Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane as Theatre

Galveston Island and low lying parts of Harris County are all but empty of  their citizenry  this morning as the first Hurricane to hit that area in twenty five years, and the strongest in almost fifty years ,takes aim on the Houston SMSA. I can only imagine the frenzy my old home town is going through this morning, as my old friend Bennett used to say “Nobody suffers like Houston”. And that is without media and governmental figures fanning the flames of what was already wide spread panic. Houston, historically, was the big winner in the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and has always nervously looked over its shoulder in fear that karma in the form of an enormous storm would balance the books.


None of the Houston fears, many quite rational, would be quite as inflamed without the help of our Governor who yesterday used the term tsunami in describing the storm and said that he had access to computer models showing that without his ordered evacuation, 1.5 million people would lose their lives to Ike. I would say I doubt the computer models but that might be an insult to an inanimate object. Throughout the rest of the speech, Governor Haircut referred to 1.5 deaths, not 1.5 million deaths. Maybe that’s the model he really saw. 1.5 deaths over a weekend in Houston would be a net benefit to the city as long as everyone else stayed indoors. More people than that lose their lives in knife fights in bars off Telephone Road over the course of your average Houston Saturday night. This is the same Governor whom, for patriotic reasons, missed the first day of the recent Republican National Convention because “politics was not as important as saving lives”. When interviewed after the storm hit the next day he told a national news reporter that it was a matter of “Republican Governors in Republican states taking care of their people because that’s what we do.” You won’t see 2,000 people drown in Texas like you did in Democratic controlled New Orleans by God.


And speaking of New Orleans, recently spared a second disaster by an eyelash, it was announced from there this morning that those people feel a great appreciation for what Houston did for them  in the Katrina aftermath and want to return the favor, they also said that they were not opening any shelters, but had thousands of available hotel rooms at competitive rates. Come on down ! That may be the most heartfelt offer  I have heard since the Gulf War in 1991, when a car dealership just  outside of Fort Hood announced that they were proud of our fighting men and wanted them to know that  there at the dealership their sales personnel were “fighting to put them in a new car”.


Nine shelters have opened in Austin and Channel 8 sent their spunky girl reporter( I know, I know, but she really is a “girl reporter”, she can’t be more than 16) to Bastrop to interview refugees as they breakfasted at the Texas Grill  this morning. She   interviewed one family who had booked a room in San Saba. Let us pause here. You are escaping a Hurricane and can go anywhere you want (outside of a beach resort) and you choose San Saba ? What four star accommodations await them there ? Then an elderly woman who lived half a mile from the beach in a mobile home was interviewed and with little resignation said that she would have nothing to go home to. Her dwelling would be swamped and washed away. It really was a sad moment, but raised the question of why anyone would choose to live in a mobile home on the Gulf ?


All of this is without mentioning the 24 hour weather channels who report the storms in the same manner that CBS broadcasts a football game. Sure they want interested people to get the basic information, but mostly they are interested in the ratings. I’ll bet a thirty second commercial spot on the Weather Channel has to pay 10 time the normal rate during a Hurricane. I imagine that several hotels in the French Quarter have already bought up most of the time. Somewhere on a coastal highway, the intrepid Geraldo Rivera is speeding to the latest catastrophe. Like Teddy Roosevelt who “only wanted to die in battle” Geraldo knows that his best chance of becoming part of history will be to die bringing reports of twenty foot storm surges to the viewers of the Fox Network.


All of this would have a tinge of humor, instead of horror, to it if my aged mother did not still live in Houston, in a house that has survived a previous “storm of the century” but is uncomfortably close to the cement walls of Braes Bayou. My mom has already had a pretty bad one two punch this year and I suppose this is the icing on the proverbial cake. Lest you think that I am an ingrate for not moving my mother to Austin, let me just say that I checked and  there appeared to be no more room for her  at the Red Cross shelters. My brother, as readers of this blog know, is the only reliable son in the family, has moved in with her to see that she comes to no harm.


So we face another one, as long as men go “down to the sea” we will have to bare up to these disasters. It is our heritage, for we humans spent millions of years evolving so that we could climb out of the sea. But the sea is always there, ready to take us back home.


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