When they cancelled the New Orleans Bouchercon mystery convention, I decided to make the trip to my favorite city anyway. My new Vintage Cookbook Mystery series is set in the Big Easy, plus our daughter is a senior at Loyola University. And I’m a Tulane alum. So… research. Daughter. Friends. What could go wrong?
HURRICANE IDA, THAT’S WHAT.
The trip started out so well. I got in Wednesday night and stayed at the French Quarter Marriott for two nights to show my support for the hotel, which had been extremely understanding re: the con cancellation. I met Eliza for dinner at one of my favorite hangouts, Napoleon House. I enjoyed a nightcap at the hotel with fellow visitors, mystery author Mary Monnin and her husband Bob.
Thursday was lovely. A morning visit to the Milton Latter Library book sale. Lunch at Commander’s Palace. A wander through the Garden District, where my new series takes place. An art opening on the Tulane campus – a friend had a piece in the show – and dinner with book blogger Debra Jo Burnette. And… the rumble of Ida’s approach.
By Friday, when I moved uptown to be closer to my kid, the rumble of Ida’s approach had turned into a throbbing drumbeat. I wanted to wait out the storm. My kid wanted to evacuate. Dinner with my mystery author pal Greg Herren was punctuated by more “should I stay or should I go’s” than you’d find in The Clash song.
We went. To Houston.
You can read the deets of our somewhat harrowing journey here. Since I articulated them in the post on my personal blog, I won’t repeat myself. Instead, I’ll share a short story the journey inspired. About five hours into our thirteen-hour drive, my poor kid developed a migraine. To entertain her – and keep my own panic at bay as we drove dark, deserted two-lane roads in an effort to avoid the standstill traffic of I-10 – I made up a silly story. A few days later, after the final leg of our evacuation brought us home to Los Angeles, I decided to commit it to e-paper. So, my Chick on the Case friends, I give you…
A version of the short story I (Ellen Byron) made up to entertain Eliza as we drove down dark back roads to evacuate from New Orleans to Houston
“We’re going the wrong way,” the unpleasant woman insisted.
“No, we’re not, Mom,” her ever patient daughter responded. “We’re going the right way. We’re trying to bypass the traffic on I-10.” She was convinced she’d made the right choice. With tens of thousands evacuating New Orleans, the interstate was more parking lot than roadway, so she’d made the decision to head north, then eventually drop down south and continue west to Houston.
The two drove on for a few more hours. Hills appeared in the highway topography. “Look.” The mother pointed to a cemetery. “They can bury their people in the ground here. That’s how far north we are. We’re above sea level. Houston is south of here. We’re going the wrong way.”
“No, we’re not.”
“Yes, we are.”
“No, we’re not.” The daughter counted to ten. “Why don’t you rest? Close your eyes. See if you can take a nap.”
“Fine,” the mother grumbled.
She closed her eyes. When she awoke several hours later, they were on a pitch-dark, two-lane road with not another car in sight. She gasped. “We’re going the wrong way!” This time she screeched it.
“We’re not. We’re headed south. We’re just away from all the traffic.” The daughter yawned. “I need a break. I’m going to pull over so we can stretch our legs. We’ve still got another couple of hours before we get to Houston.”
She pulled over to the side of the road next to a bayou, still and black. The daughter got out of the car and stretched. The mother, furious, also got out. She screamed, “We’re going the wrong wa—”
She never got to finish the sentence. A luggage strap wrapped around her neck. She fought for a minute and then went limp. The dead quiet of the night was punctuated by a heavy splash in the bayou.
The daughter got back in the car and maneuvered back onto the silent road.
“I told you we were going the right way,” she said with a sly smile to the empty seat next to her.
Readers, have you ever been through a traumatic weather event? Or has a real-life event inspired you to write?