I was taken to a place where there were buses waiting for people like me who had been rescued. I got on the bus they pointed to and asked where we were going, and I was told the Convention Center. When we got there, there were thousands of people crowded outside waiting to get in. It was really hot and humid, worse because the side we were on was in full sun. I got in line, but realized that was really no line, there was no control. There were cops at the only door, and they were making people fill out a form before they could get inside. After standing there for about two hours in the sun, getting sunburned and not really moving at all, I heard people yelling, and some fights started near me when people tried to crowd ahead.
An old man standing next to me looked at me and said “Son, this is gonna be a real mess here. I’m gonna go somewhere else and if you wanna come with me I think that would be a good idea for you.”
I wasn’t sure about this, but then I heard what sounded like gunshots and people were running and screaming, so I nodded and we headed around toward the other side of the building.
“I’m Lincoln Carter. What’s your name, boy?”
We talked about what part of town we were from and it turned out that we lived pretty close to each other. Turns out he knew Granny, and told me he’d make sure I got somewhere where I could find out where she had been taken.
We hunkered down in the shade on the back side of the Convention Center. It was still stifling hot and the sweat was rolling down my chest and back. But the shade helped, and it kept me from getting more sunburned.
“Hey, Cody Williams, look over there. There’s three buses moving in and they’re seeming to be empty. Maybe we can get outta here on one of them buses. I say we head over there and see what’s what.”
We got up and walked about a quarter mile to where the buses were lined up. There were a few people standing around the first bus, talking to someone, then getting on. We headed to the bus. These were the first few buses that were heading to the Astrodome in Houston. The woman at the bus told us that she was from the Red Cross, and that the Houston Astrodome was set up to receive evacuees, that they had cots for us, and hot meals, and help to find our relatives. I looked at Lincoln. “Sounds good to me, how about you?”
“Yup, hot meals and a place to sleep sounds real good.”
“And maybe they can find out where Granny is.”
I turned to the woman and asked her what we’d have to do to get on the bus. “I’ll need your name, your age, the address where you lived, and if you know it your social security number.” I told her my name, age, and Granny’s address, and that I didn’t know my social security number. Lincoln told her his information including his social security number. She smiled at us and we got on board. About 20 minutes later our bus was full, the driver said, “Okay folks, we’re on our way!” and we left for Houston.
I was exhausted. I fell asleep almost as soon as we left. When I woke up it was dark outside. Lincoln was asleep. I had to pee, so I got up and moved past Lincoln into the aisle. There was a tiny bathroom at the back of the bus, and I took advantage of it. When I came out, I saw a stack of water bottles so I took one and drained it almost without stopping. Man, I had been so thirsty! Only thing, I’d have to pee again in a little while! I took three bottles back to my seat, one for me and two for Lincoln figuring he might be thirsty too. When I got there he was awake. I sat down.
“Here’s some water.”
“Oh, thank you, Cody Williams. I am so thirsty!” Lincoln drank one entire bottle. “Ahh, that was good! Nothing like water when you’re thirsty!” He grinned at me. “How you doing, boy?”
“Okay, I guess. I slept until a few minutes ago.”
“Yup, you sure did. And ya know, you snore, too!” He laughed.
I giggled. “I don’t snore!”
“You don’t hear yourself cause you’re sleeping, Cody Williams!”
We both laughed. “How much longer do you think it’s going to take to get to Houston?”
“Oh, a few hours, maybe. I’m hoping to meet up with my family there. They drove out a couple of days ago.”
“I hope I find Granny there. She was picked up by some firemen in a boat a few days ago, and there was no room for me. They said a boat would be along in a few minutes, but it never came. Two days later I had run outta food and just about run outta water so I was about to try wading down the street to where the fireman said there was a staging area, but just as I walked out onto the porch a boat came by and took me to Convention Center, then I met you, and now here we are.”
“Son, you had it tough. Shouldn’t happen to a boy, I think. When we get to the Astrodome you stick with me, and when we meet up with my folks we’ll take care of y’all.”
I felt tears running down my cheeks, so I turned so Lincoln couldn’t see. “Thanks.”
“Don’t be ashamed of cryin’, Cody Williams! You’ve been through a lot, we all have, so you just let it out.” He put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me to him, and I buried my face in his shoulder and started sobbing. I almost never cry, but it felt good for some reason. I guess I had a lot of emotion built up, and crying was a release. After a couple of minutes I stopped, sat up, and rubbed my eyes with my shirtsleeve.
“I guess I did need that, Lincoln. I don’t cry, it’s a baby thing to do I think, but I don’t feel ashamed. You were right, I let it out and I feel a lot better now.”
“Cody Williams, it’s probably gonna be lots of lines and waiting and stuff when we get to Houston, we better get some more sleep so we’re in tip-top shape in the morning!” Lincoln grinned at me, leaned his head back, and closed his eyes.
“Okay, Lincoln. But first, please tell me something. Why do you call me ‘Cody Williams’ instead of just Cody?”
He opened his eyes and turned his head to look at me and grinned. “You jus’ look like a ‘Cody Williams’ to me, and mostly I like the way it sounds together, ‘Cody Williams’ and it is your name. You don’t like me calling you Cody Williams?”
