Sunday, August 31, 2008

My summah in N'awlins

With Gustav bearing down anytime, with Katrina still fresh in our memories, with worry for everyone in the area in our minds, let's take a trip in the wayback machine to a happier time.

Waay back when I graduated from college (1995 to be exact) I treated myself to a summer in the Big Easy. Alone. No children, no friends, just me and the French Quarter. It was a match made in heaven. Of course, had I known of the oppressive humidity of a Louisiana summer, I probably would have chosen a winter trip. Unless you've experienced it, it simply cannot be explained, so I won't try. But night! Now nighttime was a different story. After the daily afternoon thunderstorm would end, I would hit the streets (not like that, you freaks) and explore. I would usually have four or five hours of daylight, arrive at Bourbon Street at around midnight, get "home" between 3 and 4 a.m. Frankly, I'm lucky I survived. I assure you I couldn't keep that kind of schedule now. I'm in bed by 11, not starting the night at 11.

I started out the summer at the Fair-something (mont, field, view?) Inn. But at over $200 a night, I decided I should find less pricey digs if I wanted to stay the whole summer. I moved to a quaint victorian on Prytania Avenue, right on the trolley line. (a dollah gets you anywhere!) It was a student hostel run by some group I probably should have checked out more thoroughly than I did, but I had my own room, bathroom and a/c. I was good.

I spent the afternoons touring the mansions and gardens and zoo. I wandered the french quarter. I befriended taxi drivers ( a font of information for wherever you are) and found out the best place to eat on the cheap (Port O' Call) and what parts of the city to stay out of ("now here on this corner two tourists got robbed and killed last weekend"), and how to use the trolley and bus systems to save on the ginormous taxi fares.

I spent evenings in the Old Absinthe House bar listening to jazz. I discovered a cajun band headed by Waylon Thibodeaux and his fantastic fiddle. I met Harry Connick Jr. (swoon) in a sunglass shop. He gave me free tickets to his show later that week. (I took a guy from the hostel named Skillet, true story) I went to a water park in Baton Rouge that had the biggest waterslides I had ever seen. If someone had told me that these slides relieved the slidees of their bathing suits before I went down, that would have been nice.

When August rolled around, I was both reluctant and anxious to leave. I had had a wonderful summer immersed in the culture that only New Orleans has. I didn't want to leave it, but I couldn't stay. So I returned home, taking memories that will be with me all of my life.

When Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, I watched and cried. When I saw those people confined to that stadium, dome, whatever it was, I remembered attending the JazzFest there. When I heard of the atrocities committed by our own government against it's own citizens in the form inaction, I was incensed. But I did nothing. I contributed nothing. I ranted and railed against the injustice and the inaction. I was appropriately offended when our own countrymen were labeled refugees. I would have put Ray Nagin in the White House given the chance, such were my emotions, my anger, my helplessness. Why didn't someone DO something? But not me. I did nothing. And I will always regret it.

Now I have a chance to diminish that regret. When Gustav reaches land, if the destruction is anything near the results of Katrina, and if we are needed, my company will be contacted by FEMA. I will mobilize whatever equipment they request and head south. I will leave Silas with my mother and I will put whatever meager resources I can toward helping those who I so grievously ignored at this time three years ago. It may not be much, but a few pieces of heavy equipment to clear debris and help clean up is more than I offered before.


Vanessa said...

I have fantastic memories of N'awlins too. Do beat yourself up over last time, we can't change the past. You are ready to help now, today and that's what matters.

Totally unrelated, I featured you in the BlogDay2008 today on my site.

Kate said...

I graduated from college the same year you did!

When South Dakota started sending volunteer from the Red Cross to New Orleans, I signed up right away. I'm trained as a grief counselor and was willing and ready to go. I even had my job's permission. Sadly, I had broken my leg very badly about three months earlier and still had some trouble getting around - needing at cane at times when I got tired. I didn't pass the Red Cross' physical and I was crushed. Now, I don't work at a place that would let me go and I'm sad. I feel like I missed a great opportunity to be of service and I am trying to find other ways to be helpful to people in crisis. I think my work in AA has given me that and I'm so grateful for that.

Ree said...

Oh honey. I'm so sorry that you live with these regrets. And I hope you won't have to live up to your promise - but if you do, bless you.