Thursday, September 02, 2010

"Final" Katrina Thoughts....

Almost five years ago, I was given a chance to land on my feet after Katrina. I didn't know it then, but I had a hunch that what I was getting myself into would be a worthwhile venture—something that would keep me from going back to New Orleans. I would often think about ways to get back home, but the opportunity to build a University basically from the ground-up would be too much to resist.

That and teaching to a great student-body....

This has been a difficult week-and a-half for me. My colleagues have been very kind in asking me how I am doing this week. I am grateful for their thoughts. They continue to be kind to me, just as they were in January 2006. But I explain that I haven't watched any of the news coverage. As one of my friends from New Orleans stated so very well, we're all dying of Katrina fatigue right now. Thankfully, we've laid that bitch to rest this week. I honestly don't think we'll be doing another event like this in 5 more years.

To relive the experience of Katrina takes me to a place where I don't like to be. My mental health wasn't exactly “right” for over a year after the storm. And to see the images again today on various mediums sends me toward that unhappy place. I am not alone in this feeling. Thousands of people are experiencing what I am experiencing right now. Some even live in New Orleans today. For those of us who still live in Exile, we have, I believe, the similar desire to return home. But for one reason or another we have either landed on our feet somewhere else, or we do not have the resources to return home. To be sure, I have met those who have relocated to other places, such as Austin, and are very happy in their new homes. I have met others, though, including friends, who have told me they would never return to New Orleans for a variety of reasons. Still, I can tell that we all miss being back home, and where we find ourselves together usually are at places and events that celebrate the culture of New Orleans, or we find ourselves together in New Orleans proper.

I have studied the recovery, those who were exiled, and those who have returned. Those who have returned realized early that they would be responsible on their own to rebuild the city. They have invested in the rebuilding of their homes, their neighborhoods, their communities, and the culture with their sweat, hard work, determination, resiliency, and anger. Anger is a driving force in the recovery. That and pride. And these characteristics describe the cement that holds the city together today, towards a shared sense of commitment to not only rebuild but to build better. Those who have returned are not ignorant to the limits of what they can do. They can rebuild all they want—but if the levees and the protection system is not built up to adequately defend the city from another major storm, then their work may be rather futile.

Yet the power of culture not only brings them back—it keeps them there.

Susan, Devin and I have gone back to New Orleans almost every three months since the storm. We average about 6 to 8 weeks a year in the city with all our travels back home. One time, a friend of mine stated that he saw me so much in the Quarter after the storm that he honestly thought we had moved back home. I enjoy the fact that we have been able to return often to the city. We have done quite a bit to keep the ties we had to the city alive. I still dj on WWOZ when I can. I travel similar paths as before the storm. I know I have more close friends in New Orleans than I do here in Killeen because I have made efforts to keep my ties to New Orleans alive. But I am thankful for the friends I have in Killeen—they get New Orleans and our relationship to that city.

New Orleans began “turning the corner” about two years ago. You could see it in the city, and you could feel it among the residents. Nagin was term-limited out of office, and there was a real sense that the new Mayor (Mitch Landrieu) would at least have a better vision of how New Orleans could rebuild for the 21st Century. By April of this year, with the Saints Super Bowl victory as the crown jewel, the city was mentally at a place to begin moving in a new direction. And then, the BP disaster took place.

In the months after BP, my new observations include a view of how the spill did not affect New Orleans as much as I thought it would. Time will tell, but this summer tourist season was “normal” and didn't fall off like many of us imagined. The students are back in town, and the Saints are ready to kick off another season. Ironically, during Saints games most of the businesses (outside of bars) weren't busy because everyone was at home (or in bars) watching the games. Perhaps this year people will venture out into the Quarter after the games and spend some more money. Those who I know who have businesses beyond the tourist industry are talking about the non-industrial “brain-powered” businesses that are starting or relocating in the city. The music industry is moving in a “new” direction, attracting more independent rock artists, while the local music scene continues to struggle to recapture the “little” capital they made prior to the Storm. It is a time of great flux right now in New Orleans, with the city perhaps at a crossroads.

Where the city goes from here is anyone's guess. All I know at this time is that I will continue to travel back to the place I call home, and I will continue to study its recovery. I truly feel that Susan and I will find our way back home, but it may not be until Devin graduates from High School.

And I'm ok with this.

We're ok with this.

Devin knows where his roots are—they run deep in New Orleans. And as we continue to travel home he will become more immersed in the culture. As he gets older, he will come with me when I spend a week or more in the city. My friends in New Orleans will see him grow, as they saw David, Cece, Jason and Caitlin grow. And who knows—perhaps he'll choose to go to school at Tulane or UNO. And if he does that, then I am sure Susan and I will permanently move back to New Orleans.

But for right now, we're ok being where we are, doing what we are doing, having our New Orleans parties about once a month, and traveling back home when we can. It's the best we can do right now, but it has pretty much sustained us for the past five years.

It's all good.

Monday, August 30, 2010

October 2005

Note: I have pretty much not viewed any “Katrina-5” shows during this last week, except for Spike Lee's excellent post-Katrina documentary “If God Is Willing and the Creek Don't Rise.” I find myself turning the channels pretty quickly if I see any K-5 show come on. I've been doing research on this recovery since October 2005 and I feel pretty confident I know as much if not more than any news agency on the level of recovery taking place in New Orleans today.

Over the past two days, I've been immersed in the planning and execution of one of the best parties we have ever held at our house since we moved here in January 2006. Our Annual Katrina Party was a hit on Saturday, and Susan and I were able to successfully put Katrina to rest, at least for a little while. Next year, I would rather just throw the Huey P. Long birthday party (Huey was born on August 30th) and not another Katrina party....

Note 2: One thing that I am most thankful for are all my friends who helped Susan and I out after the storm. We received cards, phone calls, cash, checks, music cds, clothes for the kids, and a number of other things that we had good use for. I will never forget this. You all are true Saints, and I will return the favor if you ever find yourself in a similar type of predicament.

I returned to New Orleans for the first time after the storm on Tuesday, October 4. It was a bit later than I had anticipated, but it was still a few days earlier than the official re-opening up of the city. My friend JC had already been back since mid-September and he kept many of us from the neighborhood abreast of the status of our houses. I had a “pass” to get into the city if I needed it. I just hoped it would actually work. JC had told us how to get back into the City, and I was using his “map” effeciently.

I was filled with anxiety when I drove down River Road in Jefferson Parish. I knew there would be a military check-point at the Parish border, but when I arrived there the military vehicles were there but there were no personnel at the check-point to stop me. Whew—no need to use the pass here. I proceeded down Oak Street to Carrollton Avenue.

Right off the bat, I noticed the chilling quiet of the city. That, and the fact that everything was grey. The city lacked color. You could hear the dried mud cracking under the weight of the car, and there were debris from trees to electric lines littering the whole ride back to my house. You could see that no one was back yet—I was literally one of the few people driving up Carrollton Avenue to Walmsley.

As I turned onto Walmsley, the level of destruction became more “personal.” Streets I had walked down were significantly damaged. Houses were damaged. I knew the people who lived in these homes. I was still filled with too much anxiety, though, to wonder what had happened to these people and whether they would return to the neighborhood.

As I parked in front of my house, I noticed a few things. My red Escort was in the driveway, but I knew it was destroyed. Miss Lee's car was on the road. Up on the balcony of her house was a white sheet still attached to the rails that I learned later Miss Tony used to flag down helicopters to get her and her son James evacuated out. My house looked like it was listing to the right a bit. The tree in our front yard was gone. The railings on our front porch was gone. And by some miracle, there was a Heineken bottle with cap intact standing upright on the front porch near the door. THAT brought a smile to my face.

When I got out of the car, I was again taken aback by the significant silence in the neighborhood. When I closed the door, the echo of that sound traveled for blocks. The sound of the mud cracking under my feed echoed for blocks. What I didn't hear were the sounds of anything else—no birds, no dogs, no kids, no cars—nothing. No sound at all. I will never forget this. Nor will I forget the smell of mold that permeated everything.

I had to open the door to the house with a shovel since the water had swelled the door tightly shut. Once inside, the smell of mold was overpowering, even with a respirator. Furniture was in disarray, things were in places they weren't supposed to be, books that had been contaminated by the dirty water had turned completely black. Devin's crib was on its side, and all his toys were still soaked and strewn all over the bedroom. Caitlin's room was covered in mold—it seemed the mold liked attaching itself easier on wallpaper than on plaster walls. The water line in the house was at the 3 foot level. The water line on the fence outside was above my head, and we were at least two feet above the ground.

For the next month, I would spend nearly every day cleaning out the house with the help of my friend John. John was an active WWOZ volunteer and lived in the French Quarter, and he had offered not only to help me but to also put me up at his condo for as long as I needed. Without his help, I could not have gotten our refrigerator out the door and onto the curb. And as much as we tried to seal the damn thing shut, it was still able to open up a bit as we lowered it down the front steps and envelope us with that incredible smell that only a half-full refrigerator/freezer can give you after it's been sitting in a house without electricity for two weeks at above 100-degree temperatures.

New Orleans, though, is never a city that is all about work 24-7. No no, that will not do. The nights in New Orleans in October 2005 were magical! Even with a curfew set at midnight, that would later be extended to 2am, and then finally lifted before month's end, many of us found our way back at night to the Quarter, which was the only place in the city with electricity. The only people in the Quarter were New Orleanians back in town to clean up their houses and the many first-responders including the Army. Humvees patrolled the streets and were parked at various intersections such as Esplanade and Decatur Street in the Quarter.

It was the best of times in the worst of times. To be around other New Orleanians was the kind of therapy many of us needed at that time. The Jazz Vipers were playing every night at Angeli's and Decatur. They were the first band organized and playing after the storm. Then the Palm Court opened up on the weekends. The musicians who were back in town were cleaning out their houses too, but they were also able to “relax” with all of us in the evening hours playing their music for us—for our souls. We danced in the streets, we reconnected with old friends, we ate good food once again, and we probably drank too much as usual. And in the morning near sunrise, we would all venture back into our old neighborhoods to continue to work of cleaning out and gutting our houses. Life was grand.

Though I wished I could stay longer, I went back to Tennessee near the end of October to be back with Susan and Devin. I had pretty much cleaned out the house as much as I could, and I was bringing back to Tennessee some of the things that were salvageable. One of the things I was not able to salvage was a box of photos and negatives that were under our bed. I thought I had taken the box of photos with us when we evacuated, but that box was full of bills and receipts. The box under the bed was full of pictures of my two children David and Cece, and they were totally destroyed by the flood waters.

