Tags: katrina

the torch-ginger

To Observe is To Change - Media Bias - A Response

This started off as a response to mandis13's post about how both the media and the people who believe the media are biased. It's a good post. You should go read it. I agree with him about most of it, but my comment started to scroll far beyond its little text area. So I moved it over here and made it into a real post.

To summarize mandis13: Both sides of the media are spewing biased reports that play to their constituents in an attempt to politically influence people. Truth in the media is so tenuous that if you really wanted the "truth", you'd have to go to New Orleans to get it. He's also critical of the people who actually put stock in the information they get from the media:
If you want the TRUTH, GO TO NEW ORLEANS. That is where "the truth" is. The media no longer even pretends to be unbiased. Frankly, I'm kinda shocked that so many people are taking what they read or see on TV as "the truth."

Personally, I think that the response was slow because, as we can all plainly see, our military resources are stretched thin due to our continued presence in Iraq. We had to wait until Katrina had done her dirty deed before we could move. Then we had to evaluate where to send help. Then, as it turned out, we had to post additional security on the help, because the people down there had gone pretty much crazy from desperation and despair (although some were just plain bad people with guns). When help was on its way, a few bad apples caused evacuation, rescue, and relief to become too dangerous to do without armed escort, which took more time to mobilize. Certain parts of this whole thing WERE blown, both by the federal folk and the local folk, who went just as crazy from the aforementioned grief and desperation (and a healthy amount of Southern police corruption!).

I formally hate the media now. Both 'sides' of the media have proven that they don't give a crap about truth in any way, just coverage. I knew that was the case, but to have it so openly displayed... SIGH. Enjoy your show, folks. Have fun on your e-soapboxes. Because we are watching the end of our nation, and its getting GREAT ratings.
I'll repeat again that I agree with mandis13 about the majority of his post. But it got me thinkin' about how people get their information and how they interpret it. I know that mandis13 is secure enough in his intelligence and opinions that he won't see this as a challenge, but merely dialogue...a comment that got too big for its britches and had to be made post of its own..

1. The Media® is the only source of info for most people.
Sadly, for 99.9% of people, the media is their only way to access information about an event/location/situation/person. Particularly in this case, most people physically can't get into the areas affected by the hurricane because those areas are off limits to non-relief, non-media, and military personnel. Normal modes of transportation are shut down: roads are closed due to debris, streets are filled with water, and you can only get in if you have a helicopter, really. Twenty-four hour curfews were set for coastal towns, and only recently have areas like Hattiesburg had theirs lifted. For people who have the money, transportation, and permission to personally investigate the situation, they'd have to sacrifice their personal lives, jobs, and responsibilities to "get to the truth".

Regular people simply can't get information directly from the source. Most "important people" don't answer questions from Joe Schmoe who "wants some answers, damnit". First, they won't take your calls or won't let you near them. I've noticed the difference myself when I'm interviewing business people about digital rights management. If I just call and ask if I can talk to them about their decisions about x,y,z, I usually get ignored unless I tell them that I run a news website. If I wanted to talk to a humble person who had experienced all the trauma of the hurricane, I'd be sure to get some stories, but that requires me to talk to hundreds of people and string their examples together to gain any sort of understanding of the larger situation, and it still doesn't answer my questions about government decision-making, budgeting, neglect, over-sight, and preparedness.

In reality, most people's only source of information is the news. It's one of the consequences/qualities of liking in a highly-specialized, developed society. I'd argue that the majority of people will acknowledge that the media is biased, but many of those apply that mindset to only their political opponents rather than within their own camp. But I do think that our generation and the ones after us have been raised and acculturated to being skeptical; we've grown up so inundated by news and rhetoric overload.

2. There is no Golden Age of news media.
I agree, the media on both sides is playing to an audience, and it's hard for me to believe that it was any different, even in the infancy of published news. There is no golden age of honest and reliable news reporting that we can look back on as an example of what news is supposed to be. John Stewart is my hero, particularly after his infamous CrossFire appearance. I'm disillusioned by both the highly-biased interpretation and the gross polarization of news commentary.

