It is Thursday and Rita is packing 175-mile winds on her way toward Texas. Good news for Louisiana. Bad news for Galveston and Houston. I suddenly realize I have a cousin, Antonio, in Houston who may be unable to get out.
I haven't talked to him (a dentist, now teacher) in months nor do I know if he's still there. His wife recently gave birth. I don't know if they are in Houston or Mexico. This in the age of instant communications.
While everyone's still busy blaming an incompetent president for Katrina and Houston's badly planned evacuation, I don't care about that right now. Patrisia (who is currently away) and I helped Antonio move in? gave him our television and microwave? and now, he may be trapped. The footage from there reveals the world's largest traffic jam. Even L.A.'s worst traffic nightmare doesn't compare with what's unfolding. It's like a scene from a Godzilla movie.
As I fumble through my old phone book, I realize we actually have lots of friends in Houston. I find Antonio's numbers. The first one doesn't work?.
Bueno, the voice on the other line answers.
?No te has salido? - You haven't left?
No se puede. It's impossible to leave.
?Tienes carro? Do you have a car?
Si. Y est? lleno, pero no podemos salir. Yes, with a full tank of gas, but with no way to leave.
Cuando puedas, vete pa' Dallas-Fort Worth y te quedas con los padres de Patrisia. When you can, go to Dallas-Fort Worth and stay with Patrisia's parents.
El camino rumbo a Dallas est? lleno. The freeway to Dallas resembles a huge parking lot.
Pues entonces vete pa' San Antonio. Then go to San Antonio. Aqu? est? el numero de unos amigos, Antonia & Arturo. Ellos te esperan. Here's a number to our friends, Antonia & Arturo. They're expecting you.
I call Andrea, another cousin who lives there. No answer. I call Delilah & Ed & Laverne? also no answer. I call my Texas mom? Andrea's kids are safely out, but she & her husband are nurses. They're staying.
What about your cousin? my mom asks.
I reach our comadre Lucila in rural Flatonia, outside of Houston. They're not leaving. They'll be ok in the republic of Flatonia.
Tempers are flaring as cars are stranded and there's no gas on the roads out of Houston. Rita is menacingly approaching. That night, I call Antonio, hoping he doesn't answer?
Antonio. ?Que pas?? What happened?
El alcalde dijo que ya no. The mayor said not to leave. No te apures. Estoy en el segundo piso. Don't worry. I'm on the second floor.
Pos vete al techo. If it gets bad, go to the roof). Ay te llamo primo. I'll keep calling, my voice trails off with a sense of helplessness as I note resignation in his voice.
There's nearly three million people trapped on the road. My cousin is trapped in his apartment. This after four years of planning? and after Katrina. I'm as far away as possible (Wisconsin) from Houston, yet, this unfolding disaster is hitting close to home. His mother was also my godmother whom I got to meet again on my first trip back to Mexico some 30 years ago.
On Friday, there's bad news outside of Dallas as 24 elders have been burned alive on a bus fleeing Rita.
That tragedy has put a dapper on the good news for Houston as Rita is now heading toward the Louisiana/Texas border, though New Orleans is once again flooding? (Disturbing reports have also been trickling in that undocumented immigrants are being tricked into turning themselves in). Late Saturday, I realize we have good friends on Rita's new path?
Yes. The eye of the hurricane came right through here (Livingston, Texas). All the [huge] trees here [from the surrounding forest] were knocked over. One destroyed our neighbor's house. Will (Harjo) is away, but he's Ok. A tree fell on his [flute] workshop, but our house was spared?
On Sunday, I speak to Antonio. They lost power, but all three made it to a hotel? I reach Will on his cell. He too is ok, but they're also without power. The region is devastated, yet Choctaw country is not waiting on the cavalry for help. He's bringing his own supplies. (Who nowadays is reassured by government?)
Like the recent movie Crash, Rita and Katrina have brought the realization that we're all interconnected. And related too.
? Column of the Americas 2005
The authors can be reached at: 608-238-3161 or XColumn@aol.com or Column of the Americas, PO BOX 5093 Madison WI 53705. Our bilingual columns are posted at: http://hometown.aol.com/xcolumn/myhomepage/