New Orleans is about holidays and celebrations, and though the city was destroyed, residents were still able to celebrate the first Halloween after the storm in as grand a style as could be mustered given the circumstances. I wanted to “be in that number,” but unfortunately we were up in Tennessee, and rural Tennessee at that, and we didn't know anyone who lived in the area we were staying. We took Devin to the local mall where they were giving out treats to kids on Halloween night. It was pitiful, though I am sure Devin didn't notice a thing at all. But it would be the first of many New Orleans holidays that we would miss for the next five years. The culture of New Orleans would gradually work to reemerge after the storm, and it is the culture and lifestyle of New Orleans that made me feel most truly myself.

I had begun to get some bites on the job applications around the country. There was no guarantee that UNO would have a job waiting for me if we returned home, and we didn't have a house to return to yet that was inhabitable. I had to seriously look at the option of moving away at least for the short term in order to get our feet on the ground again. By November I had interviewed at a couple of universities. In late- November, I flew to Killeen, Texas for an interview I had never anticipated to be anything more than a dress-rehearsal for other job interviews at places where I really wanted to “be” if I couldn't be in New Orleans. I was taken in, though, by the small size of the university, it's proximity to Austin, and the “sell” given me by the university's executive director that we all would be building a new university literally from the ground up. I jumped at the potential challenge, and was offered the position on my way back to Tennessee. After a discussion with Susan, I decided to take the job and was given the opportunity to begin in January 2006. By early January, we were on our way to Killeen, Texas to restart our lives.

Five years after the storm, we are still here in Killeen.

To be continued....

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Short Pause

I will upload my thoughts on Katrina 5 later Friday night. I had to take a "mental" break last night from this project. More tonight, though.

To be continued…

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Monday, August 29, 2005

I woke up early again, at 5am-ish, deep with anxiety about where the storm would make landfall. Everyone was still asleep in the room, so I wandered down to the hotel lobby to watch the news. Katrina had not yet made it on shore, but she was already bringing lots of rain and the power of high winds to the city.

The Storm would eventually make “landfall” around 6am just East of New Orleans, and the rest of the day was spent by all of us watching the coverage. Mississippi was taking the brunt of the storm, and though New Orleans was taking its fair share of wind, rain and the damage from the storm (a piece of the Superdome roof came off), it was clear that the city had pretty much dodged another bullet and would come out of this relatively intact.

I got a call around 4pm from my friend Marc Stone who lived down the street from us and he reported that a neighbor had called him and said everything looked fine in the neighborhood. A few limbs down, lots of debris from the wind and the rain, but things looked pretty good. We all decided to take a break from the coverage and go out to get something to eat. As we made it down to the lobby, I asked others what they had heard about their neighborhoods. Most did not know too much, but one person from East New Orleans said he had heard that his whole neighborhood was under water. Wow. Some of us weren't going to be so lucky, I thought to myself. I could see in his face that he was very troubled by the news he had heard. I was very anxious to head back home on Tuesday to see for myself the extent of the damage in Ne w Orleans. I knew, though, that we could at least go back home, whereas the person in the lobby knew he could not.

We went out to dinner at the Golden Corral. Lots of food variety, and dirty cheap. It seemed every restaurant, bar, and shop in Lafayette had the tvs on covering the storm. I remember hearing on the tv something about “levees breached”.... I turned to focus on the coverage when I heard this. Sure enough, it was now being reported that there were a number of canals and levees in New Orleans that had breached due to the powerful storm surge as it pushed water into Lake Ponchatrain.

I got a very deep sinking feeling in my gut when I heard this news....

I remember coming back to the table where we were all sitting and telling everyone that the levees had breached. We all pretty much got up from the table right then and there and got back to the hotel as fast as we could. Watching the coverage with a bit more concern, it became known quickly that the levees had not only breached but the water from Lake Ponchatrain was filling the city up quickly with water.

I looked at Susan and said it was over. We weren't going back to New Orleans.

We discussed for a bit where we would be going from here. Our two choices were California or Tennessee. Tennessee was closer, and Susan got on the phone and called her parents to see if we could evacuate to their house. Then, Susan got on the phone and called her former husband Troy to see when (not if) we could pick up Jason and Caitlin to take them to Tennessee with us. Miss Lee got on the phone to see if she could stay with her daughter in Houston, and Kaya called her parents in New Mexico to tell them she would be flying home on Tuesday. I tried to work with the Hotel for one extra night, but they were already booked for the week. We would be heading to Crossville, Tennessee on Tuesday morning, with one overnight stop in Birmingham.

After a few hours of rest, I took Miss Lee and Kaya to Houston. It would be a 9-hour round trip drive from Lafayette to Houston and back, but I was so full of adrenaline and anxiety that when I returned to the hotel room at 10am, I was still “awake” enough to repack the car and head to Birmingham.

Our caravan had lost two people but gained two people. Jason and Caitlin would join us. And at 11am Tuesday, August 30, 2005, we all would begin our journey to Tennessee as bona-fide Katrina evacuees.

Ever since I can remember, I've had these two bumper stickers on my cars—a WWOZ bumper sticker, and another that states “New Orleans—Proud to Call It Home.” As we headed North and then East on the Interstate, we began seeing people in cars waving to us with sad looks on their faces. Some thumbs up, all positive vibes. They knew we were from New Orleans, and I had a strong sense they could feel our pain. It was another layer to an already surreal experience that had started earlier in the week.

The trip itself was eventful. We almost ran out of gas in Birmingham, since the area between Jackson Mississippi and Birmingham had also been ravaged by the winds and rains of Katrina. Power was out everywhere. By the time we made it to a hotel, I was exhausted and didn't know if I could drive another mile.

I had my first of what would become many “Katrina moments” when we got to the hotel. I had made a reservation earlier in the day at the hotel we had stopped at in Birmingham, but for some reason the reservation was not being honored for one reason or another. They had overbooked the hotel for the University of Alabama-Birmingham versus Alabama football game! You gotta be kidding me. Here we were, Katrina evacuees, who had made a bone-fide reservation for a room, being “bumped” by football fans!!! I ranted, I raved, I demanded a room for our family, I shouted, I made a scene, I made threats to call the tv stations. There were others from New Orleans who were there who were ready to join me. Eventually, they gave me some “coupons” to redeem at another hotel, and we finally found another hotel to stay in farther up the highway to stay in. I was pissed, but I was also tired, and I knew we all needed a place to get some sleep. We all left and headed to the other hotel.

On my way out, I saw a number of people outside walking their dogs. It was a large number of people. When I asked them about the dogs, they informed me that they were heading to New Orleans and that the dogs were “cadaver” dogs—they were going down to help search for bodies in the city. This chilled me to the bone, but I knew that they would be needed in the early days of the recovery.

We traveled as far as we could on our way to the next hotel, but somewhere along the way I found myself falling asleep on the road, and we turned off onto a nearby rest stop where we tried to sleep for a few hours. But it was hot outside, and it was incredibly difficult to get any sleep, though I was able to sleep for one hour on top of the jeep, and eventually we were able to get back on the road and get to our next hotel destination.

We finally arrived at Susan's parents' house on Wednesday, August 31. Among family and friendly faces, we sat down on the back porch and drank and talked.

And drank....

And drank some more....

Within days, events would forge an anger in me that still festers to this day. The coverage on tv showed a city and a people desperate for help. Water, food, refuge. Simple things, really, if one could imagine we were actually living in the United States. Still, water, food, and refuge seemed to take an eternity to find it's way to those left behind in New Orleans. On Friday, September 1, the USA Network aired a documentary by Michael Murphy called “Make It Funky” about the music of New Orleans. I had been at the original screening of the documentary at NOCCA earlier in the summer. It is a great documentary that illustrates the power and magic of the music community in New Orleans. Michael had been “farming” out the documentary to various networks to see if anyone would pick it up. It took the tragedy of Katrina to bring it to the public. It still is one of my favorite musical documentaries to date. Once we saw it on tv, Susan and I began crying....

Little things over the next few weeks would cause Susan and I to cry. NPR did a show on Fresh Air that rebroadcast an interview with Dr. John where he played a slow, piano solo of Tipitina. Susan and I heard the song while we were driving in Crossville and had to pull over to cry.

We got our FEMA registration and called them nearly every day once we didn't get any response from them. We filed our Insurance claim and received a little living cash from them. We were thankful for the $2000 from FEMA that came pretty quickly and helped bridge the gap until I received my first paycheck for the semester from UNO. But if we weren't living with Susan's parents, we would have really struggled financially. Their kindness, and the kindness of Susan's family, really left a lasting impression on me. I am happy to call them family today.

For the next three months, we found refuge in Crossville, Tennessee. Family centered us again. Jason and Caitlin were able to register for classes at the local schools, and one of the first things we did was celebrate Caitlin's 16th birthday at a local restaurant. Not what Caitlin imagined as the proper celebration for her “sweet 16”, but it was the best we could do given the circumstances. Her friends, too, were scattered to the four winds, and we had no idea when or if we would ever make it back to New Orleans.

Impressions at that time were, once again, surreal. While we were shopping for clothes (since we evacuated with only two-days worth of clothes) we encountered a young cashier who, when noticing we were from New Orleans from our driver's licenses, got tears in her eyes and gave Susan $20. The woman was embarrassed that she could only give us $20, but she explained that she had not met any evacuees personally until she met us, and she wanted to express to us how much she wanted to help those who were forced out of the city by the Storm. It was a touching, personal, and surreal moment.

I am not sure when Susan's job came back online, but she was able to get back to work relatively quickly. Her job was still secure, and she could “telecommute” from Crossville. She still has that job today, still telecommuting from Texas. UNO contacted me to let me know that they were going to start classes up on October 1 for an accelerated 8 week session, and instead of four courses I would be teaching one “large” course online.

In early October I returned to New Orleans to begin the cleaning out process with our house. I was to meet with the insurance adjustors at that time, and it would give me a good glimpse at the wounded city. It would be the best of times and the worst of times....

To be continued....

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Saturday, August 27, 2005

I woke up early Saturday morning to see the NOAA 5am projections. The Storm was heading 30 by 90. It was time to prepare to get out of New Orleans.

Before everyone got up, I took the car to the gas station to fill it up with gas. I headed down Claiborne Avenue to the Chevron station at the corner of Carollton and Claiborne. There were just a few cars in line, and those of us filling up were doing so for the same reason. We were all getting ready to head out of town. Where were we heading? I was going to Lafayette, others were going to Baton Rouge, and still others were heading to family members houses throughout Louisiana. It was time to go back to our houses and board them up.

