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Updated 10:00 AM on Saturday, October 1, 2005

A picture worth a thousand e-mails

A new Aggie joke was born out of last week's Hurricane Rita preparation craze.

"How do Aggies board up their windows for a hurricane?"

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Special to The Eagle
A&M student Andrew McNeel's photo of Loupot's Bookstore's novel approach to hurricane preparation has made the rounds on the Internet and brought worldwide attention to the store.

You can ask the folks at Loupot's Bookstore on University Drive for the punch line. They decided last Sept. 23 to attach plywood on the inside of the shop's windows instead of the outside.

Since then, a photo of the peculiar method has made the rounds on the Internet, gaining widespread attention, a little good-natured teasing and a lot of eye-rolling.

So why exactly did they do it?

Suanne Pledger, projects director for the famed bookstore, has been answering that question a lot lately.

She even has a stock answer saved on her computer that she can easily cut, paste and send to the dozens of people from around the world who have e-mailed the shop.

The long answer: The shop's windows will not support the weight of plywood screwed into the frames. Neither is there sufficient masonry wall surrounding them for an attachment.

Therefore, the shop's contractor and all-around handy man (who also happens to be an Aggie) suggested mounting the boards inside. Doing so might sacrifice the easily replaced glass to the storm but could save the store from a major cleanup, the thinking went.

The bookstore, across from the Texas A&M University campus, was the only one of Loupot's three local locations that was boarded up for the storm. That's because, Pledger said, it is the only one that faces south - from where the storm was coming.

As employees were deciding last week how to prepare for the possibility of high winds, it didn't cross their minds that what they were doing would seem odd to some people, Pledger said.

"It was an easy decision to make," she said.

So how did all of this start?

Andrew McNeel, a senior meteorology student at A&M, happened to be driving around town last Saturday as the hurricane passed to the east of the area - bringing little more than minor gusts and a sprinkle, barely enough to wet the pavement.

McNeel spotted the plywood put up inside Loupot's. He thought it was funny, he said, so he stuck his camera out the window of his truck and snapped a photo.

He went home and posted it on the popular Web site TexAgs.com. Since then, the photo has been passed around the Internet through e-mail forwards and has popped up on some other prominent sites.

The Houston Chronicle's "Sci Guy" science blog mentioned it. So did Neal Boortz, a syndicated radio talk show host and an A&M graduate, on his home page.

And Snopes.com - an Internet site that debunks or proves urban legends spread via the Internet - listed it because some people just couldn't believe the photo was real.

"I thought it was funny picture, and apparently the whole country thinks it is, too," McNeel said. "I didn't mean any harm. I'm absolutely flabbergasted. I'm shocked that it has become such a big deal."

When contacted this week, McNeel said he simply wanted to share the photo with a few friends.

"I grew up an Aggie fan, and I enjoy a good Aggie joke just as much as anyone else," he said. "When I saw it, it just struck me as a good Aggie joke.

"... I'm sure they had a good reason for doing it, but to the untrained eye like mine, I just did a double take."

Loupot's has, indeed, been getting lots of attention over the photo, but Pledger said it's mostly been good fun - and it's free promotion for the store. She said there's even a plan to design a T-shirt in honor of the situation because people have been requesting them.

Only a few disgruntled people are upset that the ordeal perpetuated the stereotype of Aggies being less than bright, she said.

"It's been absolutely delightful," she said. "It's really been all good-spirited."

So what happens if another hurricane threatens the area?

"We would do it again," Pledger said. "We have no choice."

But for now, the plywood is down, and it likely will be donated to Habitat for Humanity, she said.

"This whole thing has been interesting," she said. "We've certainly enjoyed it."

• Laura Hensley's e-mail address is laura.hensley@theeagle.com.

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