Thursday, August 31, 2006

Fiore cartoon

Editorial cartoonist Mark Fiore has posted his latest animation.

It's called "Whoopsi Gras II".

So, I guess this is what folks in the upper 49 think of us and our situation.

Sadly, it's pretty close to the truth.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Today marks one year after Hurricane Katrina. Here is how I spent the day.

I awoke in our FEMA travel trailer at 5:00 am, took a shower, and got dressed for work. It was just my Darling Wife and I today since our Precious Daughter is staying with Grandma and Grandpa for a couple days. I listened to NPR and heard some of the national coverage of this infamous day in history. But mostly, the news was about other routine difficulties. I posted a quick note to my blog.

I drove to work and had a cup of coffee. I sent a few emails, reviewed some proposals, met with coworkers and talked on the phone. A computer technician came by to fiddle with my computer to resolve a problem I’ve been having.

At 11:30 I went down to the cafeteria and got a plate of breaded pork chops, mashed potatoes and green beans. I brought my food back to my desk, checked my personal email and read The Times-Picayune online. I was curious to see what the president was doing today during his visit to New Orleans. It turns out he went to Betsy’s Pancakes on Canal Street and visited Warren Easton public high school.

After lunch, I sent a few more emails and met with colleagues about some project maps we need to produce. Then I went to a long afternoon meeting to discuss the proposals I had been reviewing. We met until 6:00 pm, at which time I returned to my desk and called my Darling Wife.

I did a few more end-of-the-day chores and I signed out at 6:40 pm. On the way back to my travel trailer I heard part of an interview with Ivor Van Heerden on the radio. I changed the station to WWOZ.

I stopped at Mediterranean Cafe on Carrollton Avenue. I ordered two take-out meals. They told me 10 minutes. I walked across Carrollton Avenue to the Parkview Tavern and ordered a Jack and 7. I paid $3.50 and tipped 50 cents. I walked back to Mediterranean Cafe to enjoy the Moroccan music and my drink.

When my order was ready, the lady brought it out and asked for $18.50. I produced a credit card. “Cash or check only,” she said. I barely had ten bucks in cash and no checks. “You can bring it tomorrow,” she said. I thanked her and left.

Back at the trailer, I filled the cats’ bowls with food and fresh water. I retrieved the mail from the mailbox at the curb. I straightened the place up a bit while waiting for my Darling Wife. I put the radio on and listened to Jivin' Gene on WWOZ. He played “Going to the Chapel” by The Dixie Cups and some Ernie K-Doe.

My wife arrived and we feasted on gyro, kibbi and stuffed grape leaves. We talked about our days at work. We talked about future plans. As of this writing, she is typing and printing from our personal computer in preparation for work tomorrow. I’m typing this on my notebook computer from work.

In a little while, she will have a cup of hot chocolate and I will have a glass of Ovaltine and we will retire. I will say, “Good night, my honey,” and she will say, “Good night, sweetie.”

I don’t know what the rest of the world is doing today, this day that will live in infamy for New Orleanians and all Americans alike, but here is what I did: worked, ate, loved and slept.

It’s all I can do.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

We Are Not OK

In solidarity with my fellow New Orleans bloggers, I join in transmitting this message on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina:

We Are Not OK

Monday, August 28, 2006

Birth of a city

Everybody's talking about the "new" New Orleans.

Well, here she is.

While the media make ratings points reliving the pain, suffering and death of Hurricane Katrina one year ago (with a gleam in their eye as Don Henley noted), we in New Orleans will pause for a few moments of memorial, and then go right back to work.

Because pity and sorrow won't remove the debris, won't improve the levees, won't build new schools, more of us will be clutching hammers than handkerchiefs tomorrow. We'll remember the past, but build for the future.

Welcome to New Orleans, Baby S.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ray calls it "food porn"

Ray is blogging about food, and it's delicious writing that everyone can enjoy. This is, however, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, so every entree of joy comes with a side of sadness...

Visit Ray in New Orleans.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Another demolition

Another house has come down in our neighborhood. This one, right across the street from our own vacant property and FEMA travel trailer, was crushed in record time.

I went to work on Friday morning, it was there.

I came home Friday evening, it was not.

Another house demolition in New Orleans

The really odd thing about it is that earlier this week, someone had decided to gut the house. We still don’t know who or why, only that a van full of eager young people rolled up early one morning and started to empty the house of all its non-structural elements.

