Hurricane Katrina comes to Texas

A woman whose family evacuated from Jefferson Parish, Louisiana (just west of New Orleans) is visiting our site today. Her company is a customer, so it’s not just a personal side trip.

She and her husband, currently staying in Conroe, TX (just north of Houston), do not know whether their house is still standing, and have not heard from anybody who’s been back to the area. While we were talking to her, a loud mobile rang several times before she realized it was hers, because she had to get a new one.

Her brother-in-law got shot, she said, while riding in a boat giving out water to New Orleans flood victims. The idiots shooting people sure make it hard to focus on the folks who are helping, and that kind of behavior seems to be all the media wants to report. I hope someone nearby was armed and shot the idiot on site.

I heard a report on our local NPR station this morning that interviewed a volunteer at Dallas’ Reunion Arena, the site of at least a couple thousand Katrina refugees. She said when she arrived this morning to help, there was nobody there organizing or in charge of anything. She just rounded up a group of volunteers, set up a couple of tables, and started addressing people’s needs. For one thing, they are trying to find job opportunities for those who need work.

This search for employment, and possible permanent relocation of these evacuees, will impact the Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio areas. Each city has said it can take 25,000 people. How many of those do we think will never return to New Orleans? On a criminal note, how many of those are members of New Orleans gangs who will end up not getting jobs and settling down to become contributing Texans, but instead add to the crime rate those cities already battle?

Houston already has about 11,000 refugees in the Astrodome, which officials say is more than they can handle, even though they originally said they could take 24,000. I guess 24,000 sports fans just there to watch a game is a lot different from the same number there trying to make sense of their desperation, get food, water, and jobs.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans mayor has lambasted the federal government for not responding quickly enough, and I can’t say I blame him. That’s one of the things our government’s for. Some say narrow-minded things like, “Well, those people had warning and should have got out before the storm.” Yeah, and the people saying that have no idea what it’s like to not own a vehicle, or to not have family who can take you in since you can’t afford a motel. I get aggravated when I hear things like that because the folks who have no tolerance for people who can’t afford a car or the gas to run it tend to believe that we need people who will take low-paying jobs, because not everybody’s cut out for college. You can’t have it both ways, chum. That was a terribly structured sentence, but I’m leaving it.

Hurricane Katrina again

This is all over the news and everybody knows about it, but this would not be a personal journal, a record of my life, if I didn’t comment on Hurricane Katrina.

It’s just awful. All those people displaced, many mourning their losses, or unsure whether loved ones survived. Pets left for what their owners thought would be a few days. Photo albums. Daily journals (glad I’m blogging instead of journaling).

Meanwhile, we’re gearing up to fly out in a few days for a week long vacation on the Chesapeake Bay and the Eastern Shore. We discussed ditching the trip and helping, but we haven’t seen this family in a very long time, and Ben’s never met many of them. A tragedy like this hurricane makes us realize that family members might not always be around, so we have to spend time with them when we can. There will be plenty of time and opportunity for us to help after our visit is over.

They’re relocating New Orleans folks from the Superdome to the Houston Astrodome, 350 miles by bus. At least 15,000 people have been living there two days and nights without benefit of air conditioning, toiletries, proper facilities, or even enough food and water. There is nowhere else for them to go in New Orleans, as the Superdome area was about the only place buses can still go and still get out of the city — and the water is still rising.

Jails are flooded to the point that authorities have had to relocate prisoners to state prisons.

Those who left their homes before the waters came are as far flung as Dallas, Little Rock, Memphis. While some motel owners are giving discounts to the displaced, others are price gouging. A Best Western representative was quoted on National Public Radio as saying that, as regrettable as the practice may be, the rules permit individual owners to set whatever price they want.

My boy is calling for me, and I must put him to bed soon. Maybe more on this later.

Mississippi also has suffered great losses. The floodwaters are not still stranding people as they are in New Orleans, but the devastation from the 145 mph sustained winds makes it look like atomic bombs were dropped. Entire neighborhoods are in millions of pieces.

I have heard most of my news of this on NPR, but we are watching a Dateline NBC special right now. A family with four children who returned Tuesday from Florida to Gulfport, MS to survey the damage found their house a flat pile of splinters. They spent the night in their car, and the next morning patrons of the CVS Pharmacy gave them food, water, and Fix-a-Flat for their tire. It’s nice to see people doing good things for real, instead of for one of those television shows that replaces a home or a face for advertising dollars.

Hurricane Katrina and My Reporting

At lunch yesterday as I munched on my canned tuna, Zesta saltines, and baby carrots, I for once paid attention to the television in the break room. Hurricane Katrina was on her miserable march up Louisiana and Mississippi, leaving little room for stupidity. Yet CNN had an innumerable supply of reporters, borrowed and their own, feeding them live footage of themselves getting wind-whipped and rain-soaked. Collectively, I believe they were, as my friend Chris put it, “an idiot for being out in it with a raincoat and a mic.” Obviously a substantial chunk of the population believes they need this type of sensationalism with their news. We know hurricanes damage things and kill people, and it’s horrible. Do we really want to put more people out there in it just to satisfy our desire for live coverage? If you need footage that badly, post a weatherproof camera on a building or something.

At the same time, I do feel a bit for the reporters sent to those scenes. Most of them don’t sign up as reporters specifically to put themselves in harm’s way like that. Jumping jobs from journalism to some other field is not a decision one makes based on something that happens once or twice a year. “Nope, sorry, boss, I’m just going to skip this one.” Well, that doesn’t really happen if you want to keep getting paid.