I had no illusions as to the severity of the storm or what might be left behind if the storm followed its current track. I still had hope that it would jog to the East and we would avoid the full brunt of the storm, as many storms had done over the past few years. Still, I wasn't going to stay behind and watch the results. I had a family to protect, and we were heading out of town.

Susan had done a good job on Friday night of packing all the important pictures and documents and had placed the boxes in the front room. By the time I got back home with both the car and the jeep full of gas, she was going through a second round of making sure we had everything important ready to take with us on this evacuation. We packed clothes, and I made sure I had one set of “interview” clothes to use when (not if) I began looking for a new job after the storm. I packed my current CV's and previous published works for my interview packets. I was methodically assessing the jobs option before me in academia, and I had begun searching the various Higher Education job sites for places to send my materials. Devin was oblivious to all that was going on, as many 18 month olds were probably doing that day.

People in the neighborhood were boarding up and packing cars like we were. One neighbor passed by our front yard as we were packing and asked where we were heading. “Lafayette” I told him. I asked him what his plans were. He mentioned that he was a very religious man and would leave his fate in God's hands. He was going to stay behind in his house. I found out later that he had to be airlifted out of the neighborhood four days after the flood. I walked over to the Rendon Grocery store, just down the corner from our house, to pick up some food for the trip to Lafayette. The owners of the grocery, Cuban immigrants who had put together a great business here in the neighborhood, told me that they would leave too if they could, but they were going to stay behind to “protect” the business from the storm. They gave me their cell phone numbers so that I could call them at some point in time to get their assessment of how the neighborhood weathered the storm.

We insisted that Miss Lee evacuate with us, since her sister Miss Tony was going to have to stay behind. Tony was a nurse at Lindy Boggs Hospital and was required to stay behind. We found out later that Tony had been relieved early Monday morning after the storm appeared to have brushed the city and was back in her house when the water started to rise quickly in our neighborhood Monday afternoon. She and her son James would also be airlifted out of the neighborhood four days after the storm.

My plan was to leave early Sunday morning for Lafayette. By the time Saturday night came around, we were pretty much packed and ready to head out. As normal as we tried to make the night, it was all pretty surreal.

Around 9pm I received a call from my friend Kaya Martinez about whether she should evacuate. I told her emphatically that she should. She then informed me that she had no car to leave, at which point I told her I would come to her house in the Marigny to pick her up and take her to Lafayette with us.

Shortly after the call, we left Devin in the care of Miss Lee and Susan and I drove to the Marigny to pick up Kaya. Once secured, the three of us drove through the Quarter on our way back to our house in Broadmoor. Driving down Royal Street was unbelieveable. I was surprised by how many people were still on the streets and how many businesses were not boarded up. Was I the only one who thought this storm could potentially destroy the city? As we looked around at all the activity taking place around us in the Quarter, I told Kaya and Susan that this might be the last time we would see the Quarter.

At 4am, Sunday August 28, 2005, Susan, Devin and I, along with Miss Lee, Kaya, and our cat Serenity, started on our 9 hour trek to Lafayette. Susan had called her former husband Troy to see what plans he had with her two children Jason and Caitlin for the evacuation. He had taken them on a trip to Florida and was heading to Lafayette as well to stay with his family. Knowing we would all be together later in the day, Susan breathed a sigh of relief.

Susan made one more run through the house, and took some pictures of Jason and Caitlin that she had not seen before. She also took a yellow plastic dragon we had bought the previous year in San Francisco. It was on top of the TV. I gave Susan one of my raised eyebrow looks, and she said she was just throwing anything she saw into the last box.

As we locked the door and walked out the house, I told Susan to take a good look at the house. It would probably be the last time we would ever see it, I told her. She broke down in tears in my arms, and though we would again see it later, and indeed see it flourish in the neighborhood today, it would definitely be the last time we would leave the house as its residents.

The nine hour trip to Lafayette (normally a 2 hour trip) was long but relatively easy. At 9am, we heard Nagin give the order to evacuate the city. By noon, we had reached Lafayette and after a while we settled into the room. Downstairs in the lobby, other New Orleanians were huddled around the tv watching the progress of the storm.

It was going to be a long two days....

To be continued....

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Friday, August 26, 2005

As the week progressed settling into school, I also had a show to do at WWOZ. I had moved my show back to Monday mornings from 6am to 9am so that I could teach my classes. I didn't realize that the Monday August 22 show would be my last show at WWOZ. That Monday morning I had no clue about Katrina. She was just a depression that was heading our way, and I kept hoping it would turn North at some point in time and not hit Florida or enter the Gulf.

Tuesday night was our normal poker night at JC's house. The discussion centered on music and the neighborhood and not the storm, and I remember seeing Donald Harrison walking down the street once I had lost all my money and headed home. We talked music and his two new CDs which were about to hit the stores, and how he was heading that night to Los Angeles to do some studio work on a tv project. Things were pretty normal in the neighborhood. Poker games, walks in the neighborhood, and pleasantly hot and humid nights in New Orleans.

On Thursday, August 25, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made her first landfall in South Florida and had entered the Gulf by that evening. The track placed it moving from the Gulf towards the Florida Panhandle, but New Orleans was still in the cone of potential landfall and I decided to book a hotel room in Lafayette for Sunday and Monday “just in case.” I still had some room on our debit card to cover the room, and I had pretty much intentionally not paid the electricity and water bill to keep some money in our account if we needed to evacuate. At this time it looked like Katrina would totally miss us, but after years of evacuating for “near misses” only to find congestion on the roads and no place to stay once we got off the road, I decided this year we would have a place to stay no matter what. Lafayette was two-hours away, so it was close enough for us to get back home quickly if the storm didn't hit New Orleans, but far enough away that it might not feel the brunt of the storm.

Friday morning I woke up and logged on to the Weather Underground site to see where the storm was heading. It was still projected to hit the Panhandle, but the forecast kept jogging it to the West towards New Orleans. It came out stronger, though, than I liked. It already was a CAT 2 storm, nearing 100 mph sustained winds. I didn't like the pressure system that was hovering over New Orleans that would attract the storm our way and kept hoping that pressure cell would move East. As Susan was getting ready for work, she asked me what I thought. I told her we looked good, but I was still worried and would know more probably later in the day. On my way to work to the University, I couldn't get my mind off the storm.

I only had one class for Friday—the Urban Sociology course. It was an 11:00 to Noon course. The topic for the day was a discussion of the two articles the students had read (Orum's “Centrality of Place” and Long's “The Paradox of a Community of Transients”) and their research on New Orleans communities. The questions I raised in the discussion were what does community and neighborhood mean to them, and how does New Orleans foster this sense of community and neighborhood meaning. It really got the students thinking about the importance of their places in the New Orleans region, and how many of them had never really ventured too far out of the area. Family, friends, and culture kept them close to home. They hated the poverty and crime, but they loved the culture and the closeness to family.

While I was an affordable housing advocate in New Orleans in 2002, I had completed an analysis of the 2000 Census data for the New Orleans region and was stunned to discover that nearly 90% of all New Orleans residents had never left the region—ever. When they moved, it was from one neighborhood to another, but never away. The roots run deep here in New Orleans, and for all of our complaints about this city, we still choose to live here over anywhere else in the country.

As we completed the discussion and the students turned in their papers, I told them to watch the news about the storm in the Gulf. It looked very bad, but it also looked like it would not come our way. I told them if anything, the University might close down Monday and Tuesday and that they should monitor the University web-site for news updates. I also implored them that given the strength of the storm they should seriously consider evacuating should the storm head to New Orleans. Our levees could handle a CAT 3 storm (I believed), but anything bigger than that would devastate the city. As the class dispersed, I went back to my office, worked on some grades, and by 2:30pm was ready to head back home and pick up Devin for our Friday afternoon walks through the Quarter.

Since purchasing our house in the Broadmoor neighborhood in October 2002 (and evacuating to Mobile of all places shortly after moving in because of Hurricane Lili), I had pretty much spent most Friday afternoons going for walks in the French Quarter. It had become a strong tradition in my everyday life. I met many business-owners and bartenders on those walks that I still have strong relationships with. So many memories from these walks, and when Devin was born in December 2003 it wasn't too long before he would join me on those walks. By August 2005 these walks with Devin through the Quarter were part of my normal routine, and this Friday would be no different. Our neighbor Miss Lee was Devin's nanny, and she loved him as if she had given birth to him. To this day Miss Lee calls Devin every Sunday. EVERY SUNDAY. And she always knew that I would be home early on those Fridays to pick Devin up for our special time together. She had him ready to go for our walk.

There were no updates from the 11am report earlier in the day as to Katrina's new track....

Devin and I made it down to the Quarter, but I had a bad feeling in my gut about the storm. The walk through the Quarter today was a bit more methodical and meaningful. I was talking more to him about “things.” The architecture and the history behind the various types that line the Quarter. The River (“Old Man River”) and how we have to respect it for it's power and what it can give to and take away from New Orleans. I made a conscious effort to seek out friends in the Quarter to say hello. The discussions with my friends in the Quarter centered on whether they would evacuate if the storm headed our way. It was pretty much “50-50” on who was going to stay and who had plans to leave. No one was boarding up their businesses yet, but they were ready to do so if they had to. I spent a long time with my friend Harry Anderson at his magic shop on Chartres Street across the street from Harry's Corner. He was tasting some rum he was going to showcase at his new club at the corner of Esplanade and Decatur and urged me to try it out with him. We talked about his new club, which was finally doing well after all the chaos of refurbishing the place for almost two years. We talked magic tricks, which he helped me learn. Devin was asleep in the stroller so I could spend a bit more time there than at the other places I stopped.

By the time 6pm got around, I received a call from Susan asking me when I might be coming home. I took that as a sign that I had better go home, and so I packed Devin into the car and we headed back towards Broadmoor.

The 5pm NOAA report placed the storm further West AGAIN, this time forecast to hit the Gulfport/Biloxi area. It was still a CAT 2 storm, but it was gaining strength. With three days left before it was projected for landfall, and the fact that it just seemed to keep heading West, I pretty much knew we needed to start packing the important stuff and do what we needed to do to evacuate “just in case.” I took my Cadillac to Susan's workplace in Metairie and parked it in the 5 story covered lot there so it would be relatively safe from the storm, and then we all went out for dinner at Bud's Broiler.

The 11pm NOAA report placed the center of the storm just east of Lake Ponchatrain....

