Following the Squeeze concert on Sept. 18, I dropped my friend Greg off at his apartment. By then it was almost midnight. Ramona has sent me a text saying the rain in Beaumont was pretty heavy and I should think about staying in Houston.
But the pre-concert heavy rain had completely disappeared and the streets of Houston were dry. I figured that I was going to be on the highway all the way into Beaumont, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem, and I really just wanted to get home.
Those of you in Southeast Texas reading this will now be shaking your heads and wondering why I am such an idiot. You’ll get no defense from me. To be fair, I didn’t realize that I would be driving into a ridiculous tropical storm — Imelda. It didn’t even exist when I had left home that afternoon.
I cranked up the Squeeze on the iPod and set off home. I noticed a text saying school was closed for the next day, so I had the day off work. Brilliant, I would be able to have a lie in.
The roads were clear all the way to Anahuac, about halfway home. Then the rain started. A few squalls, but we are used to that. After another 10 miles or so, the rain was pretty constant and heavy. But there were other cars on the road, and I was in no hurry, so I drove well below the speed limit. By the time I got to Winnie it was pretty damned heavy. I thought about pulling off, but the exit was backed up with cars and I won’t even get a pastry from Starbucks if there are more than two people in line. So, on I went. It’s just 25 minutes more, I thought.
Ten minutes later I was questioning my decision. There were significantly fewer vehicles on the road and we were all doing a solid 20 mph. I had already quieted the radio so I could concentrate — the only sound was the rain shushing in waves across the car and the rapid thwack-thwack of the windshield wipers doing their best to keep up.
I pulled over a couple of times, once half under an overpass, but that didn’t seem like a particularly smart move either. I had come this far, and I only had 15 miles to go.
Then it happened. I was following behind an 18-wheeler going about 10 miles an hour, when I suddenly noticed, in the lights, that the water was actually flowing across the road. That, I knew, was not a good sign. The sound of the rain and the wipers was joined by a whispered “Shit, shit, shit, shit,” followed by, “Don’t stop. Don’t stop.”
It was only about 200 yards, but it felt like it took me about half an hour to get through it. I breathed a sigh and hoped that was the last of the flowing river — it was. At this point, I had no choice but to move ahead. I decided to make it into town where there would be lights and I could see whatever awaited me on the exit ramp.
I exited the highway, a mere three miles from my house. The bright lights of College Street enabled me to see clearly. And I could clearly see the tail lights of the car 100 yards ahead of me that were bobbing up and down in the flooded access road. I stopped and pulled into a parking lot, before cutting through to the parking lot of America’s Best Value Inn, which is as swanky as it sounds. I decided to wait out the night there.
I put my seat back and tried to nap. This was difficult as the rain was whipping against the roof of the car. I couldn’t help noticing that, despite being significantly higher than the road, the water was rising. At one point some asshole in a pickup truck drove at speed through the parking lot, causing my little Prius to rock in the waves (the other time that happened was around dawn when a boat went by — yep, a boat).
About an hour after I got there, an SUV tried to come in the lot. It got about halfway before flooding out. Interstate 10 was a parking lot, with 18-wheelers lined up on the side of the road as far as the eye could see. By then I knew that the road was closed in both directions.
At dawn, the rain eased. Somehow, water had not got in the car, stopping about half an inch below the door. I waded into the lobby and asked for a room. It was obvious I wasn’t going anywhere for a while. It was a miserable day. I had a splitting headache from a lack of tea (hot, milk and sugar — I’m English) which I require to function on the most basic level. The vending machine was broken, although I did manage to wrangle a packet of peanuts out of it.
It turns out, the College Street exit is one of the lowest parts of town. By lunch, I could see traffic slowly moving on College. But that 100-yards might as well have been a mile as inaccessible as it was. The car that had alerted me to the flooding was still merrily floating around the access road. I decided to turn in. Finally, around 11 p.m., Ramona called and told me to check the road. It had finally gone down. I loaded up the car and headed the five minutes home.
A mere 24 hours after the final Squeeze song was played, I was home. A guy I know who went to the same show ended up stranded at the gas station in Winnie for two days.
So, what did I learn? 1. Just because there is not a tropical storm when one leaves the house, doesn’t mean one won’t appear and drop 43 inches of rain later in the day. 2. A Prius may be low to the ground, but it is hardy. 3. Always travel with a teapot and some tea bags, ’cause you never know. 4. And when your girl says maybe you should stay where you are, you should listen (although I probably won’t).
Oh yeah, and the concert was totally worth it.