I think what really increases their desperation for ratings is that they're trying to support their bloated, 24-hour budgets and at the same time compete against other news agencies with equal demands to financially perform by shareholders, CEOs, and boards of directors. News media also has to fight to retain current viewership and attract new viewers from amongst an increasingly skeptical and critical American public. And we're the changing media environment isn't make it any easier. They're now having to compete with blogs, online news (which has given a bit of a rebirth to newspapers who couldn't keep up with speedy tv news), rss feeds, webcasts, all the while potentially losing revenue from advertisers who fear commercial-skipping tivos.

Believe me, I'm not making excuses for them. I'm routinely sickened not only by the treatment of news as attention-grabbing entertainment, but also by the media's attempts to perpetuate their image of "official" news sources. I don't know how to combat this mindset except to encourage myself and those around me to seek out multiple sources of information, examine the background of the person providing the information, and listen/read critically.

3. I've gained a new appreciation for local media.
What I have learned in all of this is an appreciation for local tv news stations. For general news I'd long shunned local stations, yokels who pander gossip, local politics, and notoriously unreliable weather forecasts. Oxford doesn't have a local tv station, and the last time I watched the Memphis news, they were "reporting" one community's outrage over a psychic moving into the neighborhood. I was so disgusted, I couldn't turn it off until the end of the segment. However, before, during, and after Katrina, the Coast tv stations actually gave me helpful information: storm readiness, where to pick up water, where the shelters were located, what roads were open, alternative evacuation routes, lists of survivors who'd checked into shelters, and places to take pets. WHLT went into all-night coverage about evacuation and weather conditions as the storm approached and never stopped. I sat up at 4:30 AM Sunday morning, knowing I was going to be stuck because of traffic, watching and listening as Katrina plowed through the last few miles of gulf toward landfall. After the storm, WLBT in Alabama flew over areas that the national news agencies (CNN, Fox, MSNBC) were reporting on...the places I gave a damn about.

I've long preferred NPR as my radio news of choice, and MPB reaffirmed my adoration by being my only lifeline after the power went down. They broadcasted continuously long after the storm was over, and still are. The MPB stations are keeping everyone updated about boiled water notices, utility status, donations, school and job openings, reconstruction, etc.

4. We're all biased.
In the end, I'm asking that all of you be a little more understanding of the people who are writing and speaking their minds. Yes, they got most of their information from the news, but it's all they've got. Unless you were right down in the thick of it or know someone who was, it's all you've got, too. Let me go one step further: even if you are working from your personal experiences, that's only one small patch of reality to draw your opinions from, and like the rest of us, you're still relying on other people, be they your neighbors or the media, to bring you that information.

Excluding the irrational and completely unfounded, their opinions are equally as justifiable as our opinions of the situation. mandis13's opinion is that everyone fucked up a little, that the problems are mostly situational, and people are doing the best they can. It makes sense for him to have that opinion since he's a-middle-of-the-road, see-it-from-both-sides kind of guy. He got his information partially from the media, too, and he interpreted it how he generally does, dispensing blame equally on those he considered at fault. However, no matter how intelligent he is or how critically he considered his sources, he is still dependent partially on the media for that information.

To wax philosophical, as I all too often do, just by observing something we're changing it, but we change the situation even more by talking about it. Our minds edit, filter, and reinterpret. We affect change by influencing the opinions of our friends and family and neighbors and colleagues. Yes, the media is biased. We all are. And even with its bias, I'm still thankful to have national and local media that can act as a watchdog to government and to other media sources. But they do us a service and a disservice at the same time. We should hold the media to a higher standard, call it out when it's being unethical (like mandis13 just did), and, most importantly, teach ourselves and others to think critically.
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    Joss Stone - "You Had Me" (damnit, Deirdra!)
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WLBT Shows Aerials of Hattiesburg and Laurel!

WLBT's skycam, which has been giving us the most extensive aerial views of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, has also taken stock of Hattiesburg and Laurel (i.e. the Pine Belt region).

I think this has already been linked before, but just in case, NOAA has made available TONS of satellite imagery of the coastline, which will help people get close-up images of their...where their homes used to be...to see how much damage their property sustained during the hurricane and tidal surge.