The 5am Saturday NOAA report placed the center of the storm right over New Orleans.... It was now a CAT 3 storm, and growing in intensity....

To be continued....

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday, August 21, 2005

One week before the 5th year anniversary of Katrina.....

I want to chronicle my thoughts during this week leading up to the storm.

On Monday, August 21, 2005 I began teaching at the University of New Orleans on a full-time basis—the first full-time academic job for me since 2002.

I had moved to New Orleans from Mobile, Alabama in July 2001. By September, Susan and I were married. By December I was DJ'ing at WWOZ, and in April 2002 I would leave academia to take a job in New Orleans as an affordable housing advocate for a local housing non-profit. The politics of New Orleans would chew me up and spit me out like a bad piece of meat, and I returned to academia in the Spring of 2003 as a “full-time adjunct.” Basically, I was hustling for work at any university that would have me. Lucky for me, there are seven colleges and universities in New Orleans.

After all that work and teaching as many as 9 courses a semester between Dillard, Xavier, Tulane, and UNO, I was offered a full-time tenure-track gig from UNO in August 2005. I was ready to teach and to do my New Orleans research.

My first week at the University was a bit surreal. I was teaching four courses—Intro to Sociology, The “University Experience” Class for incoming Freshmen, Urban Sociology, and a graduate course in Social Statistics. I was finally being paid a “normal” salary, without teaching 9 courses a semester. I had health insurance. I felt like a “professor” again.

The most interesting courses that week were the Urban Sociology course and the University Experience class. My intention with the University Experience class was to actually scare the hell out of the students—to prepare them about the rigor of the University but to also inform them of the fun they could have at UNO. With just one week under my belt, this is the type of "evaluation" I received from some of the students.

For the Urban Sociology course, I had my students work on identifying not only the neighborhoods they were from but the others in the City. I had a hunch that many of my students were from Jefferson Parish, so I wanted to inject them with a bit of “New Orleans” in their thinking. The first assignment included reading two articles on the concept of “place” in an urban setting. Those two articles would lay the foundation for my research on how New Orleans recovered after the storm.

On Monday, we all had no real idea of what Katrina would become. She had merged with another storm in the Atlantic, and it looked like it would cross into the Gulf through Florida. As we all know, anything that enters the Gulf is fair-game for concern. I would monitor it's progress once it entered the Gulf. 30-by-90.

Things were looking up for us in August 2005. My kids had spent a good part of the summer with me, and we had enjoyed one of our best summers in New Orleans together. We didn't have much money, but you really don't need money to enjoy New Orleans. The kids and I got caught in the rain one day as we were walking along the Riverwalk. Boat captains would blow their horns at us and wave as we casually walked through one of New Orleans' summer downpours. Another weekend we had biked down to the Quarter, and after getting caught in another summer downpour, we parked ourselves on the corner of Decatur and Conti and had some sandwiches for lunch. The Aquarium was always a great place to visit with the kids that summer, and we seemed to know all the penguins' names at the end of the summer. With this full-time position at UNO, Susan and I could breath a sigh of relief about finances for the first time in a long time.

As I drove to work that first day in late August, I continued to notice the damage still left behind earlier in the summer by Hurricane Cindy. She had made landfall in early July and though she was only a CAT 1 storm, and a minor one at that, she had downed many trees and left parts of the city without power for weeks. We all feared what a CAT 4 or higher storm would do to the city—but we all felt relatively safe that anything at the CAT 3 or lower level would not harm the city too much. Hurricane Cindy opened many of our eyes about the damage even a small storm could do to the city.

At the beginning of my work week, with the feeling that we had finally gotten back on our feet, I couldn't help but think about what a major storm would do to the City and to us. Once I got to the University, though, I had other things to think about. I had classes to prep for.

To be continued tomorrow....

Friday, August 13, 2010

Going “Suburban”

OK—I must admit, Susan and I have “officially” gone “Suburban” as of last night. I can come up with a number of “excuses” on why we did this, but the fact of the matter is we went “suburban” and somehow the “excuses” still don't make me feel totally good.

We broke down and bought a “big-ass” 50-inch plasma TV....

For Saints games....

For Movie Nights....

For watching Treme....

For …. Well, the reality is we just don't get out of the house all that much when we stay here in Harker Heights. Sure, Austin is about an hour away just south of us, and there are always things to do there. But I hate driving at night and if you're going out to see music in the clubs you're bound to hit the road around 1am and be back home close to 2:30am. Not unusual for New Orleans, but the drive at night just kills me.

So, our entertaining will continue to take place in our house, with a Big-Ass TV....

I am looking forward to seeing the Saints, though, “larger than life” in my living room. It will add a new dimension to our Saints parties that begin in earnest on September 9. And, I am afraid that the next time I watch Treme, I'll feel like I can walk right into the tv into the 7th Ward.

But the TV has “limited” value in our house, when it comes right down to it. Sure, it's going to add a whole new dimension to our football experience. But really—I prefer listening to WWOZ at night once Devin has gone to bed. I can do without the TV most of the time, and actually prefer to not have it on.

So, we bought a Big-Ass tv.... For Saints games.... And the more I say that, the better I'm going to feel about this huge purchase. As long as it's for Saints games, then I don't have to reflect too much on how I feel we've gone “suburban.”

I can hardly wait for tonight when I get home. I'll make me a Sazerac, turn on the stereo and listen to WWOZ with Susan in the Red Room.... Yeah You Right!!!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Harley Dude

Summers in Central Texas bring intense “hair dryer” heat that occasionally get relieved by brief but torrential rains. It is not the time of year that encourages one to spend time outside doing anything, unless it's by a pool and comes with a bounty of cold drinks. This weekend is no different, and as I walk Miss Stella this early morning I find the heat “tolerable”.

Yet, it is the first weekend I've been back to Texas, and I have a desire to take the Harley out for a long ride....

My excuse—to go to Austin to pick up things for my “Satchofest Central Texas” party tonight.

It's a good excuse—really....

As long as I get out before 8am, I am going to be ok. The heat will not become blazing until after noon, and I intend to be back home before 2pm to get started with cooking.

My weekend rides consist of taking as many back roads as I can to get to my destination. One normally takes I-35 to get to Austin, but there are a number of small roads along I-35 that can get you there as well. I call it “meandering” through the Hill Country. When I'm on the Harley, I'm never in a hurry anyway.

This morning's ride is going to take me along Highway 95 from Belton to Taylor, and then south to Barton Creek Square in South Austin.

Biking—to a Mall?

Well, they are opening up a LEGO Store in the Mall, and I've got some things to get for my special guy before I see him on Monday.

That, and it's Susan's birthday on Tuesday.

I've got lots to do in a short amount of time—bike ride, buying of presents, cleaning of the house (not much on that front), and cooking.

It's going to be a great start to the weekend.

It keeps me alive while I live in Exile....

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Happy Birthday Louis Armstrong

As New Orleans prepares for it's 10th Annual Satchmofest, it is fitting that today's birthdays include not just Satchmo but our President Barak Obama. And for all you haters out there, the birth certificate is legit--get over it.

One of the best things to do at Satchmofest is the Club Strut (which this year goes for $80 for the VIP pass, and it's worth every penny). I had been to every Satchmofest between 2000 and 2005, and then would occassionally visit just for the event. If I had planned better ("meaning" if I had chose Satchmofest over Tales of the Cocktail this year), I would be there this weekend.

And what a wonderful weekend it could be. You got Satchmofest. You got White Linen Night (though I personally prefer Dirty Linen Night--just who I am). You got hot summer nights. Nothing could be better.

In honor of Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, I believe I may just have my own Satchmofest right here at my house. I'll play Louis all day long on Saturday, and I'll cook up some Red Beans and Rice. I'll give Kat and Cheryl a call to see if they can join me, and perhaps Allen will be back in town to help me with a few Sazeracs.

When you live in Exile, you create the culture in your house. And without Susan and Devin here this week, I know I need me some socializing of some sort.

It's only Wednesday--that gives me time to contact folks and get the music set up.

It's all good :) Yeah you right!!!

Enjoy your Satchmofest, New Orleans. Wish I was there with you.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

A Night And Day of Cleanup

Since coming back to Texas, I have been busy completing Susan's "honey-do" list. I'll post my blog on Tuesday night.

Monday, August 02, 2010

The New Normal--Day One

The "New Normal"--I heard this term a few times while in New Orleans. You get a sense that there are new cultural forces at work in the city that will begin to solidify in the post-Katrina era. One of the most intriguing things I heard about was the Friday Night Fights on Freret Street.

I am not sure how often these events take place, but my friend Elise informed me that someone has written a short story about them recently. If anyone can turn me on to a copy of this, I would appreciate it. Now, I am not one for boxing, and I really didn't want to take Cece to this event (nor did she want to go, really). But the idea of neighborhood “men” getting into the ring to fight each other in an “organized” way was rather “intriguing” to me. It seemed like a New Orleans version of “good, clean fun.” Yeah you right! Something else we have taken as our own and turned it on its head.

For me, my “new Normal” was coming back to Texas and landing in the world of everyday “reality.” My experience with work in New Orleans was never really normal—an academic does not have to live a “9-5” day. Teach, do some research and writing, advise students, grade papers, prep. Much of this can be done from the convenience of the coffee shop. Luckily for me, my research was New Orleans, so I could get on the streets and absorb my research.

My “new Normal” is getting back into a daily “routine,” without Devin and Susan here for the time-being. That includes walking Stella, making coffee, feeding Stella, taking a shower, going to work, working, then coming home. Every day. Now, there is no doubt that we all do variations of this every day, but when you live and work in New Orleans, each of these “tasks” are filled with the possibility of the unexpected. And I mean this in a good (smile on your face) way.

When you walk your dog, you might actually run into someone you know, and actually say hello, and might even have a conversation. We are not necessarily in a hurry when walking the dog. And we might just say hello to someone walking down the street. And we might compliment them on something (like a pleasant smile, or a nice dog-leash, or nice and crazy colored shoes)....

Here, when you do see people, even in this “neighborhood”, they rarely look you in the eye. When I am able to catch them and say hello (with a smile on my face), they look a bit startled. I am waiting for the day when someone calls the police on me here because I smile too much....

Today is the first day of my “new” normal. I find my coffee is not as strong as the coffee I bought at Satsuma's. Wow—how is that possible? I thought I made some pretty strong coffee. I guess I'll add an extra scoop to the brew tomorrow. I find the morning air not so humid and hot (not necessarily bad, by the way). I find the quiet of the morning a bit unpleasant.

