AJ Ericksen's Blog World

Sunday, September 25

Poet Laureate

From Patrick (9th grade) in my friend's class:
My refusal to explain was the much needed spark to ignite the leaking car that was our relationship.

Friday, September 23

Texas Exodous IV

In all it took 14 1/2 hours to make what is normally a little under 3. In front of the Shell station by Virginia's house, my fuel gauge's empty light went on; it was a small miracle to run that long on only 3/4 of a tank. If I'd had any idea how bad the drive would be, we'd never have left the house.

But it's nice to be in Austin now (especially not in a car). Things in Austin are refreshingly normal: the radio stations all are playing music, people are going to work, kids are in school.

I hear the same politicians who assured people it was better to drive (and that they'd arrive at their destinations) are now asking people who live along those routes to invite stranded motorists into their homes.
What a mess! At least my loved ones and I seem out of the woods. But when will the roads be clear enough to drive back. I'm not dumb enough to make that drive twice.

Thursday, September 22

Texas Exodous III

We just hit the I-10 contra-flow. Speeds in the mid-40s. Yes!

Texas Exodous II

We've been rolling alongside two carloads of missionaries for over an hour. It's hot and we're not running A/C, so when I talked to them I was readily identifiable as LDS by my T-shirt. They're sweet kids, but a bit clueless. They asked me for the latest news and I was flabbergasted to discover they hadn't switched on the radios in their Malibus. Stunning.

Currently, we've gone ~37 miles in 6.5 hours. Gas is still over 1/2 tank.

Texas Exodous

Ah I-10 to Austin. I've never been in such an enormous caravan of strangers. I feel like the Joads in Grapes of Wrath. It's good that Paul is with me. Traffic is a parking lot, but the biggest concern is fuel. If we get to 1/2 tank of gas before things get moving, we'll likely turn around and ride it out. I'm just grateful that Hilda II isn't one of the cars on the side of the road.

We've gone about 4 miles in the last 70 minutes. Luckily we made a lot of ground on Memorial Drive. Hope (and expect) Rick's family will be okaym but I'm sure his wife is anxious.

Hoping to make it to beautiful Austin.

Thursday, September 1

Dispatch from the Astrodome

Paul and I were at a UH football game at Reliant Stadium when we saw the long line of buses outside the neighboring Astrodome, each one delivering fifty or so refugees from New Orleans. Feeling compelled to do what we could, we walked over and asked a series of volunteers how we could enlist in the cause. When we arrived on the far side of the arena, Red Cross people were checking in on the right and Methodists on the left. Since the line on the left was a bit shorter, Paul and I decided we would be Methodists, too, and we got nametags that read St. Luke’s Methodist Church.

Once inside, we encountered a scene that pictures could never do justice and a stench that probably pales in comparison to the abandoned Superdome. The enormous playing field was covered by a sea cots, blankets, and newly homeless people—almost exclusively poor and black, many of whom were old and sick. To the right, volunteers distributed clothing and blankets; to the left, the sick sought treatment. On the mezzanine level, the sandwiches and pizza had already run out but plenty of apples, oranges, and Fritos remained.

People held up signs, searching for their loved ones. Paul saw a lost and found for children. Many of the sickest people were borne in on stretchers. I hope I never live to see that kind of suffering again in my life.

Paul and I were instructed to wait off to the side for someone to put us to work. As we stood, a woman en route to the medics stumbled with the awkward box she carried with her. I picked up her load and walked with her to the nurses. Her name was Elaine, and she had an untreated hairline fracture in her right ankle, she said.

When I returned to where Paul waited, we were given a “delicate” assignment: Retrieve borrowed wheelchairs from the people who were just sitting in them or storing their belongings on them so that more people could be taken from the buses to the Dome.

We immediately set ourselves to the task. People’s responses varied greatly. Some folks were just using the chairs like shopping carts, others as walkers, and others just lounged about. A few were even walking around near their chairs, not in any real need of more than a cane. Often these people refused to part with the loaner chair, even when told there weren’t any to bring people in from the buses.

But then there were people who were too kind—who gave me their own chairs. I didn’t understand them when they said the chairs were “theirs.” I assumed they meant mine in the sense that they decided to keep the chairs. In desperate times, people start to horde scarce resources. So I told them I would bring them a chair when they needed one later. Well, it turns out that two of the chairs really did belong to the people who gave them to me; I just didn’t understand them when they let me take them. Thankfully, I don’t have to deal with the poor and poorly educated very often, because I clearly don’t understand them very well.

I can’t remember a time in my life when I have felt worse than I did tonight upon realizing that I had taken the wheelchairs of two old ladies who had just lost everything in the world. With Paul’s help, I set out to find the chairs, which were coincidentally both black with a missing right footrest. It was the proverbial needle in a haystack. We tried to make our way to the receiving area to find the chairs, but walking against the crowd of exhausted, filthy, and desperate masses was very much like trying to swim up the Mississippi. In the end, I found some donated chairs (one pretty nice, the other not so), gave them to the ladies, and hope and pray that somehow the real chairs are found.

And we saw a lot of other things, strange and terrible. A man named Adrian asked me to get him pain medication. He told me he an addict going through withdrawal and showed me the track marks in his forearms. I directed him to the treatment area, but he wouldn’t go. No, he wanted me to get him some drugs. He tried to tell me what he needed and in frustration I said, “Look, I don’t know anything at all about that kind of stuff. I’m a lawyer.” Another mistake. Immediately, all the young men around me perked up and asked if I was state appointed and if I had a business card. I walked away very quickly.

Paul found himself at one point around the mental health area. An old, nearly blind woman was eating coffee grounds. He also saw a boy around 16 beating a girl about 8 or 9 years old. It was a scary place to be; you certainly felt better near the police. And yet it was nowhere near what you hear about in New Orleans. We didn’t see any screening, but we hoped that people were being searched for weapons before being let into the stadium.

Some people didn’t seem to understand that another volunteer named Mike and I were just volunteers. He demanded that we get a prescription filled for him. We told him to go the medical area, but he refused us and accused us of being “totally unprofessional.” Another woman told me she was thirsty and couldn’t walk well, so I ran off to get her some water. When I returned with a bottle of water, she was put off that I didn’t get her Sprite (which was nowhere in sight).

And yet other things gave us hope. Many of the people seemed to be taking things in stride. As we walked between the rows of cots in search of more unused wheelchairs, the kids would read our nametags and tease us or each other. A man asked me for directions to an address he written down; he had worked at a Papa John’s before and said he called the local one and thought he’d found a job. Life rolls on, and poor folks—God bless them—are proven survivors.