Between Frances and Ivan, I was talking to a friend in Angleton, Texas. He said he had a 100-kw generator that was an older standby unit that had only 200 hours on it. He offered it to me at a price that was too good to pass up. I decided to go get it since the demand for generators here was going though the roof. We couldn't find any south of the Mason-Dixon line or east of the Mississippi. About that time, Ivan reared its ugly head, and I was wondering if it would be safe to leave my family. They've never been in the middle of a hurricane before, and if evacuation was necessary, I would have to decide and make plans and order everybody to load up, etc.
Eventually, I decided it was safe to leave, and I would have enough time to beat the storm as it crossed the Florida panhandle. I headed west on I-10 very early one morning as the storm was headed north in the gulf. Traffic was light; most of it was headed in the other direction. The state patrol didn't seem too interested in speeders, so I made the first 700 miles in 9 hours. I'd been listening to weather updates all the way, and it seemed as though the farther west I got, the farther west the storm moved! I was starting to wonder if I could stay ahead of it. About the time I got to Slidell, La., the powers that be decided that New Orleans was going to be mighty close to the point of impact and ordered mandatory evacuations. After several hundred miles at warp speed, I suddenly found myself at exactly 0 miles per hour, with every Cajun and his pet dog ahead of me. The 80 or so miles from Slidell to the Mississippi river at Baton Rouge took 8 hours. Never touched the throttle! Alternate routes were just as bad, so there was no point getting off the freeway. West of New Orleans they closed the eastbound lanes and made everything westbound. This moved people out of the city more quickly, but it just increased the bottleneck at the big bridge in Baton Rouge. West of Baton Rouge, the traffic was an alternate between 75 mph and zero, so I had to stay pretty alert, even though I already had been on the road for 18 hours. Never mind stopping, there was no place to stay and there was a hurricane coming! Coffee and diesel, period - keep going. By the time I pulled into Angleton, Texas, it was 4:30 in the morning and I was just about give out. My friend lives waaaaay out on the banks on the Brazos river down about 40 miles of dirt roads that I didn't remember very well, so I just pulled into the first motel I saw and got a room. Turned out it was the last room available in town. I didn't need anyone to read me a bedtime story to fall asleep, either.
'Bout checkout time, I got up and went in search of my generator. Got to Steve's shop and looked at the generator. He hadn't cranked it yet, so we got a jam-up good mechanic who had worked on many standby units to come by. After a while, we had it running and tested it. It needed one little part, which we got, and everything was fine. I bought a tandem-axle trailer and tack-welded it down. I was about ready to leave, but Ivan was tearing up the Gulf Coast and I knew there wasn't any point going until things calmed down. Besides, there were rumors of the Mobile tunnel being flooded. I waited a day or two, during which we went out to Steve's rig, watched the boys drill a well and generally wasted time until it was time to go.
By the time I left, I had heard about the I-10 bridge at Pensacola being washed out, so I called some friends in the area and got directions for a “get-around” that the local residents use. No problem, he told me - 'bout 20 minutes out of the way. I got a late start and wanted to go through the worst-hit areas early on a Sunday morning to avoid heavy traffic, so I stopped for the night in Biloxi, Miss. The casinos were empty, but open, and the place that Lottie and I go “comp'd” me a room for the night. I had heard stories about generators disappearing so I parked right by the casino security office and told them to watch it - no problem. Normally, being that close to the casino would have enticed me, but not that night. I went to a greasy spoon, had breakfast at 11:00 pm and went to bed.
Made an early start and got through the Mobile tunnel and into the Florida panhandle in good time. I started seeing big signs on the freeway about “bridge out,” “road closed,” “detour,” etc, but I ignored them because I had a map and a plan. I got down within 4 or 5 miles of getting around the downed bridge, when a young sheriff's deputy stopped me at an intersection. He said, “If you don't live here, turn that thing around!” Negotiation didn't help; he looked like a drowned pup that had been up waaay past his bedtime. Before I could get to the other side of the bridge, I had to backtrack a while and then detour through Louisiana (lower Alabama), which added 31⁄2 hours to my odyssey. From what I saw there, we're real lucky over here. I finally got home late Sunday night.
One thing I learned: A hurricane is like a redneck divorce - somebody's gonna lose a trailer!