Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Different Day a Different View

Wow, what a difference a year makes. Re-reading today's Katrina Refrigerator post, which is up and ready to read with notes, was a stark contrast to what today brings.

I am not, overall, a football fan. I was when I was younger, but over the years, and being married to a distinctly non-sports fan, I've fallen off the football radar. I know a couple of players' names, and I know who Tom Benson is. I know he made millions off of the people of New Orleans and their relentless "faith" in their Saints even when their faith was misplaced. I know he wanted to move the team to San Antonio after Katrina blew the top off of the Superdome (he has BMW and Mercedes dealerships there as well as here) and I know the NFL wasn't happy about it. Neither were the fans here in New Orleans. It was a slap in the face at a time when no one here needed another slap of any kind.

I am, however, a Saints fan. Not because it's a football team but because they are so much a part of the texture of this city. Watching their homecoming on a huge screen at Margaritaville (a place I wound up in because kids were allowed in) on a big screen with folks wearing black and gold masks and doing shots for every successful Saints defensive play while the whole place screamed with joy was a gift. As the camera panned the faces in the crowd, there were smiles, huge ones. That's not something you see every day here. The city's morale needed that game, and revelled in the total stomping of the Falcons.

Yes there were those, my husband and I included, who had a little discomfort over the fact that so much money had been spent on the Superdome when there's so much more to do here. But last night was important. It allowed people here to feel a semblance of normalcy and joy before they went home to their gutted homes and FEMA trailers. For that alone it was worth it. Here in New Orleans, one takes one's joy where it's found, and last night it was found in the Superdome for a few hours.

As for the Superdome, at one point my husband and I thought the best party of all would be a demolition of that building, which had become a symbol of so much anguish. Put in a bunch of dynamite, set up safe areas from which to watch it blow, and have second lines and barbecue.

Might have made us feel better on some level, but I don't think it could have been as good as the smiles on the fans faces last night.

Local parlance is "Geaux Saints!" They did and the fans followed dancing and whooping and happy.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Music Quest

I've been a bit remiss in keeping you updated on the real time Katrina Refrigerator postings. The one for 9.21.2005 is here, 9.23.2005 as Rita was bearing down is here, and the post-Rita piece 9.25.2005 about who was still missing from Katrina is here. The email about the missing was in our minds on Saturday night.

David and I decided to get something to eat and try to track down some of the great players we knew and loved on Bourbon Street before the storm. There were some incredible musicians, who would more than likely die unknown to all but those of us who had heard them in some joint on Bourbon where they worked mostly for tips. Some of these guys had day jobs, some of them just churned it out every week, or in some cases four or five nights a week, and played transcendental blues, jazz or R&B that was often talked over by the tourists. The tourists in some cases had no appreciation, others had great appreciation and there was a small bunch of us locals who would regularly show up to see this or that guitar player or sax player, or to hear the voice of Jose Francois or Dr. Blues.

We decided we'd start our quest up toward Canal and make our way down the street. We got to the old Blues Club, a horrid dive before the storm, with overpriced drinks, chairs that were mostly broken, and its ambience was one of decaying 1950's chic and Pinesol--if you got there on the one day a week they scrubbed the floor. It was dark, and cavernous, but on any given night the sounds coming out could stop you in your tracks. We found it one night when we heard a female voice letting loose. Turned out to be this beautiful, round, ultra-female black woman named Lady Lois. She lived in the Bywater and had been singing around town for years. We would regularly go back to see her.

The Blues Club is now closed and has been since the storm. Heard that they might re-open next month. So we walked our bikes through the crowd, or what passes for one on Bourbon Saturday nights now. Our friend, Colin, used to manage Sing Sing. We would go there mostly to support him as he had been a buggy driver and quit, taking a big risk to manage the club. The music was okay, but not stellar, and it's a narrow exposed brick place with the stage right inside the door. We knew he'd moved his family to Miami after the storm, in fact, my husband's carriage had gotten stuck behind Colin's moving truck on Decatur, but we thought we'd see what was going on in there.

There stood Rooster. Rooster is an old bluesman who is part of our "buy local musician CD" collection and has been for a long time. He didn't look as jaunty and cocky as he had in years past, but he is now at Sing Sing with his band, and selling his CD's. We got there just as his set ended.

