waiting for a right hook

What I am doing is sitting here waiting to hear about the right hook. Like in boxing, in which a right hook is a surprise swing aimed at your opponent’s kidneys … but this is actually a weather-related phenomenon.
Since I was a little girl, I have heard about hurricanes threatening the New Orleans area. (I was born after Betsy, the last hurricane to hit New Orleans directly, in 1965, and I am too young to remember Camille in 1969.) I can remember sitting in front of the TV set and hearing local newscasters recommend evacuation, and wonder what it would be like to go to a shelter, while my dad shook his head and said, “No, it’s not coming anywhere near us. Don’t worry.”
He was correct. Hurricanes in the Gulf Coast somehow always manage to take a sharp turn (usually a right turn) right before they could hit New Orleans. New Orleanians expect this traditional right hook. I don’t know if it’s voodoo or some bizarre Gulf Stream effect or the refusal on the part of hurricanes to settle the issue of the Bowl Effect Theory, but New Orleans has evaded an awful lot of potential direct hits.

I never saw my parents board up the windows of a house—it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve known them to do it. Today they boarded up their own windows, then helped my brother do his, then drove to my grandparents’ house and did their windows.
After that, they gathered up the cats and drove over the Causeway to my sister’s house on the North Shore, which they feel is pretty safe from big hurricane problems. My mom drove the SUV and took the indoor cat and the two litterboxes. My dad drove his little car and took the outdoor cat, declining litterboxes because he was sure the cat wouldn’t need one. Both parents let the cats out of their carriers because it took about three hours for them to cross the Causeway (a 25-mile bridge across Lake Pontchartrain that it usually takes 30-40 minutes, tops, to cross). My dad was right: the outdoor cat did not need a litterbox. He simply climbed onto my dad’s lap and peed. Twice.
My sister jokingly answered her phone tonight with “Motel, no vacancies.” Everyone was in a good-humored mood. It was a big party, an excuse to get a little silly, because no one really thinks anything serious will happen. While I was on the phone, they started mock-arguing about where they should all go out for breakfast tomorrow, since no one had to work or go to school.
“There’s an IHOP nearby, we can all go there for breakfast,” my sister said. “I’m sure they’ll stay open.”
“What you need is a Waffle House,” I told her.
“Hey, we have one! It’s practically across the street. We could almost walk there if it isn’t raining. Didn’t you know we had one so close?”
“I had no idea. If I’d known, we would have stayed at your house last time, because you know how my boyfriend gets about the Waffle House.”
And so on. Their only real concern is that tree limbs, or actual trees, might get knocked down in the storm. You don’t need a hurricane for that. But my sister noted cheerfully that the only tree around her house that was likely to fall would hit the kitchen, so they could still hole up in the bedrooms if necessary.
“Dad, you better come eat these ice creams,” I heard her call to him. “Because what if the power goes out? We can’t have them going to waste.”
“Oh, I’m happy to help you,” he replied.
Meanwhile, my sister told me, my married brother and his family are leaving tonight, once the kids are asleep, to drive to Lafayette where my sister-in-law has lots of relatives. It’ll take an eternity, since apparently the roads are horribly clogged with traffic. There just aren’t that many ways in and out of the New Orleans area. (The mayor of New Orleans has been suggesting people figure out “creative ways to get out of town.” Note he doesn’t recommend any specific alternate routes. This is because there aren’t any, dumbass.)
My other brother is pretty safe in Baton Rouge, and in fact his roommate’s family is driving up there from New Orleans, to stay in their apartment during the storm.
My grandparents, however, refuse to leave their home. They don’t live very far from Lake Pontchartrain, either. But they say they’ve lived in that house for 49 years, and they lived through Betsy and Camille, and no little upstart hurricane named Ivan is going to kick them out. Besides, hurricanes always turn right at the last minute and hit Biloxi or something instead. They’re not worried. (I am.)
New Orleans has a lot of poor people without cars who are stranded in the city, not to mention people who don’t want to fight the immense traffic jams, tourists who can’t get out, and stubborn Betsy survivors like my grandparents. At the time I am writing this, the city has not made arrangements to create any emergency shelters for these people. I guess they’re waiting for that last-minute curve, too.
Which is probably why I got a bit snappish at the engineers from work who were amusing themselves today with a technical discussion about the Bowl Effect Theory and the path of the Mississippi River. The Bowl Effect Theory surmises that if a Class 4 or 5 hurricane hit New Orleans directly, Lake Pontchartrain would overflow so heavily and quickly that the city would be submerged in 20 or 30 feet of water for weeks, no matter how well the pump system works. Some people take this theory further and predict that New Orleans would just become an extension of Lake Pontchartrain. Some people predict that the Mississippi River bed would shift and eradicate New Orleans that way. I have been hearing variations on these theories since I was in grade school, and none of this has actually happened, although admittedly no big hurricanes have directly hit the area to prove the theories true or false.
At any rate, I didn’t (and don’t) really want to hear theories like that, considering the situation. Seriously, if you want to interest me in an article about the Bowl Effect Theory, send it to me next March or something. Not right now.
Right now I am waiting for that damned right hook. C’mon, Ivan, don’t you know anything about boxing? A right hook. A sharp curve. A U-turn. Any minute now.

