Saturday, August 8, 2009

My Katrina Chronicle: Recovery Begins

I took this picture of Moogie's Mansion on October 30, 2005, as we prepared to drive back to Little Rock after a weekend trip to New Orleans -- only the second time we had been in our own home since Katrina. The chimneys, plaster, awnings, and broken windows hadn't been repaired yet, and the fence in the back courtyard was still iffy, but we got the shutters open, and I think the ol' gal looked pretty spiffy.

We mowed the lawn, visited with friends and neighbors, patronized a few of the available restaurants (with seriously long waits -- but the wait for Upperline's duck gumbo was sooo worth it!), helped some friends clean out their flooded garage, and bought lottery tickets and liquor on a Sunday simply because we could.

We also learned for the first time what shortages are like: there was very little gasoline; the few operating supermarkets had limited hours (like 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.) and supplies (empty bins in the produce department, bare shelves). The shelves at Home Depot were pretty bare, too -- sheet rock was like solid gold, and many are paying a higher price today for the cheap stuff from China that we now know was contaminated. Had we been injured, we'd have pretty much been S.O.L. because there were few or no emergency health care options. Fortunately, not knowing what we would encounter, Younger Daughter and I had gotten tetanus boosters before the first trip back.

There was little or no "fast food" because there was no one to staff the drive-through windows and deep-fryers -- in November, Burger King began offering multi-hundred-dollar signing bonuses to help with rent and $15.00 per hour jobs! Of course, those rent subsidies didn't really help that much because there weren't many inexpensive rentals available and public transportation wasn't reliable enough to allow Burger Kingies to live outside the city. You wouldn't believe what they were offering to electricians and plumbers. There was no home delivery of the daily newspaper and the Postal Service didn't resume delivery of magazines and other bulk mail until the following summer. Folks -- living under the rationing of anything is no picnic.

This was also the first time we had been able to sleep in our own bed since August 28th. We couldn't stay overnight during our first trip back -- October 1 -- because the City was still under a 6:00 p.m. curfew. Let me tell you, that was some sweet sleeping on a Friday night -- nice and dark with no streetlights! I kept listening for the *pop* of the streetcar two blocks up, but that was a sound that wouldn't return until almost 2007.

Saturday morning revealed a bleaker taste of life in post-K New Orleans. At the middle school a half-block away, a line snaked out of the schoolyard and wrapped around the building -- a Red Cross feeding station had been set up in the school for those who couldn't use their kitchens. Another had been set up a mile or so away, in the Jewish community center right on the grand St. Charles Avenue. Who knows how many others there were. People arrived at the stations in clunkers, in Mercedes, on foot, and on bikes. Wow. That's when the magnitude of the need hit me. It still gives me the chills.

There was no children's laughter ringing through the afternoon sky. There were no birds to sweeten the air with birdsong. The sunlight was blinding because the battered trees were denuded of leaves. There were no lizards to scurry across the sidewalk -- no lizards in New Orleans!

But, we could have a cocktail on the front porch -- so we did. That's when we saw Sergio, a neighbor we had really worried about because he and Sarah didn't own a car and, on the Saturday evening before the Storm, they were having trouble deciding whether to evacuate with a friend. The problem? The friend wasn't sure he would be able to take their parrot and they didn't want to leave him behind. Seeing Sergio strolling down the street was such a relief -- as was learning that the friend had relented and LaFitte had been able to accompany them on their post-K adventures.

So, relief could be grasped, even amid the shortages, the hunger, and the uncertainty. And there could be cocktails on the front porch. Nice to know.

Yep, the ol' gal looked pretty spiffy when we left. I hope we don't have to abandon her again this year -- that makes the ghost very unhappy!


  1. wow. this was a great post, moogie. the shortages and curfews-- it's amazing how much we take for granted.

  2. The ol' gal looks spiffy, indeed.

    You and your husband have my deep admiration, Moogie, as I'm not sure I would have had the intestinal fortitude to cope with the recovery and rebuilding process. One never really knows these sorts of things until you confront them head-on, and I mean that in the fullest sense: the complete set of circumstances and your ability to adapt to, and overcome, them. Reading first-person accounts is head and shoulders above seeing brief reports on the Idjit Box... or even the few "extensive" documentaries there have been.


  3. beauty story springing from tragedy. may the Lord hold y'all in his hands - i know you know what's truly important.

  4. Dang, that was a good read.

    I love your house, so beautiful.