I've got so many thoughts in my head right now, but I gotta get ready for work. More of the “new” normal later tonight.

Still, today's new normal is going to include riding the Harley to work....

Now not everyone can do that every morning!

Yeah you right!!!

Sunday, August 01, 2010

New Orleans Thoughts

As I begin packing to head back to Texas, I have a few thoughts and reflections about these wonderful two weeks in New Orleans:

1. I have become closer to my daughter. I think it is difficult for any parent to be “close” to their teen children. The challenge with Cece and me has been the distance and the fact that I have not tried to intrude in her active life. I could have insisted that she visit with me once or twice a month, which we were able to do for a year after the Storm. But as she entered High School, become part of a rich friendship network, and then took on a part-time job, there was no way I wanted to be an intrusion on her life.

This trip has brought us so much closer. We learned some things about each other, we cleared up some issues, and in the end she and I were able to spend lots of time together without getting on each other’s nerves. That says a lot right there. She is a wonderful person, and I am happy to be a part of her life—again.

2. I have great friends in New Orleans. My friend Rhonda basically gave her house to Cece and I to use for two weeks. She is a Saint, and it is through her friendship that I was able to bring Cece here for two weeks for her internship.

My friend Blake who offered Cece the opportunity to be a part of one of the greatest entrepreneurial machines in this city. He is like a brother to me, and I am happy that I can still be a part of what he works on.

Dwayne offered me a chance to get back on the air at WWOZ. He was able to get me three shows during these two weeks. Sitting in the studio really made me feel back home. I hope I can do this again in a more permanent way in the future.

I had the opportunity to visit with many friends on this trip, and though there were some that I was not able to see, I am happy to have at least shared a bit of my trip with all of them through this blog. I am truly blessed with all these friends. You all share a piece of my soul.

3. At some point in time, we will move back to New Orleans. A part of me wants to take a big chance and get back here right now. My “responsible” side tells me I must do what is best for Susan and Devin. Somewhere in the middle, I am sure we will find a way back home before too long. I think the first thing we need to do is buy a condo in the Bywater. That way, we will always have a place to stay, and we can come down whenever we want.

4. I will continue to write in this blog, on a nearly daily basis.

Writing my thoughts about this trip has fueled in me the desire to write again. My muse has been awoken. I come away from this trip with one grant idea, a book idea, and commitments to write liner notes for two musicians.

As I settle back into the mundane daily life in Texas, I believe I will focus more on my thoughts as they race with me down the road on my Harley. The “Harley Chronicles” perhaps.

Thank you all for reading these accounts for the last two weeks. I have appreciated the comments. I hope I was able to share this time in my life with all of you. This has been an incredible year so far.

WHO DAT!!! Yeah You Right!!! It’s All Good!!!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Day Fourteen

Two weeks in New Orleans. Our time here is about to end. We will leave for Texas on Sunday, and I am really not sure what sort of mental state I will find myself when I go in to “work” on Monday. Honestly, I will feel like I have “moved” away again from New Orleans. Killeen is the place where I work. Then again, I am sure I will be asking Kat, Cheryl and Alicia over for dinner. I need to cook some gumbo and some red beans and rice and I’ll have way too much food just for me. Cooking brings me back home to New Orleans all the time. That, and listening to WWOZ on the internet.

Friday morning began with breakfast with my father, Mr. Bob French. We meet at Li’l Dizzy’s, the great restaurant in the Treme. It was also featured quite a bit in the series “Treme.” Bob commands a large presence, and everyone greets him like a king at Dizzy’s. Everyone also asks when he will be back on the air—they miss his honest “on-the-air” commentary that they say is lacking on radio these days. Bob chuckles and says he’s done with radio. Still, people come by the table and practically beg Bob to come back on the air.

I am not going to go into any detail as to why Bob is not on the air, though I know why. After talking with Bob often after the April incident, I am convinced he is relishing his time off the air. I believe him when he says he doesn’t want to go back. I’ve talked with others who are close to Bob while here the past two weeks and opinions are mixed. Some say that he “needs” to be back on the air for his career’s sake. Others say that Bob is agonizing over the fact that he is not on the air. Still others concur with me that they believe he is happier off the radio. He tells me that he enjoys his free mornings, and he’s actually getting more things done now.

Cece begins the interview with Bob and he tells of his evacuation out of the city to Washington, D.C. He had a room at a hotel for the storm because he had a gig the night before downtown. He decided against staying, though, when he realized the severity of the storm. He remembers Betsy very well—he and his whole family got caught behind with Betsy and nearly lost all their lives in that storm. Modest as ever, Bob believes the “best bite” in New Orleans is at his house—he makes the best gumbo in the whole city. I’ve had it before—it’s pretty damn good. He doesn’t believe things have changed all that much in the last five years, and I concur with this observation. Physically, I believe the city is seeing some progress in rebuilding, though I have observed often over the past two weeks blocks of communities still devastated after the storm. There is no beauty in whole neighborhoods dressed in “decay and neglect.”

When Cece asks the question about Ray Nagin, Bob let’s out a big and loud laugh and says he can’t say what comes to mind first because Cece is only 16. When pressed, he says “stupid.” He also says that he hates Ray Nagin. Bob is one who doesn’t mince his words. When asked to complete the sentence “New Orleans will….”—Bob replies “New Orleans will survive.” It always has—it’s been around for a long time, survived many other calamities, and will be around long after we are all dead and gone.

As we end the interview, we see our friends Bill and Pat taking their morning run through the block. They are friends with Bob as well. Bill and Pat live in Galveston, but have a house in New Orleans that they come back to every other weekend. Bill and Pat’s nephew went to school with Cece in Houston. This world is truly small. They’re here to attend a friend’s wedding. They invite all of us to Chickie-Wah-Wah later tonight where the wonderful Paul Sanchez holds court every Friday. We all say we might attend, though I am not likely to be locked into any plan for our last two days here in New Orleans.

We say our goodbyes to Bill, Pat and Bob and head to Cece’s work. With her interviews complete, she will download all the information to Blake’s computer. I head out to Magazine Street—I need to get to Aiden Gill to pick up some cologne and a fleur-de-lis bow tie. It’s a tradition with me—I buy one bow tie at the beginning of every school year. My “costume” as a professor is completed with the bow tie. I’ve been looking for some new cologne as well, and I know that Aiden Gill carries great lines for men. Once I make my purchase, I grab an late morning margarita from Juan’s Flying Burrito (it is, after all, 5 O’Clock somewhere) and wander aimlessly down Magazine to Jackson Street. Before too long, I find myself all the way to Pop-City Uptown. I chat a bit with Dave and Rhonda, who are having their morning coffee at Roux de la Course, and I thank Rhonda specifically for her hospitality and for providing me the chance to spend two weeks with my daughter. This has been a great time for Cece and I to fully reconnect.

Cece finally calls, and I get in the car to go pick her up. I get a chance to chat with Blake about events for the weekend, and he mentions the Friday Night Fights on Freret Street. I’m not one for “fights”, but the topic of organized fighting events on Freret Street intrigues me. Blake tells me that it would be a great photographic event. I agree, though I am not sure I will make it out there. Throughout the rest of the day, I will roll around in my mind the possibility of going out there for the fights. In the end, Cece and I choose to stay in the Quarter.

Cece and I head out to Hansen’s for quite possibly our last Hot Rod for the visit, though there’s always a chance we’ll get another one on Saturday. It’s damn hot these days, and nothing better to survive the heat than a Hansen’s SnowBliz. We get there as they open at 1pm. There is already a line out the door when we get there. As we place our order, the woman behind the counter relays to Cece the message that Ashley was really impressed with Cece’s interview. Ashley’s been interviewed by many people since the storm, but Cece impressed Ashley with the way she delivered her questions and with the fact that she presented so much maturity for a 16-year-old. Cece is very thankful. I am extremely proud. I am sure that Ashley will remember Cece every time she comes back to visit Hansen’s.

Outside of Hansen’s, we say hello to a group of tourists who I’ve noticed not only here at Hansen’s but earlier in the morning at Li’l Dizzy’s. I tell them that I’m impressed that they’ve strayed from the “usual” tourist places and find themselves in neighborhood gems. They explain to me that they are from Chicago, but have a condo here in New Orleans. They have brought their sister and nephews from Colorado to New Orleans for a visit. Yeah you right—showing them the “real” New Orleans. Somehow the discussion comes around to the Storm, how I’m in Texas, and when will I come back.

I have heard that question over and over on this trip….

We say goodbye to the tourists and make our way back to the house for a short rest. We may need the rest to handle the rest of the night.

Friday Night Fights doesn’t materialize for us, though I continue to be intrigued by the idea. Cece and I find ourselves once again in the Quarter, walking down Royal Street with no particular place to go. Shops are still open, though they are getting ready to close. We walk all the way to Iberville, and then make our way back down Chartres. I pick up a Sazerac at the Chart Room, and Cece picks up an antique book from the bookstore. Another slow walk through the Plaza de Armes, and we see Bike Guy getting ready to head out with a whole pack of bikers for Friday’s “Critical Mass” ride. The organizer tells us that they are going to ride out to the East so that others can see the closeness of the oil damage in the region. I am not sure if I will see Bike Guy again, but I have promised him once again he can rest at our house in Killeen if he makes it up that far during his Austin leg of his travels.

The only other place outside of Hansen’s where we eat for a second time is Fiorella’s. After all of their changes and turmoil since the Storm, they really have their cooking act together. Cece has the angel hair pasta, and I have (once again) the three-piece dark. Once again, I am fully satisfied. It’s all good.

We head out to hear the street music on Frenchman Street, and once again I find myself on the corner of Frenchman and Royal listening to the brass band playing great second-line music. There is a convention of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority taking place in town, and it seems quite a few have found themselves to Frenchman. The brass band commands their interest and respect, as they should. There are deep roots in brass band music, and many Delta’s realize this. I’m happy to see this interaction taking place on the street.

Though Kermit Ruffins is going on stage at the Blue Nile at 11, Cece and I are both tired from a long day. We head back to the house and relax. We don’t actually fall asleep for a while, but I am once again content knowing that the city is alive all around us, and I close my eyes knowing that I am more alive with this reality.

This is probably my last long blog chronicling this visit until late Sunday night when I return to Texas. I now that Saturday brings us an early morning visit to the Quarter to take pictures, and then lunch with Miss Lee, Devin’s former nanny and our former next-door neighbor in the Broadmoor. I am not sure what the rest of the day holds for us, but one never plans for things in New Orleans. One let’s New Orleans happen.

