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Forced Vacation

Where to start?
Much has happened since I posted last. We lost power shortly after my last post. The day before the hurricane even got to us. I didn't expect that. I may have underestimated this storm a little. The damage in our area is about what I thought it would be. A few trees are down. We lost part of one tree in our back yard and a neighbor's tree fell on the fence surrounding our pool, but other than that we had no damage. The one thing that I underestimated was the effect on the power supply. We lost power on the 11th and it is still not back on. That is a week and it could be several more weeks before it is restored.

Ike was supposed to arrive late Friday or early Saturday. The estimates for when we would start to feel the effects of the storm varied widely. We waited and waited and didn't get much more than a breeze. Kari and I both felt obligated to stay up to see the storm, but by one a.m. we gave up and went to bed. We had decided to move all the kids down into our room. The thought was that if it got really bad the roof would be the first thing to go and if anything happened it would be easier to have all the kids within reach. So we moved the Pack n Plays into our bedroom for the twins and put Rylee and Reagan between us in the bed. That did not make for a comfortable night. Both "big" girls flail about like epileptics. I recieved several kicks to the face that made Bruce Lee look like a sissy. Needless to say neither Kari nor myself slept more than about an hour at a time. At 2:30 Saterday morning, after a sharp blow to the nose, I got up for a glass of water. It was blowing pretty good by that time and I peered out the window to see what had come lose so far. The windows were all fogged up so I couldn't see much and it was windy enought that I didn't want to open the door, so I went back to bed without much new information. At about 6:00 we gave up hope of getting anymore sleep and got out of bed. The wind had died down some. There was no longer a constant roar, just a steady 30 knot wind with occational gust up to about 50 knots I would guess. I called my folks around ten or so to let them know that we were still alive. Papa thought that we should be past the worst of it by around 4 p.m. He asked that we call back at noon and check in ever two hours or so after that, so that they wouldn't worry. The cell phone network went down shortly after that and we were effectively cut off. We spent the rest of the day just trying to keep the kids pacified and peering out the windows to gawk at the debris flying past.

Around 11:00 our neighbor, Heinrick, stopped by to see how we were doing. When he found out that we had no ice or generator he took me over to another neighbor's home. John had purchased several generators for his work and offered to lend us one. This was great, we now at least had the refrigerators running and the babies milk was staying cool. When I was unable to find ice on Friday we packed the freezers with bottles of water in an effort to make enough ice to last for a few days. I was not expecting the power to be out for long, maybe a week at the most. John gave us five gallons of gas which would last us most of a day. Up till this point we had not considered leaving and I was still planning on going to work. First of all we couldn't really afford to drive any significant distance, not with the obscenely high fuel prices. And missing work didn't seem like it would improve our financial situation either. I even checked in for my trip that was to start on Sunday afternoon.

I figured that if we were going to stick this out I would need to get out and find some more gas for the generator. Things still didn't seem desperate yet. Heinrick's son told me that he had been unable to get out of our subdivision due to fallen trees blocking the roads, but after poking around some of the back streets I found a way out. I was a bit shocked by the damage to the power lines and this was when it first dawned on me that we were in for a lengthy delay before power was restored. In five blocks I counted three trees laying on power lines, two light poles broken in half, and four power lines laying across the road. To top it off I could not find fuel anywhere. I suspected that it might be difficult to find with no electricity and I was right. News from the radio confirmed my estimate of a long wait for power. So when I got home Kari and I discussed our options, or lack there of. I told her that there was no way that I was going to leave her with four kids, no power, and a dwindling food supply. I think I saw her breath a sigh of relief. So I set out to find a pay phone to inform Continental that I would not be able to come to work after all and let the parents know that we were coming their way.

Here is where I realized some of the drawbacks of technology. With the proliferation of cell phones, payphone are no longer a money maker for the phone companies. It used to be that you couldn't turn around without seeing a pay phone, now pay phones are not easy to find. Also, internet based phones like Vonage work well and are inexpensive, however, you can not make collect calls to them. I didn't know that till now. I must have called ten people collect before I got a hold of my aunt Phyllis. I asked her to relay to Florida for me. "Just tell them that we are ok and we are planning on driving there. We are not sure when we will leave, maybe sometime tomorrow."

The logistics of packing and moving six people and two dogs in one automobile is interesting. We decided to take our time. At this point it was about 5 p.m. on Saterday. We wouldn't begin packing until tomorrow. We made some eggs on the grill for dinner, had the kids in bed by eight, and by eight thirty Kari and I were worn out and went to bed.

Apparently Ike was not done with us yet, because Saterday night it stormed almost as bad as it had the night before. Kari woke me at around four to see the lightening show. It was impressive. It was a pretty misserable night though. It gets pretty stuffy this time of year in Texas with no airconditioning. I think that both Kari and I were up at least once an hour. I gave up trying to sleep about 6:00 a.m. and the kids were up shortly there after. We had Cheerio's for breakfast and made coffee on the grill. Kari had finally gotten to sleep and I tried to let her sleep in for a bit. We spent the rest of the day straightening up the house and packing for the trip. There was lots of agonizing over what all we should try to drag with us and what we could do with out. Also much speculation with the neighbors on what roads would be open and where the closest place with power and fuel would be. I think that it may have been divine providence that Kari had not filled up her truck with gas. We would have taken hers if she had, it has the dvd player and GPS. After calculating the distance that we drove without seeing a gas station, we would have run out of gas. I do love my deisel Suburban with that huge fuel tank.

