Return visitors to SNMT may notice something different in my header today. This Saturday, Aug. 29th, is the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall in New Orleans.
I know some of my diatribes on this site can be a bit wordy, and I know that many people may not read them in their entirety. So, I will say this right up front: the people of New Orleans (and the other parts of the Gulf Coast) still need help. However flawed, dirty, corrupt, hot, humid, or violent it may be, they love their city in a way you could never understand unless you yourself lived there. Being forced away from it, our home, and the people we had met there was traumatic enough for us, and we lived there only two months. I can only imagine the anxiety of second, third, and even fourth generations that had to evacuate and have not been able to return. Please, if you want to help, send money to Habitat For Humanity or any of the dozens of faith-based charities working tirelessly in New Orleans still. Then write your Congressman and Senator, and anyone else you can think of and tell them how you feel that FEMA, HUD, The Federal Committee for Gulf Coast Rebuilding, even the Louisiana Road Home Program, have all stepped on their dicks so severely and repeatedly since the storm it makes you want to cry. It does me…
On Sunday, August 28th, 2005, we found ourselves loading our daughter, dog, and cat into the car and driving away from our house at Adams and Panola for what we thought would be a 3-day hiatus at our friend Wendy’s house in Houston. Well, everyone knows what happened next. My wife took the banner photo (and the others here) when we were allowed to return to The City on October 10th.
New Orleans is the only other city that I use The Capitals for (People here in the Bay Area know never to refer to San Francisco as “Frisco”, but rather “The City”). I didn’t live there long enough to find out if NOLA residents do this or not, but for me it’s a respect thing. Even though we enjoyed only two months as residents, I felt very much a “local”. This is not because I was a wanna-be Southerner (although I truly am) and wanted to separate myself from the tourists (Hey, look at me! I live here!); but because New Orleans and it’s people welcome you in and make you feel a part of things whether you have been there for two months, two days, or two generations. The spirit of friendship and hospitality there is like nowhere else I have ever been. You can be a tourist-geek, standing at a stop on the St. Charles line, and ask a passer-by for directions; and they will not only help you but, on occasion, have been known to DRIVE YOU THERE themselves! You may end up at their house for dinner.
In New Orleans, your job while sitting on your front porch, drinking your morning coffee and reading your Times-Picayune (the greatest name for a major metropolitan newspaper, ever), is to wave. You must wave to Sheryl the Mail Lady as she approaches (don’t worry, you’ll have a chat when she gets to your house); wave to anyone you see walking outside of your vocal range; and wave to literally everybody, in every car, that drives by. Some are your neighbors from up the block, but most are complete strangers; people you may have never seen drive by before, and probably won’t see again. But they wave to you. Some will even pull over and strike up a conversation.
This conviviality can be maddening, though, as complete strangers will engage you in spontaneous conversations at inopportune times. Having a three-minute conversation about “What’s up with Jay-Lo?” after the clerk at the Rite Aid has seen her on the cover of your People Magazine is all well and good; as long as you are not the person who is next in line and might be in a hurry. During our short time there, though, we quickly learned to enjoy not being in a hurry; how to take a minute to talk, look, and savor the little everyday interactions that escaped so many people back in California.
As we near the fourth anniversary of Katrina, I still miss New Orleans. I miss John and Margaret and Anna. I miss chatting with Sheryl the Mail Lady. I miss Neighbor Dave and Christy. I miss Muneca. I miss all the people I knew so briefly, who evacuated and have never heard from again: Errol, I never got a chance to give you the CD with all that Old Skool R&B we old guys love; Isaiah, I never got the chance to give you the gift for your little baby girl; Otis, I hope you made it back home okay.
I mourn for all the people who died, for those that lost their homes and their loved ones. But I mourn mostly for their biggest loss: The City. New Orleans will never be the same again. I mourn its passing; but at the same time am grateful for the short time I had to experience it as it was.