Recounting NOLA–August 30, 2008–Getting out of Town

On Saturday morning I logged on to NWA.com to print my boarding pass but my flight out of NOLA was cancelled. That’s when I started to panic. Others in the B&B were getting anxious too. Michael and his family were going to try to drive to Pensacola on the Florida panhandle. They had their dog with them and couldn’t find a hotel that would allow the dog, but they wouldn’t go anywhere without him. Michael decided to buy my book. He gave me his phone number in case I got stranded and wanted to drive to Florida with them. Ironically, he and his family were visiting NOLA to look into moving back.

Another couple from Maine was visiting NOLA for their first anniversary. After many phone calls and searching online, they were able to change their flights to go to Washington, DC for a couple more days of vacation before returning home. I hope they made it out.

I was able to get Northwest Airlines on the phone and finally found out that they had put me on a different flight. The internet was overloaded and sometimes didn’t work well. In spite of all the background noise in the lobby of the B&B, the NWA agent talked me through the process of getting my receipt and boarding pass printed out (nothing was going smoothly for the NOLA area flights).

The morning newspaper had articles about Katrina memorial events, a woman in St. Bernard Parish who had just finished hanging drywall in her house with the help of a volunteer organization, and coverage of Gustav. On my way out of the B&B, Tim the gardener/maintenance guy asked me for a ride. We tried to stop at Wal-mart to get waterproof containers for my books that would have to stay in NOLA for now. Wal-mart was all boarded up, with “closed” spray painted on the plywood sheets. Police were patrolling the parking lot and the National Guard was patrolling the nearby neighborhoods. Tim told me that the Wal-mart and the neighborhood were looted and destroyed after Katrina. He said that there was videotape footage of even the cops looting the store. We found a hardware store and I bought four Rubbermaids for the four boxes of books. Turns out Tim was on his way to the Audubon Bird Sanctuary. He wanted to find out if the birds were still there. If they were not, that would be his sign to get out of town. So then I realized that even Tim might consider leaving. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry though. He wanted to give me a tour of St. Charles Avenue and have me go to the art store with him on the way to the bird sanctuary. It was after 11:00 am, my flight was before 5:00, and people had told me to allow at least four hours to get to the airport. So although the tour would have been fun any other time, I told Tim that I’d better get on my way. On the way to the art store, he told me about how much the neighborhood had been trashed after Katrina. That was only making me want to get out more. It was quiet and peaceful though, with not many cars on the road, but some people still in the neighborhoods. I dropped Tim at the art store and headed over to Canine Culture to store my books.

Although the book signing benefit for ARNO was cancelled (ARNO was evacuating animals that day) Canine Culture was open until 2 pm, mostly to supply people with pet food and carriers for evacuating. I put four boxes of my books in Rubber Maids and hoped they would stay safe. I fit about 20 books into my suitcases and hoped for the best. At Canine Culture they were preparing to evacuate and the atmosphere was getting anxious. I wanted to stay to help them, but thought I should get a move on to the airport. A customer gave me great advice to take the Earhart Expressway most of the way to the airport. I am very grateful for that advice! The neighborhood was quiet, with some people in loaded-down vehicles and some boarding up windows, getting ready to either stay or leave, I don’t know. The universities, including nearby Tulane, had already closed and the students weren’t around. I stopped at Walgreens across the street to get some trail mix because I’d heard that there might not be food service at the airport. People were getting high strung and agitated and I wanted to get going.

I called Diane again and left her a message regarding my plans, thanked her and wished her well. I also left a message for Deedra of Canine Culture about the books (she wasn’t at the store when I was there), thanked her too and wished her well. Then I headed for the airport via the Earhart Expressway, which was easy going, with hardly any traffic. I practically flew over the Earhart Expressway (no pun intended!). When I reached  Airline Highway, about 3.5 miles from the airport, the traffic was stop and go, averaging about five mph. It took me about an hour to go that last 3.5 miles. While stopped in traffic I called NWA again to make sure I had seats on a flight before I turned in my rental car. Their automatic check-in system said that I had a flight from Detroit to Minneapolis, but didn’t have a record of a flight out of NOLA. This was getting nerve-wracking! I finally got an agent on the phone who couldn’t find a record of my flight out of NOLA at first either. Eventually she was able to find it and confirmed to me that I had a seat on the flight and could continue to the airport. Apparently the flights out of New Orleans were under local control and were difficult to reach through the usual system.

I was relieved to see a National Car shuttle heading toward the airport. When I got to the rental car drop-off, I gave them the 3 gallons of water that I had put in the car in case I had to evacuate. There were a lot of people milling around, but I caught a shuttle right away.

Next…arriving at the airport and the people I met on my way home.

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