Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Chapter Forty-Six

When Scott gets home there is quite a celebration; both before and after the kids go to bed. The centerpiece of the family’s dinner is a loaf of persimmon bread with pecans in it. Luckily the family’s supply of powdered eggs is still quite healthy because Sissy really over stocked, or so she had thought at the time, on #10 cans of whole dried eggs, powdered egg whites, as well as powdered milk.

After dinner the family sits and talks about what Scott saw and heard while on the road away from home.

They started their trek by going straight north on Interstate 75 to Lake City, FL where they had to pull over for an initial inter-state travel checkpoint, followed by another one in Jennings, FL. There was no stopping and getting out of the semi cab at the checkpoints as it is strictly prohibited by the transportation authorities. The men weren’t really interested in getting out of the cab, that section of the travel plans was plenty eerie.

There were a lot of military style vehicles on the road, some semi tractor trailers, but very few private vehicles. That is unless you counted the disabled and stripped down vehicle skeletons lining either side of the road.

This situation continued on up to Valdosta, GA and Sissy’s brother said that this is true of most major roadways, particularly the US Interstate system. Some trucker buddies of his said that it was the same way up into Canada and just south into the border towns of Mexico.

At Valdosta they faced another inter-state travel checkpoint. Since they were coming into rather than leaving the state, this checkpoint took longer. The fact that they had a signed contract with a bonafide, well-known company really helped with the approval process. Without that contract, there would have been all sorts of declarations and inspections that would have eaten up the remainder the day until they were stuck because of curfew.

After being released to travel by the Valdosta officials, they took off towards Atlanta, but were directed to by-pass the city using the marked detours by a National Guard blockade. The entire city of Atlanta was quarantined due to a severe cholera outbreak following their last wave of panflu infections. The men picked I75 back up near Marietta, GA. Marietta itself looked like an armed encampment with exits blocked off by disabled vehicles that had been piled two and three high. There were signs all over the place warning that travelers who stopped were subject to confiscation of all goods and likely loss of their due process rights. There were also some places strung with barbed wire and accordion wire to keep people from going around the blocked exits. Truckers along the way had warned them that for sure you didn’t want to try and push your luck. If a town said keep moving, don’t stop here, then that is exactly what you better do. Some towns out there didn’t fool around. They shot first and worried about justification later. They continued trucking through Calhoun and Dalton, GA and then into Chattanooga, TN where they had to stop for another border crossing.

In Chattanooga they had to pay a "toll" to get through. Bribe at gunpoint was a better description. Those that didn’t pay often found that their paperwork was marked suspect and their loads were confiscated and drivers "taken into custody." Sissy’s brother said it was better to just pay it for now, so they had to leave about 100 pounds of sugar behind. As soon as they could, they got out of there and didn’t look back.

In Chattanooga they switched from I75 to I24. They ran into no trouble until they reached Murfreesboro where they needed to refuel. They spent two hours waiting in line before they were able to take their turn at the fuel pumps. As soon as they got to the head of the line, the pumps ran dry. Luckily they were only an hour more waiting for refill. Some truckers had mentioned waiting days in line for fuel.

Also at Murfreesboro they found they would have to bypass Nashville and Clarksville. Nashville was quarantined. Clarksville was under control of the US Army that was based at Ft. Campbell Army Base. They figured their papers might get them into Clarksville, but it was getting out that was the problem. They were carrying a valuable cargo. While they were waiting for fuel they re-routed their travel plans. First they would use secondary roads to cross over to I65 and then over to I40. They backtracked on I40 to a little town called Burns where they went north to a little town called Dover, where Ft. Donelson National Military Park is located. This was the area where Sissy’s father was raised when he was a small boy and they still have connections living there.

Taking a chance they called ahead on the CB. They actually reached a cousin that was more than happy to let them park on their farm for the night to avoid problems with curfew. They were fed and in exchange left a bag of sugar that was much appreciated.

The next morning it was an easy jaunt into Christian County, KY where Hopkinsville Milling Company is located. It is also where many members of Sissy’s extended family still live. One of these is another cousin that works at the mill and she is the one who arranged the contract for the trade of sugar for other goods.

The men spent three days in town waiting for the transaction to be finalized. During this time they were pretty much quarantined in a merchants’ area which was basically a camp where truckers parked. They did have family come by with letters and news being exchanged, not all of it good. There had been losses in the family. Several family members had lost grandchildren. Sissy’s cousin, who was paralyzed and suffered some lower immunity issues, became infected and his full recovery is in doubt because due to his physical challenges he is triaged from receiving professional medical care. His mother is a former LPN who worked at the State Hospital for many years. The aunt’s neighbor, who lost her own son to the panflu, helped her get out of the house and go see her sister’s husband and her nephews. Scott reported, "She leaked tears the entire visit. She lost one of her grandchildren and has nearly lost her son. She is tired and fragile, physically and emotionally."

Other relatives continued to come by their entire stay. There were some plans made to see if they could bring citrus fruit or strawberries when they ripen but the plans were fluid as everyone is well aware how quickly the situation could change.

As each family member came by to visit they were given a couple of sugar cones. Some sent packages and letters back with them. Eventually it was time to leave as their business travel visa was running out of time. They took the same route back but avoided Chattanooga, TN by taking back roads. This added an extra day to their trip but was worth not having to deal with the bribe process.

"I didn’t do a lot of manual labor on the road, but that life sure is tiring," Scott says.

"How did everyone look?" asks Sissy.

"About like people here. Rode hard and hung up wet; some more so than others. Your aunt looks really bad. If your cousin doesn’t fully recover it won’t be because he isn’t being given the best care your aunt can manage. Your Dad got permission on the last day there to go to her house and see him. He could hardly talk about it when he got back. Its bad."

Sissy is very somber for a while.

"We have been so lucky," she says quietly.

"Not luck, well at least not much. You got us going with prepping and then we teamed up to address our business concerns. We’ve had a game plan that’s been flexible but solid and we’ve followed it. That’s not luck, that’s forethought and strategy. You’ve taken good care of us," he says hugging her.

While she feels some vindication at his words, she responds by saying, "We’ve taken care of each other. Its just hard hearing how bad its been out there. When you don’t know people you can keep some objectivity and distance. When its family it brings it all home. Stories are just stories until you find out its happened to someone you love."

Scott and Sissy head off to bed, yet again faced with how relatively well off they’ve come out of a bad situation. Preparing has given them an edge that has turned out to be priceless. Sissy is just sorry that she couldn’t have convinced more people to do it.

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