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....