I went to Houston this weekend, for an overnight trip to see Austin's family. Driving on I-45, I was struck with how palpably different this region has become in the aftermath of Katrina. The Landscape of the Road Trip in Texas was changed.
On my way out of a McDonald's, I noticed no fewer than three vehicles from Louisiana. One truck had seven passengers, three of which had been riding on the freeway in the truck bed. I was in orange Chuck Taylors, as was a teenage girl clamoring into a packed-to-the-gills coupe. And what got me was that these people were the lucky ones. They had cars. And cars-full of posessions, still. Katrina leveled homes, but she also leveled the playing field; in a lot of cases, the rich had left exactly what the poor had left, which was not much. I, on the other hand, had a suitcase with five sets of clothes and four pairs of shoes and three watches. For a two-day trip.
Every hotel, motel, or inn had a full parking lot. It was like 9/11's effects on motel tourism, only exactly opposite.
In Houston, Department of Transportation's programmable signs read, "EVACUEE BUSES DIVERT TO FT. CHAFFEE, ARK." Not elsewhere in Texas. Not in Oklahoma. Arkansas. Hundreds and hundreds of miles to the north.
On the way back, there were semi-permanent reflective metal signs that said, "EVACUATION SHELTER NEXT EXIT" and handwritten boards duct-taped to highway markers that read, "Free diapers, water, and evacuation supplies, next exit."
There were so many people on the road, roaming, straining towards some unknown home. It felt like I was an interloper in The Grapes of Wrath