As I said, life was frenzied (so frenzied that one day, while I was living on a tour bus with my male coworkers, I open the door into the tiny bathroom on that bus -- right into my boss using it. That is the definition of Awkward, just so you know). And I barely left the area where we were living and working. Until one night I was invited to dinner with a group of people that included a Cabinet Secretary. So I figured it was ok to actually leave, after ensuring all my duties were taken care of. And I don't even get into the restaurant before I get a call on my cell phone that something needs to be taken care of right then back at the emergency ops center. So I frantically look at my friend who had invited me to the dinner and he jumps into action to figure out how to send me back.
So he commandeers a police car.
I had to admit, I was pretty impressed. Some of us had official flip-top badges so he might've flashed that, who knows. All I know is the next thing that happened was he and the group went with the Cabinet Member, and a nice helpful policeman let me into the back of his car and he whisked me back to my home base.
The only other time I tried to leave for actual downtime, I was nearly accosted by a local yelling at me that I was with the government and had the gaul to just be out having dinner. I'm pretty sure my exhausted, over-worked self started tearing up at which point my coworker sat down with the man and explained how hard we'd been working for many days and that we were simply trying to decompress for a second. They ended up being buds and I gratefully got to actually finish that meal.And I mentioned other random "politicos" running around. It became this funny game of connection, where I'd be getting emails from DC on my blackberry to go find so and so on a corner outside the JFO who I'd never met but was another politico and needed help navigating the area or something. Even after I left and returned to DC, I'd get calls on my cell from others who had just gone down for another shift, and I'd be standing in the middle of DC trying to explain to someone what road to turn on in Baton Rouge. Insanity.
But before we go into my return to D.C., there's one other person I met while down there that is pretty funny.
For whatever reason, he felt the need to insert himself into the operations down there, which at the time I found really annoying. And I remember walking past his aide one day in the EOC and his aide asking me if I wanted to meet Mr. Jackson.
I said no.
Which was probably considered rude but I didn't care at the time. However, later, he ended up near me again and my coworkers and I decided to go ahead and snap a photo. It's blurry and I'm smirking -- pretty representative of how I felt right then so very appropriate:
I went on to interact with other folks and continued to work until my direct bosses were sent back to D.C. with short notice again. I wanted so badly to stay and even had one of the military liaisons offer me a place to sleep on a naval ship he was living on right off the coast, but in the end, I knew I needed to go with my bosses.
Then they almost left me.
Sigh. The exit happened so fast that they couldn't find a flight out of Baton Rouge and instead decided to drive to Houston and fly out the next morning (or maybe my boss did it on purpose because of the bathroom incident....). I literally jumped into one of the suburbans as they were heading out.
And that's how my Katrina experience ended. As abruptly as it started, full of emotion.
God Speed, Sandy responders.