Friday, September 5, 2008

The drive home, part one

The drive home from Memphis was done in two stages and at great expense in both time and energy. I had made the trip from Graceland in less than 15 minutes and still had about five or six minutes to spare before the ducks did their thing. So it was that I had just left the Peabody Hotel and thought to myself how lucky I was that I had been able to take advantage of the complimentary parking in their garage for the first half-hour. But my luck was about to change. Thinking ahead, I pulled into a service station in downtown Memphis and topped off my gas tank. As I turned from the street into the Exxon station on Union Avenue, my front right tire, (one of a set of four new tires I had put on my vehicle in June) hit something -- I'm still not sure what. Having a Chevrolet Blazer makes me always think that it's almost tank-like in the way it can roll over objects. But the truth is like many other trucks, it is vulnerable to tire punctures. When I came from having to pay for the gasoline, I discovered to my horror that the tire was already deflated and rapidly losing what little air remained. It was 5:20 p.m. My gut feeling was that I was stuck in Memphis for the night. However, with some helpful suggestions from the service station employees, I called a Firestone station three blocks away. The manager who answered the phone gave me directions. If I wanted to get credit for the punctured tire, I could have changed it with the spare and then put that tire inside my already filled rear compartment, driven to the dealership and replaced the spare with a new tire. Time was moving on and they closed their doors at 7:00 p.m. I knew I had to chance driving on the bad tire and risk not getting any credit for it at Firestone. As it turned out, the puncture was on the sidewall and probably wouldn't have amounted in my getting any credit anyway. The short drive to the dealership took less than two minutes, but by the time I got there the tire was shredded. Taking advantage of the break, I improvised a cocktail with some of the ice in the large plastic bags I had taken from my hotel earlier in the day. It took them nearly an hour to change the tire and for me to get back on the road with the shredded tire inside my very overpacked vehicle for the drive home. You'll recall that I still had a brand new generator taking up most of the available space inside along with food items, clothes and plastic water bottles. Although my rear vision was a bit obscured, I felt ready for the journey when the clock neared 6:45 p.m. Almost as soon as I hit the highway, I ran into a steady hard rain that was left over from Gustav. The rain was non-stop for the next two and a half hours. I got a call from a friend who advised me that the line of cars to get back into Louisiana was 20 miles long. Apparently, Governor Bobby Jindal overrode Mayor Ray Nagin's decision to not allow residents back into their homes and ordered the state troopers to open up the interstate highways to one and all. The cars began lining up at midnight on Wednesday even though the evacuees knew that their homes might be without electricity, water or sewerage services. I had had a busy day and very little sleep, so I called Jonathan Cohen late at night at Henry S. Jacobs Camp and he advised me to get permission from his assistant Avram to have a staff cabin for the night. That was a step up from the camper cabin I had slept in during the storm, mind you. By the time I rolled into camp, it was near midnight. I put the food under refrigeration and went looking for a parking spot along the side of the road near the cabin. It was dark in that area and just after I had pulled into a likely spot, I decided it might be too muddy. I was right. I tried backing out, but the car only went sideways. My rear tires spun around, but could get no traction. I reversed the vehicle and it lurched forward only slightly. I went back and forth, trying in vain to get out of the mud, but to no avail. Only a man possessed could have done what I did next. Instead of going to sleep and dealing with it in the morning, I elected to call AAA. The operator said they would not make an appointment for me for the following morning, so I told them to have a tow truck dispatched immediately. It took almost another hour, but a middle-aged tow operator and his much younger assistant showed up and took all of 10 minutes to get me out of the mud and onto solid ground. Then it was time for sleep.

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