During my years away, there were so many things I missed about New Orleans. One that I didn’t miss was the anxiety and uncertainty that comes with hurricane season. Thus far, 2008 had been no problem for those of us along the Gulf Coast, that all changed last week (I won’t even get into next week).
This story started like pretty much every tropical storm story starts, off Cape Verde. But let’s skip ahead to the parts that have to do with me. As the storm approached, there was a much different vibe in the city than I had ever experienced before. Gone was the dismissive attitude of New Orleanians. There wasn’t a confidence that the storm would turn or that this one could be ridden out like so many others over the decades. When I was out Wednesday, no one was making plans. And any that were made were made on contingency. Always something along the lines of “If we’re still here next week…” There was a palpable concern that the storm could wipe out the city, but not so much a fear. It was as if everyone had sort of comes to grips with the fact that the localized apocalypse was coming, and well, it might as well be this weekend.
I watched the storm, tracked it, projected and then tried to find out the most important piece of information available — where is Jim Cantore going? It’s like this, if you see Jim Cantore checking into your local Hampton Inn, get the hell out of town. I have also decided that Jim Cantore is the baddest man on the planet, must always be called by first and last name, even on second reference, and could kick Chuck Norris’s ass. Yeah I said it.
The call had been made. I was staying in town to ride out the storm. I had my supplies ready, my location picked, everything was in place. The process was put in motion on Thursday and final preparations were made on Friday. And then, it all changed. Sometime between when I got off work Saturday morning and when I woke up from my nap, Gustav blew up. The winds were now 150+ MPH and New Orleans was in the dead center of the cone of uncertainty (I still use that term, just sounds so much better than cone of error to me). And the news kept rolling in. LSU had moved up kickoff. That’s right, LSU football had been altered. This storm was starting to be a big deal. Then I found out the Sax 5th Avenue at Canal Place was closing. At that point I accepted the full impact that was Hurricane Gustav. The calls started coming in fast and furious encouraging, even begging, me to evacuate. Oddly, many of these calls came from ex-girlfriends. I would like to think this is because I am such an amazing guy they still cared about my well being. The more likely scenario is they called because of the way they know me, they realized I am a stubborn dumbass and would try to ride the storm out.
I must say, a big pat on the back to the City of New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, and all of the Parishes for cooperating and making one helluva an evacuation. The differences between this event and the days leading up to hurricane Katrina were night and day. From the government assisted evacuations, to the use of public transportation, to the contra flow, to the tiered evacuation, everything was run damn near to perfection.
Now it was into scramble mode. If I had a car this would all be so simple. I was able to secure a ride and commenced to packing. Against my nature I over-packed. The reasons were pretty simple. Firstly, Gustav may very well destroy my home. Secondly, Hanna. Thirdly, Ike. Fourthly, Josephine. Even if we dodged the bullet with Gustav, this could have been an extended evacuation because of the potential nonstop pounding of the coast over the next few weeks. When I grabbed my bags, I just walked out the door. There was no emotional last looks at my home, just an acceptance that it may not be there in a few days and I may have to start my life all over again.
I was happy to have a ride and some good company, even if we didn’t have air conditioning. We left my house, hopped on highway 90 and were rolling. Then we merged onto I-10 and the rolling stopped. And stayed that way. To get from the West Bank Expressway to Elysian Fields (approximately 25 blocks) took nearly 90 minutes. It was several hours before we made our way across the Twin Span to the other side of Lake Pontchartrain. During that time we got to see some of New Orleans best and brightest up close and personal. My favorite was an old man, and I mean old, in a brown Toyota. We figured this guy was a veteran. A veteran of Vietnam, Korea, World War II and possibly the War of 1812. This conclusion was reached not just because of his apparent age, but also the plastic American flag on his radio antenna. While driving he had a bottle of pills in his left hand which he was pouring into his mouth, in his right hand he had a bottle of Ensure. Hell Yeah! That’s America! What we saw way too much of were entire families in vehicles that were not designed to carry entire families (mostly pickups). Just let’s you know how much of a pain evacuating is and why some people are so hesitant to do it. Along the way, we scared a lot of black people with our belting out of Toto’s Africa and All Time Low’s cover of Umbrella. But we didn’t scare folks nearly as much as Mayor C. Ray Nagin. We watched his Saturday evening press conference while stuck on I-10 and were in awe. It was nothing but sound bites, and the scariest freaking sound bites I had ever heard. Some have knocked him for using so much hyperbole, I saw bravo to you Mayor Nagin. The populace needed to have the bejesus scared out of them and you did. The next day, there were less than 10,000 people in the Crescent City.
The trip was marred by the addition of a most unpleasant female in Pearl River (thanks Danny). Her incessant whining, utter stupidity and constant need to go to the bathroom was an even bigger damper on the trip than the ipod malfunction. It did however lead to the best line of the entire trip from Kevin. “Pussy is like Guinness, it doesn’t travel well.” So, 16 hours later, we arrived in Atlanta. Yup, 16 hours to make a less than 500 mile trip. YOWSERS!
That night I was reminded of all the reasons I am not a big fan of Atlanta. Beginning with when we went out to dinner at 11:20 and were told we could only be served alcohol for 20 more minutes. We decided to treat that not as an obstacle, but a challenge. We told the waiter to bring us his largest draft and a bottle. When he did we placed out food orders and told him to come back when the order was placed. At that time we ordered another round and told him to check back at his nearest convenience. The best was when he brought a round, went to check on the table next to us, and as he walked back passed out table we held up our empties and ordered another round. Then we had to drive like 40 minutes to another city that served past midnight. This bar, and several others I went to, reminded me that Atlanta is like the world’s largest lame college party. There’s booze, a crappy cover band, people getting way to excited about both. Oh yeah, and the constant bumping into. God damn I wanted to kick a few dozen asses.
The next day we watched Gustav move a little west and spare New Orleans the brunt of the storm. There were some scary moment when stations started reporting that levees on the industrial canal were being topped. Turns out it was just “sloshing.” Also, DircTV aired WDSU (the New Orleans NBC affiliate) nation wide during the evacuation. Which was nice. Sadly, they did not introduce the Wheel Of Crime to the rest of the nation. The local feed wasn’t even needed to see familiar faces. While out at dinner in Atlanta, I saw five people I knew on TV in less than one minute. Glad to see I knew so many hardheads.
It was nice to see the family, friends and familiar places. It was nice to pick up some UGA paraphernalia. It was nice to eat at Waffle House. But damn I was ready to get home. I arrived and was pleased to find there was no damage to my house, I had electricity, water and cable. Also, many businesses in my neighborhood has already reopened. I had a grocery store, a drug store, a laundromat, and numerous bars and restaurants. The next day I let several folks know by text message “Popeyes is open. It’s OK to come home.”
People are still starting to trickle back in. Pretty much all businesses are reopened. Things are basically back to normal. Except that damn curfew.
Now, about Ike…
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