So if you're curious about areas that the WLBT's skycam did not fly over, you can see how they fared by using the NOAA link.
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    My neighbor's Latin polka that they blast from their car
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My mother's family just got water back today, although much of the city is still without power and some still without water. They still can't drink the water, but if they're desperate, they can boil it. Horace's mother and brother also brought down several cases of drinkable water from Jackson to tide them over.

I think the reason they got their power back so quickly is because they are on a separate grid/system from the rest of Hattiesburg. They're also a privileged neighborhood. The thought of their getting special treatment rankles me, but I'm still glad that they've got power. It might also be that the city's power system is just that much larger and it takes longer to get it back up.

As of right now, the biggest concern is fuel, just like further north. The difference without power, the pumps won't work and the ones that do can't get resupplied at all.

Dad has been driving back and forth from one end of the town to the other because he has obligations in both places. As the Canebrake Golf Club pro, he's got to get the course back to normal slowly, plus he's got about fifteen cats that he has to feed. Canebrake is about ten-fifteen miles to the west of town. He's also driving to the far southeast outside of town to the family farm to help them cut clear their driveways and get tree trunks off the roofs. The farm extended family is using a generator to operate the water pump on the property, so once again, fuel is a very precious necessity.

The hospitals are still closed. Both my step-mother Rita and my grandmother had to miss doctor's appointments to tend their broken ankle and wrist respectively. They're also running out of pain and heart medication, so that's a genuine concern. There's not much I can do about it right now. And even if I were to drive down and pick up someone to bring them closer to a doctor, I wouldn't have the fuel to get back.

I am slightly less worried than I was before now that I know my mother, Horace, and Grandma have drinking water. However, there are so many more growing concerns that appear as the rebuilding of utilities extends into the second week.
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    Rod Stewart - "I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now"
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Try to Price Gouge the City of Biloxi and See What Happens...

I can't wait 'til I find out the name of the company who tried to price gouge the entire city of Biloxi. I will swear a lifelong oath to give their name such black notoriety that it will forever be spoken as a curse, long beyond living memory. It will be a parable of how not to fuck with a wounded city who's just pissed enough to can your re-negging, self-serving, get-rich-on-other-people's-pain ass.
City officials have fired the FEMA-certified contractor who was on standby to remove debris following a hurricane.

Along came Katrina and the contractor wanted more money, Vincent Creel, city spokesman, told the Sun Herald on Tuesday.

"The one we had on standby - he was awarded the contract in June - wanted to change the terms of the contract," said Creel. "We can't have that."

But Biloxi won't be without help to remove the trash Katrina created. The city has temporarily hired the second-lowest bidder to perform the work during a 70-hour period to allow other contractors to bid on the job.

"The one we had on standby had agreed to get X-amount of dollars per cubic square yard of debris removed," said Creel.

Now, the contractor has asked for hourly wages and a mileage allowance, said Creel.

"We can't allow that."

The name of the contractor was not immediately available, nor was the price the city agreed to pay per cubic square yard.
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    Go Away Duncan Sheik!
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ruined paradise

Running Out of Water...

My family is running out of water. They have maybe four gallons (two jugs and several bottles) left to go between the three of them. Plus, with the increased heat, they're sweating out water faster than they can take it in on such strict rationing.

Telephone lines were restored sometime today, however, power and water are still expected to be down for weeks still. Mama and Horace have been taking pseudo-baths in the lake. Everywhere that's open is completely sold out of water. At 82, Grandma can't take the heat anymore. It got even hotter after I left because there was no wind and rain to help cool it off.

I'm trying to convince them to come north. They've got enough gas to get one car up here, particularly if they siphoned some off the other cars they have that are less fuel efficient. The hospital where Horace works is closed, but I think he's still hesitant to leave in case they do open up and he's needed.
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    Duncan Sheik - "Barely Breathing"
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For Those With People/Homes/Property in Hattiesburg and the Pine Belt Area

I started writing this for prodigalson, but I called him instead and decided to post this for anyone else who might need/want it.

