The Ida Odyssey

Found at Inlet Beach, Florida, September 7, 2021

Hurricane Ida slammed into coastal Louisiana on August 29, about six weeks ago. I’ve had this post drafted for nearly the past month, but haven’t brought myself to finish it. There are a few reasons for this, I think. Like any great procrastinator, I’ve been able to find plenty of other things to do rather than write this. And every time I’d sit down to write, I found that the post-experience had changed. We were very fortunate, and did not sustain any major damage to our home, so “back-to-normal” came sooner for us. For friends whose homes and businesses were devastated, I just feel kind of insensitive writing about what happened to me in particular, when it was not particularly devastating.

So I’ve decided to keep the tale of this odyssey to just the first two weeks after the storm, when pretty much everyone who lives in Southeastern Louisiana had a shared experience of power outages, lines for gas, and the decision of whether or not to evacuate.

I will also include two items of note that are not shared experiences, but are particular to me. 1) August 29 is my birthday. And 2) Ida was my mom’s name.

Starting with those two weeks, from August 29 to September 11. We did not evacuate, and lost power in our house in the early afternoon of August 29. The storm blew in, and it was a wild one. We heard a crash outside, and looked to find a pine tree blown down, about two houses down from us. The worst part came in the evening, when my phone told me there was a flash flood warning. The levee failures during Katrina inundated our neighborhood (we did not live here at the time), and all I could do was pray that all the improvements that have happened since that time really did improve the situation.

They apparently did, because we woke up the next morning to wet, debris-strewn streets, but not flooded streets. The next decision became “should we stay or should we go?” We had a vacation in Florida, planned for months, set to begin Sunday, September 5. But we were looking at a long six days until then with no power, no services, and no place to go, since both of our workplaces were experiencing similar issues at a different scale. That made the decision easy. We couldn’t get into our vacation rental any earlier than the 5th, so we booked a hotel nearby our rental and left on Thursday, September 2.

One more detail to add. I waited for seven hours to get gas on Wednesday, September 1. All I care to say about that is that it was a lesson in patience and fortitude, and I hope to beat that time by a significant amount when I run the New York Marathon in 2022.

Our Florida vacation was really nice, definitely one of our nicer beach vacations. But it did have a bit of an Odyssey feel to it, like when Odysseus lives the high life with Circe while having no idea what is going on back at home.

I’ll conclude with those two items of note, mentioned previously. About August 29 being my birthday…I’ve written in this space before about what a bummer it can be. This quote from a post in 2017 about sums it up: “When your birthday falls at the height of the hurricane season, you get used to altering plans.”

And about Ida being my mom’s name. She died in 2014, at the age of 81. Her positive, beneficent, influence was really strong in our family, and still lives on. Thus, when a Hurricane Ida took aim at the places where a good number of her children and grandchildren live, the name of the storm was more than a detail. Ida is not a common name in our time. I’m still scratching my head over how a name I associate with such a gentle human being caused such mass devastation as a storm. Storms and people are very different things, obviously, but I guess they both have the potential for major impact. I’ll take the impact of having had Ida the person as a mom any day (and twice on Sunday).

Vigilance and Stevie Wonder

From Sunday’s walk. I believe those were clouds related to the first storm.

Note: this post has nothing to do with vigilantes, a noun whose meaning is significantly different from “vigilance.” It’s a pity the words look so similar.

No, I’m concerned with the state of vigilance: “the action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties.”

And Stevie Wonder? I’ll get to him in a bit.

I have a propensity to be hyper-vigilant. Especially during hurricane season. This past weekend, with two storms headed toward Louisiana, my Hurricane Tracker app was definitely getting a workout. As of right now, the first storm has passed, with little to no impact on the area where I live. The second storm, Laura, is forecast to become a major hurricane and come ashore near the Louisiana-Texas border late Wednesday night, Aug. 26.

So I’m still hyper-vigilant right now. While the eye should pass well to the West, we are likely to see high winds and rain.

And in the midst of this, it occurred to me — I’ve been in a state of hyper-vigilance for the past six months. Checking the Louisiana Department of Health’s COVID-19 information site daily (but only during work days, I give myself a break on weekends). Watching the hospitalization trends, ventilator usage.

Here’s the crux: I’m not sure how this state of prolonged hyper-vigilance is affecting me. My guess is, it’s not a net-positive.

This is where Stevie Wonder comes in. On Sunday, I happened to hear a snippet of “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” his #1 single from 1974. I queued it up on Spotify for a better listen, and it did NOT disappoint. It has everything I love about his particular style of funk. Here’s a link to the song on YouTube, if you’d also like to take a listen:

But I also paid particular attention to the lyrics, probably for the first time. They really struck me. Catch the opening line:

“Ow
We are amazed but not amused
By all the things you say that you’ll do”

I wondered if he had written it about Richard Nixon, and Wikipedia proved my assumption correct. Apparently, Nixon resigned two days after the record’s release (though I’m pretty sure the record was not the reason).

Personally, I think the song translates very nicely to our current era, but Nixon is the only Republican politician I’ll reference in this post. Instead, I’ll take the song’s accusation and tie it back to my personal life.

What if my hyper-vigilance, against forces of nature (plagues and storms), has caused a paralysis? Six months ago, when I found myself home A LOT more, I thought it would be a boon to my writing. So far, that hasn’t panned out. Regarding the necessary re-writes and edits on my third novel, to quote Stevie, “I haven’t done nothin.”

So I’d like to thank Stevie Wonder for what I’m reading as a fortuitous kick in the pants. While it’s not in my nature to lose the vigilance completely, I’m planning to be more mindful of its negative impacts.

We Now Interrupt…

Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash

As I write this, a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico is headed this way. The current forecast has it coming ashore east of New Orleans, sometime in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, September 5. Being on the west side of the storm center usually means we’ll see high winds, but not as much rain.

Having been through this rodeo a few times, I’m prepared to be without power on Wednesday morning. I plan to type in a quick update and post this using my cell phone, if necessary.

It’s a pity, because I attended a great writer’s conference this past weekend, and scheduled a post that would cover all the high points. There’s nothing stopping me from featuring it next week, of course. So that’s what I’ll plan to do.

Adaptability is a virtue any time of year, but especially during the height of hurricane season.

Stay safe, everyone!

Update as of 5:30 am CDT: The center of the storm came ashore last night around Pascagoula, near the Mississippi-Alabama border. It’s due to bring rain and winds to the midwest, through this weekend. New Orleans remained outside the path of the storm’s effects. I’m currently in my house, with power. It’s 75 degrees outside, the wind is at 3 MPH.