Sunday, September 30, 2007

The new New Orleanian

(Click on Photo to enlarge)
Ashe Cultural Arts Center
September 30, 2007
New Orleans, La

Dear Family and Friends,

I cringed when she said it. "I want to change the world."

I met her the other night. Her socially conscious mantra got her here, I'm sure. New Orleans is experiencing a surge of America's well-educated and upwardly mobile 20 and 3o somethings.

Some call us vanguards. Others YURPs (young urban rebuilding professionals). We reflect America's portrait of higher education. We--Americans--all seem to be represented, but the new New Orleanians are dominantly white.

The program I'm in reflects the transplant trend. There are 17 people under 3o in my AmeriCorps program. Fifteen are from outside New Orleans. Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Texas, Nebraska, Ohio, Arkansas and Maryland are represented.

Twelve of us are white.

The upwardly mobile transplants must remember that New Orleans is different from New York, Seattle, San Francisco or Chicago.

It was her first night in town.

She had the attitude that a good New Orleans first night will give to anyone--the I love it here attitude. She didn't say "I want to change the world" in a very serious manner. It was more of a "why'd you choose here questions and a because I wanted to change the world" answers.

If you think about this place post-storm, any new person somehow has that idea inside them somewhere. I do believe we're all optimists. The Cubs are going to win the series and I'm going to save New Orleans kind of deep down thoughts.

It's poetic.

But, I cringe, not because of the thoughts. I have them too, sometimes. But, because in a City that was 70 percent black before the storm, that romance and heritage and whatever adjective you want to put in that made it worth saving in many ways was built by African-Americans.

In comparison to the birth of New Orleans, renaissance-driven YURPS or Vanguards will be important but not world beaters--role players, not stars.

So, yes, I cringe when I hear "I'm going to change the world in New Orleans."

Whatever we do, vanguards must remember that money for deposits and travel, dishware and furniture is a luxury few have. Over 100,000 New Orleanians are still displaced. Many homeowners are still paying mortgages on destroyed houses or played roulette with minimal insurance on homes they owned outright. A couple hundred bucks a month means more to some than others.

Many say the new New Orleanian is what this City needs to survive. I say, the City--its displaced and returned--have done more for us than we've done for them. That fragile balance, between new and old, must be thought and spoken about as New Orleans recovers.



Monday, September 24, 2007

The storm you almost heard about

September 24, 2007
New Orleans, La.

Dear Family and Friends,


So the storm you almost heard about turned out to be clouds. Guys like me still needed sunblock for the supposed day of wind and rain. Tropical depression "10" had been tracked to hit New Orleans on Saturday morning around 4 a.m. Ten wasn't big enough to pose a threat to foundation-housed-residents, but the 60,000 people living in FEMA trailers in and around New Orleans began throwing out what-ifs and where-to-gos.

No, I didn't add a zero. 60,000.

The City of New Orleans Office of Emergency preparedness announced shelters would be open for FEMA-trailered residents.

Storms and Shelters are two words people in New Orleans don't want to hear. It was the first time since Hurricane Rita that a storm posed danger to the fragile rehabilitation of New Orleans-physical.

New Orleans-mental went into a tail spin--albeit a tiny one. More like a tail-pirouette. But, the City took it seriously. They prepared. They readied shelters with cots and food, volunteers and generators. My buddy Jon and I were ready to work a 1:30-am-10:00 am shift at a high school gymnasium. The Office of Emergency preparedness called and said the storm moved. I text messaged Jon.

"We're off the hook."

"Ten" didn't even come close to New Orleans. It turned out to be a test run for the most vulnerable. What if it had been real, I asked myself. What if people either in FEMA trailer parks or with FEMA trailers in front of their house had their temporary residences blown over by the big bad number "10?"

There is nothing big or bad about a tropical depression in these parts. But to 60,000, even a tropical storm poses major threats. FEMA trailers are to be evacuated in the event of a tropical storm, which begins at 35 mph.

Two-lane street winds.

Thousands of people worry here when the tropical depressions/storms huff and puff their little lungs. Ten was neither big nor bad for anyone in New Orleans. But another of these little storms will pose a problem for those hung up in foundation-less homes.

Bad little wolves.



Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Superdome

The Superdome
Central Business District
11:00 p.m.
New Orleans, La.

Dear Family and Friends,

I met a girl the other day. Told me she watched a man fall from an upper-deck seat to the field in the Superdome.

"I can tell you so many stories," she says of her time in the Superdome during Katrina and her aftermath.

She's 21. After meeting her, I know that what people say is true: Age really is just a number.
Most 21-year-olds I know are happy to waltz into bars and pubs joking about the days-gone-away when they had to sneak inside.

Not many of my friends have ever seen a man die.

Her 44-year-old boyfriend kicked her out five days ago. She's sleeping down the road from the Superdome. You can't really call it sleeping, she says. If you sleep she says, as a woman, you're vulnerable.

"I try to keep standing, walking," she says. "But, I doze off sometimes." It's how she was at the Superdome, she says. The micro-society inside the dome didn't form protection fast enough. In there, often it was every woman for herself.