We had heard on the radio that many parts of I 10 were underwater or blocked, so we elected to go north on I 45 toward Dallas. We were all loaded up and on the road by 6:00 p.m. Traffic was fairly heavy and I wondered where in the world all these people were going, there wasn't a thing open. Once we got on the freeway the traffic was fairly light and we made pretty good time to the north. Around Huntsville I started to question our proposed route. The whole idea was to avoid the closed roads around Houston and get back to I 10 as soon as possible. So we got out the map and found that 190 went east from Huntsville and we could go back south after Beaumont. Beaumont took a good beating during the storm and was reported to be worse off than Houston, so we planned on avoiding it altogether. We made our way along 190 east bound to Livingston and continued east for about 80 miles untill we saw the red tail lights at the begining of a traffic jam. This seemed odd since there were very few cars on the road and it was now about 9:00 p.m. I figured that it must be an accident. It took the better part of an hour to see the flashing lights of a police car and another thirty minutes to creep up to it. Since traffic was at a standstill many people were taking the opportunity to go for a stroll and the dogs did not like that at all. Everyone who got within ten feet of the car got a growl and any closer than that got a full force bark. It is hard to convince the dogs that you will crawl over the seat and choke the life out of them if they bark again and wake up the kids, when you are scolding them with a whisper, so you don't wake up the kids yourself. We kept seeing cars turn around, but we could see some cars passing the cop so we figured that it shouldn't be much longer. When we were second in line to the cop, we watched him squat down and lean into the passenger window of the car ahead of us. A long discussion ensued with lots of head shaking being done by the trooper and lots of animated guestures from the driver. Finally that car turned around and we approached the check point. The trooper waved us on to newly arrived reinforcements, a female trooper (not that there is anything wrong with that). She poked her head in the passenger window and asked "where are you going?"
"Oh, no..."
Oh oh, that doesn't sound good "Why?"
She sighs and says "The judge closed Tyler county, we can't let you pass unless you live in Tyler county."
"Why did he do that?"
"There is a curfew... to prevent looting."
"You have got to be kidding, right?"
She glances back at our passengers and rolls her eyes "There is nothing I can do. You will have to turn around."
Here is all the things that I wanted to say, but knew that it would be a waste of time: "While I see that you disagree with your orders, and I apperciate that, you must know that we are fleeing a natural disater, that we are coming from a place that has no power, where the water may be unsafe to drink, where there is no food to be purchased, that we have just driven 200 miles through towns that have no power, no fuel, no place to rest, you are turning us away from refuge. Who would do that? Are you people morons? Where do you expect us to go? What if we run out of gas? Are you going to come help us? Do you think it would be out of line if I gave you the finger?"
My anger increased when we later learned that another refugee, that we met in Lufkin, who was fleeing north was turned away from Austin, and Kari's Mom tolds us that we would have been turned away from Dallas. WHAT THE HELL! WHEN DID THIS BECOME A COMMUNIST COUNTRY?! ( Take a deep breath Mark.) How could that possibly be? That in a time of need you would turn people away. How can that be? I just can't get over it. If we had not been in our Suburban, which has a huge gas tank, or if we had not filled it up, we would have not made it to the next gas station that we found nor would we have had enough fuel to return home. And the gas station that we found only had deisel, if we had taken Kari's truck we would have been stuck, if we made it that far.

Onward. Off my soap box.

We back tracked and went north again. We finally found power and fuel in Lufkin. From Lufkin we went east and south again, around Tyler county, hoping that we wouldn't run into anymore problems. We finally got to I 10 in Baton Rouge at around 5 a.m. During those eleven hours I learned a few things. I learned that my kids are more patient than I thought they were. I learned that I should have the car adapter for the DVD player in a safe spot anyway, because if would have been handy. I learned that one of the best sounds there is, other that your own child laughing, is the sound of all four of you kids suckleing on their fingers as the sleep.

Breakfast was another first for the new generation Spencer family. We stopped at Waffle House and it was the first time that Kari and I have taken all four kids to a resturant with no other adult supervision. I was pretty proud of us, it went off without a hitch. We stopped, got the diapers changed, dogs fed and walked, everyone inside and seated, all the girls ate well, there were no tears, the big girls had pretty good manners and didn't embarase me, it was all very pleasant.

Now that we were back on track, on I 10, I felt better about the situation. There were a few moments, as we were cruising down back roads in pitch black rural Texas in the middle of the night without having seen an electric light since we started, that I was worried that we would run out of gas and be stuck in the middle of nowhere with no power, no comunication, and no place to stay.

I will admit that traveling with all the kids and dogs is different from my previous road trips. There are A LOT more stops, but overall this trip was going pretty smooth. Now the worry of not getting there was gone. We were just tired and ready to be there. With only seventeen hours to go, things were looking up. One of the draw backs to pulling an all-nighter is that the amount of coffee that I have to drink is not conducive to driving hours on end with out a stop. I also have to admit that while we got good at the emergency pee stops with the training toilet, I found myself wishing that all the kids were still in daipers. I even thought of wearing one myself, but they were too small. Another releif was the return of cell phone service. For the last two days I had been trying to place a call every couple of hours without luck. It was almost a shock when I finally got a call to go through. I knew that there where several people concerned about us, I had gotten about 15 text messages and at least as many voice mails that I was unable to check. It was very nice to be conected again and checking my messages gave me something to do while everone was sleeping.

We finally rolled into Sarasota at 11:15 p.m., 28 hours and 15 minutes after pulling out of the driveway in Houston. I was on my 256th wind and actually found it difficult to go to sleep.

Kari has been checking the message boards and most people still do not have power, fuel is still difficult to come by, and the only things you can get at the grocery stores will be canned. So I am not in a hurry to go back to that. I am still not sure how we are going to pay for our little forced vacation, but it sure is nice to be with the family.


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