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!!!