Saturday, December 31, 2005

New New Orleans in the New Year

Well, I rant, I rave, and I know not of what I speak.

Today I am very homesick. I can't seem to get enough of pictures or news from NOLA.

I have some things that I would like to see when I get back
Liuzza's by the Track
The BeachCorner
My friend Kevin and his wife
City Park
George, Jenn and the Vassilas Family Football Team
Sean and Meghan
Brian and Dayna
Hunt, Bridgette and their kids
My mom and her friends
other friends I have lost touch with over the last few years (Darren, Rachel, etc.)

Happy New Year
At least the Saints are back for at least one more year.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Visionary Needed

I am not versed in politics, city planning, disaster relief, or rebuilding a great city, but there are a lot of ideas out there. Someone needs to make the decisions, piss off those who need to be pissed off, and make something happen already.
I am not down there. I get my news however I can. But I know this. People need to talk to each other, get things moving, and stop screwing around. Trailers? What trailers? When are we getting the trailers? Where are thy going? How many? Feh. Get the trailers already. People want to come home. Stop talking trash and start doing something.
I read a proposal on about the repopulation of New Orleans. The people themselves are going to decide? Are you serious? How? New Orleans has been given a chance to shine, to show the world what a 21st century American city could and should be. Yet the city leaders are all agreeing to disagree and letting things slip away. People can go back to their old neighborhoods and re-settle if they want. If not enough people return to a neighborhood then the city will at that time decide what to do with the few inhabitiants that have returned. Um, why? How about this? If your home was destroyed or damaged enough, we will buy this block, that block and the other block out. You can opt to buy in to the new development with your buyout money, and we will put vital services in that area for you. (Bus lines, grocery stores, schools, offices, etc). If not, take the money and go wherever you want. This is the way we are going to do this. Right now people are being told, "Come back, but you may not have power, water, clean-up, or patrols. Certainly there are no schools. And groceries may be difficult to attain, but come back to your old house and neighborhood. In a year, we will decide what to do."
A person with visionary leadership will not propose a high-speed transit line from Pensacola to Houston. A person with visionary leadership will create a plan, create a timetable to implement this plan, and get to work. Consensus is nice. Consensus builds good will and a nice working environment. But consensus is a luxury that New Orleans doesn't have right now.
I wish that the leaders in New Orleans would start doing and stop talking.
I understand that a lot depends on the federal government living up to its promises. I don't care. Do what you have to do. And do it with or without federal help. Do it and send the bill. Don't sit around and wait for help. Last time we did that, people didn't get water, food, or medical attention. Hasn't anyone learned the lesson? FEMA sucks, the federal government would prefer to drag its feet, and self-reliance is the key. Waiting for someone else to save you is detrimental to the rebuilding of New Orleans . (Of course, if you take the government's money, you have to do what the government says. Doesn't that scare anybody?)
Here is my plan:
1) Get the trailers already. The only qualification as to where they need to go: close to the new transit system.
2) Plan the new transit system and get the buses and streetcars back online. People need to get to work.
3) Let the state of Louisiana run the schools. We sucked at it. And now we need help getting it back together. This is a remarkable opportunity to prove to the state and the country that we mean "business" (pun intended). The school system is the vital link to bringing businesses to Louisiana. Businesses want educated work forces. Or at least good public schools for their empoyees' children.
4) Plan out the rebuilding of New Orleans. Make a map. Design a 21st century city. High speed train lines that link the Gulf South are not part of this plan. They are part of another altogether separate plan. (which should be worked on as soon as this plan is implemented.) A coherent transit system, good neighborhood schools, and open green spaces are a part of this plan.
5) Use local companies and local citizens to do the work. Keep the money in New Orleans.
6) Get working today, now, or yesterday. Tomorrow is too late.
7) Make people mad but do something already. Each day that something is not happening is another day closer to the next big hurricane. Can we afford to wait?
8) Regional Levee Board. Who didn't know that the Levee Boards across the region were corrupt? Seriously. (I lived a block from Lake Pontchartain growing up. Everyone that I knew that had a relative working for the Levee was a crony of some sort. Any of those commissions - Causeway Commission, for example - was filled with corrupt political appointees. Look up Robert Bodet, a neighbor of mine). Not that the new ones won't be corrupt, but the larger the system, the more resources that can be pooled and the fewer people who can screw it up.
9) Stop sending out emails as though New Orleans is back to its old self. It's not.

