Sep 3, 2005


That's how it was yesterday at work: All build-up, no release.

This tells part of the story--CNN's digest of the events of the week. I'll tell the rest, from my point of view.

Our office is located on LA Hwy 1. It's a little-used road now, but it used to be a main highway running far South of us. The interstate came along and took all it's traffic, added two lanes to it's carrying ability, and turned it into sort of a two-lane scenic ride, which is fine by me. Right up from us, less than a quarter of a mile, and situitated so it's visible from the interstate is the LA Welcome Center. It's the Tourism Bureau's rest stop, information center, what have you for the bustling metropolis that is our fair city. It's also a hurricane evacuation station, which means that it's built strong enough and has enough facility space to hold a few groups of people fleeing a storm, or enough to resupply families still en route north.

It was never meant to hold 6000 evacuees.

That's how many we were told yesterday that the Welcome Center was going to try and feed and water and give a rest break to. Five to six THOUSAND people who were refugees from New Orleans, headed in school and tour buses to the west, to Houston and Dallas and San Antonio, cities gracious enough to offer help when we need it most. Something like 10 tour buses full.

By eleven am we knew it was happening, because three trailers full of self-heating meals and pallets of water had started arriving, and a forklift was tearing around the place unloading as fast as he could, stacking the goods in the parking lot. By eleven thirty we got a call that a woman had fallen out, and the DOO and one of the RNs took off like a shot, only to find out that she was suffering from some sort of neurological disorder and not heat or stress-related problems. By that point I took the picture above. You can clearly see how small the Welcome Center is, and how many cars were already there, mostly Red Cross volunteers.

By 2 the stress levels were steady increasing, and to counteract it Vulgar Wizard, the DOO and myself were prompting each other whenever we spotted military convoys or repair trucks headed South. We'd all leap out onto the front porch and start waving madly, kids at their own personal parade. I don't know that I've ever been so proud of our military men and women. Truck after truck of them, thirty and fourty vehicles in each convoy, and at least five we saw that day. Fuel trucks, trucks loaded with generators, and deuce and a halfs, all headed southwards. I'm told that they plan on walking every street of every neighborhood, six abreast and armed. Lifetakers all of them, veterans returned from Iraq.

By three we closed the office, certain that the ever-encroaching traffic was going to block the driveway. The schools were out that day because the School Board donated our bus drivers and their vehicles to the relief effort, so the highway, both sides of it, was suddenly packed with cars parked nose to tail, volunteers. Seems the local tele station was doing a live remote, and would-be servers were headed our way, even though the building they were trying to pack into might have been designed to hold fifty people. There were three times that many cars when I finally bailed.

But not entirely. See, being an amateur photographer, I decided I'd see if I couldn't maybe get a good photo of the bus convoy turning off the interstate toward the food and water station. I parked my bike underneath the overpass in the shade, close enough that I could see it, and watched over by a pair of parish Roads And Bridges trucks, two guys each taking the opportunity to make sure that the overpass was safe for traffic. I climbed the embankment of the off ramp and took up position close enough to the road that I occasionally got sprayed with gravel from passing tires, and waited in the heat. And waited. And waited some more.

They say the nature photographers that work for National Geographic will wait in the same place for weeks, waiting for just the right photo. I'm told they'll endure bugs, heat, cold, rain, whatever it takes. They've nothing to worry about from me--I lasted all of 40 minutes. My brain pan was cooking, the beautiful writing spider beside me was getting pretty tired of me almost stepping on her web, and all I had seen was a steady progression of northbound cars and trucks, a hawk who kept laughing at me, and some Acadian Ambulance supervisors, but that was it.

I gave in finally, tired and hot and disgusted. I got home to find out that the convoy had passed an outlying city three hours earlier and that there had been a wreck and the food and water so carefully stockpiled at the center had to be packed up and moved because the convoy was moving onwards, and that was that.

Looking back, we did see four tour buses heading northwards, lead by a state trooper. That might have been them, might not. A number of empty buses passed too, which we couldn't figure. In the end, I got a few pictures of the first of the volunteers, two pictures of Coast Guard C-130s, one pic of an Air Force C-130 on regular film, and got to verbally abuse a red-tailed hawk. And that was it.

So much for my career as a National Geographic photojournalist. And so much for our little piece of history. Ill-planned, poorly conceived history, but history nonetheless.

No comments: