Sunday, September 09, 2007

Katrina stories, 7

The land line phones were working, but because of the sheer number of people either calling in or trying to call out, it was a rarity to get anything other than a busy signal at first. And even if you did happen to get a dial tone, sometimes the phone would disconnect, sending you into a rage of utter frustration.

After the first few days, local calls started to go through without any problem, but it was still difficult to make long distance calls.

It took me a couple days to get an actual call out to my folks to talk to them in person and let them know we were all right: Once things were quasi-stable, I snuck out the hospital and drove westward about a good 20 miles to find a pay phone that worked.

Can you remember the last time you used a pay phone? Well, I totally forgot that it was going to cost more than 35 cents to call long distance. Your brain will forget the most obvious things. I don't know why, but I didn't want to make my dad pay for a collect call, so I used my credit card to place a call. My 11 minute phone call (which got disconnected) cost my credit card $20. How's that for a ripoff!

Unlike what was being shown on TV, not everything was under water. And some places even had power. The area that we were in regained electrical power within a few days. And the store owners who had stayed behind, opened their stores for business after about a week or so. A few grocery stores were open, and some of the local restaurants were open and serving a very limited menu. You just had to know where to go. We ate a lot of hamburgers (the only thing they were serving) at the local Dairy Queen. They were the only place near us that was open, and they had something to eat that wasn't PB&J or canned soup. Of course, it was only a matter of time before we got sick of that too.

However, everybody only took cash. No credit cards. No checks. No debit cards. Just cash. Sounds easy enough, but where are you going to get cash? None of the ATM machines work. And if you could find one that still worked, there wasn't any money left in it. As people evacuated town, they stopped by the ATM machines to withdraw money. As a consequence, there just wasn't any money left in these machines. And it was obvious which ones did have money at one point because they were demolished by the looters.

But much more valuable and scarce than cash was gasoline. Nobody was coming to refill the gas stations. Once everybody realized this, things started to get real ugly.