The highway south to Mobile was clear of physical damage, but more than a week after the storm there were still signs that we were heading into Hurricane Katrina country.
There was the SUV with a Mississippi plates, a trailer and a collection of gas cans strapped to the roof. And there was the ad hoc Red Cross relief truck, a Budget rental truck with Red Cross posters plastered on its sides.
Mobile caught only the fringes of Katrina, but it was enough to knock down a number of my hometown's spreading, ancient oaks. Piles of their remains still littered most of the city's streets as we rolled into town.
Katrina had delayed this strip for a week, just as Ivan had ruined my family's plan for a surprise party for my mother one year before. Hurricanes can be really inconvenient.
Still, we didn't lose anybody and even my New Orleans cousins were getting fairly encouraging news about their homes in Metairie. My parents lost a pecan tree in their back yard, but Katrina was kind enough to blow it down on a fence and the neighbor's shed instead of Mom and Dad's house that was well within range of the 200-foot trunk.
When my family gets together the result is, invariably, utter chaos. We're talking about a lot of children under the age of 10 and a lot of grown ups with Irish and Italian genes that mandate loud, excited conversations.
We ended our first night drinking beer and talking on my sister's back patio, accompanied by the bright lights and roaring cheers from the high school football game at a nearby stadium. The next day we toured the city, checking out the downtown streets that had been underwater at the height of the storm.
That night there was more family madness and a taco dinner at my sister's house. My baby daughter, after her first extensive car trip, disappeared into the crowd of cooing aunts and cousins.
Out in the yard the horde of children rampaged with as much raw energy as any hurricane. Inside I joined my father, brother and a handful of relatives (including one aunt) to watch 'Bama beat down a University of Southern Mississippi team that was intent on taking out their storm stress on my beloved team.
Needless to say, I couldn't watch the second half due to a call to parental duty when the baby reemerged ready for sleep. But I did witness that miracle catch by Tyrone Prothro
Finally the social tempest subsided and I finished that evening chatting with my brother-in-law in his kitchen as he handed me one shot of liquor after another.
I woke up early the next day, remarkably hangover free since I kept myself well hydrated, and that was good because we had one more scene of familial communing to undergo before our final departure. We breakfasted at my other sister's house, where the branches of another downed tree peeked over the still intact fence.
More craziness and lots of pictures, then we were on the road again, as Willie Nelson would have it.
We passed more caravans on the way, power company trucks, trucks carrying heavy equipment on flatbed trailers, even a convoy of satellite television trucks.
Then there was that other SUV, the one with this simple message spray-painted on the back.
"Katrina don't play."
That was our trip to my home town in hurricane country.
Ed Brock covers public safety and municipal governments for the News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .