Potholes—I am reminded daily of the “natural” speed bumps that make up large parts of the ride to UNO on Elysian Fields Avenue. I think they’ve gotten worse—they score nearly every block of my ride to the UNO campus. Large ones, shallow ones, bumps in the road, deep cracks, and every other shape and divet you can imagine. My poor car will need a new suspension system by the time I get home in two weeks. Some things never change here in New Orleans.
I had another wonderful day at UNO today. I got to see Vern Baxter and David Allen—two former colleagues who have helped me so much while I was at the University prior to the Storm. It was good to see Deliliah, our Administrative Assistant, is still there. Vern asked me about my new job, which isn’t so new anymore given that I’ve been an “administrator” for over two years. I find myself saying the same thing many times to folks I haven’t seen in years—that Susan and I have landed on our feet in Killeen. We are fortunate to have found a job so quickly after the storm that has kept us in Texas. On the other hand, I tell them, we come back home often, at least 4 times a year, and our hearts are still in New Orleans. Many say we’ll be back home to stay someday, but I’m a realist and I understand the job probably just isn’t going to be here for me to up and leave Killeen. We’re in Killeen for the long run, I hear myself telling people these days, but we’ll be here when we retire in 12 years.
I spend much of this day walking through our University’s Blackboard online course delivery system with a recent Graduate Student, Michelle, who I’ve hired to teach for me online in the Fall Semester. She is eager to try teaching online, and she comes to me with high recommendations. I know she is going to do fine for me and our students, and I need to get her account setup by the end of this week so she can begin setting her course up.
At some point, Michelle asks me about my research, and this turns into both of us discussing our Katrina experiences. She is a New Orleanian and had to evacuate all the way to Pennsylvania with her husband and child. They eventually found their way back to New Orleans, in large part due to the fact she was living in her family’s house near Mid-City that was fully paid for. Low housing costs brought her back, but she strongly asserted that the culture of the city, as well as strong and long family ties, brought her back. She knows all the “bad” that New Orleans has to offer, but she also realizes the “good” offsets the bad, at least for the time-being. The one thing that may take her and her family away will be if she pursues her Ph.D. in Sociology. With no programs available any longer in the City, the closest program is in Baton Rouge. I really hope this online teaching gig works for her—it might be just enough to keep her in New Orleans for a while.
Once I finish my afternoon at UNO, I go to visit my former graduate student Elise. She, too, will be teaching for me online this Fall, but she and I turn our “orientation” into a great welcome-home lunch—lunch over beer—lunch IS beer! We meet at the Mid-City Yacht Club and discuss her course syllabus. Our beer of choice is the new Abita SOS which had just hit the shelves and bars of New Orleans that day. The SOS beer is dedicated to Saving Our Shores, and a large part of the proceeds of every sale go to Coastal Cleanup. For me, there is no better choice of beer on this trip that this one.
The bartender at the Mid-City Yacht Club, Nancy, looks like she’s really the manager, and she tells me about her work as a freelance reporter working the BP oil spill story. I take her number and email, and promise her that if I hear of any good leads while I’m here I will direct the calls to her. She already had one story that morning—that the boats skimming the water right now are able to “agitate” the water so that the oil rises to the surface. This makes it easier to skim the oil off the top. Unfortunately, they’ve been told not to use this strategy by the Coast Guard. No reason was given why to stop. Nancy hopes to followup on this story later in the week. I hope she can discover a bit more about this.
Elise’s and my discussion of the syllabus quickly falls to the wayside as we discuss all the events that have happened to us years after the Storm. It is so ironic how I am still engaged in conversations about this nearly 5 years after the storm. Then again, I haven’t seen some friends like Elise since that time. The Storm interrupted her journey to the Ph.D. program at UCDavis she had just been accepted to in the Fall 2005. She decided to hold off for a year and “work” at UNO to help out. She also needed to help begin the rebuilding on the house she and her boyfriend own in Mid-City. After one year, though, she did make it out to UCDavis (my undergraduate alma mater) where she completed her coursework on time and is now back home working on her dissertation on Culture. She and her boyfriend Justin are JUST NOW moving out of their small backyard apartment into their main house. The rebuilding and repairs are complete “enough” for them to return back into the house. I may see if Elise wants to rent out her small apartment to Susan and I so that we have a more “permanent” place to stay whenever we come back home.
