Rita Road Trip


For years to come, Aidan and I will share a story of our Rita Road Trip. Here’s how it began…

Tuesday September 20, 2005
We watched as Rita churned in the Gulf. Forecasters warned everyone on the Upper Texas coast that Rita could be headed this way. Could make landfall as a Category 4… In the evening, I spoke to Aid’s uncle Brian about making a plan to evacuate. We would load up the animals and hit the road but where would we go? Dallas seemed to be the answer. A close friend and former co-worker of Bonnie’s has a kind sister there. We’d have a place to stay. Sure, the drive would take a few hours but we’d be fine. I think I slept no more than 4 or 5 hours that night and I felt stress the entire time.

Wednesday Sept. 21, 2005
Rita inched closer to Texas. It became THE topic of conversation everywhere. In the morning, I spoke to a friend of a friend in town from Boston to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. She and a co-worker were looking for a way out of the city and I suggested they could meet up with my merry crew. At that moment, I still expected to hear from Aid’s Uncle Brian. I figured the car would be jam-packed but we’d make it work… I spent several hours trying to write the 5th episode of Houston ZooperStars Challenge. I found it too hard to concentrate. Mid-afternoon, I left the TV station to get the car’s oil changed. Then, I stopped at the grocery store to buy supplies for the road and get cash. I felt focused and productive…I made my way to pick up Aidan after that trip to the grocery store. I called Deb in Dallas to let her know we’d be headed her way. She was so gracious. Then, Aid & I picked up Bonnie at work. I started to feel the anxious…We knew Bonnie would stay behind to anchor newscasts. I didn’t know until that evening that Brian would decide to stay at work (a hotel) and not evacuate with us. He apparently made the decision and didn’t bother calling. We discovered that info after seeing Buddy at work. That visit turned out to be blessing because Buddy agreed to come to our house and watch the pets during the storm. That offer meant Aidan and I could evacuate more easily…I spent hours packing for the trip. The weird thing is when you’re packing and thinking there’s a chance you could come back to nothing is a frightening thought. I have to pack a suitcase for Aid, a bag for me, some photos, important documents, her chair, the seat she sleeps in…I can’t fit our entire life in a 2002 Ford Escape!… Throughout the late evening, I communicated with my friend Erin many times. By cell phone. We spoke and sent text messages back and forth. We stressed and strategized. I didn’t feel alone. Someone else would be on the road with us. She wanted to leave in the middle of the night. I didn’t. I wanted to wait until morning so we could drop off Bonnie at work. And that’s the way it would happen.