Tonight, all is calm in the Poydras St. moonlight. I have a copy of Chris Rose's 1 Dead in Attic in the backpocket of my linen pants. My linen shirt breathes. I wear no socks.

Damn New Orleans' heat.

If you haven't heard of Chris Rose, google him. He's made a name for himself as the post-Katrina voice. He is a satirical and real, laugh-inducing and tear-jerking local newspaper columnist.

As I sit on some granite with the Saint's Fleur de Lis logo etched in it, I open Rose. I've been reading it on and off for two weeks and knew there had to be a story about the Saints Monday night football game last September. A Night to Remember, he called his column.

I'd like to share with you excerpts from what I read in solitude under a dim streetlight outside the place that means more now socially, politically, economically--any ly than it did before Katrina.

A Night to Remember

...Now of course there were naysayers out there in the Great Elsewhere. All that money, they said, that could have been used to fix people's houses. All that effort that could have gone somewhere else. All this fuss--about a game?

The simple answer is that, for the city's economy to survive, the Convention Center and the Dome had to be fixed-first and fast-because they are the bread and the butter.

A more nuanced answer is this: Better a Saints game to rechristen the building than a boat show or a gun show, for the irony of that would have been simply too much, even here in the city whose chief export in the post-Katrina age is, in fact, irony. By the ton...

This building, this monument to our shame, our disgrace, and our sorrow, will always be so, but it always has been and always will be more than that. Neither Katrina nor Tom Benson has been able to make the Superdome go away.

Its durability is our durability...

The game. When they blocked the punt and scored the first touchdown, something inside me that I didn't know was there broke loose. I let out a yell so loud that my throat still hurts today.

I fell into a human scrum t
hat consisted of a tall skinny guy, a short woman, a cop, and a beer vendor. Every layer of authority and sociology was stripped away. We literally fell on top of each other. I have never experienced a flash point of sudden emotion unloosed so fast...

It is superficial and meaningless and a total loss of perspective, but I stand before you and I declare: It is good to feel like a winner...

Ah, but let us live it, just for today, because who around here hasn't felt as though we've had a big L stamped on our foreheads for the past year and I, for one, am ready to wipe it off...

Only a game you say?

Like hell it w

Thanks, Chris.

Now, Reggie, Deuce and Drew are the patron saints of New Orleans' spirit. They hold services every Sunday.

Michael, Mary and Joseph have some stiff competition.



To purchase 1 Dead in Attic
go to

To Read A Night to Remember in full, cut and paste the thread below:

Monday, September 10, 2007

Normal in New Orleans?

Audubon Park,
September 9, 2007

New Orleans, La.

Dear Family and Friends,

In K-Ville, nothing is easy.

Post-Katrina normal has returned since the two-year water mark came 12 days ago.

During that week, Senators and Congressman, Presidents and Prime Ministers flew to New Orleans to deliver messages of hope.

Senator Barack Obama said, “I can promise you this: I will be a president who wakes up every morning and goes to bed every night with the future of this city on my mind."

President Bush said, “This town’s coming back. This town is better today than it was yesterday and it’s going to be better tomorrow than it is today.”

Senator Hilary Clinton said, “Rebuilding New Orleans is not a local obligation, it is an American obligation. And we must finally begin to fulfill it.”

John Edwards said, “America is better than this. We need a national effort to end poverty in America, and we need every American to take action in our fight to build One America. And we need to make sure another Katrina never happens again, in New Orleans or anywhere in America."

Mike Hukabee, the Republican presidential candidate and current Governor of Arkansas said the country needed to put “people first, paperwork next in a disaster the size of Katrina.”

The fingertips of the Newsweek writers and the voices of the CNN reporters came too. They switched interchangeably from New Orleans to the Big Easy and the Crescent City.

New Orleans, the word, started to sound redundant. The amount of material published was massive. For two days, the Big Easy was on everyone’s mind.

Then it was over.

Back in Ohio or Oregon or California, you picked up the kids and snuck in a round of afternoon golf--everyday American life.

That life isn't lost and gone forever in New Orleans.

Last week, your alarm clock still wasn’t a welcome sound.

Same here.

Last week, you sat in traffic on your way to work.

Same here.

Last week, you bought your coffee at Starbucks.

Same here.

The Anderson family has cruisers. Their bikes are stylish and hip. The youngest daughter even has the ribbons on her handle bars.

The ones that stream when the open trail warrants straight-away biking. Jasmine, the mother, says the only thing normal these days is her daughters’ school. Their eighth-grader went to four different schools during the chaotic months after Katrina.

Her husband Eugene owns a furniture refinishing company and has “more work than he can handle.”

They, like hundreds of others, are playing in Audubon Park. A highly-rated golf course is kept in immaculate shape. People run, jog and play Frisbee and football.

People also barbeque at the “levee.”

In K-Ville, nothing is easy; the school and health care systems are starting from scratch. Thousands are still in trailers. Everyone here knows the length of the "K-to-do-list."

Even in K-Ville though, there are still days at the park.