By Dan Valentine
Last night, in the wee hours, I sat bolt upright in bed and shouted, “Texas! He must have been born and bred in Texas!” Melody’s brigadier dad, the guy who thought I was gay because I didn’t drive.
I resided in southeast Texas – Friendswood, Galveston, Houston, Jamaica Beach, Clear Lake, etc. – for some five years without a car. Most times I was the only pedestrian within a five-mile radius. Everyone in Texas drives. They’d drive to the bathroom if the stall doors were wide enough. Many, many times I’d be strolling along, in my own mind, when a car full of kids would swing over, the windows rolled down, and scream, “Faggott!” and race off down the street, gleefully giggling to themselves Or, they would slow down and honk their horn suddenly, scaring the hell out of me, then speed off.
My friend’s grandfather lived with us when we resided in Friendswood. One time I came home and was flipping through the mail in the kitchen, when I heard him speaking on the phone, talking to his sister. “I don’t know what he does.” I opened up a bill. “He put a small down payment on the house.” I opened up another bill. “He doesn’t drive.”
Her grandfather – his first name was – was born in Georgia. He’d been a carpenter. He was going on 80. He was suffering from CPOD, Chronic Destructive Pulmonary Disease. A grand ol’ man. The best of years of my best friend’s life were spent living with him and her grandmother in Florida.
He once gave me the greatest compliment I’ve ever been given. Sometimes, not often, at night after writing all day, I would buy a pint of rum/gin/scotch/vodka/whiskey–whatever was cheapest; there was a liquor store down the block–and I would enjoy a drink or ten, standing by the kitchen counter, and talk about his granddaughter. Stories, experiences we’d had together, etc.
Before he died, he told his granddaughter (this, she told me later): “Y’know, Dan really, really loves you.” A truer and nicer thing anyone could have said about me.
I don’t drive. My brother never drove. My sister didn’t learn how to drive until late in life. My dad discouraged it, to say the least. He had covered too many traffic deaths as a young reporter.
But back to Texas. Hurricane Rita! Late September, 2005.
Some 3 million people were evacuated within a 500-mile radius–the largest evacuation in American history. Wikipedia. After the tragedy of Katrina and New Orleans, authorities were taking no chances.
My friend’s mom and step-dad–they had moved to Houston to be with their daughter–packed some things, stopped by to pick up Guy and his much needed supplemental oxygen canister, and sped off for Oklahoma.
My friend has a yellow Jeep. She’d always wanted one. It’s easy to pick out on the highway. She still has an Obama sticker on the back, next to a “I Like To Swim” sticker, below a “Democracy Now” sticker, by a sticker from “The Bulldog”, a coffee shop in Amsterdam. We love bulldogs!!!
Everything is about the dogs in my friend’s life. They come first and foremost. At one time she/we had five! At the time of Rita, she had three–Daisy (a veteran from D.C. and Manhattan), Bogie, and Rosie.
We packed their things–food, water, toys, blankets. The TV was on in the living room. as background music, with tales of chaos.
Texans were driving in multi-car caravans, causing grid-lock. What’s a car caravan? It’s a Texas thing. During a hurricane. When there is little time. You grab your most prized possessions. And make a run for it.
In Texas, the most prized possession is–you guessed it–a car. No, two cars (a car for work, a car for play). No, three cars (two-doors, four-doors, no-doors). Plus a pick-up or two and an SUV for dumping one’s trash in a river or lake.
So you’ve got family after family in lots of cars, traveling, oh, so slowly, bumper to bumper, not wanting to get separated from each other. It can cause a problem. One car runs out of gas, all the cars in the family stop. They’re not leaving one of their babies behind.
Back to the chaos. A bus, with elderly evacuees, caught on fire, killing 24, their oxygen tanks exploded. Cars were running out of gas. Gas pumps were empty.
Ten thousand homeless were left to fend for themselves.
My friend, with me in the front passenger seat, a dog in my arms and lap, two dogs in the back, are just about to leave when we get a call from her step-dad. He had pulled off the road for a doughnut, maybe it was flapjacks–and God bless him for it–and had learned that the Hilton was open and was accepting guests. And their dogs! The mayor had a suite, had set up headquarters there They’d rented a room for themselves, rented a room for us and the dogs.
The bar was open, the restaurant was open, dogs everywhere. In the lobby, in the elevators. A dog lover’s dream.
Lesson learned: Follow the mayor. If he ain’t leaving …
Rita made landfall on Saturday, September 24, a category three. It missed Houston.
Hurricane Ike, on the other hand, that was another story. But I’ll leave that for later.