I am sure I am forgetting something, but I hope that you, gentle readers, will guide my plan further. Let's all help. And let's stop sitting around waiting for someone else to do it.
Don't make me come down there...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Letter to Congress and The President

Dear Honorable Sirs and Madams,

As a person who was born and raised in New Orleans and moved away fortunately not because of Hurricane Katrina, resolving the issues in Louisiana, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast is beyond important for the people who call this area home. This area is important for our country, and this area means a great deal to me personally. I am frustrated and angry to hear my elected leaders talk and not back it up with action. I heard the President say in New Orleans that he would do whatever it takes. Well, the people who live down there are telling you what we need. The people and the government and the business leaders and the people displaced in the largest diaspora this country has seen since the Great Depression. We need levees. We need assistance in building the levees. We need help in restoring the wetlands. We need help in fixing our houses, business, and open spaces.
Everyone knows there is a lot to be done. I know, you know, a guy in Iowa knows, Congress knows, and the President knows. The time for talk and fingerointing is past. The time for meaningful work and help and revitalization is now. Everyday that you wait is one day closer to the next hurricane and flood. This needs to be a priority, the first thing on the list. Despite the fact that America has a short attention span, this issue will not go away if you ignore it. This issue, the resolutions that you pass, and the way that you deal with this in both the short and long term is important. You must do something, and you must do it now.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Jesuit's State of the School

Jesuit High School New Orleans has been having State of the School meetings on the East Coast this week. Last night I went to the meeting at Regis High School in New York City to meet with Fr. Anthony McGinn, SJ, and Pierre DeGruy, Jesuit's Alumni Director to find out what happened to Jesuit, what is happening with Jesuit, and what will be happening with Jesuit. The powerpoint and video were very interesting, but to spare you the details and facts which I can't remember I will hit the highlights.
1) Jesuit received 5 feet of water which stayed in the building for over two weeks.
2) The Roussell Center lost its roof.
3) The gym floor and all the equipment in the gym was totally destroyed (floor, wrestling mats, etc.) Water was 40 inches deep (because those buildings were slightly higher than the basement)
4) Overall, about $15 million in damages was sustained by the school (including new auditorium, cafeteria, new classrooms, switchboard, etc.)
5) Through grants, loans, and FEMA, the school is expected to recoup about 9 million (of course, who knows when all this will actually get paid.)
6) Jesuit is already open for 600 students. The first school that was flooded in New Orleans to re-open. Amazing. You should see the picture that was taken of the yard after the school was flooded. I can't believe that anything that had that much water in it could be reopened. But it has, and they are expecting 87% of the student body to return this year.

It was good to see Fr. McGinn. He seems to be thinking positively and the school is acting as one of the few beacons of hope that things can get back to normal. Nice.

I met Joseph Harris, III, '87, at the meeting. I wish I had known him in high school and in college. What a great guy. If you know him, or know someone who knows him, tell them hello. (Joseph sings jazz among his other talents.)

One thing that struck me was that, though New Orleans, the city itself I mean, was 80% flooded and who knows how much destroyed, that leaves a lot of the metropolitan area still intact. It the metro area was 1.3 million people and New Orleans has lost 400,000 of those, that still leaves 900,000 people. That's not a great big metropolis, but it's a nice size community which, as we know, has a helluva lot of capability.

I do not want this to sound racist, but the white flight that took place in the 60s and 70s needs to reverse. Those with money, talent, drive, and wherewithal need to figure out how to move back. I don't want a whitebread town with ranch homes everywhere. There needs to be neighborhoods. There needs to be architectural gems hidden on the back streets. There needs to be green spaces. There needs to be an organized community that participates in the community, with the community, and for the community. There needs to be local leaders and leadership and rebuilding of a great city. Those who can must do. But someone has to rise up and take the city and its remaining people by their collective imaginations. We must restore and resettle and renovate and remember New Orleans. Simple enough, no?

Let's get to work, people.

Anchor the ship, but don't let passengers get on just yet

I received the above email.