Cece calls me while Elise and I are meeting to let me know that her day is once again done, though a bit later than on Monday. Instead of 12 noon, they are now out at 2pm. Her intern coordinator, though, can drive her to a spot near me. I choose the Flying Burrito on Carrolton, and I will catch up with Cece there. I say my goodbye’s to Elise, but I will meet up with her again to go over a “real” Blackboard orientation with another of my former students at UNO on Wednesday morning.
Cece and have lunch at the Flying Burrito, and then we head down to Magazine Street to do a bit of window shopping. Magazine Street is probably my “second” favorite shopping area in New Orleans. The problem with Magazine Street is it is so spread out. Not a bad problem, but it isn’t the most walking friendly place to shop. We decide to descend down on the blocks between Napoleon and Louisiana. I’ve wanted to visit Fleurty Girl’s shop, and Cece wants to visit Buffalo Exchange. I pick up one item at Fleurty Girl that I KNOW I must have for football season—a Saints Prayer Candle. I will light it up every game-day—my new superstition for this year. I hope it works!
After Magazine Street, we hop in the car and head back to the Quarter to see my friend and hero Mr. John Sinclair give a reading from his new book about Sun Ra at the Louisiana Music Factory. True to form, I do see friends and meet some new ones at this event. I finally meet Stephanie from my Facebook friends for the first time face-to-face. We discuss music and New Orleans, evacuations and mutual friends. It is nice to finally put a face to my friend, and I am sure we will meet up again during this visit. Stephanie introduces me to her friend, Joe Crachiola. He’s a local photographer who also has connections with John Sinclair from the Detroit days. I’ve seen his work—he has photographed another one of my Facebook friends, the beautiful NOLA Girl. Joe also informs me that he plays a bit of saxophone and will be sitting in with the Treme Brass Band at the Candlelight Lounge on Wednesday night. I fully intend on seeing him there—I need me a dose of Uncle Lionel and the Treme Brass Band. I also want to introduce Cece to the greatest historically black musical community in the world.
I see other friends at the event—Hild and Tom Morgan, who has just published a great collection of photographs of New Orleans Jazz artists but finds himself in a major conflict with Bob about one particular photo and whether it can be used in the book. I am not going to get in the middle of this conflict, but I did promise Tom I would try to talk to Bob while I’m here to see what I can do to mediate. I am aware that another effort had taken place a few weeks ago—this fell apart, though, and I must really think of a way to work this out. I also see John’s daughter, Celia, who gives me a nice warm hug. She’s doing well with her graphic design work, and I know she will continue to thrive in that area.
I save my special hugs for John. I introduce him to Cece, who he remembers as a little girl of 6 or 7 coming in with me at WWOZ. He is amazed at how much she has grown up. I love the smile on his face as he talks with her. I first met John at WWOZ in 2001 when I hosted my first show Sunday mornings from 5am to 8:30am. John had the classic Blues show that ran from midnight to 5am earlier in the morning. As with all the “giants” who worked at WWOZ, I was initially intimidated by his presence. His knowledge of music was deep, and his work as an activist and promoter I admired dearly. As the years went by of meeting in the early mornings, we forged a bit of a bond in conversation and in addressing issues we mutually cared deeply about—especially political issues. It was those special Sunday mornings between 4:15am and 5am that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
John began reading from his book, first with a selection written by Rick Steiger entitled “Arkestra in Residence,” a lively tale of Sun Ra’s concert in Detroit in late 1980. He then chose a selection by Wayne Kramer entitled “My Night as a Tone Scientist,” an truly passionate rememberance of a night sitting in with the Arkestra while performing in Los Angeles in 2006. Finally, John ended with his own piece entitled “Sun Ra Memories” in which John relates his varied experiences with Sun Ra and the Arkestra. I found myself smiling throughout each reading, nodding my head to familiar names, imagining myself in those places, hearing the “art” that was and still is Sun Ra. I could listen to the stories all night long. The end of the reading came much too quick.
Though only 7:30, I can feel in my bones that I am done for the day. Cece and I head back to the Bywater and though I have “designs” on going to Brocatta’s once I clean myself up, I find that as I lay down to rest my legs on the bed the pillow beckons to me. I end up falling asleep by 9pm.
My plans for Wednesday include another trip to UNO and then the Treme Brass Band this evening. If Cece gets out of work early again today, then we are heading to Hansen’s for her first Snowball there. Yeah you right!