We look to the back of the club and there is Mark Domizio, one of the sharpest, deepest guitar players in town. We'd see him backing up Lady Lois, or sometimes others over the last couple years. He always stood out. Seeing a familiar face is a joy in this city at this time, and it was great to see his. I asked him about the Lady, he said she hadn't played anywhere since the storm. That's too bad. I'd love to hear her again.

But Mark Domizio IS playing, and his covers of Red House and Texas Flood will take your breath away. We stood there grinning and dancing and sweating and it was, we realized, one of the things we had missed most since the storm. We missed just walking into a club and getting blown away by the MUSIC.

It got so hot in there that I went across the street to get David a tshirt. It was Crawdaddy's, a tshirt shop that was a cut above the rest and at one time was a huge presence on Bourbon Street. It's in a tiny little storefront now. I spent some time talking with the clerk. She says the 85% drop in customers that has been written in articles here about the state of businesses is probably about right, that on a good day, they take in about 600 bucks. Think about that. There's barely anything, she said, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, then small amounts the weekend days. That's not enough to pay the rent, utilities and paychecks, let alone stock the store. While most locals abhor the tshirt shops, and truth be told, we could certainly use fewer of them, we somehow thought that they, above all other businesses, would be holding their own. Just barely, it turns out.

The French Quarter businesses are struggling, all of them, even the tshirt shops. The musicians are still scattered all over the place, some of the best may never return and those who have are often playing to empty houses. Tipitina's Foundation is doing wonderful things, and there are other groups out there trying to help keep the musicians afloat, and for that we're grateful.

But there was a time that just a walk down Bourbon Street on your way to Frenchman or somewhere else in town, would provide you with sweet notes of every type of music coming from every other door, mixing with the smells of food cooking and drinks spilling, ignoring the chorus of shouts outside and the clink of beads on the sidewalk. It was a guaranteed smile for all but the most jaded.

We watched the tourists on Saturday night and they seemed to be having a great time. They had no idea what it was like there 18 months ago before yet another daiquiri bar, actually named Frat Boys, was part of the landscape.

A German tourist in my husband's carriage one night said, "So everything's okay here now, right?"

Um. . . . . .

We'll continue our quest for the musicians we miss over the next couple months. We are hoping to find some others. Meanwhile, we know we can hear some great blues at Sing Sing.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Re-visiting the Lower 9

New post with photos and notes at Katrina Refrigerator here. Again, hadn't read it in a year, and there we were with Rita approaching being furious with FEMA and the Red Cross as people in Los Angeles were sending in help. I remember how incredibly angry I was, and re-reading it made me mad all over again at the stupidity. The post is self-explanatory and the notes tell you who was sending it. Might surprise you.

Another rage story::::::::::::boy, she's raging today::::::::::::um, yup::::::::::

Last week I took my son in law to the Lower 9. I'd been there many, many times before, had taken supplies over to the Common Ground folks when they first got in there, and had taken pictures of the barge. I had sent out an online photo album, which I have to track down, that interspersed pictures of the Lower 9 with archive photos of Hiroshima. I got a lot of negative mail on that photo album from people to whom it had been forwarded asking me how I could compare anything with Hiroshima. My stock answer then and now is "Go over and STAND there. LOOK at the vastness of it. You'll understand." I saw a poster somewhere later that had a photo of the Lower 9 and Hiroshima. The tag line was, "But they REBUILT Hiroshima."

Well, suddenly last week, after having not been there in a while, off I go across the Industrial Canal. I show my passenger where the barge sat, where the levee broke. Point out where houses that the barge destroyed had been, then drove block by block, seeing water mains still spurting here and there. But what was really strange was that now, so much of the real devastation is covered by four foot tall grass. It's no longer a block after block inventory of cups and saucers and bicycle parts and lives and there aren't pieces of clothing hanging from the trees. The grass masking didn't make the tears stay away, I knew what was under the green. I am sure this is not what is meant by "green space." What was interesting was that once the tears came, a deep rage pounded into my stomach and I heard myself hollering, "This didn't HAVE to happen. It wasn't the damn storm, it was the Corps of Engineers, it was neglect, it was LEVEES. It was negligent homicide."

It's a year later. What caused that rage to bellow out just then? I had rounded a corner, can't remember the street, although Common Ground has handpainted street signs up on just about every corner now. Rounded that corner. Block after block of tall grass with the occasional house atop car here or there, moldering, and then, on one corner, was a stoop. Just the stoop, with the steps that went out the side of the corner lot house that once stood there sitting swept and by themselves a few yards from the stoop. The grass all around it, along the property line, had been cut. This tiny little square of cut grass, surrounded by tall grass, with its stoops swept was a little picture, a symbol, of the owner's grasping at hope that the house will be rebuilt and the neighborhood will survive.