I am honestly getting emotional right now about the thought of leaving Sunday. I had better let this go for now.

Eh La Bas!!!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Day Thirteen

Today’s essay I’ve got to run through quickly because I’ve got an 8am breakfast date with my father, Mr. Bob French. We’re meeting him at Lil’ Dizzy’s in the Treme, and I am sure this is going to be a very long breakfast. I will post my thoughts on this on Saturday.

Thursday was the most casual day of this trip, yet Cece and I accomplished so much. After a much needed night of sleep, we ventured to City Park to go to the New Orleans Museum of Art. I love spending time in this place, and I wanted to show Cece a few particular items in the gallery. It was nice to learn that they have “all day free” Wednesdays, and they stay open on those days all the way up to 9pm. What a great opportunity to see some great art collections for free. But since this was Thursday, Cece and I paid “out of state” ticket prices. Must be an aftereffect of the storm.

In the modern art gallery, I introduced Cece to one of my favorite pieces—Picasso’s “Woman In An Armchair.” I was always impressed by the painting and by the fact that it was in the New Orleans Museum of Art. I would come down to the museum at lunch sometimes just to view this piece. It is worth the price of admission. On the same floor, there is a Jackson Pollack piece. I don’t remember what it is called, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen it. As much as I try, I still can’t quite figure it out. Art, like Jazz, is an expression of one’s emotion through a medium. It is an expressive art form. Coltrane’s “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” reminds me of how something completely abstract can make perfect sense to me. Still, Pollack’s work is a bit too “easy” to seem abstract. Lines and swirls are indeed filled with expressive potential. Yet, if the expression is only “understandable” to the artist, I am not sure if it makes much sense.

After the Museum, Cece and I head to Parkway Tavern for their famous poboys. I choose the Roast Beef with Debris, while Cece chooses the Shrimp. Once we get our sandwiches, she is amazed by how much shrimp is on her sandwich. There is no way she can eat the whole thing, and we only ordered a “half” sandwich. I try to tell her that one of the great selling points of New Orleans food is the bounty of it all. Pure gluttony at times. She looks at me like she understands, but she also takes half the shrimp and sets it aside to eat later.

Fully stuffed from the Parkway Tavern, we head back to the house to rest up for an early afternoon outing. Cece is going to enjoy the Quarter while I’m doing my show at WWOZ. It takes me only “two hours” today to put the show together—and even with this effort I know I’m only going to use a few cuts from the music I select.

Doing this third and final show at WWOZ seemed rather melancholy to me. I enjoy getting the phone calls and the email messages from listeners, and it is always satisfying to know that people are enjoying the selections. There is lots of “funky” jazz on the current set list for today. And, as usual, I put in lots of classic jazz like Coltrane, Monk, Mingus, and Davis. I thought I would end my show with some vocals, and I play one cut by Kaya Martinez off of her recording Embrace. Cece had interviewed Kaya earlier this week. It was a wonderful show, and it ended much too quickly for me. Indeed, this whole trip has been such a quick and indeed beautiful time to be back home.

I really enjoy playing this music, and I believe I can do it on a weekly basis. The biggest problem is that there are no opportunities to play Jazz on the radio in close proximity to where I currently live. I have tried internet radio, but that is expensive. I have to buy much of the current music, and the subscription price I must maintain for the use of the internet radio station kept getting more expensive. I finally had to drop my show last year. But after doing three shows back at WWOZ, I am tempted to revisit the idea of doing an online show once again. I guess I’ll sleep on this a bit when I get back to Texas.

We end our early evening interviewing my former graduate student Elise about her experiences during Katrina and her thoughts about Katrina-5. She and her boyfriend Justin own a bar in the Hospital District in the CBD. They’ve had this bar since February 2005. The cinder-block and brick building sustained minimal damage during the storm—nothing that couldn’t be repaired relatively quickly once they had the chance to get back to clean up and once their insurance money came in. Their house in Mid-City, though, took a bit longer to repair. Only recently have they been able to move out of their backyard apartment and into the main house. It has taken them nearly 5 years to complete the work on their house.

Elise’s story is very similar to the others we have heard on this trip. Basically, the city has “recovered” at a much slower pace than we thought, but it has gotten back on it’s feet. We are all hopeful that the city will continue to recover. Elise’s first words that come to mind when she hears the name “Ray Nagin” is “crazy.” She thoroughly believes he went crazy mental after the storm. She raises a good point—I believe he did as well.

Cece and I decide after the interview that we are going to call it a night. She wants to spend some time with Bike Guy, and I “chaperone” a meeting they have close by that lasts until midnight. I’m falling asleep during this time, and I finally tell them I need to go to bed. He departs, but I promise him a warm meal and a place to stay for a bit if he ever finds his way up to Killeen. I am sure he won’t take me up on that offer, but you never know.

As Cece and I head into our last two days in New Orleans, I am trying to keep as open an agenda as I can. We’ll meet with Bob French on Friday morning, and then we’ll meet with Miss Lee on Saturday afternoon. Cece is going out with Camera Guy on Saturday morning for lessons on how to shoot the Quarter, and I must find a Wal-Mart to pick up this year’s Saints shirt and hat. When it comes right down to it, I see lots of walking and photography in my two days ahead. That and one more Hansen’s and one more Sazerac.

Yeah you right!!!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Day Twelve

Much of the early part of Wednesday was dedicated to “recovery.” I am not one to stay up too many times after 3am, so the previous night did slow me down on Wednesday. I am just glad I didn’t have too much to drink or else I would have been nursing a hangover too, and that would have done me in for the whole day. But with an occasional cat-nap in the afternoon, I was able to bounce back and capture another incredible day in New Orleans.

I took Cece to her first interview in the late morning. She had arranged an interview with Ashley Hansen, and we arrived just before Noon at the greatest place in the whole-wide-world—Hansen’s Snowballs. I already knew much of Ashley’s evacuation story, but her retelling of this for the first time face-to-face with me would remind me of the many who experienced great pain in the evacuation.

Cece has a tendency to be a bit shy in her interviews, especially with those who she doesn’t know. She started asking Ashley basic questions about background (name, neighborhood, occupation), and there is one question she reads through a bit too fast—the evacuation question. “Did you evacuate?” and “What did you do when you first got back?” Ashley answered “yes” to the evacuation question, and after answering that she went to the shop to see what damages it experienced when she first got back, she asked Cece if she could answer the evacuation question again. “How much depth do you want for this answer” Ashley asked. Cece stated “as much as you want.”

Ashley recounted how she and her family had never evacuated for a storm before. This would be no different, and the possibility of evacuating this time was compounded by the fact that her grandmother was already hospitalized in Touro Infirmary. But after watching the news and seeing the potential severity of the storm, Ashley urged her father and her grandfather to come with her to evacuate. The elder Mr. Hansen (Earnest—the originator of the Hansen Snobliz machine) declined to evacuate and chose instead to spend his time with his ailing wife Mary. He checked in to Touro, which according to Ashley was already looking chaotic. It was her grandfather’s birthday, and she gave him his presents as she dropped him off at Touro.

She evacuated with as many of her prized possessions she could fit into her air-condition-less VW Golf. She had to make room as well for her father’s belongings and two of her neighbor’s cats. Her father was bringing his dog as well. They had originally planned on evacuating to Alexandria, but the traffic and getting on the wrong contra-flow out of the city pushed them to Jackson, MS. After over 12 hours on the road, they settled in Jackson.

It is in Jackson that they hear the levees have broken.

As for many of us who learned of that fatal news late Monday afternoon, she knew her city was in peril. More important for Ashley, her grandparents were at Touro and in danger for their lives.

Ashley and her father turned around and headed back to New Orleans.

Ashley would not find her grandparents for one more week.

They had been airlifted out of Touro by the Coast Guard, and they were placed in separate hospitals in another state. As Ashley confided, they had never spent any time separated from each other, and now in all this chaos they were to be separated without knowing where each other was. In reality, they were in two hospitals in the same town just miles from each other. Still, the fact that they could not see each other was taxing on their condition.

Ashley was able to find and reunite them. But for Earnest and Mary Hansen, a couple that adored each other and had never been without each other, all the events of the evacuation would take it’s toll. Mary died a few days after being discovered by Ashley, on September 8, 2005. Earnest would pass away on May 30, 2006.

The smile on Ashley’s face has long faded during this interview. I find myself holding back tears as she talks about this story. Again, it is a story I am familiar with—in my neighborhood, my next door neighbor experienced the same tragedy of sorts, and I spent the better half of September helping her find her ailing diabetic son. Ashley brings me back to that time with vivid and personal detail. Katrina turned all of our lives upside down—even for those of us who have recovered in five years.

Ashley continues to answer Cece’s questions—she is optimistic about the future of New Orleans, but there is so much more that needs to be done. Her favorite “bite” is a Hansen’s Snowbliz with Nectar. Who can argue with that. And when she is asked about what comes to mind when she hears the name “Ray Nagin,” she is quick with a response. “Scoundrel”, she says. I couldn’t agree with her more.

Ashley’s interview was the deepest and most personal of the interviews we have heard in the past two weeks. Mr. David’s interview is up there too. I can see that the questions have made Ashley think about a time she really is uncomfortable talking about. I can also see that she finds it important to talk about this time to others.

Ashley invites us to have a Snowbliz after the interview, but they aren’t open yet and I beg off for another day. I am sure that we will stop by there Thursday or Friday for another Hot Rod. It will be the only food place I will go to over three times on this trip. Yeah you right!!!

Cece and I decide on “Slice” for lunch. They’ve opened up a new restaurant on Magazine Street, across from the Whole Foods. We’ve heard that it is the best pizza in town, and once we get our slices, there is no doubt to me that the stories are accurate. My “meat lovers” slice is incredible, and Cece’s “white pizza” slice is equally great. Prices are extremely reasonable, and we may come back here before the end of the trip as well for one more bite.

We head to Rouses after lunch where I collect the ingredients I need to make gumbo today for my neighbors in Broadmoor. Two pounds of shrimp and one pound of andouille should do us fine. And after a bit of a rest back at the house, I begin putting my gumbo together.

Making roux in someone else’s kitchen with someone else’s pots and utensils is like wearing someone else’s underwear. It “fits,” but it just doesn’t feel right.

I can’t find the proper spoon to make roux with—it’s too small, and it’s not metal. As I mix the butter and flour together, my hand gets occasionally splattered with the hot roux. As I turn the pot, the metal handles are hot and burn too. Making roux is not supposed to be a joyful experience anyway, and this only adds to the labor. Still, after a while I’ve got the right color roux, and I begin making my gumbo. One hour later, and a few tastes along the way, it’s ready to go. We pack it up and head over to Jack and Sherry’s.