There are a lot of folks coming to New Orleans to help us recover from Hurricane Katrina. Lots of Texas license plates on the roads nowadays, and lots of Mexicans seeking work as day labor hanging around the parking lots of local home-improvement stores.

And lots of volunteers, too. Religious groups sending young and old help, and college students using their breaks to help us here rather than boosting the beer economy of seaside towns. And why not? Hey, it’s just as hot here as on the beaches in Florida.

We certainly appreciate all they are doing. But in this case, somebody got their wires crossed. My neighbors decided they would not return to New Orleans months ago as soon as their two children settled into their new high school. They told me a long time ago that they planned to demolish and sell the land.

So another neighbor of ours, who just happened to go by the house the other morning, was surprised to seen the young people swarming like ants through the doomed house, building a pile of debris at the curb. He called our former neighbor now settled several states away to ask, “Are you still planning to demolish?”

“Yes, why do you ask?”

Our alert neighbor went over to tell the young-uns to decamp, because there’s no point in gutting a house that you’re going to smash with a wrecking ball anyway.

When I arrived back at the trailer that evening, there was a pile at least 6 feet high in front of the house. Oh, and just in case I’d forgotten what a refrigerator full of rotting food looks and smells like, the appliances placed on the sidewalk were a potent and pungent reminder.

All of which is just another day in the flood-ravaged parts of post-K New Orleans: dirt, debris, stink and demolition.

Oh, and of course, neighbors that look out for each other--even those that live across town, or across America. Our houses are trashed, our belongings ruined, our pretty neighborhood littered with trash and weeds, but our sense of community stands tall, high above any flood waters could ever reach.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Rain and rainbows

The weather here in New Orleans has settled into its customary summertime routine: muggy hot in the morning, showers around noon, blistering hot and humid in the afternoon, warm and sticky all night.

A visitor from Texas commented to me the other day, "My, but it sure is humid today."

That's the way we like it here. Makes the air easier to chew and swallow.

After the rain on Saturday, my Precious Daughter and I went for a bike ride around the neighborhood. It was an odd thing to do, taking a jolly jaunt through the flood damaged part of town where we live in our FEMA travel trailer.

The streets are still half filled with sand and dirt that washed in with the flooding waters. Bits of glass litter the roadway in sad reflection of the shattered lives of our fellow New Orleanians. House after house stands empty and haunted behind rising walls of weeds and unkempt lawns. Here and there a deserted, mud stained car still waits for the tow truck to take it to the crusher.

We pedaled merrily up and down several streets, my girl telling me she likes to be able to ride in the street now that there's no traffic to worry about. We both delight at the occasional vacant lot we encounter, the most hopeful sign of progress in our neighborhood in my opinion.

As we approached the north breach of the London Avenue Canal, I looked up to the grey washed sky to see a wonderful sight--a rainbow, arcing halfway across the watery sky. I joke with my Precious Daughter that it looks like it's right over Meemaw's house in Slidell. "If we go there now," I say, "We'll find the pot of gold in her yard." She's been my daughter for 10 years so she is all too familiar with my silly stories.

Later, my Vista Park neighbor April posted this photo to our message group. She writes, "I saw something beautiful today and was lucky enough to have my camera in the car :)" This may have been the same rainbow I saw.

April's photo of a rainbow over the Greek Church and Bayou St. John in New Orleans

Early Sunday morning, I was the first to rise in our shoebox home. As I started to prepare breakfast, a brief shower swept over the neighborhood. The patter of raindrops on the tin-can exterior of the FEMA trailer is one of the minor pleasures we enjoy here.

My daughter, still half asleep, rolled over and asked, "Papa, are you making popcorn?"

No, sweetheart, it's just the rain.

It's just nature reminding us once again that water is integral to life here in south Louisiana. If you live here, you live on or near the water. You depend on water for life and profit and pleasure, and you fear it when it turns on you, comes in higher than expected, or falls faster than planned.

Those of us living in New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina are ever aware of water's ubiquitous influence. We feel it, hear it and see it every minute of the day: in the humid air, in the gentle patter of rain, and in the beauty of a rainbow.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Throwing away the keys

Fellow Vista Park resident, Dennis Persica, had a terrific Point of View column in The Times-Picayune last week. It only just came to my attention, and I'd like to make sure everyone has the chance to read it.

"Relinquishing the keys to a ruined home" tells the story of how he locked his door on the way out of town last August, and has remained locked out since. Well, almost, because the same flood that rusted and rendered the locks inoperable also took out his front windows and his entire back door.

