Sunday, March 2, 2008

Day 365

March 6, 2008
New Orleans, La.

Dear Family and Friends,

My dad is here. He's come with an expectation of viewing a City patched with band-aids and duct tape. He wonders if the City staggers like a beat-up boxer or claws like an an unruly underdog. To this, I've told him, "It's a little bit of both."

In either description it's safe to say that, down here, the K-word will always be worse then the F-word.

Residents grit their teeth. About insurance companies. About naysayers who call them stupid for living below sea-level. About life, really. Loretta, my co-worker, has given up on the insurance companies. "I'm going to let my lawyer handle it," she says. She had flood insurance. She had hurricane insurance.

She received $1,000.

To the naysayers, the best response I've heard is something like this. Call it what you like, it doesn't have to be New Orleans, but there must be a city here with people to operate the port at the mouth of the Mississippi. It is and will always be fragile. But, a society must be here.

Then there's the bad stuff. Visitors expect it on the drive from Louis Armstrong Airport and are often surprised when they get to their downtown hotels without seeing what they watched in 2005. The bad stuff exists in areas outside of the bells and whistles of the visitor's section of New Orleans.

The bad stuff has left those areas bleak to the observer. But insert yourself one step closer. Attend a civic association meeting in a battered neighborhood and you'll find an illustration of how civic participation is supposed to work. There were over 200 people at the Lakeview neighborhood association meeting last Saturday.

They announced a post-office would be opening in the area soon, catalyzing applause and even more side conversations about how nice it's going to be when the three-day-a-week mail cycle increases to six.

I feel like the whispered-opinion in America at-large says that the slow recovery in New Orleans is the fault of the poor, black people who live here.

The whispers are wrong.

A drive through the on-its-heels New Orleans exposes that the politically- correct view of the storm, the one that says Katrina knew no race or class, is actually true.

Many people have asked whether I've seen any progress since moving here. For the first six to eight months I would say it's too early for me to recognize any changes. But, lately it's safe for me to say that yes, I do see progress during my trips throughout the City. Construction is steady, reports of returning New Orleanians put the Orleans-proper at a smidge over 300,000. Four-hundred and fifty thousand lived here before the storm. Several thousands of that loss though are people who've moved out to the greater metro area, not to Houston or Dallas. And any of them will tell you, they're still New Orleanians who work and play here, dine and dance here.

Wonder all you want about New Orleans future. But, know there are amazing people devoted to this place. I think most of the young people who've moved here will come and go gaining incredible experience in the process. At the end of the day, it's up to the locals. Like one resident told me last week at the neighborhood meeting,

"Don't worry about us, we're going to be ok."

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