Highway 49 from Jackson to about the middle of Covington county (Collins) is mostly clear in both directions. There's was an impass southbound for about two miles yesterday, but the national guard was cutting through it as I passed by. When there was an impass, people drove on the opposite side of the highway like a two-laner, although enough people have probably worked to improve the situation since then. If you choose to go, go slowly because the way cut through is often just narrow enough for a single car to pass through carefully at five miles an hour.

Hardy street seemed mostly clear and drive-able. During the day, cops/men were directing traffic through the larger intersections. Trees are down across the street in every neighborhood. Many industrious neighbors have cut paths through for cars, although there is no guarantee for specific areas. Fortieth Avenue is also passable, albeit difficult. If you absolutely must get down there, at the very least you can drive down Hwy49 then drive down Hardy and walk the rest of the way to your house. It is likely that a way has been cut through your neighborhood if you live in the city.

The best source of local, specific, helpful information is Mississippi Public Radio, not national news services like CNN. CNN is reporting on the more dramatic destruction on the coast and New Orleans. MPR is reporting on all conditions around the state including boil water notices, travel, utilities, and supplies. Listen online before you leave, and just keep scanning the lower end of the dial as you drive. You should be able to pick up at least one frequency throughout the entire state.

If you go down there, you will very likely not be able to buy gas for a return trip. Take enough food and water for at least two weeks. If you want to be helpful to yourself and your neighbors around you, take hand tools like hand axes, fire axes, hammers, nails, saws, screwdrivers, screws and gas-powered tools along with lots of fuel. Take work gloves, sunscreen, a hat, tarps, and towels.

There will very likely be no power, water, or telephone connections at least until the end of the week, perhaps into late next week or longer.

Honestly there is little to no rescuing to be done in Hattiesburg, and going down there is strictly for the sake of returning property and life back to normal. As hard as it is to say, please don't worry about your family. Only those who were driving around during the storm or refused to leave their mobile home were at fatal risk. It's only until you get within fifteen miles of the gulf coast that loss of life becomes a serious concern.

If you have a pet that has been left untended, that's a personal call. My cat, Izzy, is like my child, so I would make that trip down carrying as much gas as I needed. There are some cell lines still open in town, so if you can get a hold of someone to check on them, try that first.

Whatever you do, if you decide to go down to Hattiesburg now instead of waiting until the roads are "officially" open, please be careful, carry what you need to survive plus extra, and stay out of the way of emergency workers/vehicles. Do not go further south to the coast, unless you are part of an organized relief group. You'll just get in the way and deplete valuable resources.

I hope this information has been helpful.

Raining Trees - Death from Above - Katrina in Hattiesburg

I don't want to write about Katrina, but I know that if I don't force myself now, I might not bring myself to later.

Six or seven large pines fell on my mother's house and another eighty are down on her property. Had Horace and mama not moved my car Snarl to an open lot at the front of Canebrake that morning, he would have been smooshed by three trees. I awoke to one landing on the roof above my head, which prompted me to go downstairs where it was safer.

We lost power and water and telephone lines first. I called zordac on my cell to check in while I could. Then we finally lost cell phone service, too, which was our last line out to my sister Kelli at the bowling alley with its back-up generator, my father's family across town holed up at the farm, and my mother's family in Tylertown. From then on, I only knew about the people in the house with me: Mama, Horace, and Grandma.

We watched the trees, lithe pines and fuller hardwoods, bend like recurve bows. The wind would swirl their tops about in wide spirals then with each prolonged gust, they'd take deep bows in unison and slam their heads unwillingly to the ground. An almost uncountable number of times each hour, a rippled, cracking sound peeled like lightening and I would stand rigidly, waiting to hear if or where it hit the roof. Some trees split in half while others were wrenched up by their roots, then knocked down smaller trees in their path, domino style.

I reluctantly lay down for a nap. When I awoke, the wind was quieter but accompanied with the hum and grind of chainsaws. I walked outside in a borrowed yellow raincoat to survey the damage. The rain plastered my hair to my face and dripped down my nose. I breathed through my mouth and spit out the water as it ran down my cheeks.