I drove over near the newly built levees, and they didn't look very stout to me. No armoring, didn't seem very tall, but I didn't get out to look, and they looked pretty thin and I'm no engineer. It was not, as Blanche DuBois would have put it, "Awe inspiring!" It was better than the dirt mound I'd seen last time I'd been there, but nevertheless, it didn't inspire much hope in me.

This week, local bloggers have been talking about the difference in the rebuilding of the Lower 9 (now ALWAYS called the LOWER 9 to distinguish it from the UPPER 9th Ward) and some interesting questions have arisen and need to be addressed. If there are institutionalized differences in the demolition standards depending on the neighborhood, then it's an obscenity.

First from Mark Folse at WetBank Guide, here, a post regarding these possible differences in standards for demolition in the Lower 9 compared to Lakeview (as sick as we all are of that comparison, it's still nonetheless something we need to be noticing.)

Another blogger posted a long and well worth the read New Yorker article on the history of the Lower 9 and some of the political screw-ups since the storm. A well written, well researched article, and unfortunately I can't remember if it was Humid City or Humid Haney who posted it. Thanks to whoever it was. It was totally worth it and is a must read for anyone interested in what's going on here. Although, for us locals, it might make us want to take out a Recall Nagin billboard on I-10. The article also discusses why the Lower 9 is such a "flashpoint" as the author calls it.

Flashpoint or not, the fact is that after a year, that area is still painful, haunted and haunting, with little glimmers of hope here and there, like the well tended grass around the abandoned solitary stoop. I hope that their hope isn't misplaced.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Katricians??? WTF?

New term coined by a Houston gun dealer. Here's the article.

How lovely.

Rising Tide Observations 2

Two new posts at Katrina Refrigerator:
From September 16, 2005 here.

From September 18, 2005 here. I have to say that re-reading all of these a year after they were written has been trial. And I've been adding notes and photos to them, which has made them very much more "you are there" for us here. Hope you've been enjoying them.

I mentioned in the last Rising Tide Observations post that I felt there was a paucity of black voices among our group. Ashley Morris said: "Slate, it ain't like we didn't try...believe me." And then he sent a wonderful giggle to my husband and me. I believe him. I believe the organizers tried very hard. They are an ecumenical group and they do understand that the black voices need to be heard here.

But at Rising Tide I saw few black faces. GBitch (see blog roll and READ her posts on Charity Hospital, they're amazing) was there, and there was a young guy, Dr. Eban Walters, who was clearly listening avidly to what was being said. (We need to get him to do a blog and join us.) I might have missed a few as I got there late, but it was a strange feeling to listen to lots of white people discussing things like the election dynamics and race and seeing no black faces on the panel and very few in the audience.

I had had a discussion during the elections about voting for Nagin or Landrieu. Basically my view was that we had two rich, bald guys saying the same things running for mayor. Outside of here it was probably seen as one black guy and one white guy, but for many of us here it was simply "two rich bald guys." I voted for Landrieu, and one of the main reasons for me was that I felt that he hadn't burned as many bridges in the state or federal government as Nagin probably had. That sounds simplistic, and there were other reasons naturally, but my vote absolutely had no racial component.

This city has historically been racially mixed and heavily weighted toward people of color in terms of demographics. People of color have to weigh in on the rebuilding process. I'm just not seeing much of it even though New Orleans East and the Ninth Ward were so devastated and also overwhelmingly black.

I heard a remarkable man, Dr. Jerry Ward, a professor at Dillard University, and an esteemed scholar, essayist and poet on Thursday evening. He is also a black man. He said, "Southern writers are now in a peculiar position of being both witness and juror." He exhorted those of us who write to make sure that we get the information out, with an eye to forcing change.

I think the Rising Tide bloggers are absolutely doing that, but as Alan Gutierrez mentioned, there is a digital divide. That divide takes many forms. There are those like me who learn as much as we need to and not more, but we have the access. There are others who are absolutely afraid of technology. Then there are others without the education or financial means to have access to it, much less the luxury of deciding what parts of it they'll learn.