That said, I was a newspaper reporter/photographer for about a year, so I know that the danger can be somewhat intoxicating, as well as saddening. I covered fires, accidents, and even the murder of a man I knew.

There’s a strange disconnect that occurs when reporting a scene, especially when behind the camera. Just that viewfinder could make me feel I was only watching. Fortunately for me, the worst weather events I covered were ice storms. If the roads were icy and there was a pileup on a bridge, I was right there on the bridge, on foot, in case any sliders-by needed a human target.

I went to house and car fires in progress, and followed ambulances to crash scenes. If it was just a fender-bender, then we didn’t bother. I could have made quite a lucrative business of toting a lawyer’s business card for kickbacks.

In the only fatal accident I covered, I saw the mother of the dead teenage boy, beside her son’s flipped Jeep Cherokee, sobbing so deeply I would have been compelled to comfort her if nobody else had been there. I snapped a few pics, loathing the fact that I was capturing what might be the most painful moment in her life, yet being careful to compose good shots. Then I had to start asking those on the scene what happened. I think that’s when I realized that business was not for me.

The danger thrill hit me hard during one particularly nasty house fire. That fire department had to cover a 62-square mile area without benefit of a big budget, so if your house caught on fire, it was best to enjoy the show and hope your insurance coverage was as good as you thought. The story goes that the wind had blown the guy’s turkey cooker over, snapping the gas line to create a flamethrower with a two-story deck as kindling.

I showed up, parked my Mitsubishi Mirage as close as I could without getting in the way, then ran to the scene, stepping over leaking firehoses all the way. Firefighters would call me back, and I would rush in from another angle. Nobody had been hurt, and large house fires can make for beautiful photographs. Oddly enough, a firefighter taking a break pointed out an octagonal window with blue flame dancing behind it. I wondered if the reporter I replaced had won his firey spot news photography award thanks to a hoseman with an eye. I stopped after realizing I was walking close enough not only to be backed up by the heat, but close enough that no unprotected firefighter was anywhere near me.

I also showed up on a car fire scene to take pictures about three feet away from the car’s smoking innards as the firefighters doused it. It wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but it was my job.

Just as it was my job to cover the murder of a man I had interviewed only a few months earlier.

Our daily’s managing editor called me to ask about the disappearance of local marina manager Dave Howard back in 1999. As I gathered information, I found the authorities frantically doing the same. From the local county detective to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, I talked to everyone who might be in a position to look at this case. He was last seen alive in Bella Vista, Arkansas, and was found dead beside the freeway in Oklahoma. Had I read about it in a newspaper, I might have thought it was exaggerrated. Because I was the one covering it, however, I knew it was real. Evidence showed he had been in an Internet love affair that resulted in the jealous husband allegedly setting him up and shooting him. I say allegedly because the guy has not been brought to justice yet. I cannot find my story online, but it’s a fascinating story, recapped here in March of this year. He was denied a new trial, but plans to appeal, which will be in about a year. Great system, huh?

I got into journalism after a stint as a Web programmer left me wanting to write, but not write code. Took a 50% cut in pay and moved us 230 miles to do it. I found out that being a reporter was not in my blood. On the occasion I got to write a column, I was ecstatic. That was my favorite part. Maybe that’s why I blog.

Laptop Selloff Causes Melee

Just got this from a co-worker and had to share it. Richmond, Virginia’s Henrico County school district decided to sell a bunch of laptops for $50, and it turned into a mob scene, with one guy using a folding chair to swat line breakers like flies. Folks, they are four-year-old Apple iBooks used and carried around by high school students. But it had folks going crazy, to the point of hurting people. Read it here.

Origin of Phrases

That’s a true statement (and other sayings)

I try not to judge people by the words they use, because I sometimes catch myself using annoying phrases. There’s a guy within earshot up here at work who keeps saying, “That’s a true statement,” and I’m about to throw my Tangle over the cubicle wall at him. Great. Now the guy next to him said, “That’s a true fact.” Might have to hide in the server room.

That got me ta thinkin’. What makes people start using stock phrases in their everyday speech, or what blocks their brains from realizing what they are saying? Some are passed down by family, I’m sure, but I’ve heard others that I know were picked up later in life.

An IT instructor from the past was moving some computers and said he needed someone with “a strong back and weak mind.” I’ve heard him say that at least 20 times. He also used the popular, “It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.” I think that means that it makes no difference which of the two you choose. Why can’t he just say that?

Then there are phrases that the individual might have coined, but that become predictable.

My mother-in-law’s favorite, uttered at every family gathering, is, “You can tell when our family is eating, because it gets real quiet.” I think she’s suggesting that the family is a bunch of loudmouths who can only stop talking long enough to chew. On that subject, I have no room to talk. Ha. Nevermind.

I can’t leave out the occasions when one means one thing but ends up conveying the opposite. I often hear, “I miss not seeing you.” Huh? I’ve let that one slip more than once.

“Can you unloosen this for me?” Sure. I think. Just hand me the jar and we’ll see.

I could list and try to make funny comments about others, but I’m sure all this has been covered somewhere else, and my lunch break is over.

Quick note, though. I had my first good experience at Blockbuster a few weeks ago. They had the new release I wanted in widescreen format. Almost none of the video stores back in Missouri or Arkansas carry widescreen DVD’s anymore, and historically I just don’t like Blockbuster because they overcharge me for something I don’t need for a week. Everything went off without a hitch, smooth as silk, and I was happy as a clam.