It was a jungle. To reach the street, I literally had to climb over fallen trees every few feet and stoop under tree trunks propped up against the house or against other trees. I picked my way carefully, never touching the leaning and horizontal trees overhead lest I jostle them from their props and they fall the rest of the way onto me. Mama's house escaped all but minor structural damage to the house itself, a smashed air conditioner, and broken trellises but the natural destruction around us was enormous.

I looked across the street then down; the same scene repeated to infinitum as far I could see. Thousands of trees were down in Canebrake, hundreds lying across the road in big patches, walling us in. Chainsaw gangs of dripping, neighborhood men ripped a splintery a path, inch-by-inch, down the road. I've never been so happy that my step-father was a card-carrying member of an elite group of affluent, professional men who lived in Canebrake and developed expensive tastes for redneck toys and tools. Nearly every man on the block had his own pet chainsaw. Horace cut a small swath in the driveway and Mama and I rolled the logs and as much debris aside as we could.

We all slept downstairs that night. It was so sticky and hot, we propped open two of the three sets of french doors flung wide so that wind could flow in from the screened-in porch. I tried sleeping on the porch itself, but despite all my romantic aspirations, I am too much of a city girl. I felt too exposed. So I dragged the wicker chaise lounge inside and listened to the crickets and the new frogs that overnight had moved into Mama's fountain outside.

I lay with a length 1by4 on the table next to me, in case I had to smack a looter upside the head. Even while setting it within hands' reach, I felt ridiculous; a looter would never be able to see in the darkness, climb over the tree fortress surrounding the house and escape with loot. Then one of the neighbors' house security alarms went off and I stopped scolding myself. It blared at us through the open doors the rest of I night, so I begrudingly hauled myself upstairs despite the oppressive heat.

In the morning, I decided to try to make the drive home. Highway 49 was still closed to traffic, but I wanted to make a go of it anyway. Plus, I would be one less person to deplete my family's very limited water supply. Infrastructure damage is so widespread that it will be weeks before water and electricity are returned. I drove into town proper where the damage was bad, too, although not as extensive tree damage as Canebrake. Every single neighborhood was littered with fallen trees with only small holes cut through for cars to pass (apparently they have roaming chainsaw neighbors, too!). I mentally thanked the cops directing traffic at the larger intersections. I found with my step-mother, Rita, who told me that Daddy had made it down to the farm and confirmed that rest of his family was fine. On the way north out of town, I stopped at the bowling alley, and the owner/Kelli's roommate said that Kelli was fine but had just left with his girlfriend to try to get a shower elsewhere.

The drive home was slow going; many parts of the road narrowed to a single lane because of fallen trees. Once I reached Magee, I got a short burst of cell phone service and called zordac for the first time in a couple days. I almost had a head on collision with an F250 hauling a trailer and barreling down the wrong way. Convoys of military trucks and fleets of utility trucks and eighteen wheelers passed at regular intervals. Each time I got really choked up because I knew how badly they would be needed further south and how so many people were depending on them.

It wasn't until I got home that I actually got to see images of the coast. I knew it was bad from the battery-powered radio we had listened to, but...it...I can't talk about it. I grew up knowing those places by heart, down there almost every weekend, like a second home. All gone. All of it. Buildings and families and landmarks and cherished memories and livelihoods that had survived Camille and dozens of storms before her only to be pulverized by a deceptive, upstart meat grinder named Katrina. My family is alive and safe. Hattiesburg is damaged and inconvenienced for a while, but the coast has been laid to waste and New Orleans is sure to follow.

When I got to zordac's office in Oxford, he held me and wouldn't let go. We didn't stop touching at least in one way or another until I put him to bed and snuck away to write this after he fell asleep. I feel so guilty being up here while my family is stuck down there. I feel helpless and enraged, but I have to be practical and keep my life moving. There's nothing I can do for them right now if I stayed down there except deplete their resources. But despite my frustrations with being stuck before the storm started, I'm glad I was there with them during the storm, so I could have the certainty of their survival. It was also selfishly exciting, insofar as it was something I'd never experienced before but such an experience and awareness came with such a great cost, like a writer or a photographer who guiltily observes the devastation around him. I was never scared for my life, not once, and knowing that my family is alive whilst uncomfortable is much better than not knowing at a comfortable distance.