We have to do something to change that. And we can't wait another generation. We can't wait until the kids in school now become computer literate. I think there are plenty of people of color out there who ARE computer literate. They are professors, engineers, doctors, in the same occupations as most of the bloggers at Rising Tide. Somehow we have to find a way to reach out to them. We need their voices to be heard, and more importantly, THEY need for their voices to be heard. They sure aren't being heard in our mayor's voice, and in fact, his statements have not helped racial tension one bit in some quarters.

Anyone have any idea how we can do this?
Upon reading this, my husband felt that this sounded "racially arrogant." Perhaps he's right.

Perhaps I should have said, WE need for their voices to be heard.

Friday, September 15, 2006

More Rising Tide Observations

First a big thanks to the killer blogger Polimom for her help right after the storm. The T-P wrote her up yesterday here. Our gratitude to her remains undiminished by time.

A new Katrina Refrigerator post with photos and notes is here.

Wow, got all those links in pretty well, huh?

I mentioned notebooks yesterday. At Rising Tide, laptops sprouted from table tops like centerpieces at a wedding. Their use of them was incredible. Some were blogging real time reports of what was happening on any given panel, others were tracking Ernesto, which was indeed making all of us very nervous. (The standing joke was that "Che" Ernesto Guevara wouldn't do much damage to Cuba and would probably go to Bolivia and die. Such is the hurricane fear humor here. As the rain poured down causing at least one panelist to have difficulty getting to us, the tension over Ernesto was palpable through the laughter and jokes.)

As I said, the Conference was held at the New Orleans Yacht club. There were so many interesting contrasts that my notebook is full of little weirdnesses. Outside the rain is pounding down, inside the Yacht Club bar are the Yacht Club members, having picnics and drinks, generally very cheery and most looking at us with curiousity. The bartender had to put a mop on the base of one of the windows as it was leaking and starting to look more like a hotel lobby wall fountain than a window, but no one seemed really worried. Boats still upturned and thrashed from Katrina were outside taking on yet more water, but the pristine white shorts of the Yacht Club denizens had not a spot on them as they enjoyed themselves.

Across the foyer, the bloggers, in various outfits, not one in pristine white shorts, were trading information, listening to panelists, questioning what was being said, and the windows in that room didn't require a mop.

The bloggers and the panelists were fascinating and clearly were people who think. But they break down along different lines within the group. Some of us qualify for a couple of the sub-groups.

There are the tech-Gods. These folks (Alan Gutierrez of ThinkNOLA chief among them) are passionate about the use of technology to get information out, collated and accessible. His idea to "control and consolidate" the information we're putting out makes sense and his statement that we should adopt the "publish everything view of the younger generation" also makes sense. Problem is that for some of us, although we're a bit geeky, we're not able to put the time in to learn all the tech. I was impressed by the passion of these folks and their ability to really use technology to its potential, but for me and some others it's not realistic in terms of time or energy. Thank goodness they're doing it.

There are the journalist/fact finders. These are the folks who always link to what they're talking about, have the articles at their fingertips when they're writing, their work can be totally vetted. They view themselves as reporters, and indeed, they are. (The panel on MSM vs bloggers was very interesting. Points were brought up about editors on newspapers requiring verifiable sources for a story and one panelist, while not actually saying it, seemed to view bloggers as a bit "less than"--stating that "the difference between a blogger and me is that I have a 401K.") But the fact is that these journalist/fact finder bloggers have posted things that didn't make it into the MSM for days after they'd already posted online. God bless them for their attention to detail.

There are the community activists. While most of us are community activists to one degree or another, some of the people in that room were dedicated to their neighborhood group, or one or two specific causes, all of them tied to the rebuilding of New Orleans. These are the people who are putting the information on neighborhood building permits, infrastructure, coalitions, roadblocks and council members online in a way that keeps the information current. They've made great strides through their posts in organizing people to get things done, from attending neighborhood planning meetings to gutting houses.

Then there were some bloggers like me. I read an article, may or may not have the link to it, and vent. I'll tell you where I saw it, but if you want to read it, you'll have to find it yourself unless I really have time to put the links up. One day I might just be posting my opinion or my observations of what I'm seeing around me. The next day I might be posting about how I'm feeling and the emotional rollercoaster that life in New Orleans is right now. I'll contribute what I can, but mostly, I just write.

The contributions of all the sub-groups of the NOLA bloggers combined is what makes what we do matter. The variety of opinions, presentation, and perspectives is what makes the NOLA blog community so rich.

