One year = 12 months = 365 days = A lifetime.
“Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
And miss it each night and day
I know I’m not wrong, this feeling’s gettin’ stronger
The longer I stay away”
— Louis Armstrong
It seems weird to say the most destuctive hurricane in US history snuck up on me, but it did. Wednesday August 24 was just another day. I woke up with a hangover, took a shower, checked my e-mail and went to work. After clocking out, I met up with some friends and we shared a few drinks, as we were accustomed to doing. Thursday August 25 rolled around and it was just another day. I woke up with a hangover, took a shower, checked my e-mail and started getting my set together for a comedy show that night. After the show, I met up with my friends and we engaged in some grown up fun in the French Quarter. That entire night, nobody mentioned hurricanes or evacuations. Friday August 26 started out as just another day. I woke up with a hangover, took a shower, checked my e-mail and ran some errands. Throughout the day I would flip past The Weather Channel for updates. This wasn’t a constant watch, just flipping over during comercial breaks. That night I picked up some dinner and fell asleep on the couch.
“Well, I wish I was in New Orleans
I can see it in my dreams
Arm-in-arm down Burgundy
A bottle and my friends and me”
— Tom Waits
Saturday August 27 was not just another day. About 5:30 AM my phone rang. It was a friend who wanted to know where I was at and what I was up to (that may sound strange, but remember I lived in New Orleans). Had that call not come, I would have slept until well into the next afternoon. At that point I would’ve went into work, then decided the roads were too crowded, hunkered down and weathered the storm. Seeing as how I was awake, I rolled over and turned the TV on. And that’s when I saw it. Overnight, the storm had grown in size and intensity. And even more scary, it’s projected path had moved westward. Now, southeast Louisiana was firmly in Katrina’s sights. How was this? A storm that hit Miami days earlier as a Catagory 1 had moved across Florida and now sat in the Gulf of Mexico more menacing than before. It was time to go into research mode. TV? On. Radio? On. Computer? On. Phone? Blowing up. Looking back, it’s hard to believe I even considered staying. After a couple of hours, the decission was made and my personal evacuation process began. Destination? Dallas. Cars? Just one, not mine. Clothes? Three shirts and a couple of pairs of pants should do. I called work, told them I wouldn’t be showing up for the next couple of days. Then I called my cousin Erin to make sure she had a way out of town and a place to go. With her safety confirmed, I made the final preperations. I went to the fuse box, clicked the power off, grabbed my evacuation kit (a sack ful of cash) and took what I hoped wasn’t one last look at my home. People, luggage and animals all crammed in and headed to Texas.
“Watch the road and memorize
This life that pass before my eyes”
Upon our arrival in the Metroplex, I realized I had forgotten my toiletry bag. I was pissed off, now I’d have to buy a new toothbrush. How was I going to live for two or three days without my razor? I laugh at this now. At first we treated our time in Dallas like we always treated evacuations, as an unplanned vacation. After a night of going out to eat, getting drunk, telling stories, laughing and making new friends, we returned to the hotel. In the hours that had passed, the weather reports had gone from disaterous to appocolyptic. A friend called me from New Orleans to check on me and let me know a mandatory evacuation was going to be called in the morning. At this point, even though the storm was still 30 hours from landfall, the frantic phone calls began. I was pleading with friends to get out. I offered up my own hotel room, my families houses, anything to get them away from the coast. Sunday was much of the same, the phone hardly left my ear. I went to bed, hoping against hope the morning would bring good news (the scale on which good news was judged had been drasticly recalibrated).
“The trees bend, the cities wash away”
Monday 6:10 AM CST, Katrina makes landfall in Buras, Louisiana. Miracalulously (for me) the storm wobbled a bit east as is approached the shore. New Orleans was spared a direct hit. My heart goes out to the residents of coastal Mississippi. While it looks like Harrison and Hancock Counties are leveled, the damage in New Orleans appears to be managable. We figure it’ll take a few days to get the power back on, and we’ll be home by the weekend. I still don’t know the fate of my home. To say it had some structural problems pre-K would be putting it mildly. I try to call my landlord for an update, but phone service is still out in New Orleans. A few people call to check in. So far so good and my worries are minimal. Then, the worst of news comes. Part of me feels guilty about the way I treated Jennifer’s death. Like I didn’t properly mourn her. There was just too much to deal with. Too many people to worry about. We went out and drank our sorrows away. I was ready for the next morning to come. I was ready for an update on when I could go home. I was ready for this damn day to be over.
“So I turn on the TV again
And the world comes crashing in”
— Elvis Costello
The next afternoon, I wake up and check my phone. In my passed out state, I didn’t hear it vibrate. There’s double digit missed calls. I get ready to start checking my messages but decide to check the news first and HOLY SHIT! The media had missed the levee and floodwall breeches the day before. Now, it dominated the news coverage. My heart sank, my mind raced. Hours pass, the images flicker, the news doesn’t change. The attempt to contact unaccounted for friends becomes more frantic. I want to be there to help my friends and neighbors. But even if I was, I know there’s nothing I could do. The walls on the hotel room seem to be closing in. Every time the phone rings, I go through a slew of emotions. Please let it be good news. Please let me know someone else is safe and dry.
“Why sleep or slumber America
Land of brave and true
With castles and clothing and food for all
All belongs to you
Ev’ry man a king, ev’ry man a king
For you can be a millionaire
If there’s something belonging to others
There’s enough for all people to share
When it’s sunny June and December too
Or in the winter time or spring
There’ll be peace without end
Ev’ry neighbor a friend
And ev’ry man a king”
— Huey P Long
My hotel had an abundance of Louisiana residents. The employees of the hotel I was staying at step up and really take care of us. To everyone at the Wyndham in Adison, TX, a heartfelt thank you… again. The day after the storm hit, they dropped our room rate. They started feeding us lunch everyday. Either a cookout by the pool, or catering from a local resturant. Every couple of days they would knock on our door and hand us a couple of sacks fulls of groceries. They brought in leasing agents from near by apartment complexes that had furnished ready to move in units. They brought in representatives from the school system to help the children get registered. And they provided free passes to amusement parks to the families so they could get the children out of the hotel. We had to get out of the hotel too. We went to the mall and just walked around. After a bit of that, we decided to get haircuts. It would pass some time and maybe make us feel better. It worked, for a few minutes.
“What I heard really pissed me off
Cause now I got those fucking blues”
— Rolling Stones
I was fortunate to have kept my Georgia phone number. Because of this, my friends with 504 and 985 numbers are able to call me, but I can’t call them. I discover that we can communicate through text message. Still though, I am the communications hub for several groups of friends. People check in with me every few hours to see who I’ve heard from and what I’ve heard. I utilize all of my contacts with the federal government and in the media. They have nothing to tell me. But there are rumors. And we spread them all. I regret this now. And I curse the media for engaging in these practices. Because these rumors were broadcast and accepted as fact, rescues were halted and people no doubt died because of this. The next day, more phone calls come in. The safe and sound count grows almost by the hour. I make arrangements with my boss to transfer to Shereveport. I make arrangements to go back home to Georgia for a few days. We make arrangments to get our friend’s dog back to her (he is with us in Dallas, TX and she is in Philadelphia, PA). Even though it’s four states away, at least I know where I’ll sleep the next day. I also know I have a job. This is more security and comfort than most people from the Gulf South have. I look down at my suitcase. In it are three shirts, two pairs of pants and a pair of shoes. I come to grips with the fact that everything else I own is gone, and these meager contents are all I have to start my life over with.
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