Yesterday afternoon I was waiting for an appointment in an office, and a woman who was sitting next to me was complaining to her friend: “I am so sick of hearing about Katrina. All those people who are still trying to get into their houses should have moved back by now. They got their Road Home money!” A little too-righteous indignation on her part. I wonder if she lost her house, her job, any member of her family to Katrina or its aftermath.
And here’s a real good one: A few weeks ago when I was on a cruise with my family, a fellow came up to me, started chatting me up and asked me where I was from. “New Orleans,” I said. “Oh, well I know that you all can’t be blaming all that happened on President Bush,” said he (why this came up in his brain, I don’t know). I was dumbfounded and started to feel my blood pressure rising and my Mojo Mouth getting ready to explode…and then he said (seriously, too): “Yes, we had a bit of a problem after Katrina where we live in Colorado. The humidity went way up.”
Can you believe this?? I walked away—quickly, before I could punch him.
This guy was obviously an insensitive idiot, but try as many people might, I don’t think anyone who wasn’t touched by Katrina personally can understand what we went through; what we are still going through.
Five years ago, things at OffBeat were going pretty well, and we were just sending the September issue to press at our printer, Dixie Web, located in Metairie. The street date was Monday, August 29. We had a magazine release party planned at d.b.a., down Frenchmen Street.
Post-ship date, we always take a deep breath around here, after the stress of production week. We knew there was a tropical depression, but didn’t think anything of it. In fact, I personally pretty much ignored it. My daughter Meredith called me on Saturday morning at home and asked me if I knew that there was a Category 5 hurricane heading straight for New Orleans. Hell’s bell’s—the news really took me by surprise, set off the alarm bells, but when I told Joseph, he said, “Let’s wait to see what will happen tomorrow…it will probably turn like they always do.” To be safe, we schlepped down to the office and battened down the hatches (moved computers, cleared desks, etc.). And, on pins and needles on Saturday night, we went to bed just knowing that the storm would turn.
So Sunday morning, we packed up a couple of suitcases, and jumped in the car at about 10:30 a.m., figuring we’d be gone a couple of days. We took the back way out of town and went down old Highway 90 and passed a lot of camps. I remember thinking, if this is as bad as they say it will be, all of this could be gone in a couple of days. Bye-bye. We headed northeast to Slidell and figured we’d get onto Highway 59 North to Mississippi. Wrong. Traffic was being diverted west. My sister Jill and her husband Newt had invited us to stay at their house in Baton Rouge, but we hated to impose, and figured we could get a motel room somewhere in Mississippi. The further along we got in the car, the worse the traffic got. The more calls I made on my cell, the more sure I was that we’d probably be sleeping in our car somewhere because there were absolutely no hotel rooms available in the entire Southeast, unless you could drive through to Missouri. Luckily, my daughter and granddaughter had found a motel room outside of Jackson, Mississippi, and I knew they were safe. We just stayed in traffic and tried to get out. Anywhere.
At about 5:30 p.m., we were in totally stopped traffic about 30 miles south of Natchez, Mississippi. It was getting dark and you could feel the storm in the air. I called my sister in Baton Rouge, and she told us to come on back, we were welcome. So we did a 180 and headed back south to Baton Rouge. We got there about 7 p.m., exhausted, and worried. My brother Joe and sister-in-law Janet live in Long Beach, Mississippi.
My other sister Gretchen, her husband John and their four kids live in Lacombe. My mother, who lived in Slidell and had just been diagnosed with endocarditis, was at Gretchen’s home. The hospital that had been treating her CLOSED and sent her home with my sister, who is an R.N., to administer the intravenous antibiotics she had to have administered.
I learned how to text using my cell phone to check on my daughter and granddaughter, since my cell didn’t work.
We all went to bed, hoping for the best.
I woke up at about 5 a.m. to a lot of rain and wind, and checked the hurricane’s progress on my cell phone. I couldn’t believe how huge the storm was and it was headed right for New Orleans. The Big One.
Early that day, we tried to get through to Joe and Janet, and Gretchen and John, and couldn’t. The word was that St. Tammany Parish had been totally inundated by water. The worst of it was, there was nothing we could do but sit and wait, and hope until we finally heard something. They were all okay, and on Tuesday night Gretchen, my mom and the kids drove to Baton Rouge…
Of course, this story could continue for a very long time, but suffice it to say, I will never, ever forget that day, and what came after it. The profound worry about my family’s well-being. What had happened to our house and the office. Wondering what had happened to all my friends and business associates. How everyone was coping. If everyone was all right. Seeing the devastation on Tuesday via a small black and white TV we had set up on a generator. Almost feeling like someone had punched me in the stomach when I saw the Hyatt. And this was before the levees failed.
I for one will have every memory of Katrina—both before and after—etched in my brain forever. Our family was one of the lucky ones: we all survived. Thanks to our subscribers and supporters, OffBeat is still alive and well. We all have our jobs and our homes, except for my poor mother—who lost everything while at the same time trying to survive a life-threatening illness. She’s now living in Baton Rouge. Everything she had needed to be replaced. Our family photos and memories represented by physical things are lost forever.
But so many more weren’t as relatively unscathed as we were.
As I watched Spike Lee’s documentaries, as I see videos of rescues, photos of destroyed homes, YouTube videos of horrific flooding and people crying for rescue; photos and films of people who were left to suffer and some to die in the city before Mr. Bush got off his political ass to send us help…it all comes back to me, vividly. I mentioned in a previous blog that seeing the images in Spike Lee’s new documentary brought tears to my eyes. They will always, always make me cry. We’ve been so lucky, and others have not. But they are fighting to regain their lives, and to come back to their city.
A little humidity from Katrina bothered you?
What an asshole.