Today, I had to bury a close friend. His wake was last night, and this morning we all met up at ye random non-denominational funeral home, and went in procession to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church for the funeral mass, and then in procession to Forst Park, Lawndale, for the burial. I experienced a few things from Houstonians, today, that I want to comment on.
During the procession from the funeral home to the church, I was very surprised at the way Houstonians acted. I know the “traditional” rules don’t neccisarily apply in big cities. Back home (Northeast Tennessee and very rural Southwest Virginia), when you come upon a funeral procession, if you’re in opposing traffic, you slow down and turn your headlights on until the last vehicle passes. If you’re travelling in the same direction, you either stay a reasonable distance behind the last car, with your lights on, or stay in the other lane (if a multi-lane road) with lights on, and you do not pass the procession. Also, back home, processions travelled at around 15 miles per hour, regardless of distance to go, or type of road.
Here in Houston, I know that just isn’t always possible. Houstonians surprised me, though. We travelled through the upper part of downtown (on Commerce), and a good portion of fifth ward, today. During that time, while people did pass us, they did so slowly, and with their headlights on. People in opposing lanes slowed way down and turned on the lights. A couple of people even stopped while the procession (some 30 – 40+ cars) passed. What surprised me most were the people on the sidewalks. We passed a couple of construction sites. By the time I got up to them (I was pretty far back in the procession), I was greeted with the workers standing, with their hard-hats off and held to their chest, watching us pass. Many people we passed on the sidewalk would stop and face us, with their hand to their chest in a salute, or their heads bowed. No, we were not burying a military person, and there were no American flags in the procession. I was very surprised, awed, and touched by the actions of those Houstonians we passed, en route. Thank you, Houston.
Unfortunately, our travel from church to cemetary was not as nice. Some genius at HPD decided to route our procession down I-45 southbound, through downtown (the Pierce Elevated) at 10:45am. Needless to say, it was a task keeping some 40+ cars all in one line, all steadily moving. HPD did their job with the four motorcycle officers blocking entrance ramps until we passed, etc… To make it obvious who was in the procession, we all had our hazard flashers on, as well as headlights. As I was the next-to-last one in line, once the officers caught sight of me, they would be off, rushing forward to block the next ramp(s). Unfortunately, every car backed up would flood onto the freeway at that point, and try to merge into our little line.
Houston, please, if you see a procession of many vehicles, with headlights (and possibally hazard flashers) on, with a police escort, there’s a 99.9% chance it is a funeral procession. I understand that you want to get on the freeway and get where you’re going, but if you had just waited a few moments longer, you would not have broken into the line. Many of us did not know precisely where we were going, and our getting there was dependant on keeping the person in front of us in view.
Now I have to hand it to most of the drivers, they got in the lane, and then quickly got out again, to exit, or moved over a lane. Everyone except the HISD schoolbus that blocked the car in front of me, and myself, and one more, until we found an opening and risked our lives zooming through heavy traffic to get around it and catch back up to the rest of the group. Many times, due to cars merging in and out of the line, we had to slam on our brakes (and it’s a cascade reaction. Someone taps theirs, about ten cars later, I’m nearly flipping the truck over in an effort to keep from running into the back of the person in front of me) to keep from rear-ending each other. Just slow down a bit (we were travelling at freeway speeds), and we’ll be by you as quickly as possible. If it comes down to it, take the next exit and double back, if you can. Please. A good many people in funeral processions have been crying – or are still crying – and may not be in the most focused mode when driving. Many of us were on auto-pilot.
I thank the three random people that dropped in behind us with their flashers on, just to give those of us at the back a little more buffer. You guys really helped, we appreciate it.
That said, I have to admit, that procession was the trippiest experience I’ve ever had on a Houston freeway, and was therefore completely befitting the friend we buried. He was the king of trippy experiences, he seemed to attract them like crazy.
Andy “Darwin” Garcia, you will be missed. You would have been amazed at the good and bad of Houston, today.