There is only one element that I found lacking. The paucity of the black perspective. I'll write about that tomorrow.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A New/Old post/email at Katrina Refrigerator with Photos

Here's the link to the re-issue of last year's email. The photos are included and there are NOTES at the bottom. We've found that what we wrote in haste last year left some things out. We're now adding what we thought at the time, and some of it just wasn't pretty. In fact some of the things we've read that were written at the time have made us remember situations that were distinctly uncomfortable, as in today's post. Makes me want to dig up that Katrina notebook we had with addresses and go check on some of these people.

More observations of Rising Tide tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Can you hear the coffee as it's per-co-latin'?

Notebooks. So many kinds, so illustrative, such wonderful receptacles.

As previously posted, I took copious notes at the remarkable Rising Tide Conference. For me to put all of my observations into one post would be ludicrous, so I'm going to break them down. First there needs to be a little explanation.

Rising Tide was a conference put together by an amazing group of local activist bloggers. Seemingly conceived during a rather drunken dinner, which I stupidly couldn't manage to get to even though it was three blocks from my house, these folks ran with it and put together a forum covering a wide range of topics pertinent to New Orleans and blogging in New Orleans. Held at the New Orleans Yacht Club (which was mostly decimated after Katrina), the location was a stroke of genius as there were out of town bloggers and others there who saw the boats still turned upside down a year later, one still completely submerged, only its mast above water.

I went to the conference and sat on the floor with my old trusty steno pad. Being an inveterate scribbler, I listened and scribbled. It was interesting, informative and fascinating. The topics were engaging and the panelists engaged, but on a personal level it gave rise to a different kind of tide in me.

I spent that Saturday among the bloggers, some of the brightest minds in our city. I spend Thursday evenings among the poets of 17 Poets, some of the most passionate and creative minds in the city. It was an interesting contrast, but many of the ideas were the same. The pain of our city's condition certainly is the same in both places, just expressed differently. Okay, and the notebooks were for sure, VERY different. I felt like two boats were speeding down a waterway and I had one foot on each deck.

17 Poets is the brainchild of Dave Brinks, one of the premiere poets of our city, and respected nationwide. It was a fixture before the storm. Every Thursday he presents a featured poet who is followed by anyone who signs up on the sheet at the bar. Some extraordinary writing going on in this city. The readings are held at the Gold Mine Saloon in the Quarter, and while waiting for the featured reader, you'll find various writers and visitors hanging out, having a drink, looking at the always changing local art work on the walls, and listening to Brinks' incredible CD collection. You're suddenly thrown back into a San Francisco coffeehouse in the 50's half expecting Kerouac and Ginsberg to walk through the door. Instead, inside of an hour, the place will be populated by men and women who look like they just left an office building, having a drink and a laugh with two guys, one sporting bright pink hair, the other extraordinarily long grey dreadlocks. All are respected writers. Some nights there are hookahs on tables, surrounded by varying tobacco mixtures, and people languidly smoking them while discussing FEMA trailers and the latest poetry publishing.

The notebooks at Rising Tide were electronic metal things with hinges in the middle and screens full of reports in words about what was going on inside the yacht club, streaming in real time to the vastness of the Web, (with another screen tracking Ernesto's progress through the Gulf). The notebooks at 17 Poets are cocktail napkins, blank books variously decorated, or some scrap of paper pulled out of a pocket or a purse written on by a pen borrowed from the bartender.

The passion in both is what will make up the body of post-Katrina literature, along with the various scholarly and analytical books on the subject. (I'm not neglecting the visual arts here either. It was Greg Peters, the fabulous Suspect Device, with whom I had this discussion that day, and his editorial cartoons are very definitely a part of this body of post-K work. There are so many artists, using various media, who are contributing visually stunning pieces to the artistic zeitgeist. And hey, don't leave out the musicians!)

What we leave behind in our writing will be what the New Orleanians of 50 years from now will be drawing insight on this storm, this time in our history, from. What was fascinating to me, was the variety of methods, views and emotions that are being tapped in this endeavor. Those future New Orleanians will have a very rich trove from which to gather information.

In the end, I found, it doesn't matter how any of us do it, as long as we DO do it. There has to be something more than MSM archiving for our great grandchildren to peruse. It would appear that the bloggers and the poets are all heading for the same point, although they no doubt don't see it that way. They are truly very distinct groups, both valid and important, and I am grateful to be here observing what they are doing.

r. "moose" jackson, one of the up and coming poets in the city, was sitting at my kitchen table a week or so ago. He and my grandson got into a discussion of words and rhythm. Moose started banging on the table and saying, "Can you hear the coffee when it's per-co-latin'?" My grandson took it up, they banged away at the table changing the rhythm of the words.

