Page 5


hundred yards out in the bay, a ghostly gray tanker rode the waves. Back in my room at 8:30, I was beginning to feel anxious. I walked over to the window and watched the wind tormenting a Jo-Jo’s Restaurant sign and a couple of utility poles. The TV weatherman reported winds of 115 mph inside the storm. Tides twelve feet higher than normal were expected. My Galveston friend still didn’t answer. An hour later a driving rain began to sweep in sheets across the island, accompanied by a steady, thunderous roar of wind and surf. A three-foot-wide strip of flashing on Jo-Jo’s roof began to tear away, and there were reports of a tornado near Houston Intercontinental Airport and one near Hitchcock. A 70,000-ton ship was reportedly tearing loose from its moorings. I hurriedly pulled the drapes in case the window smashed. “I’ve forgotten everything you ever did to make me mad,” my wife said over the phone. “I just want you home.” That’s where I wanted to be too. IHAVE SEEN older relatives, retired now, with a lot of time on their hands, literally come alive during a crisis a serious illness in the family or a troublesome family dilemma. They come together, their sober expressions conveying an awareness of the situation’s gravity, and without admitting it even to themselves, they relish the crisis. They ruminate, they re-tell, they mull over alternatives. Maybe they solve the problem, maybe they don’t, but more importantly, they have lifted the pall of what Walker Percy calls “everydayness.” I was in Galveston, I suppose, because of everydayness \(that, and a story about education I was looking for an excuse not gests, a numbing absorption into life’s duties and routines, that provokes an unspoken longing for catastrophe for hurricanes, if you will. Disaster, or its imminent possibility, smashes everydayness and again we see, we hear, we feel. What I heard at 12:30 was a heavy piece of tile from La Quinta’s Spanishstyle roof smash against the wall outside my room. Luckily, it didn’t hit the window. “Galveston will receive the full onslaught of the winds,” the TV weatherman was saying. The noise of the wind was similar to what you hear speeding down the highway with all the car windows open or like a continuous roar of jet planes. At 1, the power blew. I had a flashlight, but I didn’t like the dark, and I missed the companionship of the Channel 13 news team. It was lonely sitting there with nothing to do but gingerly pull back the drapes, peer out the window, and wonder what was happening. I could see the waves across the street smashing into the seawall, and occasionally a mighty gust would blow the ocean spray into my window. I thought about trying to make my way over to the Red Cross shelter, mainly just to see other people, but I was worried about flying missiles. The flashing on Jo-Jo’ s was gone, and, while I watched, a large white globe on a parking lot light pole whirled into the air and smashed on the asphalt. I slept for a couple of hours, then stumbled, still half asleep, over to the window and peered out. Through the sheets of rain I could see the waves still contained by the seawall and I could see tree limbs and debris all over the parking lot. The, carpet around the window and door was soaked with what smelled like sea water. Was this the height of the storm, I wondered, or would it get worse? I couldn’t imagine it getting any louder. Standing by the window, watching it vibrate, it wasn’t fear I felt but sadness. So this is a hurricane, I thought; this I’ll survive, but there will be worse things like illness and pain and death. How odd, I thought. Instead of Walker Percy’s exhilaration, I was afflicted with a not unfamiliar three-in-the-morning morbid visitation. I can do this at home, I figured, so I arranged my pillows like a fort against the wind and went back to sleep. The wind still roared at daylight, but the rain had slackened. I stepped out on the balcony and made my way carefully down the stairs for a look around. Every car in the lot had windows smashed, and pieces of tile and jagged pieces of lumber lay strewn about. Two windows were out in my car, and the side facing the beach was pitted by, I suppose, roof gravel. The floorboard held a couple of inches of dank, smelly water. I turned on the car radio and heard that the eye of the storm was then over Houston. Galveston, the announcer said, was cut off. An hour later I was plowing through a foot-deep canal of water that the day before had been Broadway. Tree limbs and trash and downed power lines made the going even slower. I had seen a collapsed wall of the Galvez lobby and a house nearby blown off its foundation. On Broadway nearly every building I passed had suffered some kind of damage. I worried about what I would find on the causeway. At Pard’s Liquor Store, several teenaged boys, their arms loaded with six-packs and cases of liquor, squeezed out the smashed front door and headed around the corner into a nearby residential area. While I watched, a jeep drove up and two men one wearing jeans, the other in jogging shorts jumped out and sloshed toward the boys. Both men carried pistols. They stopped the boys and forced them to lie face down on the wet pavement. Another boy, rather husky, was trying to back through the smashed-in screen door while carrying two cases of liquor, unaware his buddies had been apprehended. He straightened up, turned the corner, and came face to face with a snub-nosed revolver. A police car drove up a few minutes later. \(I learned a few days afterward that the two men were CB-equipped private citizens The causeway was a mess. Furniture, ice chests, broken boats, pieces of lumber, everything imaginable, littered the road. The southbound lane was impassable, but with care, it was possible to negotiate the Houston-bound lane. I had three passengers a young construction worker, his wife, and their poodle. On their way to a relative’s house in Houston, their car had run out of gas at the entrance to the causeway. They lived in a trailer at Port Bolivar and had caught the last ferry to Galveston the night before. They had ridden out the storm huddled together in a Texaco restroom. We headed slowly up IH 45 in a downpour or rather a sidepour since 75-mile-an-hour winds blew sheets of water through the broken windows. Only the dog cradled under the woman’s raincoat stayed dry. Every freeway exit was under water, but at Telephone Road we decided to take the plunge literally. Plowing through a newly formed lake, we watched the water inside the car rise above our ankles while outside it rose uncomfortably close to window level. The water was more frightening than the wind the night before, and I wondered how much the car could take. It took forever, it seemed, to hit high ground. For once, Loop 610 wasn’t clogged with traffic. After delivering my passengers, I looked with anxious eyes for the 290 exit. The sun broke through at Brenham, and I was glad, and when I got home, I was happy to see little Joseph smiling. My Galveston friend, I learned later, had ridden out the storm at Dime Box. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23