Natchez I’m falling down on a regular basis on my daily regimen. First, I miss a Friday by taking my first sick day in several decades thanks to a copperhead. Now, I let a hurricane slow my roll and upend my schedule. What next?
We woke in the predawn on Saturday in Little Rock to one message after another from New Orleans that the tropical storm was building into Hurricane Ida, and it might be serious, something more than the weather terrorism typical of newscasters trying to glue eyes to the screen on multiple storm paths. We’re veterans of the Gulf Coast weather world, and that’s both good and bad. We guard against arrogance coming before we fall. The east side of a hurricane is often the worse, but a Cat 2 or 3 coming in close to New Iberia below Lafayette, didn’t sound like much. Nonetheless, Chaco and I were in New Orleans before 1:00 PM. We knew what we had to do, and mi companera already had our house pretty well locked down, so we clicked off the list from Killdeer to Fair Grinds. We would head east towards Pearl River.
It was early. Big decision. Interstate or old highway 90, which was usually our go to route for escaping traffic. For a minute it looked good, but then reality struck. There were too many times that two lanes outbound, dropped to only one, and the eight or nine bridges plus merges from other highways meant challenges in the best of times.
This was not the best of times. I hate to break it to Steven Pinker that the Better Angels of Our Nature don’t live among the people of the coastal south. I don’t want to be the one that has to mention to the esteemed social critic and observer, Rebecca Solnit, who interviewed me when she was researching her book after Katrina, that A Paradise Built in Hell is sometimes a bit of hell in paradise, but I have to say it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t just that it was a three-hour journey to drive the usual forty-minutes to the Mississippi border, because that’s almost to be expected in hurricane evacuation stories. No, it was the rouge activity in response to the expected delays.
We’re not talking about just your standard variety, ordinary line jumpers either. We’re talking about scores, no hundreds of cars, trucks, trailers, RVs and whatnots that decided to go wild and create their own contraflow on this secondary route east. Contraflow is the traffic management technique, usually reserved for mandatory citywide evacuations, when the state police shut down the interstate lanes coming into town and open up the outgoing and incoming lanes for a mammoth mass exit. These yahoos channeled their own special set of privilege as priority travelers after a lengthy stop or slow down to charge into the incoming lane in not only a death-defying maneuver, but something totally rouge and indifferent to the rest of the stranded and straggling numbers of us stretching out untold miles.
One car would jump out, floor it, and then another half dozen would follow that leader. My habit has often been to then straddle the lane to discourage these folks from this traffic tactic. I was not alone. Several joined along at different times. Usually, this works.
Not this time. At least, not as often as need be. Worse, the rouges exercising their privilege rather than being embarrassed back into their lane which is the usual response, were obnoxious and without restraint. One SUV honked at me for not letting them pass. Another tried to pass me on the right, even as I straddled the lane on the left, forcing me to floor my pickup to regain my slot. One white caddy was so incensed behind me that while we were stopped not only did they honk, but I looked out of my right side mirror and one guy was running up yelling behind me. Traffic moved a bit, so he had to run back.
Joined by the pickup ahead of me with a Mississippi license plate at one point, while we were blocking the line jumpers, cars were coming towards us – appropriately – in the incoming lane, and four vehicles including one with a trailer, continued to speed past on the LEFT shoulder, blocked by all of us in the right lane, so that there were three lanes of traffic: a rouge contraflow in the dirt and high grass, a middle incoming lane at over 60 mph, and our slow-moving outgoing lane. Suddenly, I noticed the driver ahead of me had his arm out the window, a gun in hand, and was firing in the air. Wow, no angels anywhere! Turtles all the way down!!
Don’t get me wrong. In the depths of my heart, I want to believe in better angels and communities rising together to meet the challenges of god and nature. Unfortunately, sometimes it is hard to sort out whether the angels or the devils are the exception or the rule.