But hope is available in unlimited supply in New Orleans. Since Hurricane Katrina, the people of this ravaged city cling to their hope like perennially disappointed Saints fans. "Next year," they say. "Just wait til next year."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Hundreds remain missing; we are still finding their remains.

This one wasn't in the Lower Ninth Ward, nor on the toe of an overtopped levee. This person perished in a residential neighborhood in New Orleans East, not far from Downman Road and Chef Menteur Highway. A highly populated and developed area where only just now, virtually a year later, are the houses being searched.

Skeletal Remains Found in New Orleans

The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 1, 2006; 4:21 PM
NEW ORLEANS -- Eleven months after Hurricane Katrina, firefighters found skeletal remains in a dilapidated home filled with debris and jumbled furniture...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


The house finally came down this week.

As I’ve often said, our house has been dead a long time—it just now finally fell down.

Happier times in the Vista Park neighborhood of New Orleans

This beautiful house in Vista Park drowned in August of last year when floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina filled New Orleans. As if we weren’t already convinced to demolish what remained, a fire did even more damage to the structure a few months later.

We’ve been looking forward to the demolition for several months. When the big day finally came, I had to be at work so my Darling Wife and Precious Daughter had to be witnesses for the family.

The morning started off with a loud rumble as the huge backhoe rolled up our driveway and lined up to start smashing the house from the front left corner. My Darling Wife, who manages to see adventure in everything we do nowadays, asked if she could take a few swipes at the condemned structure herself.

Working the big machine

Amazingly, the equipment operator, an amiable fellow with a southern twang, agreed. My Darling Wife, who had never operated any equipment more sophisticated than a passenger vehicle with manual transmission, climbed the tracks of the huge machine and settled into the operator’s seat in the glass-enclosed cab. The operator stood nearby and tutored the novice mother in the fine art of controlling the 30,000-pound-capacity arm.

Demolition begins in the Vista Park neighborhood of New Orleans

CRASH! As if she had been doing this for years, my Darling Wife brought the massive claw of the backhoe down on the roof of our house, crashing through the roof and ceiling of the dining room. She took two or three swipes before she handed over the controls—to our Precious Daughter!

Getting a little help

Who knew a 10-year-old could operate a track backhoe?

But just as efficiently as her mom had a moment before, and with the help of the operator standing nearby, our Precious Daughter raised and dropped the hammer-like arm of the backhoe down on the house as easily as she may have swatted a bug.

Just another day in the life for us in New Orleans, I suppose.

Once the fun had been had, the professional operator took over and made short order of the heavily damaged house. Working deliberately and methodically, the backhoe was soon crawling on top of a pile of wood and brick as he made his way toward the back of the house.

Demolition of our house in New Orleans, July 2006

A train of trucks began to arrive to cart off the debris. For two days, they worked at the smashing and hauling, and when that was done, they started tearing out the slab.

Large chunks of concrete were wrested from the foundation as rebar stretches with the futility of cheese clinging to the pie. The operator carefully piled up the large blocks of manmade rock, then proceeded to break them into more manageable hunks. He did this not with the force of the backhoe, but with good-ole gravity. Grasping one of the blocks in the jaw of the machine, he raised it high into the air—perhaps 20 feet—and dropped it on top of the other pieces. It slammed and spattered flakes of concrete with a deep “Thud!”

Demolition of what Hurricane Katrina destroyed in New Orleans, July 2006

When I arrived home that first evening, I was smitten with sadness at the sight of a heap of rubble where my house had stood that morning. Sure, this is what we wanted, what we had been planning and looking forward to for some time. But it was odd and a bit unsettling to look into a pile of debris and recognize things that were once cherished possessions. Books that had belonged to my Precious Daughter, pots and some dishes, throw pillows, even an old vinyl single by “The Rock-a-Byes,” a local band that is all but forgotten.

Our cat Smudge investigates the remains of our house near the London Avenue Canal in New Orleans

I remind myself of the adage, “You have to break a few eggs if you want to make an omelet.” I remind myself that this is the sound and sight of progress in New Orleans today. I remind myself that this house, as wonderful as it was, was just a shelter from the elements.

New Orleans begins rebuilding by demolisioning what remained following Hurricane Katrina, July 2006

Later, I feel better sitting in the trailer, listening to my Precious Daughter singing to her favorite songs on the radio. As fond as I was of those things we lost, what is most important to us remains.