Friday, October 28, 2005
When we got up, my cousin came over to discuss the work on the house. His gave us a very reasonable rough estimate with a prediction of two months of work...once he was able to get materials and get started.
I tried calling the hotels again and, to my surprise the Microtel had a vacancy for a week. In perhaps my stupidest and most inexplicable move of this whole experience, I only took three days of that vacancy and I would rue that conservative choice with every futile exploratory call over the next month.
With my mother taking my father to a doctor's appointment, I rolled the refrigerator and freezer out into the front hard for a chlorine shower. The odor was less from decomposed food than from some kind of aromatic spice or spicy fluid that had been revived by the heat. The garden hose spray and chlorine solution got rid of alot of the smell, but neither unit was ever quite right. The chest freezer in the garage had a terrifying brown liquid in the bottom when I visited earlier and I did not even attempt to clean it.
Throughout our six weeks in Lake Charles, one of the major problems was finding something to eat. Most of the restaurants and grocery stores received some level of damage and were having problems finding staff (for reasons discussed later). Mom loves Wal-Mart because you can get everything in one place, and it's comparatively cheap. Although I avoid them because of their predatory business practices, meager payment of associates and virulent anti-unionism, it's hard to argue with her logic. However, centralizing retailing in a few large buildings has the unintended consequence of removing the redundancy needed for disaster tolerance. Damage to the Highway 14 Wal-Mart (my mother's fave) instantly removed alot of critical retailing capacity from the city. The Nelson Road Wal-Mart, which was relatively intact, became Mecca for desperate area shoppers and that resulted in a continuous traffic nightmare reminiscent of the week before Christmas. Thankfully, other grocery stores came back on line within a couple of weeks and I was able to retain some level of progressive dignity while satisfying my shopping needs.
Restaurants were a different story. With lots of folks living in hotels and trailers, eating out became a regular way of life. But like the grocery stores, many restaurants were also damaged and having problems finding staffing. Adding to the problem was my father's finicky eating habits, which led us to eat a tremendous amount of Arby's gelatinous ersatz "roast beef." I will not be willfully eating at an Arby's again any time soon and I can be thankful that they are hard to find in Manhattan. We also were frequent patrons of Fire Mountain (a bulimia buffet), Hunan Buffet (Hunan is Chinese for eating disorder) and Piccadilly Cafeteria (loved by geriatrics all over the south). While I was quite content to grab a sandwich and get back to packing, the folks cherished their "good meals" and the added complexity of transporting and feeding my father could suck a good two hours away from the day's work.
Friday was our first and only visit to the local FEMA assistance center, located in the gym of an abandoned Baptist church just south of downtown. With their core constituency moving further away from the city center into bright new suburban homes, Trinity Baptist made a strategic choice to abandon their traditional downtown building and construct a new church further South. They had just built a new "Family Life Center" (i.e. gym) in the late '70s and in the mind of someone who left town about that time, it was still a new building. But it was now outdated and abandoned and it was odd to walk in and take the time trip.
We had heard about the potential availability of temporary trailers for evacuees and this was confirmed. However, the representatives were not able to give us any time frame or a firm commitment when or if we would ever get a trailer. Oddly, the fact that my father was handicapped and a veteran (albeit of the South Korean Army) was supposedly criteria that would push us up on the list. The fact that we had land that could be used to house the trailer was also a plus. Trailers set up in "FEMAville" trailer parks would take another four to six months to get set up and another FEMA rep who was passing by suggested that these would not be desirable places to live due to crime - perhaps coded language.
We also found out how FEMA assistance would work:
- The first tier of assistance was the expedited $2,000 in emergency aid that I had applied for on line. Supposedly that money was deposited directly into my parents' account and was supposed to help with the expenses of evacuation.
- Second, whatever personal insurance would cover, FEMA would not cover
- Third, everyone needed to apply for a low interest loan, which would be administered by the Small Business Administration regardless of whether the applicant was a business or not. If qualified, the loan would cover expenses not covered by personal insurance. But as a loan, it would have to be paid back.
- Finally, if declined for a loan, supposedly, FEMA would then actually start paying cash in the form of grants.
Since my parents were well insured and anticipating an equitable settlement, the loan was unnecessary and, therefore, we could expect no help from FEMA except for, possibly, a temporary trailer. The loan application was, in fact, a loan application with the customary intrusive questions. Although over the next few weeks my mother often considered going through the loan process, ultimately we deemed it unnecessary.
Staying in a hotel room with my father is not a restful experience. He wakes my mom up once a night needing assistance to go to the bathroom. And regardless of when he or my mother gets to bed, at 6:00 AM each morning he insists on getting out of bed to watch TV. While this is an unpleasant but tolerable problem when the TV is in another room, it is very difficult to sleep with the sound of chirpy morning anchors and the flash of the idiot-box glow.
With that in mind, I chose to brave staying in the back bedroom while the folks went to the Microtel. Again, it was a bit warm and the odor wasn't pleasant, but my first solid night's sleep in a week proved to be quite refreshing.