Cece is going to interview my friend JC about his experience during the storm. I let her settle in to the interview while Jack, Sherry and I begin having our gumbo. I am happy that Jack and Sherry love the gumbo. JC concurs once the interview is through, and much to my amazement Cece is not only having some—she also likes it! Cece’s doesn’t deviate far in her culinary tastes—and the fact that she likes my gumbo implies that there is still some hope that I’ll get her to love the rest of my New Orleans cooking. One can only hope.

We talk about the Saints and the HBO series Treme while at Jack’s house. I tell everyone about some of my “superstitions” for the games, including not calling JC ever before a game. I’ve still got to get a new shirt and hat from Wal-Mart—an important part of the superstition from last year. “Treme” conjures up a good conversation about how the writers and directors got it “right,” but it still puzzles us how anyone outside of New Orleans would “get” the show. The stories of each character we are familiar with, but what does it mean to folks in Michigan? We all concur, though, that is was a great series. I’m still curious what “new” stories they will come up with in the next season.

After dinner, Cece and I head to the Quarter. We intend to walk around the Quarter with no particular plan or purpose. It’s the type of walks we used to take in our neighborhood or in other parts of New Orleans. To a certain extent, it reminds me of the times Susan and I would venture out on Wednesday nights in the Jeep with the top down. Our neighbor Miss Lee would babysit Devin, and Susan and I would stop by the Daiquiri shop on Carrollton to get our drinks, drive through Uptown on Magazine, follow Magazine into the Quarter as it turns into Chartres Street, roll down through Decatur Street, and then come back along Royal Street, back to our house. A trip with no particular purpose—other than to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the City.

Nightime walks in the Quarter are beautiful this time of year. Once again, Cece and I own the Quarter. Few tourists are out. Some shops are still open. Restaurants all seem full, though. We casually find ourselves at Café Envie on Decatur Street, and Cece is happy to find that “Camera Guy” is working behind the counter.

Camera Guy is named “Bob”, and he looks much too clean cut to be working at Café Envie. He is a photographer, but he has had to work “real jobs” in order to have time for his art-form. He enjoys talking about photography, and he especially enjoys teaching Cece about photographic theory. He goes to his car and brings us his Nikon Medium Format camera. It’s one of the largest cameras I’ve ever seen, and he sets it up on his tripod so that Cece can work with it. I’m impressed by the pictures he’s taken with it. He likes to work in Black and Whites, though he’s starting to work more in color these days. Bob also has his own darkroom, and this helps with the ease of his photographic work. Cece is beginning to see that there is a vibrant artists community here in New Orleans. They may not yet be “famous,” but they are working passionately on their art.

I find myself sitting at the counter with an Abita, reading the latest Offbeat, and enjoying the cool air-conditioning inside Envie. The sounds of the street come in from the open door, and the “kay-rack-ters” of Decatur Street come in and out of the Café. I find myself truly at peace in the Café, and I feel like I could live here forever.

Cece and I are now into our last three days in New Orleans. There are two people on my list I must see, and there is at least one place I still need to take Cece too. I’ve got a show to do this afternoon, and I am looking forward to this as well. It’s going to be another great day back home. I’ve got to find a way back, I just know it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day Eleven

New Orleans has a way of forgiving people who turn in at 3:00 in the morning. It’s relative neglect for time follows one to the next day where “being late” is acceptable at least once a week. Sometimes, we find that “not coming to work” is acceptable every once in a while as well. I love New Orleans for this. Last night was one of those nights where I would like to use my “being late” cards today.

Tuesdays in New Orleans are slow, and yesterday was no exception. The city is full of locals—the tourists are few and the neon-green t-shirt clad Lutherans are long gone. A bit of excitement takes place in the neighborhood early in the morning—police cars race through the neighborhood at 8am and I know that this means trouble. Sure enough—reading the morning news online, I discover that there has been a murder in our neighborhood just five blocks down the street. It is a drug related murder. I am surprised at how “ho-hum” I actually take the news when I find out. This is New Orleans, I rationalize.

Cece and I start the day at work, and by noon we find ourselves reconnecting to conduct interviews and to catch up with Allen and Jacob. We decide to direct Allen and Jacob to lunch at Domilise’s—one of the best po-boy shops in the city. Parkway Tavern and Domilise’s are my favorite places, but Parkway is closed on Tuesdays (for some unknown reason). I am the only person who does not order a shrimp poboy—I choose the incredible roast beef poboy, smothered in may-o-naze and debris. I save a good part of it for lunch later in the week.

Next, we head to Hansen’s for Allen and Jacob’s first bona-fide New Orleans snowball. We are there at 1pm (opening) and the line is already out the door. This is my second visit to Hansen’s, and I am sure it is not my last on this trip. Today, Ashley is there with her sincere “sweet as sugar pie” smile. If there is a nicer person in the whole world, I would like to know. Her wonderful energy is contagious. Cece secures an interview with Ashley for Wednesday, and we order our round of Hansen’s Hot Rod’s.

Allen and Jacob find themselves in heaven, and I am happy that I have led new people to an insider’s paradise. There aren’t many tourists on this side of town—Hansen’s, though, is an institution and will attract the tourists through word-of-mouth. Allen and Jacob thank me for this bit of insider New Orleans, and they head out of town with Hot Rod’s in hand back to Texas.

Cece and I continue with the afternoon running some errands. The evening will be filled with an interview with my friend Kaya, and then Zephyr baseball with Jason. I get a call from Lynn Drury that she wants us to see her new apartment in the Bywater. Her tone informs me that she really wants us to see her new apartment, and I promise to call her when we get back from baseball.

Kaya works at McDonough 15. She is one of their music teachers. She shows us her room, which is set up as a small stage with seating and lighting in a cabaret style. She is very proud of the work she has done with her room, and I get an idea that my students in Texas could be part of this school with their service work next summer. Cece completes the interview, and then after our goodbyes we are on our way to Metairie to pick up Jason for the baseball game.

Cece informs me of how much the Zephyrs game reminds her of times we had together in New Orleans prior to the storm. Of all the things that she says that spark her pre-Katrina memories of us, this one touches my heart the most. I am glad I was successful in turning something I love so much—baseball—into a wonderful memory for her. Over the years, I have had lots of fun with all the kids taking them to baseball games. I am glad it is a time full of memories for all of them.

Jason and I talk baseball during the whole game. He has become more than a good player—he has become a true fan of the game. He knows the history and the strategy. He knows the passion as well. He admires players who play with all their hearts, and has a disdain for those who don’t take the game seriously. Jason plans to walk-on this year at UNO, and I truly believe he can make the team. I hope to see him play next year for UNO—I will travel to his road games if he does make the team.

The game is a pitcher’s duel, and the Z’s win 1-to-nothing in a game that takes just two hours to play. I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed such a short game. But it turns out to be a great time with Jason. I am very happy I got the chance to see him today.

On the way to the house, I call Lynn to let her know we would like to come by and see her. It’s not late, due to the short game, and we finally connect at 10:30 to go see her new apartment.

She lives in the “new” Artist’s Lofts in the Bywater. I am not sure who put this site together, but it is one of the best conceptual living and art spaces I have ever seen. It can be a significant housing anchor for the area, and it provides real affordable housing for the kind of people New Orleans needs to attract and retain as it recovers after Katrina. Lynn has every right to be proud of her new space. The artists all feed off of each other—the passion for their work motivates others to be creative. It is a safe and secure sight, with lots of space for collaboration and the use of shared resources. There needs to be more housing like this in New Orleans. I need to find out more about this space.

Cece eventually falls asleep in the living room, and as Lynn and I talk about her upcoming recording and tour, she begins to make cookies for us. It is nearly 3am, and once the cookies are finished I realize that Cece and I must get back home.

This is our longest night out, but one that is worth every moment. I am happy that Lynn finds herself in such a creative venue, and I hope that she can use the energy of this site to further her career.

In New Orleans, a night that lasts to 3am is not too unusual, even for the early week. I am glad I didn’t drink during the night—I know that all I will be suffering from on Wednesday will be a bit of fatigue.

We have another day full of interviews today. Hopefully, I’ll find the time for a nap too!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day Ten

There are certain places where we know we belong. The symbiosis of place, image, interaction, and culture create an environment where we feel natural and truly an integral part. New Orleans is that place for me—it is truly who I am. During the last 10 days, I have once again been reassured that this is the place I must ultimately live in for my final days. At least the cognizant days—with or without liquor. I honestly feel like I have more friends here than I do in Killeen where I have lived for almost 5 years. I do not really know nor do I really interact with my neighbors. Attempts are made, but no long-standing relationships emerge. I can count on one hand my true friendships in Killeen. Here, I have had the opportunity to reconnect with many friends over the nearly two week period. The reality of life makes it difficult for Susan and I to move back to New Orleans, but there is a strong piece of me right now that longs to buy one of these old shops or bars in the Bywater and reopen it. We could take the upstairs part and live in it. I could live out my final days “holding court” behind my bar—lecturing on sociology if anyone would listen. It is a fantasy thought, but fantasies do come true every once in a while in New Orleans.

This Monday was similar to last Monday—a pleasant and slow day. I spent the morning grading papers and attending to administrative work, and Cece spent a few hours at her internship. In the late afternoon, I helped hustle some of my friends for her to interview. The week is filling up with folks to speak with, and we begin on Tuesday with my dear friend Kaya, a teacher at McDonough 15 in the French Quarter. I believe she teaches music there, but she may have her own 2nd Grade class as well. She is also a local vocalist and percussionist. Kaya evacuated with us during Katrina, and I ended up driving her all the way to Houston so she could catch a plane back to her home in Arizona. She has an interesting story to tell, I am sure.

My colleague Allen is in town with his son Jacob, and I go down to the Quarter to give them a quick walking tour. Jacob has been convinced by Allen that I am an expert on the Quarter. I only really know the bars, though (right). Allen and Jacob are only in town for the night—they leave to go back to Killeen on Tuesday. New Orleans is a beautiful city, but a one day visit does not do it justice. I can handle a quick one-day visit because I know what to do and who to see on a quick visit. I’m not sure what a tourist can see if they only have 24 hours to do New Orleans in.