Thursday September 22, 2005
Does it count as a new day when you’ve only had 2 hours of sleep? It shouldn’t…Here is where the real stress began. I barely remember anything that happened before we all got in the car. Buddy showed up after 8 am. Not long after that time, Bonnie, Aidan and I got in the car and drove away from Mount Vernon street… The goodbye was short outside Bonnie’s work. We drove her up to the top level of the parking garage and within minutes, Bonnie was out of sight and Aidan and I were alone. At 9 am. Dallas seemed impossible with traffic on I-45 standing still. I had no idea how long we’d be together, just the two of us…I started on 59 headed to Sugar Land to meet up with Erin instead. It never worked out. I got diverted by the loads of traffic on the freeways and roads. We spoke by phone numerous times throughout the day but never crossed paths. The idea to caravan was one comforting thought so losing it was a bit tough…Oh, and the friend of a friend…she and her co-worker flew back to Boston. She sent me a text message to let me know. Smart move on her part to get out of town…Amazing! That’s how I can describe Aidan. She only cried a few times on the way and those tears came when she was hungry. I moved her from the back seat to the front seat so I could tend to her as needed and keep moving inland…Bonnie wasn’t in the car but she was certainly with us on the trip. While Bon anchored all day, Aid got to hear mommy’s voice on the radio. I’m sure it provided comfort. I know it did for me. I thought of baby Aid before she was born listening to her mommy anchor newscasts while she was inside the womb. I smiled to remember those days. I never felt too far away as long as I was listening to Bonnie… Midday, Bonnie asked me if I wanted to do some reports for KTRH. That was a real pick-me-up. I did a few reports by phone. It was enough of a distraction – for a short time… As the day wore on, a new plan presented itself. I had called a co-worker Wednesday night and asked about her evcauation plans. When she invited Aidan and me to join her family bound for the Austin area, I tentatively agreed, but secretly considered it nothing more than a back-up plan. The back-up would become THE PLAN… I never expected to travel with no other adults. I felt extra vigilant. Cautious. Just me and a 4 month old baby. I took a lot of backroads in case Aidan got upset, or needed a diaper change. I didn’t want to be surrounded by desperate people at a desperate time. That was what I would see if I stayed on the freeway the whole time so I tried to stay off the freeway when I could…The cell phone provided much comfort. I spent quite a bit of time on the phone with Aidan’s grandfather John and Aidan’s grandmother (my mom). With Aidan sleeping quite a bit, the phone conversation helped pass the time and keep me encouraged. Grandpa John was so supportive and concerned. We talked several times throughout the drive. When the phone rang, it was good to have him on the other end…But where’s the gas? I didn’t see a single station for miles with working pumps. As I watched the gauge slowly sink towards empty, I started to feel more stress. The whole trip started to look like one of those doomsday movies with Morgan Freeman or Bill Pullman as the President. I could feel a sense of panic in the air…Gas in Giddings. Finally filled the tank and a 1-gallon container. A sigh of relief… The drive to meet up with the co-worker (Brooke)felt almost as stressful as the rest of the trip. I expected the directions they gave me by phone would take 30 minutes, not close to 2 hours. I felt frazzled, exhausted, hungry and overwhelmed. I was shaking when I finally got to them…The drive to Brooke’s grandparents home took a little time. At least 30 minutes. During that stretch, I didn’t relax much. I’d be in a home with Aid surrounded by strangers. How wrong I was!…From the moment we arrived, the stay was fantastic. I got help with Aid. Brooke gave her a bath. I had a beer. The TV kept us informed about the storm…Aid and I slept on a mattress in the dining room. We were together and off the road.

Friday September 23, 2005
Thank God for picture phones. With Bonnie anchoring so much, we didn’t talk a whole lot but we communicated all the same. I sent pics of Aid so Bon could see her little angel while we were miles away.

Saturday September 24, 2005
A couple of days at the home of Brooke’s grandparents have passed…her family has been so kind and helpful feeding, bathing and holding Aidan. And Aid’s been amazing. So happy. Everyone there just loved her so much. Including Brooke’s 2-year-old daughter Alexis. She kept referring to Aidan as her baby…Hey, I got in a few naps so I felt good and that made me feel better about the time I spent with Aid…Luckily for us, Rita spared Houston the worst impact and instead took aim at East Texas and Western Louisiana overnight. We spent hours watching the coverage on TV. Some of it compelling. Some of it Geraldo… Mid-afternoon, the evacuees decided to head home after dinner. It seemed like a good idea to me. I knew we had power on at home. I just hoped the drive wouldn’t take as long. And it didn’t… A 4 hour trip home. Aidan slept the entire time. Brooke’s father-in-law led the caravan back to Houston took us on some back roads until we got to I-10 and then it was a straight shot all the way home…Shortly after 11 pm, Aidan and I arrived at the Marriott hotel near Bonnie’s radio station. I walked in with Aid in her car seat and I felt such elation and relief. We had made it back safely. What a wonderful reunion for the three of us…Of course, Aidan doesn’t know what happened. All she knows is she was away from her mommy for several days and in new surroundings with new faces for a short time. As you might expect, she’s had some tough days getting adjusted to life back home again. But someday soon, she will get to hear all about The Rita Road Trip that took her and daddy out of Houston as part of the largest evacuation in U.S. history.

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