“Oh, it’s okay, I was just curious. No one else ever called me my full name except my mom and that’s when she was telling me off!” I grinned back at him, and he leaned back and closed his eyes again. I turned and looked out the window ‘cause thinking about my mom made me sad. I closed my eyes, and fell asleep right away.
The sun was shining into the window next to me, and it woke me. I stretched, and got up from my seat, went back to the little toilet compartment at the back of the bus, and took a pee. My stomach rumbled. That made me realize that I hadn’t had anything to eat since the night before last when I finished the last of the food that Granny and I had stored up. I walked to the front of the bus and the woman who had checked us in was sitting there filling out a form.
“Excuse me, ma’am, do you know if there’ll be any food when we get to the Astrodome?”
She looked up at me. “When was the last time you ate, son?”
“Night before last. I ate a can of cold soup.”
She shook her head, then smiled at me. “Let me see what I can do. You go back to your seat, and I’ll make an announcement in a few minutes.”
As I was walking back to my seat I saw that she was talking to the bus driver, and he was nodding his head. Lincoln wasn’t in his seat, I figured he’d gone to the toilet, so I sat down and looked at what we were passing. It was mostly farms, but I was starting to see a gas station now and then and near them some little groups of stores. Lincoln came back to his seat, and just as he sat down the woman up front talked into a microphone.
“Sorry to wake those of you who are still sleeping, but in about 5 minutes we’re going to stop for gas, and there’s a McDonalds that’s open and we’ll get some food for all of you. I can’t take special requests,” she grinned, “but I’ll bring back enough for everyone.”
Someone called out, “I don’t have any money, ma’am!”
“No need, this is being paid by the Red Cross.”
There was lots of murmuring and a bunch of ‘thanks’ from the passengers, including me and Lincoln. After a few minutes the bus pulled into a gas station. It had one of those mini-mart things, and I could see the McDonald’s next door.
“If you need to use the restrooms, go ahead. We’ll be here about a half hour or so, depending on how long it takes to get the food order, and if you have money you can buy snacks in the shop here. I’m going to go to McDonald’s and get us all some food.”
I got up and motioned to Lincoln. “Let’s give her a hand carrying it back.”
He smiled and nodded, and we followed the people slowly getting off the bus. Lincoln and I walked over to the McDonalds, and caught up with her as she was placing her order. The kid behind the counter was wide-eyed. I figured he had never had such a large order. There were about 90 of us on the bus. As we walked up I heard her say “Yes, that’s 150 Big Macs and 150 Egg McMuffins with sausage and cheese, and 100 large fries.”
“Ma’am, that’s gonna take some time for us to cook all that up for you. And it’s gonna be expensive, that’s lots of food.”
“I’m with the Red Cross, and I have a credit card so the price isn’t a problem. We have a bus full of people that were rescued from New Orleans, and most haven’t had anything to eat for a couple of days.”
The kid looked shocked, and sad. “Oh, shit, umm, excuse me, that’s awful. Hold on, let me get my manager.” He finished entering the order in his register, then walked to the back of the store. After a couple of minutes he returned with a portly man.
“I’m Richard Platt. I’m the manger here. Larry just told me what you told him. Your order is on the house. No charge, courtesy of McDonalds. We’ll start handing it out as it’s ready. The boys in the back are getting everything that’s already cooked into bags, and you can start taking them back to your bus. But I suggest you tell those folks that they’re welcome to come on in here to eat. I’ve got two urns of coffee, and we’ll make as much more as you need. Are there any kids on your bus?”
“Yes, there are 15 kids who are 16 or younger.” She turned and noticed that Lincoln and I were standing there. “This young man is 16, he’s the oldest child on the bus.”
Another teenage boy came up from the back with three bags. “Here’s everything that was already done.” He handed it to the manager.
“Lincoln and I will carry the food back to the bus, or should we just tell them to come in here?”
“Why don’t you do both. Vince, the bus driver, will want to stay with his bus, some of the folks on the bus are old and may not want to leave, and there are a few mothers with small children.”
I asked the manager if I could have a large coffee to take to the bus driver, and he handed it to me and I took it and the bags of food to the bus. Lincoln went into the mini-mart to tell people that they could come into the McDonalds to eat their breakfasts.
The bus driver, Vince, was still pumping gas, so I handed him the coffee and he smiled. “Thanks, son.” I told him I had food in the bags, and that I didn’t know what there was but it might be breakfast sandwiches and hamburgers. I took it on the bus, told the few people still there that they could go eat inside, and that those that didn’t want to I had three bags of sandwiches for them. A couple of people decided to go eat inside, and I handed out sandwiches to the others until I ran out, keeping four for Vince.
We all ate and I’ll tell you, those Egg McMuffin sandwiches were the best tasting thing ever. I ate four of them, and a large fries, and drank two cartons of milk.
The regular customers who were in McDonalds or came in while we were there heard about us, and that Lillian (that was her name) was with the Red Cross. They began giving her money, donations to help the Red Cross help the people like us who were being rescued from New Orleans.
We were there for almost 45 minutes. Then Vince came in and told us it was time to go, that we needed to be on our way to the Astrodome.
|Chapter 1||Story Index||Chapter 3|
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