When we're writing, reading our fellow bloggers' work, or listening to the poets, what we're really doing is hearing the coffee as it's per-co-latin'.

And wow, what a cup of java that's gonna be.
There will be a new/old post on Katrina Refrigerator blog tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ya just can't get AWAY from her some days

You're just riding your bike down the street, nice day, not too hot. Looks like it could rain, but probably not a huge downpour. You lock up your bike and go into the A&P, the newspapers hit you by the door.

Eight dead in violent weekend. Not enough cops, not enough lights in some areas, too many guns, no public defenders, the ones we have getting chewed out by judges, files still under water, violent criminals going free because we can't get them to trial in a timely fashion or some lunatic judge lets them go on bail.

Mental health issues going unaddressed in New Orleans. Not enough beds, not enough doctors, not enough hospitals (we need Charity Hospital BACK), no safety net, stories of private hospitals who are not allowed to turn patients away sending their ER docs out the door to try to hold off an ambulance carrying a mental patient. They don't want to deal and they are overwhelmed.

100 Day Plan. Mayor Nagin. What plan? What Mayor? Local blogger Gentilly Girl is putting out a recall petition which fellow local blogger Ashley Morris says has little chance of carrying weight, but as Gentilly Girl says, it will send a message. Local paper says that neighborhoods are bypassing "plans" and doing what they need to do to get their houses gutted and built. Nola.com has a good map of how the rebuilding is happening in this hopscotch fashion.

Man who commandeered neighbor's boat for rescue during Katrina, is charged. HUH? The guy hears his neighbor's screaming for help, finds another neighbor's boat, takes it, rescues a bunch of people, and the owner of the boat wants to sue him. He has since dropped the charges because of "the media frenzy." As a friend of mine said, god forbid he should drop the suit because it was the right thing to do.

President Bush comes to New Orleans on anniversary of Katrina. This needs no further comment, although you might want to head over to The Wet Bank Guide and read his "Lying Sack of Shit" post. Pretty much sums it up.

I could go on, but others have written far more detailed and eloquent pieces on all this. I just noticed, as I walked into the A&P that sometimes you just can't get away from Katrina, no matter how hard you try.

Here is the link to today's redux of last year's emails over at Katrina Refrigerator. I was delighted that I found all the photos I was looking for for it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Widow's Weeds

Yes, I did indeed change the template of this blog. I've gotten some private emails asking why and teasing me about all the black! ("Hell, you've been wearing nothing but black since you were 15. I thought since I saw some COLOR on you last time I saw you that maybe you'd re-thought your color wheel!") Okay, okay, get it all off your chests! I still wear black. Easy to coordinate those black jeans with a black top and black shoes. Nothing too much to think about. Besides, it's habit now, even though I have added a few colorful nuances to my usual attire! One email asked if since the one year anniversary of Katrina had passed, couldn't I now get out of my "widow's weeds"---a term I've always thought interesting.

I changed this blog template to match the sister blog I've created. That blog will be posting all the emails that gave birth to this one. The first will be republished on the new blog, Katrina Refrigerator, tomorrow. Below is today's post, crossposted as I still don't have all the links together yet. That should be done by the end of this week.

Why Katrina Refrigerator?

I was asked this weekend, "Hasn't the whole refrigerator thing been done to death?" Yup. We now have Katrina Fridge magnets for our post-K refrigerators being sold at gift shops. Interestingly, it's mostly locals buying them. Someone not from here wouldn't really understand their significance.

Some local bloggers had decided to re-post their posts from last year at this time. A brilliant idea. It seemed to me that the best receptacle for some of what we wrote was indeed the refrigerator. Keep the reality fresh, now that we've bleached the things to death.

Starting tomorrow I will be posting the emails that were written out of New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. A little background seems appropriate.

My husband and I evacuated on Sunday, August 28th at about noon. A little late in the game. We had already determined not to leave, (which in hindsight probably was the choice we should have made.) The Saturday before, we were both at work in the Quarter, I was listening to press conferences with the Mayor, everyone was trying to figure out what to do, and David was told he could go back to the stables early if he wanted to. He said no. In fact, when I called him, he acted like everyone was overeacting, but he wasn't hearing the radio and feeling the tangible tension of customers in the store, who were quickly buying things while talking on their cell phones trying to make changes to their flights.

