We moved to New Orleans in 2008, and two months later were faced with evacuation because of hurricane Gustav. A few of my new coworkers used the term ‘hurrication’ to describe the situation, and were immediately taken to task by others who found the term offensive, as to so many in the community it was a stressful, economic hardship – not a vacation in any sense of the word. The phrase got the same response in other social settings I found myself both during and after Gustav. After having to spend four days in a motel in Decatur, Alabama, because we waited too long and couldn’t find anything closer than a nine-hour drive, I could certainly empathize with those who became indignant at the phrase ‘hurrication’ and made sure it isn’t part of my vocabulary.
After this past week, I not only empathize, really get it.
Although this time around we are more seasoned veterans, and made reservations much closer to home early in the storm cycle, it is not a time of rest-and-relaxation. We are only a three-hour drive from home, in Alexandria, Louisiana, and are staying at a Super 8, but it is not a sojourn that we had budgeted for, and there is certainly stress in not knowing the status of house, other car, neighborhood. This is not a lot of fun.
Last night I met up with some friends at a restaurant, fellow evacuees, and I was asked “How’s your hurrication?!” “Oooh…” I replied, explaining calmly why I didn’t like that phrase. My friend got it, said she had never thought of it that way, thanked me for the heads-up on using it.
Two adults, two teenage boys, two dogs in a motel for three days is not something you go prowling Expedia.com to set up for fun and giggles.
Just because we aren’t on vacation doesn’t mean that we won’t walk away without some interesting memories.
While checking into our motel early Tuesday afternoon, I struck up a conversation with a fellow New Orleanian, also an evacuee, who had returned here because of the inexpensive rooms how well the staff had treated he and his wife during Katrina in ’05 and their Gustav evacuation of ’08.
‘Andy’ is a few years older than me, and had walked in as I was checking in. He surmised it was my family waiting outside in the blue minivan.
“That your rat terrier getting a walk?” he asked with a smile, pointing toward the grassy are next to the parking lot.
“Yes sir, it is. That’s our Lucy.”
“We’ve had a rat terrier for years. Great dog. Have her with us this trip…sort of. Her ashes, anyway. in a box.”
A surprised ‘Oh’ was all I could muster in response.
“Yeah” Andy shook his head with a chuckle. “Last thing my wife grabbed before we left the house. She said ‘I gotta have my important papers, and I gotta to have my dog’. So here we are.”
“Well, there you go” I replied. “I get that. I can understand where she’s coming from.”
“The dog was with us here for Katrina and Gustav.” His voice trailed a bit, but he was still smiling. Andy shook my hand, and we wished each other good luck and a short stay.
I have encountered Andy a few times a day each day since, chatting for a bit yesterday in the breakfast room. Nice fellow. Sam and I also ran into Andy and his wife at the mall across the street, and yeah, the first thing I did was look to see if she was carrying a box. She wasn’t. He introduced us, and she seems very nice.
Maybe I’ll bring Lucy by for a visit with them before we leave.
Wednesday morning, my wife and I walked over to the gas station-convenience store next door to get a newspaper. As we walked up to the door, an old man said hello, and I returned his greeting. Amy went inside the store and I intended to after finishing the last of my motel coffee. The man asked where we were from, I gave him the brief synopsis, then asked if he lived here.
“Lived here most of my life” he nodded affirmingly. “Most of it. Except when I wasn’t. I haven’t always been here. People call me Jack, but I’m really D.B. Cooper. Do you know who I am?”
“The D.B.Cooper who hijacked a plane?”
“You’re too young to be THE D.B. Cooper” I chided with a smile and a sip of coffee.
“I thank you for that, young man.” he replied with a smile. I was only half-kidding, as I pegged him for being in his early sixties. “But I am indeed old enough to be B.D. Cooper! I’m seventy-seven. How old did you think I was?”
“I wouldn’t have guessed seventy-seven. I was thinking, early, mid sixties.”
“Well I do thank you for THAT, young man. So you know my story, huh?”
“Pretty well, I think…”
“You thought I was dead, didn’t you? Well I can prove I survived that jump out of the plane!” with that he pulled down his shirt to reveal a left shoulder with a clavicle that stuck up nearly an inch above the ball of his shoulder. “That’s the shoulder I dislocated when I jumped, or really, when I landed. Never did get it set back properly.”
“Wow. That looks painful.”
“It was for a while. You say you know my story. You weren’t a passenger on that airplane, we’re you?” He was curious, not suspicious.
“Nope. But I used to live in the hometown of Northwest Airlines, so it’s still a big deal there.”
“Ohhh….so tell me something then; why do you think they’re still looking for me? I didn’t hurt nobody, nobody got killed. Just stole some money. Hell, I didn’t even steal the plane…they still got it!”
“You really want my theory?” I asked, noticing that my wife was at the counter of the store, paper in hand, waiting for me with a quizzical look as she had not brought her wallet to breakfast.
“I’d like to hear why you think they’re still looking for me after all these years.”
“Well, some folks just like to solve mysteries. But in your case, it’s all about them making money.” D.B. was looking at me intently, squarely in the eye. “I think there are a lot of people who want to cash in. Solving the mystery means they get to write a book, make a movie, make all sorts of money for themselves off those.”
D.B. pulled back and looked at me with surprise. “I do like your theory. That makes a lot of sense. I’ll bet that’s why they’re still looking for me!” I took the last sip of my coffee and threw the cup into the trash. “Well, I’d better let you go – I think your wife is waiting. Good luck to you with this hurricane.” With that he shook my hand, he added a “God bless you, and take care” and started walking across the parking lot toward the highway in front of it.
I went inside, paid for the newspaper as my wife inquired, ‘what was that all about?’
“That was D.B. Cooper. He showed me his dislocated shoulder from the jump out of the plane. It never healed right.” She and the store manager she had been speaking with both looked at me with cocked eyebrows. “Really.” she said, as statement, not question. We exited the store and as we got in front of the motel, I saw D.B. standing at the light, waiting to cross the highway. “See ya, D.B.! Take it easy!” I yelled above the traffic noise. He turned, looked, apparently not seeing me, he crossed the street with a wave over his shoulder, (the un-dislocated one) as my wife just shook her head.
It hasn’t been a hurrication, but it sure has been a trip.