Earlier in the day, Cece convinced me that we should go see a movie. Her choice is the new Leonardo di Caprio movie “Inception.” Since it’s playing at the Prytania Theater, I agree. She hasn’t seen a movie there since before the storm. Honestly, I think that’s the last time I saw one there too. The Prytania Theater is one of the last truly neighborhood theaters in the country. A neighborhood moviehouse—wow, what a novel concept! Tonight’s show draws a pretty large crowd, and Cece has invited “Bike Guy” to come along. He’s now staying with a friend in St. Roch. He is truly living a frontier lifestyle now.

The movie is very good and very captivating. Some might call it a “sci-fi” thriller, though the only “sci-fi” element to the movie is the way people are invoked into a dream state. It is pure thriller, with multiple layers of activity taking place. This is the second movie I’ve seen where Di Caprio plays someone who is out of touch with reality—“Shutter Island” was an excellent movie, though somewhat predictable. I’m impressed with his new work.

Though there is lots to do that is “free” on Monday, Cece and I turn in early tonight. We drive home through the Quarter, and I see a number of friends out for walks. I say hello to Jacques Morial and will give him a call later on Tuesday. I also see my friend John, who is out walking his two very big Rotweiler’s. I am glad we are turning in early, because as we settle in, the heaven’s open up again with a downpour.

This has been a wonderful visit for me, not just to be back in New Orleans, but also to spend so much quality time with my daughter. Before my divorce, I had so many “plans” for my interactions with her. So much of that was lost in the distance (both physical and mental) that became part of our relationship. I know she remembers very little of how I would read to her at night, or how I would swing her in my arms as if I were a big tree and toss her back down onto her bed after the reading. I was not there for her on a daily basis when I should have been. Now that she is a young woman, I am honored to hear her open up with her dreams, aspirations, and intellectual ideas. She is very similar to me in many ways, including holding one’s emotions close to the heart. But I can feel that we are getting so much closer from this time together, and this is probably the best thing that has come from this trip for me.

Today intends to be another slow day. I have begun to upload my pictures to my flickr site, and I hope to get out into the streets a bit today to take more pictures, especially in a neighborhood I have very few pictures of—the Bywater. I am nearly finished with grading papers. My administrative tasks can be taken care of daily. I might just call a realtor up today about a certain bar for sale in the Bywater. You never know what new opportunities might be just around the corner.

Yeah you right!!!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day Nine

When was the last time you walked through your neighborhood and something, indeed many things, brought a smile to your face? These Bywater morning walks continue to amuse me. The beauty of decay and neglect abound, but it’s the little things that make me smile. The advertisement for “Pie Ho” Pizza, the painting on the outside wall at Frady’s warning of a local mugger, the beautiful roses and other flower bushes in people’s yards, the occasional small child’s toy or bike on the front porch, the cat in the window…. I am enjoying these morning walks. They bring me back to life.

I got out to a later start Sunday morning, due in large part to a wonderful but “late” Saturday night. “Late” is relative—the fact that we left the Blue Nile after one set, and that set did not end until 1am, and it appeared that we were the only ones leaving, tells the true story of what I consider “late” and what New Orleans considers “late.” My friend Lisa had been out the night before all the way to sunrise, and perhaps even later. That “might” be considered late in New Orleans….

Once infused with early afternoon coffee, Cece and I venture back to Simon’s shop on Magazine and Jackson. She is interested in interviewing him for her project. Once again, I am amazed at the “cordial” response Simon gives when describing how he feels about Ray Nagin. He too must pause for quite a long time before he responds with “in the end, Nagin will be remembered for doing something good.” I can’t think of a thing Nagin did “good” for the city, but perhaps Simon knows more than I. Still, Simone cannot name a good thing either.

Cece heads out on Magazine Street in search of another interview. I remain behind and intend to spend a wonderful afternoon discussing life with Simon. I have brought my six-pack of Heinecken, and I am sure we both will do our level best to finish the whole thing off in less than an hour. We are joined in our discussion this afternoon by a neighbor named John. John lives in Atlanta but owns a small “condo” on Jackson and Laurel. He, and occasionally his wife, comes down to the city once a month. His children are out of the house now, though his son goes to school at McNeese State and he finds time to visit his son in Lake Charles when he can. John also volunteers at the Jazz Fest (at the drink booths). I really hope that Susan and I can do something like this very soon—buy or rent something small in New Orleans that we can call home while here. If anyone knows of a cheap but safe efficiency apartment for rent, I would like to talk with you.

Simon’s new paintings continue to be “signs” of sayings or commissions to mark special events. His non-commission work goes out the door almost immediately after it’s completed. A couple come in to commission three pieces to help commemorate their lives in New Orleans. They have lived here for three years, but their work is transferring them to Los Angeles. They are not happy with the move, but they know they will come back someday. I believe they will—you can hear the passion for New Orleans in their voices. After they leave, Simon confides in me that his job is “non-stop.” What a wonderful thing in life when you are doing what you love to do on your own terms.

After about an hour, Cece comes back but has been refused her first interview. She thought she had a lead, but it turns out the person didn’t want to participate. She wants to complete three interviews today, and though this might be a bit ambitious, she is determined to get it done. We tell Simon and John goodbye. I know I will see Simon once again before we leave.

Next stop—on a whim, Cece decides to interview “anyone” at Dirty Coast. It’s close to closing time, and we are able to corner Anika into an interview. I know her story too. Anika is originally from Germany, but her sister lived in New Orleans so she decided to come and visit. She arrived in New Orleans a few weeks before the storm. She STAYED during the storm! You can see in her face that the experience for her was not too bad, but that it was “interesting.” Once the city got back on it’s feet in late 2005, Anika returned to Europe. She was back in New Orleans one year later to stay. I do not hear what she said about Nagin, but it wasn’t bad.

We get back in the car and head to my neighborhood, Broadmoor. We’re really on our way to City Park, but I figure we can get there “quicker” going through my neighborhood. Honestly, I love driving through the neighborhood whenever I can. It still is home for me. As we leave the neighborhood and head up Jeff Davis towards City Park, I notice that the car next to me has Jack and Sherry in it—neighbors from across the street in Broadmoor. We roll our windows down and say hello, and it turns out they are heading to the new Dog Park at City Park to walk their beautiful brown lab named “Cooty” (“Mardi Cooty Fiyo—Indian Red, Indian Red”). Cece and I follow them there so we can sit and catch up. Cece gets a chance to interview Jack. Sherry and I catch up on what’s been going on since I last saw them in May. We make plans to do something this week—whether that be a poker game, or a cookout. I volunteer to make Gumbo. Jack and Sherry love my gumbo. Ironically, the last time I made Gumbo for Jack and Sherry was for a poker night on Tuesday, August 25, 2005—the Tuesday before the Storm. We had all just learned about Katrina forming off the eastern coast of Florida—really two tropical disturbances joining up into one very big and ugly storm.

Jack is kind, too, to Nagin during Cece’s interview. Jack thought Nagin was the wrong person in the wrong situation at the wrong time. We had lots of hope for Nagin, but he never fulfilled his potential.

Wow—am I the only person that HATES Nagin so much that I can honestly find no redeeming qualities to his pitiful little self? I guess there is something wrong with me—or perhaps I need some therapy for this deep hatred I have of Nagin!

We all agree that we all must do something together before Cece and I head out of town. I imagine it will indeed be Poker Night on Tuesday. We say our goodbyes and Cece and I drive around City Park.

City Park is beautiful, and it has come back relatively well. I don’t believe the golf course is back online—it doesn’t look like it. But the Museum has been going strong since shortly after the Storm and the grounds look wonderful again. Cece informs me that the young man he met a few nights ago—the one who is traveling by bike across country—spent the night in City Park. He has his own tent and sleeping bag, and he found City Park to be a good venue since it was far enough from the Quarter to be out of the way of potential muggers, homeless people, and curious police officers. Honestly, I admire his frontier attitude with his trip. I am not sure I could spend the night alone in a tent in City Park, but the thought does make me think of trying it out someday when I ride my motorcycle into town.

Cece also informs me that she and “Bike Guy” are going to attend the free dinner at the Hari Krishna temple on Esplanade….

I love my daughter. She reminds me of me so much….

I don’t have a problem with this date, and I’m actually curious about what her experience will be at the Hari Krishna dinner. After a short rest back at the house, we are on our way to our respective dinners—she to the Temple with Bike Guy, and me to Mandina’s by myself.

We get to the Temple and Bike Guy is waiting for her there. I tell Cece that I’ll be back in an hour to pick her up. She has a look on her face that is both smile and smirk. Hard to describe, but it seems that she is both thanking me for letting her do this, and wishing that I would vanish quickly.

Mandina’s is one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans. It seems that I have beaten the late crowd since I find a table relatively easily, and mid-way through dinner the line is outside the door. I am in full anticipation of two things here—a Sazerac and their Trout Meuniere. The waitress informs me that they are out of Trout tonight!!! They can put the Meuniere sauce on their Soft Shell Crabs, but I have my heart set on trout. I settle for the Fried Oysters instead.

The waitress assures me that the oysters are from PJ’s. This is good to know. The helping of oysters is large once I get my plate. The problem is that the oysters are small—smaller than I’m used to seeing. And they taste “bland”—no real salty, muddy taste to them. I am sure I’m imagining things, but it seems that these oysters are a bit immature to be on the table. Still, I save enough to put on a po-boy sandwich tomorrow. The waitress brings me another Sazerac and some of Mandina’s wonderful Bread Pudding. This IS a nice way to end the meal.

On my way back to pick up Cece, I find her and Bike Guy on the corner by the Temple sitting and talking. I can tell she is having a great time. I tell them both I’ll be back later, and I end up driving down the street to Jared’s new house and parking the car. It is a beautiful night, and I feel like walking.

Walking…. In a neighborhood…. At night…. A neighborhood with life….

I could hear distant sounds of music, some rap and some jazz. I could hear WWOZ on the air. Sounds of voices coming from the living rooms. Smells of barbeques that had ended a few hours before. Mardi Gras beads on fences. A light pole with hand-made “Saints” signs with different sayings that seemed to be added with every significant victory in 2009. I had once again died and gone to heaven. I do believe I have done that every day while we’ve been here.

Finally, I go back and pick Cece up. She is ready to go back to the house. I am sure she will see Bike Guy again later this week. I am also sure I will get another chance to walk through a neighborhood with life. And I know I will see something that will bring another smile to my face.

I have no plans for Monday other than grading papers and attending to work issues in the early morning. I do believe, though, I will try to go with Cece on the Street Car to City Park. We have a date at the New Orleans Museum of Art. There’s an original Picasso I want her to see there.

Yeah you right!!!