The Latest from Plenty’s Bus to Louisiana
Story from the front—the hippie bus makes it through military lines
Author: Peter Schweitzer First Week of September 2005
I’m copying this message to a bunch of people from my email address book—everybody I thought might be even remotely interested in this story. Can you imagine how many thousands of stories like this are happening and being told or will come out later? New Orleans represents an American gumbo, a spicy jambalaya of cultures. Bayou people are a special breed. I can only listen to Zydeco right now.
Here’s what I know related to “Funny how disasters bring us together like almost nothing else.”
Gary McGlaughlin called me on Wednesday and asked if the Farm was sending busses down to New Orleans in response to the Katrina disaster. I said, “Gary, we don’t have any buses anymore. And there are less than 200 people here now.” He hangs up, Googles “school buses/Nashville” and finds a place with good buses for $1500, buys his ticket and that night he’s in Nashville.
Gary pulled into the Farm Friday night in a full size, diesel school bus. He had flown out to Nashville from Santa Cruz, California the previous night and earlier in the day bought the bus from a company in southern Kentucky for $1500. On the way down to the Farm he stopped in Nashville and bought another $1500 worth of food and water and dry goods like TP, handiwipes, aspirin, and diapers. He rolled in the Gate at around 10 p.m. He hadn’t been back to the Farm in 25 years. He and Dawn have been living in Santa Cruz, where he has a successful remodeling business with his 29-year-old son.
The problem was, we didn’t have anybody lined up to go with Gary and I didn’t want to see him head out alone in the big bus (although Gary was fully prepared to do just that). We thought he was going to spend the night at Neal and Barbara Bloomfield’s but he wanted to just keep going. But Barbara had dinner for him so we went down to “Honey Base” for enchiladas and squash-pecan pie. Gary could barely eat he was so pumped. He hadn’t had a chance to swap old Farm stories in a long time. He said he had just gone up on eBay and bid on the Caravan Book and Hey Beatnik and he had to pay over $100 a piece to outbid the other people. So happened Josh Heake, who’s 22 and teaching at the school, has a room at Bloomfield’s. He was there hanging out with us. I ask if he wants to go to New Orleans. Next thing I know he’s got his back pack and sleeping bag in his arms.
So off they went at 1:00 a.m. Saturday morning they call from outside Jackson, Mississippi, still two and a half hours from Alexandria, Louisiana where we heard there was a shelter begging for just the stuff we had on the bus. Roads had been clear, some convoys of big trucks and heavy equipment were seen headed south. Some gas stations were out of gas but they all had diesel. At one stop a guy pumping gas next to them at 4 a.m. asked what they were doing and when they told him, he peeled off five twenties and gave them to Gary.
Got to Alexandria in the afternoon and arrived at the shelter only to learn they had been stocked up by the Red Cross, but said there was a camp outside of town with 900 people that could use stuff. They went there and the people were grateful to receive the food and dry goods but they were okay for water.
Meanwhile, we’d gotten an SOS from the Veterans for Peace people who had been part of “Camp Casey” in Crawford, Texas. They were setting up camp in Covington, Louisiana and needed everything, especially water. Covington is on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain across a long causeway from New Orleans, so they head there, stopping Saturday night for a little shut eye at a rest stop. All the motels were full. They called me Sunday at 7 a.m.. They were at the Park where Camp Casey had obviously been. There was a sign “Camp Casey” but no people! They saw a cop and asked him but he didn’t know anything about where they were. So they just started driving around. I went up on the Internet and Googled around until I found a page that said they had moved to a school and gave the address. I called Gary’s cell and they found the school and sure enough, there they were.
On the Internet, on the Veterans For Peace (VFP) and Camp Casey related pages, I was seeing messages from what seemed like eight or ten groups that were on their way to Covington with water and other things for Camp Casey. Apparently they hadn’t arrived because they were grateful to get our load of water. Then they said, “Please stay and help us get people out of the city.” They had a bus but it was their “command center” and didn’t have the rows of empty seats ready for passengers. There was a rumor that there were hundreds of people stranded under a bridge in the city so Gary and Josh headed out for new Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain across the 25-mile-long causeway. Gary said the causeway was broken up in spots that you had to drive around but otherwise was very drivable. There was a police check on the New Orleans side. The officer wanted to know what they were doing and if they had authorization. I had given Gary a letter saying he was authorized “by the Board of Directors of Plenty International” and that seemed to do the trick. So they got to the bridge and there is nobody in sight. Obviously from the trash there had been a bunch of people there recently. Turns out they had been moved to the airport.
At this point the airport seems to be the depot for evacuations. All the people from the hospitals were brought there and have been flown out to places like Nashville where they’ve been placed in Vanderbilt and other hospitals until now they say they’re full. Others are being flown to Houston. Gary headed off to the airport. He said he could see parts of the city were still under water, but they were driving though dry neighborhoods where people were sitting out on their porches enjoying their Sunday and others were walking around or riding their bikes. Gary says he doesn’t think they will be able to evacuate everybody because everybody’s not going to want to leave and there are still lots of people in the city who seem to be alright.
He gets to the airport and it’s bedlam. Military vehicles, ambulances, utility trucks, buses etc. are jamming up the roads in front of the airport. The airport itself is swarming with state, local, and airport police and three kinds of military cops plus National Guard, Red Cross, FEMA, you name it. And hundreds of people waiting to get on planes to Houston or wherever. Gary is trying to figure out how to get some people on the bus to take them out. He asks a cop who says, “Nobody’s leaving and get that bus out of here.” He asks another cop who says, “Well, if you find some people who want to go, take them, but don’t announce it because there will be a stampede.” So Gary rounds up a bus full and heads them out the door only to be met by another cop who says, “wait a minute. You can’t take these people out of here, and move that bus!!” So the people start filing back into the terminal, when an MP comes by and says, “what’s going on?” And Gary tells him, “These people want to go and we’ve been told they can’t.” The MP says, “Oh yes they can. Get back on the bus!” Which they do and Gary brings them back to Covington and the school where the Camp Casey people have their shelter. Most of them are asking to go to Baton Rouge which is close, but at the school they’re able to take showers and eat. A few decide to stay there and Gary and Josh take the rest of the folks to Baton Rouge.
While I’m talking to Gary I can hear a young Black guy telling him his “amazing tale.” This guy was trapped in his house with the water rising. Next thing he knows he’s swimming for his life. He starts to tire and go under, but he sees somebody on a nearby roof-top. He yells for help. The guy dives in, swims over and puts him on his back and swims over to the roof. They climb onto the roof where they remain without food or water for the next three days, when a boat comes by and rescues them. Three days!*%#!?!
We don’t know if our bus will be able to bring more people out but they will try. As they were leaving people hollered, “When are you coming back?” People already at the airport don’t normally get to decide where they’re going, unless they manage to catch a ride on that hippie bus…