I haven't slept more than a few hours in rough patches for the last few days. I am emotionally exhausted from the last few days and from crying at the CNN footage. Perhaps I can sleep now.
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    "You and your beautiful soul..."
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ruined paradise

(no subject)

The air conditioner started making a horrible whirring, whistling sound about twenty minutes ago.

I finally got up from the laptop and I walked over to where the sound was coming from and it led me to the back door.

And I realized that it was the wind outside...
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    the original Wizard of Oz witch-in-the-cyclone music
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Ooooh I can feel it

Stuck in Katrina with You

Well, I'm stuck in Hattiesburg, not because of the weather but because of the traffic. Northbound Highway 49 was moving at 6mi an hour earlier today.

I'm not regretful of making the appearance Saturday night at my Aunt Alethea's surprise 50th birthday party. Aunt Alethea cried when she saw over two hundred people who loved her. I had a lot of laughs making goofy comments with my cousins, saw several old faces, and even dozens more who were familiar but I'd long since forgotten since I moved out of Hattiesburg eight years ago. Afterwards I checked on my step-mother, Rita, who had broken her ankle that morning, and met up with my sister, klcblonde at the bowling alley where she tends bar. I had several more drinks, met some of her friends/roommates, rode with Kelli to her new pad, waited off my buzz, then drove to my mom's and crashed about 6:30AM.

I realize now that I just shouldn't have had any drinks, turned straight around after the party, Rita, and Kelli, and driven back to Oxford at 4AM Sunday morning.

When I decided on Friday night to make the morning trip, Kristina was just a Cat2 hurricane. The next morning, she was a three with the expectation that she'd be a four or five by landfall on Monday. Still no Mississippi evacuations, and I wasn't going to be gone long. Even as I made my plans, I knew they'd go bust. I hoped to stop briefly in Jackson to visit birdofparadox and Glover (which I sadly did not have time for), swing into Hattiesburg, spend 36 hours with family, and make it back up to Jackson Sunday afternoon to meet up with the post fantasty football draft folk. Riiiight.

I remember telling myself how stupid it was as I made the drive down. The NPR announcer gave repeated announcements of the hurricane progress and contra-traffic conditions thirty miles south of Hattiesburg. "Whatever you do, don't go south" he kept saying as I was driving, well, south. I got that cheesy horror/natural disaster film feeling that I was about to commit the fatal error despite the Cassandra-esque plot hero's warnings.

This morning as I buried my head and my hangover under my pillow, I kick myself for not listening to...myself. Then I got an eerie feeling (one that comes from half-witted, 2-hours of sleep, half-drunk rationalization), that maybe I'm supposed to be here. Maybe someone someone here will need me. Despite its stupidity, the delusion served to quell the stranded feeling that almost pushed me to spend eight hours on Mississippi back road to get to Oxford and the photo project I left behind. So I settled down for the long wait and made arrangements for navydave to break into my house and rescue Izzy should there be spin-off tornados near Oxford.

If I wasn't such a ninny (and if I knew exactly which house was his), I'd be knocking on prodigalson's door and setting up a hurricane party for tomorrow. But it's too late so I'm going to make the most of it and spend some quality time with my mother and grandmother who is staying with us during the storm (and to help with her broken wrist).

Kristina should be hitting within the next few hours. We had pristine weather most of the day. 'Round about 6PM the went from light to charcoal in under five minutes. The wind was never steady, instead bursting into gusts then returning again to utter stillness. Dead quiet nothing then fury then nothing again. Now it's just the trickle of water and the thrumming energy of the air.

I spent the afternoon entertaining my Grandmother and helping Mama move her porch furniture, potted plants, cherubs and wind chimes inside the house and tucking what was left against the fences and gates. We filled up the bathtubs and I cursed myself for not having more than a half a coke in the house to tide me over.

Thus, I'm stuck in Hattiesburg, probably til Wednesday, with one pair of blue jeans, a toothbrush, and a novel that's running short on pages.
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    Steeler's Wheel - "Stuck in the Middle with You"
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