Saturday, October 01, 2005

Rita & the Smiths - on the road again

Last Friday we were virtually out of gas and stranded one mile south of Corrigan, TX as one of those caught up in the evacuation for Hurricane Rita. We were parked off just off the shoulder of Hwy. 59 (aka: Parking Lot 59) from 6:30 a.m. until about 5:00 p.m. No gas was to be had in Corrigan and there were literally hundreds of people in the same predicament we were in. So how did we get going again? A convergence of divine intervention and human compassion, I would say!

Parked off the road just two cars behind us was an elderly widow lady who was traveling by herself. In the car parked immediately behind us was a married woman who was traveling alone. These two ladies bonded and encouraged each other throughout the day – until the married woman’s husband, an 18-wheel truck driver, was able to arrive and “rescue” his wife late that afternoon. When they drove away, that left the widow lady fending for herself; however, a young couple nearby took her under their wing and they kept their cell phone hot contacting various authorities and kin. One of the authorities was TX DOT, the Texas Department of Transportation.

Now rumors regarding the arrival of TX DOT tankers to aid stranded motorists had gone up and down the line of the stranded throughout the day. But now, with the afternoon nearly spent and the first bands of light rain and stronger winds from Rita beginning to make their presence known, our hope for the appearance of a tanker was fading fast. We were beginning to resign ourselves to the thought of facing the predicted 50-70 mph winds out on the open road in our cars.

About this time I overheard a portion of a cell phone conversation the young couple watching over the widow had with TX DOT. The word appeared to be that TX DOT was going to send out a tanker to take care of this particular widow. A brief cell phone conversation I had with Matt Moffett (who lives in Livingston, a few miles away), confirmed that TX DOT was in fact in the process of sending two tankers out our way very soon.

About this same time an amazing thing happened – Hwy. 59 completely opened up. I mean it went from being a parking lot to virtually no cars in sight! Word filtered down the line of the stranded (though I’ve been unable to confirm it since), that the Highway Patrol had begun to divert the traffic flow east and west of Corrigan and not merely north. Throughout the day I had talked with officers and until this point, they had been telling me the east and west routes out of Corrigan were closed to all traffic; traffic was continuing to be routed up 59 to Lufkin. But now, three ways of escape instead of just one, was available and 59 opened up very quickly. Amazing - a road to drive on at highway speed! We had only seen perhaps five minutes of such along the way until this point in the entire evacuation. Now if we only had some fuel!

It was within this same hour that a TX DOT tanker arrived to assist the widow behind us – not an 18 wheel tanker or a bobcat truck, but a pickup pulling a small tank on a small trailer. When the tanker finished fueling her car, I was standing near the man with the nozzle and said to him: "I sure don't expect any special favors and we’re no more important than the hundreds of others stranded here that you can see, but (gesturing toward them) this is my wife, daughter and my two in-laws. I'm responsible for all of them. If there's anyway you can help, we'd be mighty grateful.”

The man looked at us, looked down the long line of cars, looked at his tanker and though he didn’t say a word you could just read it on his face. It was something like: "I don't care what plan is, I'm going to help all the people I can right here, right now because I can.” He hollered down the line: “Everyone get your cars up as close to the shoulder as possible with your gas caps open right now,” then he started down the line fueling up cars. We were the first to receive gasoline after the widow. We expected to receive just a few gallons, but much to my surprise I discovered my tank completely full! Virtually the same was true for my daughter’s car! The wife’s car got a good slug as did the in-laws’ vehicle.

Let me tell ya’, an open road and plenty of gasoline never felt so good! But there’s more to tell . . .