take it upon yourself to convert the southbound land into your own personal northbound lane. Such a strategy works as a two-fer - you not only advance your own position above others, you also make things just that much more difficult for everyone else with the bottleneck you’ll create when you get to the front of the line.

Now during the first three or four hours of the drive from Baytown to Dayton, patience and good order was the rule as far as I could tell. I never saw a single act of disorder and witnessed many acts of courtesy and simple deeds of “driving kindness” during that time. However, as everyone’s patience began to wear a bit thin, occasionally someone would pull out of the northbound land and accelerate down the shoulder in an attempt to gain ground. Predictably, what began as only an occasional act of a rebellious driver soon threatened to become another full lane of traffic. That didn't last long, though, because no small number of drivers (including yours truly) spontaneously shut down such rebellion by simply blocking the shoulder’s pathway by driving half on the road and half on the shoulder. Order, albeit snail-paced order, reigned once more for perhaps a half-hour, but then a couple of drivers decided to use the southbound lane as a northbound route. Mind you, there was still southbound traffic flowing at the time!

I'm not sure what brought it about (I'll blame it on my being a sleep deprived only child who is part Irish), but I jumped out of my car, stepped into the southbound (fast becoming northbound) lane and flagged to a stop the next vehicle attempting to cut [kids, don't try this at home; this scene was filmed with use of a professional driver on a closed, yes, quite closed!, course]! I never was any good at random selection (just one more reason I don’t play the lottery), but I sure picked a doozy this time - a pickup with two tanned, hardened Cajun rednecks in it. The driver was scruffy, wiry, toned, shirtless and adorned with multiple tatoos. Riding shotgun was the same - only he was a little older than me, two or three times my size and had the benefit of a "wife-beater's shirt." Their mouthwash apparently had abnormally high alcohol content and they had apparently just freshened their breath. Oh, lest I forget to mention it, the driver's large tatoo on his right bicep was a combination of two Satanic symbols - the goat's head and the pentagram. Sweet.

None deterred (the Irish in me, I tell you) and with my right hand resting on front quarter panel while leaning toward the shotgun-side window, I proceeded to give my Cajun neighbors a thirty second, interactive sermon as to how what they were doing was not only foolhardy, but particularly thoughtless toward and oppressive to everyone else in this evacuation. However, when it came time for the invitation song, they responded by speeding off, leaving me standing in the aisle, er, road, alone. But . . .

Turning around and watching them accelerate away, I noticed that instead of blasting up the highway until they were out of sight, they chose to suddenly slow down and get back in line only fifteen or twenty cars in front of us. Odd. But not nearly so strange as what happened next!

Moments later, what should happen but someone else attempting to convert the southbound lane into their own northbound interstate. They blew right by before I could preach them a sermon – but they didn’t make it past my pentagram-adorned associate minister just up the road! Seeing what was happening, he bailed out of his truck, flagged the approaching car down (mimicking my own style; I mentored him well apparently) and though out of earshot, I got the impression he preached them the very same sermon I had just preached to him moments earlier, albeit, in a more colorful fashion, shall we say. Come time for the second invitation song, the rebellious, but now repentant driver, fell in line immediately behind “my Cajun convert.” As soon as the driver got in line, my Cajun friend (I later learned his name was “Kevin” and that he was from the Beaumont area), looked down the highway my way and flashed me a big thumbs up! I gave him the same sign back and the bond was sealed. We made quite a team, if I may humbly say so myself.

Me, my daughter (!) and Kevin – successfully held back most of the northbound-in-the-southbound-lane flow for an hour or two, but finally the strength of numbers overwhelmed us. The cavalry soon came over the hill though, in the form of various law enforcement authorities driving by and commanding everyone to stay in the correct lane and to not convert the southbound lane into a northbound lane. Gratifying, to say the least!

We had done our part and we had seen good return for our combined efforts. No doubt we limited the size of the bottleneck up ahead by no small some degree. And when the opportunity arose, my Cajun friend and I had a minute to share whereupon we exchanged names and he offered up the following spontaneous testimony:
“When I drove off from you I got to thinkin’: ‘Actin’ like this is pretty @#$*! of me. That feller’s right; this just ain’t the right thing to be doin’! So I got back in line.’”
We shook hands, went back to our vehicles – and proceeded to block the shoulder to all maverick traffic all the way to Dayton together!

Kevin and I lost track of each other in the chaos that was Dayton. I pray the best for my Cajun friend and that he was spared much loss at the hands of Rita. And who is your neighbor?