I was walking around today, trying to think of anything I might have missed in preparing to ride out Hurricane Rita, when a figure in black caught my eye. Looking up, I saw a woman in black riding a broomstick, and peering down with a worried look. I waved at her, and she came down to the ground.
“You look lost”, I said to the woman. “Can I help you?”
“Maybe”, replied the woman. “I’m a witch, and I’m trying to find a little brat and her dog.”
“That sounds familiar.” I remarked.
“Yeah, I know, I know”, shrugged the woman. “Gerty Nightfall, Wicked Witch of the West.”
“Like in the Wizard of Oz?” I asked.
“Kind of, yeah”, agreed Gerty. “That movie didn’t really catch the whole story, you know.”
“Really?” I asked
“Oh yeah”, assured Gerty. “Like that brat Dorothy. To hear people talk, you’d think she was a sweet innocent little girl, but in reality she’s a racist murderer.”
“That sounds harsh.” I said.
“Hey, her mom started the ‘tradition’ by dropping a house on my great-aunt. And ever since, it’s been a running game of ‘kill the witch’. I could sure use a Harry Potter on my side, even a Voldemort.”
“I guess. So, what are you doing in Houston?” I asked her.
“Houston?” repeated Gerty, clearly surprised. “I thought I saw storm clouds, like a tornado coming.”
“Umm, no.” I answered. “Those storm clouds are Hurricane Rita.”
“Hurricane?” asked Gerty. “So, no houses being picked up and moved to another land?”
“More like winds tearing down houses and land being turned into instant lakefronts.” I answered.
“Ow. Sounds mean, this Rita.” said Gerty.
“She is that.” I said. “Six hundred miles across, winds moving faster than some aircraft can fly, and she can’t make up her mind.”
“Indecisive? How do you mean?”
“Well, Rita was supposed to be heading for Matagorda, then Brownsville, then Corpus Christi, then Matagorda again, then straight for Galveston, now it’s nudging more towards Beaumont.”
“So some of your coast could be OK?”
“Not really. The storm is so big, pretty much the whole state will take a hit, it’s just a question of who gets the worst of it.”
“I get it.” said Gerty. “So why are you sticking around? Are you that tough, or that stupid?”
“I’ve been hearing that”, I replied. “It really comes down to three factors, which people don’t often see unless they have to face the decision themselves.
“First, have you seen the traffic jams? By the time my wife and I got off work yesterday, the roads heading North were jammed so tight, that the time to get out of Harris County was in the 12-13 hour range. Also, we couldn’t get gas for the CRV; stations were running out and the ones which still had gas Wednesday had lines dozens of cars deep. We decided driving out was not feasible.”
“So that’s what that was.” muttered Gerty. “I thought it was just a bunch of really big snakes, sleeping and stinking in the heat. What about catching a flight?”
“I can’t ride a broom, Gerty” I said.
“Ha ha” said Gerty. “Come on, you’ve got airports.”
“Yes, but we can’t get there, the only way to get to any of them is to drive the same roads that are already jammed.” I explained. “And anyway, everything that can fly out has pretty much already left; can’t blame the airlines for not wanting to park a few thirty-million dollar planes out where the wind will rip them up. So that’s not really an option.”
“You said there were three reasons” reminded Gerty.
“Yes.” I replied. “Leaving town would be stressful and expensive, no matter how we did it-”
“And staying for the storm is fun?” interrupted Gerty.
“No fun, but we have to come back and clean up sooner or later” I replied. “If we had left town, we’d be spending hundreds of dollars we can’t easily spare, to sit in a hotel or shelter somewhere, stressed out while we worry, and then afterwards we have to get back and clean up, and probably do repairs. It just prolongs the stress, increases the cost, and makes more problems. Also, there is a real danger of looting.”
“OK, but isn’t your family more important?” asked Gerty.
“Absolutely.” I answered. “And that’s where the third reason kicks in. Houston is a huge city, covering about six hundred square miles. About four and a half million people live in Houston and the surrounding areas. Throw in another hundred thousand or so fleeing from Galveston and other coastal counties who are heading North through Houston, and you have a lot of people driving on some very limited roadspace, and with no way to refuel them. It doesn’t matter what time you leave, or which highway you take, you’re going to run out of patience, fuel, and options if you didn’t leave early Wednesday or if you didn’t get lucky. There are a bunch of people who went on the long drive, only to end up having to come back home, only more tired and less prepared than when they left. Next to that, staying home and readying supplies looks very smart.”
“I guess”, said Gerty. “Well, good luck with the storm.”
“And good luck to you with Dorothy” I said, as Gerty prepared to fly away.
“And her little dog, too” she chuckled as she left.
It was only much later that I wondered about the monkeys...