I left work, filled up the gas tank on Rampart, as there were reports of stations running out of gas. I figured it was a good idea. Then I went back to work. My big fear from hearing the radio was that they were going to start contra-flow any minute and since we lived on the Westbank, I wasn't sure we'd be able to get from the East bank to the Westbank if we waited. We did go home a little early that evening. We had invitations to weather the storm on Bourbon Street at the shop, where several others were going to stick it out.

We knew our house was a pretty safe place to be, including an interior bathroom with no windows that could be blown out. Sunday morning came and we were okay with our decision to stay. Family and friends were calling, and emailing, urging us to leave. Then Mayor Nagin got on television and ended his statement with something along the lines of "God help us all." (Might have been something a little different, I haven't looked it up, but definitely something like that.) That seemed to flip a switch in my husband. He now thought perhaps we should evacuate. We sat at our kitchen table, ambivalent about the possibility, then decided to flip a coin. Heads we stay, tails we leave. (I had been sworn to secrecy about our decision making method, but figure at this point, our total reliance on serendipity seems less bizarre than the Corps of Engineers seeming reliance on the same thing with our levee system.)

We quickly packed a couple of bags, put the cats in carriers, the dog in the back of the car, tossed pet food in the back and pbj makings and water bottles in the front. We grabbed all the cash we had in the house and headed out. It took us five hours to get to the Twin Spans. Twice my husband decided we were turning back. Twice I said, "We're already on the road, let's just keep going." We have since decided that in the spirit of equal blame for a joint decision, that my mistake was saying in the kitchen that day, "Okay, let's go" and his was not ignoring me when he wanted to turn back.

We were heading toward Mobile, to my mother's, which in hindsight was also a stupid decision. While it was a generous offer and we are grateful, we should have headed in the other direction. We got contra-flowed onto 59 going North to Hattiesburg, and only made it into Silverhill 13 hours later thanks to my daughter staying on the cellphone and her husband navigating with a great mapping program he has. They got us onto side roads and we made it into Mobile just as the outer bands were starting to send sheet rain across the streets there, and the Bay Way was minutes from being closed.

What we saw on the road that day will stay with us forever. I haven't started writing about the evacuation yet because some of the faces still haunt me at night.

The next morning we watched, along with the rest of the nation, as the levees broke. The anger and hopelessness and helplessness we felt was extreme. We felt that we'd abandoned the city we love, and that while we were grateful for our extreme comfort, we should have been in New Orleans. We should have been helping. We determined to leave as soon as possible.

We started checking the nola.com forums. There was information there, and I was directed by a post on one forum to Polimom's blog. She seemed to have a direct line to what was happening in Algiers, and Algiers Point in particular. We checked satellite photos (our house looked fine) and rabidly read her blog and any on-the-ground dispatches we could find. We decided to head back home on Labor Day, but realized we had to wait for the banks to open. We had no idea when or if we'd get access to cash once in New Orleans, and we knew that the power was out.

We busied ourselves refilling prescriptions, looking for gasoline, buying batteries and anything else we thought we might need. We looked at maps and tried to figure a way back home. We decided that the best way was to go 150 miles out of our way in order to cross the Mississippi at the Sunshine Bridge in plantation country. We would bisect Mississippi on a road between Hattiesburg and the Gulf, a plan, as it turns out, that was probably one of the only ways in. We knew the Gulf cities were flattened, but we were still astonished and sobbing as we saw the miles of downed power lines and trees broken in half like matchsticks. Bogalusa looked like a bomb hit it. My husband drove with me looking up watching as the heavily leaning trees loomed over our car. They looked as though they could come down on our heads at any moment.

Finding gas was a challenge. If the station was open, there was a line for blocks and most had a maximum purchase limit, so we'd buy the maximum at every open station we saw. Everywhere were people with dazed looks on their faces, and ours probably looked the same to them. We had no idea whether our route was going to work or not. Were the roads we wanted to take even open? Were they even there? We figured we'd just keep going.

When we got close to the Sunshine Bridge, we met up with another couple who was also trying to get home. They knew the way to I-90 so we followed them. All the way in, we saw convoys of National Guard and regular Army troops coming into the city. I'd open my window and holler thank you to them. They'd wave. None of us knew what we were going to find in New Orleans. There were miles long traffic jams going out of New Orleans. Trucks with mattresses and chairs tied on to them, people hauling everything they owned, creeping along at 1 mph heading OUT, OUT, OUT.

