Rita Reflections: Running From the Devil, or The Storm America Forgot

I know I didn’t say much about it a year ago, and I think that had to do with the fact that I had a raging case of new gun euphoria, and that I was worrying about my last semester of college. It seems now, though, that life has finally calmed for me after the last couple of years, and I find myself thinking of this day two years ago, September 21, 2005 — the day I ran from the approaching Hurricane Rita.
If I remember right, I had gone to work about 10 or 11 that morning. I was still working retail, and it was fairly busy with people stocking up on hurricane supplies, non-perishable food, stuff like that. A dear friend of mine had called me a couple of days earlier — I think it was Sunday night, Sept. 18 — asking me if I was going to evacuate. I told her no.
“Are you crazy?!”
“Kimberly, honey, it’s going to be hitting about 100 miles on the other side of Galveston, I think we’ll be fine.” At the time the storm had been on track to hit Matagorda Bay, between Galveston and Corpus on the Texas coast.
As it turned out, though, the storm track shifted up the coast in the next couple of days and on Wednesday, Sept. 21, if I remember right, it looked like Rita was going to come ashore somewhere between Galveston and Freeport — just about too close for comfort. I started seriously debating whether I was going to evacuate, but I finally made my decision as I saw many of my coworkers getting their checks and signing the evacuation list. So I called my mother, as I was standing in line to get my check.
“Hey, would it be all right if I went ahead and went to Sulphur Springs?”
“Yeah, that’d be ok.” The original plan was for me to hitch a ride with my mother and two sisters as they were headed east, to central Louisiana to ride out the storm. But I was worried about sitting in that horrendous evacuation traffic crowded like sardines in her Tahoe, and plus I was worried about things I would lose if I left it behind. I know it might sound selfish, but I wanted to have some things to start over with just in case it did come to that. The next call I made was to my uncle on my mother’s side in Sulphur Springs, some 75 miles east of Dallas and 275 miles inland from the Golden Triangle. We had talked a couple of days earlier and they told me I was welcome to come up there.
“Hey, I’m gonna go home, pack some stuff and head that way.”
“All right, be careful. We’ll have supper for you when you get here.”
After I got my check, I swung over to the local Academy to pick up some extra ammo just in case. Stupid of me not to already have the extra on hand, but I was still a bit of a noob to the self-defense world and the realities of hurricane evacuation. They didn’t have my ammo of choice — 230-grain Federal Hydra-Shok in .45acp — so I picked up some Winchester JHPs instead.
I got home about 2 that afternoon. As I remember it was sunny with a few clouds, and rather warm as Southeast Texas Septembers are. I backed my car into the slot there in the parking lot in front of my apartment, cleared out the trunk and the back seat and started packing. Over the next 2 1/2 hours I put everything in that car that would fit — books, cds, clothes, all my electronics save for my TV and dvd player, that thing was packed to the gills when I was done. For good measure, the Ruger P90 I’d picked up about a month earlier went loaded in a holster directly under the seat, and about 4:30 I pulled out, uncertain of what I’d be coming back to. I stopped at the Exxon down the road to get some gas for the car — wonder of wonders, they still had some! — and put about $10 worth in it, thinking that’d be enough to get me to at least the other side of Lufkin before I had to fill up again.
I headed out of town on Highway 69 , and the traffic was pretty light for the first 10 miles or so. I was thinking, “Hey, this isn’t so bad, looks like I made the right choice to get out.” Unfortunately, a few minutes later I found I thought too soon that the traffic wasn’t going to be bad. Just before the Highway 69/IH-10 split on the south side of town, traffic came almost to a standstill as they were diverting people from Houston this way. Stop’n’go traffic, oh boy, this means the car’s gonna be runnin’ hot, which means AC off and windows down…and so it was, over the next 2 1/2 hours through Beaumont and Hardin County.
I fared much better than most, though. The rest of my family — with the exception of my stepdad, who if I remember correctly waited till Friday to get out — went from the Bolivar Peninsula to the Lafayette, Louisiana area, and it took them almost 9 hours to to make that ~175-mile trek, with two toddlers along for the ride. Fun stuff, or maybe not so much. Metropolitan Houston had it even worse — at one point it was 19 hours from Galveston to Dallas, and 24 from Galveston to San Antonio.
Even before I made it to Woodville, halfway between Beaumont and Lufkin, traffic was flowing normally again. It was much better than I thought it would be; I really thought traffic would be locked up at least to Lufkin if not further than that.
Through it all I was strangely not so stressed. There was a little bit, of course, but I was thinking back to the same time the year before, as what I thought would have been forever was going into its death spiral and “I want to be just friends” was far too close into the future. And THAT was a fat lot worse than any hurricane, for a bruised heart, a broken trust and a shattered sense of self-worth are a hell of a lot more difficult to replace than, say, a couch, bed or computer. I found myself thinking about her as I was shooting up Highway 69 south of Tyler and Cross Canadian Ragweed’s self-titled “purple” cd was in the player…

“…Look at you, high on your pedestal, and gettin’ off on lookin’ down on me…our situation’s gone from bad to critical, and I think it’s time one of us started movin’ our feet…I don’t need you criticizin’ me, I don’t need you walkin’ all over me, I don’t need you always tellin’ me what to do…and I don’t need you…”

I pulled into my grandmother’s driveway about 11:30 or so, and my uncle was still up; he helped me unload all my things out of the car and we put it all in the spare bedroom, where it was to stay for the next three weeks. We stayed up and talked for a little bit as I ate, and I think I got to bed about midnight or so. Little did I know that as I was running from Rita, about 10 the night before if I remember right, she had strengthened to a Category 5 monster with winds of about 175 mph and was headed for High Island, which would have put us on the dirty side of the storm, with all the wind and water….

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