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9:44 a.m. - September 08, 2005
New Orleans
As I sit here – safe, sound and dry – I cannot imagine what the poor folks in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are going through.

I am saddened by the human loss – disgusted by the conditions the survivors had to endure – hopeful that lessons will be learned. It’s a shame those lessons came too late to help the people now.

Tragedies like this bring out the best and the basest in humans, as we all have seen. You can be angry about what has happened after the storm, but right now the people in need should be our concern. Partisian wrangling, posturing, and chest thumping can wait, and that’s why I am trying to avoid (except for some comments elsewhere) doing that here.

It does no good right now.

My best buddy Moose had posted his thoughts on the tragedy (warning, he curses!) a few entries ago. I can see why he’d be angry. I am too.

I mourn for those who wanted to leave and could not leave because of their personal conditions. I can understand why people chose to stay and ride out the storm. It’s instinctual to want to protect what is yours. If you remember, there was this old man who lived near Mt. St. Helen’s. He refused to leave, no matter how dire the warnings were for his safety. That was his place, and he was going to protect it. Some people are like that.

It seems attention has turned away from Biloxi and Gulfport and onto New Orleans. While those Mississippi cities sustained a great deal of material damage due to the storms fury – and obviously they need lots of assistance, New Orleans is right now where the human disaster lies.

A Bangladeshian monsoon has struck our country, flooding out an entire city. The conditions are going to become sub-medivial soon. Hearing about the conditions in the Superdome and the Convention Center gave me great pause. The people inside them had little choice, what else were they going to do until they got out of there, with no running water or sanitary conditions.

You wonder how they are going to save those buildings, if they can be saved. And if they are, how far up on the priority list it will be? (I would hope fairly low, after rebuilding the infrastructure, the levees and then reconstructing neighborhoods).

I do have faith that New Orleans will be rebuilt, no matter what nattering nabobs have said right after the disaster. Whether it will regain its status as the Big Easy is another question, and one that we won’t have an answer to for years. I think the New Orleans we knew is gone forever, or at least drastically altered.

I am writing this as a way to remember New Orleans. I visited the city twice, in December of 1991 and 1992. I was at a conference for people who sold items for the “Back to School” season, and the entrepreneur I worked for had a partnership with a company that produced children’s books, dictionaries, and thesauruses.

My stays in New Orleans were typical, I suppose, for some who have been there. On the first trip I was awestruck by the mass of people carousing in the French Quarter, the sex shops, the free-flowing booze, the music, the people. It was quite a cacophony of sights, sounds, and smells.

I had recently ended a relationship with a nice young lady. We met soon after I moved to Indianapolis, and it was a very hot, intense three months. But the flame snuffed out as quickly as it ignited. I was saddened, yes, but I knew it was the right thing to move on. (That didn’t stop me from making her 24 mix cassettes for Christmas in a feeble attempt to win her heart again).

So I had a bit of heavy heart when I traveled down there. Sadness and booze aren’t a great combination for me.

The second to last night I was out way too late. I had plenty of money, and was spending it in several establishments. I got lonesome for this girl I had been seeing and belted out “Hello, It’s Me” via Karaoke. She was going to pick me up from the airport when I got back and I was going to make a case for another chance. (Even though I knew it was doomed to fail in the long run. Alas.)

I then walked out into the street, on my way to my hotel. A nice young lady came up to me and gave me a few compliments. She then said, “Let’s get some beer and go have a good time” and started to rub her hand in a very delicate region of my body. Totally distracted, I said “Sure!” She then took off, saying to wait here and she’ll be right back with the beer.

After a minute, a guy comes up to me and said, “Dude, you better check your wallet.”

This lady had slid her hand into my back pocket, and somehow extracted the cash from my wallet without taking the wallet out of my pocket. She was a real pro.

I was out $70, and I was sick to my stomach. That was the money for the rest of the trip. It was an advance from my boss.

The next day I called the accountant at work. I told him the entire story. After he laughed for about five minutes, he said not to worry about the money. The people who knew New Orleans well said that that woman spotted you from 10 miles away – you were an easy mark. Welcome to the Big Easy, son!

The next year, I made sure I carried my wallet in the front pocket. And I avoided going out alone. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have peril.

The year before I had avoided drinking Hurricanes, however, I was introduced to them on this trip. My buddy and I went to an establishment and I had a nice tall one. I then ordered a second, but about halfway through started to feel a bit woozy and trembly.

They tasted just like Hawaiian Punch – I asked what was in them. All I remember was that he said, “and they have 151 in them as well!”

Ronrico 151 – well, no wonder.

He walked me back to the hotel and got me in my room. I decided at that exact moment it would be a good time to call the girl I had just started seeing the week before. I got on the phone, and then after a couple of minutes, I had to excuse myself. I ran to the bathroom, just making it in time. It was quite a Technicolor display.

I then went back to the phone, and she was just laughing her head off. For the rest of our relationship she called me “Lightweight Hurricane Boy”. The next day at breakfast, my buddy started laughing at me as well, as did everyone else in my party.

Yes, another typical New Orleans story.

Aside from those incidents, what I remember about New Orleans was that it seemed sad and depressing during the day, when nothing was happening and the people were just milling about. It was a town on the decline, even then, and even though it picked up during Mardi Gras it just seemed like it was a city that was doing all it could to survive, and living off of the tourist and convention trade.

Now, I wonder if they’ll ever get that trade back. The Convention Center, which was this massive building that I got lost in, will take months or years to rehab. Hotels and restaurants and other tourist amenities will also take time and money to rebuild.

And those are the least of their worries now.

But I have faith that there will be a New Orleans revival at some point.

I drove to Alaska in 2001. I recall driving in the Yukon, through areas that were torched by forest fires in the recent past. What I noticed that with all of the blackened, charred trees, there were signs of new life, new hope, new beginnings.

On the way back I recall driving through towns that soon after were hit by forest fires of their own. But after seeing the Yukon I have faith that there will also be a rebirth in that forest.

The same, I think, will happen in New Orleans. There is a loss of life, and those lives are gone forever. You mourn and grieve for them. No doubt many survivors will abandon the city – but others will come back. They will be the fireweed that grows amongst the ashes of a forest fire.

For now, let’s give the survivors aid and comfort. Let us help them mourn their loved ones, and help them pick up the pieces. It may not be the Big Easy anymore, but it will be.

 

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