8 thoughts on “waiting for a right hook”

  1. I was thinking about your family tonight, and I’m glad you posted. I hope they’ll all be safe and also that you’ll update as things develop. As of 11 EDT tonight, the weather folks said Ivan was most likely to make landfall just west of Pensicola, Florida.

  2. We listened to WLL on short wave late last night. It was amazing. The talk show host (Tom somebody) was taking calls from people on the road who were calling in to say where they were, what problems they were having, where they were going. One woman was heading east, going to Florida, and he told her how to do it since she wouldn’t be able to enter New Orleans on I10. Another man had been on the road for 8 hours, had made so little progress he was determined to turn around and go back to NO. He was angry because he kept seeing highway patrol escorting charter buses on the shoulder at 50-60 mph, passing the people who were inching along in gridlock, and wondered who was in those buses.

  3. My sister, her two kids and three dogs, left NOLA at noon on Tuesday. Ten hours later, they had gone 50 miles, and stopped for the night. Houston was their original goal, but at this rate the hurricane will be long past by the time they get there. Let’s hope for that right hook!

  4. Pooks, I saw on B.R. news last night that the buses that were being escorted had special needs patients on them whose oxygen tanks were running out of oxygen due to the hours on end of sitting in the traffic. They were escorted to a school here where a nearby fire station assisted them in taking shelter there and provided them with more oxygen. (Had I been in the gridlock and unaware of that situation, I would have been pissed off, too, but at least there was a good reason!)

  5. Good luck to your family — I hope they come out of this safe and sound.
    My parents got out of the way on Monday, well before the mad rush to get the hell out of the Panhandle got underway in earnest. They’re in Georgia now, and hopefully their house will still be there when they come back.

  6. My family is all in Thibodaux, just southwest of New Orleans (near Houma) and I am really worried about them. My elderly grandmother and her sister, 89 and 85 respectively, are still in Thibodaux and sounded nonchalant when I called them last night. I don’t know how they’ll get out of town if the hurricane happens to hit close to Louisiana… it’s really scary. They do have someone to take care of them and attempt an evacuation but I just don’t see it being possible since they waited this long. I can just hope for the hook, like everybody else…

  7. It’s 6 AM in Slidell and I don’t think it’s even raining. I hear a few gentle breezes. Since my house has made it through Betsy and uncounted other storms, I elected to stay here, rther than park my self with one of my daughters. Besides, there are the cats and dogs to consider.
    You’re right–we never seem to get direct hits (other than Besy, and didn’t she actually strike a bit west of N.O.?) This one is one of the biggest “not-hits” in quite a while however. I hope that when it’s daylight I’ll find very little in the way of branches etc. in the yard.
    Hope your folks did as well.

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