Thursday, September 08, 2005

Day 3 on the road from the Arizona oven

Day 3 from the road in oven-hot Phoenix (108 degrees by some roadside signs) where the price of gas is consistently $3.09 despite news reports of falling oil prices. There is no evidence that the consumer is seeing it at the pump. Finding gas for $2.99 in Tucson was like finding gold because it was as high as $3.17 at many stations.
Today was about meeting old friends. Dinner was spent with John Fearing, executive director of the Arizona Press Association and a former Texas publisher when he owned by Eagle Lake Headlight. I knew John back in the early 1980s when he worked for the paper in Lockhart and I printed my Nixon News and Stockdale Star at that press.
It had been almost 25 years since I last saw John and only became aware of his location after a story about the passing of his former wife. Personal reconnections are often strange in their inception.
Stories flew back and forth like chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant and we discovered that our experiences (marriage, children, health) were quite similar. How bizarre!
Lunch was held with a former Lancaster resident, Forrest Cheuvront, at his retirement community in Sun Lakes, Arizona. After each of us detailed and updated our lives following our mutual departures from Lancaster, we discussed a bit of history that each of us shared more than a decade ago.
Forrest was a city councilman when the tornadoes devastated Lancaster in April 1994. He had to work with local officials, local public safety personnel and … FEMA. As he has watched the latest news, he sees the events through the eyes of someone who had been there, done that.
“We lost all our communications with our fire and police,” he said. “No one knew who was doing what for the first few hours. We only knew when the TV cameras went into some of the Town Square (downtown Lancaster) businesses. The first hours were total chaos.”
Many agencies responded before FEMA arrived and it was hard for Forrest to watch as bulldozers crushed the remnants of what once constituted the center city homes.
“People were told they had no choice and no time to react,” Forrest remembered. “It was just done and that was that!”
Lancaster has rebounded after years of malaise, but it has never fully recovered and it will never be what it once was. The tornadoes struck Town Square 30 days after it was designated as a Texas Main Street. It never recovered.
That’s what old friends do – they remember.
And finally, I am amused but often disgusted with the talk/cable reaction to what happened in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast days after Hurricane Katrina struck. White conservative males seem to “hate hearing about the blame game” yet seem insistent on talking about it – constantly! Talk yakker Michael Savage, a particularly heinous bigot who is syndicated in far too many markets, even had the chutzpah to call the evacuees “bums” and labeled New Orleans as a “degenerate” city. This is a man who needs to have his tongue suddenly stricken in order to silence him.
But you see the TV reporters going to various homes seeking survivors, but a few of them have gotten personally involved by “rescuing” people (if you call filming them going into a boat as that).
I have rescued someone from raging floodwaters in my life and it ain’t like you think. While I lived in small-town rural Texas, torrential rains swamped the local creeks and stranded many people from safety. Back in the day, before Hummers ruled the road, most vehicles could not traverse high water. So it was the human element that had to effect rescues.
In my younger days, when I was in slightly better shape, I served as a volunteer fireman; actually just an excuse to go on the fire trucks with a camera in my hand. On this day, the call came for a high water rescue of an Hispanic family trying to cross the flooded creek.
The truck could not afford to be stuck and most of the men weren’t as big as me. So I was “volunteered” to walk through waist high water to help lead these people to safety. With a rope around my waist, I walked on a roadway through the increasing torrent of moving water toward these people.
All I wondered was what life forms were swimming past my body and what they would do in the case of a collision. Still, I made it successfully and help bring those people to safe arms. And nothing bit me, although the stench from the water stayed in my clothes for weeks, even after repeated washings (imagine how New Orleans and Mississippi will SMELL like in the coming months).
I felt good to have done something to help others. It wasn’t anything heroic because it needed to be done. I was just the one chosen to do it – which describes what a volunteer fireman does. It wasn’t done for the headlines; that’s the most important thing.
Tomorrow is a reunion with my sister in California and her adopted daughter. Uncle Buck shows up! Should be … interesting.

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