"The Accidental Tourist…"

October 25, 2010

Here’s a post I found, hiding out in my Drafts Folder.  It was trying to keep its head down, hoping I wouldn’t notice; but like that one big lobster hiding under the rock in the back of the tank, I spotted it. Still fresh, too…

Hartsfield-Jackson Airport here in Atlanta is, depending on what’s going on at Chicago’s O’Hare,  either the busiest or second busiest airport in the country.  It’s a hub for Delta, of course, but also a jumping off point for hundreds of flights from other airlines to Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico, and South America.   Its massive amount of connecting flights has allowed millions of people to be able to say, “Yeah, I’ve been to Atlanta…” even though they’ve never left the concourse; and with all that was going on here this past Holiday Weekend, it was surely at or near capacity.

Memorial Day Weekend is literally the kickoff of the College Football season, and here in The ATL we had Georgia State winning their inaugural game last Thursday, and Georgia Tech playing at home on Saturday.  LSU was meeting North Carolina in the annual Kickoff Classic at the Georgia Dome, while  The Dawgs were hosting their first drunk-fest of the season for sixty thousand up in Athens.  Add to all of that a NASCAR Race at Atlanta Motor Speedway half an hour south of here; Dragon-Con, the geek-fest Sci-Fi/Fantasy convention (that’s not just for nerds anymore by the way), The Black Gay Pride Festival at Piedmont Park, plus various and sundry other neighborhood festivals, and you wind up with upwards of a couple hundred thousand people rolling through the airport over the weekend.  At least the Braves did the highway traffic the favor of leaving town for a series against the Marlins.  Amongst the throngs wandering the vast terminals at ATL this weekend, trying to make the best of things during a 20-hour layover on his way to a business/vacation excursion in Buenos Aires, was a great friend of ours from New Orleans, now living in exile in Indianapolis.

Glenn was one of those in attendance at “The Last Supper” at our house the Saturday before Katrina.  In true NOLA fashion, we decided to have a dinner party rather than do the sensible thing and prepare for evacuation the next day.  We cooked a grand Asian dinner with homemade potstickers, dumplings, and several other dishes, for a dozen guests.  Earlier that day, when we had ventured over to the West Bank to shop at a great Asian market in Algiers for supplies, was when we first noticed the lines of cars at all the gas stations, people preparing to evacuate.  I had seen the hurricane news on Thursday night after I’d gotten home from work (when I lived in California, I could never conceive of watching the Weather Channel for any reason; but down in the Gulf, people literally live by it during hurricane season).  That Thursday night, Katrina was beginning her march across south Florida and I figured it was hitting land and would lose steam and that would be that.  After our trip across the river on Saturday, we turned on the Weather Channel and saw Katrina filling the entire Gulf of Mexico; so we decided we would go ahead and fiddle while Rome burned, have our party, but pack the car and skee-daddle on Sunday morning, along with everyone else and their brother.  Glenn had left the next day, too, along with all the other party guests. So, long story not-so-short, we hadn’t seen him except during a brief visit he made to Napa over two years ago.  We just had to get together, airport crowds and traffic be damned.

So, after a quick excursion downtown to watch the Dragon-Con parade Saturday morning, it was off to the airport to pick up him and his new girlfriend.   We began making our list:  lunch at JCT on the Westside, then maybe on to King of Pops or Morelli’s for sweets.  Or should we hit Murphy’s in Virginia-Highland for brunch and then a visit to Green’s for some wine browsing?  We settled on JCT and two bottles of wine to go with lunch.  We had to pass on the frozen treats in favor of JCT’s irresistible Rum-Soaked Coconut Cake, followed by some lounging at home.

Except we didn’t have time for lounging, as my wife and daughter had pending appointments to get their hair done at a salon, half an hour north in Buckhead.  So, being a one-car family for now, the plan was for me to ferry the two of them North, then return to pick them up after I had gone back home, picked up Glenn and dropped him back at the airport, another fifteen minutes past our house to the South.

On the way to the salon, we get a phone call from another of the thousands landing at Hartsfield-Jackson over the weekend; our friend Jimmy from California had just arrived in town for a wedding.  We hadn’t seen Jim since we drove off from Napa last June, so we decided to try to work him into the schedule for a cocktail.  We arrive at the salon to find out that the hair appointments were two hours earlier and had been missed.  So, it was back into the car, back South for twenty minutes to pick up Glen; then another 15 minutes back down The 85 to the airport to drop them; and then back up to Buckhead to meet Jim.  Jimmy lived in Atlanta for about 8 years, so touring him around was not an issue.  We met him for drinks and appetizers on the patio at Nava, a Tex-Mex place that we discovered, on this visit, is decidedly a few years past its prime.  We had a great visit with Uncle Jimmy, though, and he went off to follow the rest of his agenda for the weekend, and we headed home.

It was on the final drive South and home that we began to realize our priorities as tour-guides are a little skewed.

My wife’s cousin and his wife have recently re-located to Atlanta for her internship at a local hospital; and when his mother-in-law visited from Mexico he took her, all in a single day, to the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, Stone Mountain, the Zoo and practically every other attraction known to man.  Now it’s not to say that we haven’t been to, and mostly enjoyed, many such places that are on the top of most tourists’ lists.  But Glenn and his new girlfriend are dedicated food and wine nuts like us; so our itinerary for  today had excluded the traditional spots in favor of those of a more culinary nature.  Asking us to show you around town is a little like asking the guy emerging from an AA meeting for directions:  “Go two blocks down, take a left at Joe’s Bar, head south until you pass two Package Stores, and turn right at the Irish Pub on the corner…”   We’ll take a pass on World of Coke in a hot second if it means we get some of that Coconut Cake.

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Four Years Later

August 27, 2009

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…

What it’s still like for so many in New Orleans…

People who are helping…

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.