We finally got to 90 and prayed that the last exit before the Crescent City Connection would be open. As we saw the sign saying it was a mile away, we held our breath. We weren't sure if we'd come all this way just to be turned back or not. We looked at each other in amazement that there was no roadblock (we'd seen some on the way in) and my husband turned into Steve McQueen. He floored it down that exit, with both of us secretly wondering if there was going to be a force field to knock us back when we got to the bottom. And there we were. Mere blocks from home.

While Algiers didn't flood, the devastation was unbelievable, trees laying across roads, houses and signs twisted and broken, and my husband kept driving trying to avoid the tire popping minefields of debris strewn everywhere. We saw no one. Not a person walking, not a car moving all the way from the Bridge to our house. It was eerie.

When we got to our house, our neighbor who had stayed through the storm came out to greet us. Tears all around as we hugged in meeting, and we were the only four people on that block that day. We got all the information we could get, and set about checking out the house. Seemed okay. By New Orleans Katrina standards, there was minimal damage. No power, but the phone lines worked intermittently. We took stock and did the obligatory gag-a-thon refrigerator clean out, but we were lucky. Our fridge had only been there for a few days, so we didn't encounter the horrid messes that others did weeks later. Once that was done, we did a little re-con to see what was going on nearby.

We heard that the Church of Christ out of Baton Rouge was setting up a food and supply depot at Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World. The next day we went over to see what we could do. Our neighbor set up a generator in our backyard (we were grateful for the ten gallons of gas we'd brought in with us), and we ran both households off that generator for a couple of hours a day. I rigged up an internet connection via a dialup to an AOL access number in New Mexico and started sending out emails to friends and family letting them know we were okay and what was happening.

Those emails morphed into the New Orleans Slate blog. This blog will re-publish those emails in real time (some with photos that I'm finally dealing with that were taken at the time.) Curiously, I hadn't read those emails since they were written so hastily last September. Reading them and seeing the faces of those who helped has really been hard in some cases. The anger came flooding back, no pun intended, and the gratitude to all of those who helped was overwhelming. There were so many regular people who set about doing what they could, and in that moment they became heroes. My husband and I are both so humbled by the help that strangers gave our city and ourselves when we needed it.

We hope in reading these emails as written, with minimal editing--only typos fixed and names changed to initials for privacy--we will give you a view of life here immediately following Katrina. I will be adding notes here and there as updates on what the issues were then and what is still an issue today.

The links haven't been done yet. I'll do them this week. This post will be crossposted on New Orleans Slate today, and the links there will eventually point here. The first email will be published tomorrow, exactly one year from when it was written.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Back to Work

My grandson's school is open. An amazing feat, apparently. With a year of post-K time behind us, many schools were still not ready to be open to students. (HEY FEMA! WHY IS THAT?) My grandson's school opened a week later than it was supposed to, and the summer session was mostly cancelled. The summer session was supposed to be two weeks all day and became three days, half days, and that thanks to the largesse of NOCCA who provided some classroom space. But his re-entry into school allows for my re-entry into real life. (Is that a good thing?) While I will not be spending my days playing pirate or running to ask.com ("they know EVERYTHING!") to find out what is the world's smallest car, I can now address the mountain of notes sitting here on my desk waiting to be written up.

I have also started a sister-blog which will be the archive for all the emails that gave birth to this blog in the first place. Those emails will be published on the second blog on the dates that they were originally sent out last year. I will link to them on those days in this blog. (Great idea, utterly co-opted from other bloggers in the area.) I'm organizing those emails now, and I believe the first one was sent out September 12, 2005.

I will also be updating the blogroll shortly. There are so many voices that need to be heard here.

I suppose you'll have to prepare yourself for some rants about Entergy, our "Where's Waldo" mayor, the ideas floating around about municipalization of Entergy and the recall of Waldo. I still haven't written about the fabulous folks who managed to put the Rising Tide conference together and my take on what was said there.

So while I've been out of commission a while, and seemingly silent, my brain has been screaming onto cocktail napkins and grocery store receipts---little snippets of outrage or encouragement.

And it's all gonna come out here. I'll be really curious to see the contrast between what I was writing last year at this time and what's going on now. I haven't read last year's stuff since I wrote it. I'm not sure if I'll laugh or cry or both. But there you have it.

Oh yeah, and in case you're wondering: We are not Ok. Still.