Friday, September 02, 2005

The Quest

After three days of generator power, we are nearly out of gasoline. We do not have enough to make it through the rest of the night. We've even "borrowed" some from my Grandfather last night. He won't have enough to make it through another day, either. If I haven't mentioned it before, the "average" wait in line for gasoline is reportedly 14 hours. To get fuel locally, people park their cars over night, and generally receive their $20 worth by noon the next day. And (needless to say) gas prices these days are somewhere close to $3.50/galon.

Neither my father, nor I have any intentions of sitting in any line for 14 hours. And $20 ain't gonna cut it. We're going to get enough gas for ourselves, my grandparents, and all the neighbors. So we've been planning us a little road trip. Into the heart of Louisiana.

Generally speaking, gas is cheap in Louisiana. Raw materials are usually gathered in The Gulf, shipped only a few miles to the shore, and processed at local refineries by cheap local labor. Aside from New Orleans and Slidell, Louisiana was relatively spared by Katrina. So our theory is this: if we drive a couple of hours into its belly, we'll eventually find the motherload.

My father and I load up both of his cars with ten empty five-gallon containers in each trunk, say our goodbyes, and set out for I-10, heading West, toward the remains of New Orleans. We have a pair of walkie talkies and keep in touch, sweating in the early afternoon sun, keeping our air conditioners quiet to conserve fuel, but our stereos are cranked and we're privately celebrating the eventual outcome of our safari.

After 30 minutes, we pass Slidell, LA. It's blackened by the destruction and the one or two gas stations we see from the interstate are swarmed by lines which stretch as far as we can see before we shoot past them.

After 45 minutes, we pass the exits which are supposed to lead into New Orleans. They're all barricaded. Nobody is going in. But there is an exodus of people evacuating. A tired, desperate storm of vehicles nearly buckled from the weight strapped to every available flat surface. An armada of families who salvaged what they could and hit the road, bound for greener pastures.

After an hour, we're in the thick of evacuee traffic going to Baton Rogue, or Texas, for further. Our progress grinds to just about 20MPH and we find ourselves passing hordes of military vehicles and utility trucks. As we creep past the open exits, we continue to see endless flocks of locals clustering around their neighborhood gas stations. Cars by the hundreds, lining the roads. No restaurants are open. No other stores are open. Everything is dark, unpowered. Nothing for us here. So we continue our quest, heading ever west.

An hour and a half after we started, we finally begin to see signs of power. There are open stores. The lines have begun to shrink. The madness slows. There is almost an air of normalcy as we see traffic vanish and fewer people waiting vulture-like for supplies.

Barely ten miles from Baton Rogue, we exit the interstate and shoot to the nearest station. We're tenth & eleventh in line.

We get out. Stretch our legs. And hug. Smiling like drunken fools and patting each other on the back. We did it. We found our treasure. Our golden goose. Not even two hours from the house. We'll be home in time for dinner!

Maybe twenty minutes later, we're fueling up. The station is sorry to tell us that they have imposed a 25 gallon limit. We grin likevillage idiots. 25 gallons each may as well be the motherload. It's 500% more than we'd get at home.

Almost enraptured, each of us fills half (5 out of 10) of our five-gallon cans, grab forty dollars worth of junk food, and find out there's another station less than a mile up the road. But, we're told with a frown, we'd be limited to 25 gallons there, too. Our grins grow even wider.

At the next station, we're fifth and sixth in line. We only wait 10 minutes before topping off all our cans and our cars and hitting the road.

The cars drive completely differently with 50 extra gallons weighing down their ass end. But we don't care. We roll up the windows and bask in the well-deserved chill of sweet sweet AC. Feeling like conquering warriors. Destined to return with the holy grail in our hands. Fuel. Fuel. Fuel. Enough gas to last everyone for another 5 days.

If we have to, we'll do it again next week. And the week after. As long as it takes. God willing, nothing can stop us from reclaiming our lives, now.

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