In the article I read in the Dallas newspaper, it said that New Orleans had basically a 3rd World Economy (I would suggest that the economy was more Carribean than anything, but what do I know?) which was based solely on tourism. This email/ad makes me think that the powers that be want to keep it that way. How about making New Orleans a new breed of city with an educated populace and create a technology friendly city (like Columbus, OH) and start stealing tech jobs from other places with our lower cost of living and exquisite Cajun/Creole/Caribbean/South Louisiana culture. Perhaps there are more ideas out there, but let's think about it a little.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Overwhelming Sadness

I am posting this her because I do not want to ever forget that I read this. Thanks to Mr. Clio who found it.
This article is full of accurate statements about poverty, government, business and racism in New Orleans. And none of it is particularly good news. One day I will return to a city that resembles the one I left, but who knows when that day will be. I vow that I will be part of the solution.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

MREs are edible?

No matter how bad things got after the hurricane, I heard worse and worse reports. It just seemed like the news was never-ending and the horror was beyond tragic in every circumstance. Things were beyond bad, I will grant anyone that.

I am upset, and I feel betrayed. But not by just the government. I was watching CNN or FOX News or MSNBC or some such channel, and they were interviewing some lady and her husband who had been transported by bus to Houston. Outside the Astrodome, the interviewer, who was in studio, asked the poor woman if the rumors that there was no food were true. She said that they were. "All dey gave us was dose MREs. That's not food." The interviewer did not follow up. Instead, he focused on the odyssey that got these poor people to Houston. I thought that was weird. I know MREs are food. I used to go to the Army surplus store on Williams in Kenner and get a few to hold me over in times of extreme poverty. 5 bucks on a meal like that! There was more food than one person can eat in a sitting. In fact, the meal is an overload of calories so that soldiers who are in need of extra energy can continue. (Then I started thinking that perhaps that is part of what caused all of the human waste problem in the Superdome. That may be inappropriate. So let me get back to the point.) Anyway, just wanted to say that I thought those were supposed to be food. Was there potable water? I don't know. And that could be a more significant problem. I just thought that was an interesting memory. Maybe it's not. But I did see that.

Perhaps next time, I will move forward instead of dwelling in the past. At some point, I have to.

Always Next Year

In this weeks Sports Illustrated, there is an article about the players from Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region. The NFL did very little to help (1 million USD) which happened to be the same amount the Joe Horn gave. One person gave the same as the entire NFL corporation. In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, Warrick Dunn wrote an open letter to all players in the NFL asking for their help. How many of them played in Louisiana or Mississippi or participated in the Sugar Bowl or played against LSU or Tulane or the Saints or...?, he asked. Again, the players do the work. The owners and NFL corporate powers that be did not feel it as important. Sure, they sponsored a telethon (which starred, you guessed it, players) during the rescheduled Saints-Giants game. The NFLPA is a great union. They know what they are doing. They see a need, a void, a vacuum and they take action.

To let the Saints leave New Orleans permanently seems ridiculous. What place on earth could use the uplift (or the infusion of money and jobs or the positive actions that having a professional team in your town) more. We have cheered for our team and celebrated good and bad seasons and mourned and shrugged and hmphed and tried to look away. Always we hold on to the idea that there is always next year. In the aftermath of Katrina and the devastation caused by years of ineptitude on every level, next year is a long way off for most people who call the city of New Orleans home. But, for most people, it's all we have. That and hopefully the Saints.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Weather or Not

As I sit here worrying about an approaching Nor'easter and the possibility of a needed snow day, it dawned on me that nature is a fickle thing. On the one hand, this seems awfully early for the 3rd snow. As a newbie still to the northeast, I don't know if my assessment is correct. I mean, it bodes well for the snowboarding season and winter activities, but does this portend a long and cold winter or is it just an anomaly? Do hurricanes mean something more than just a bitch of a storm with high winds and drenching rain? Is it like Ground Hog day signifying 6 more weeks of summer?

The news yesterday about Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and her attempts to get federal help just make me more resigned to my political view (which is leave me alone). The bulky, over bureacracized government couldn't send help until they had an "official letter." Cause the news reports and screams for help by the mayor which were televised and the broadcasts of WWL radio (which were received on the car radio as far as Memphis as I can relate from personal experience) pleading for someone to do something were not enough. Then the ineptitude on every level makes the tragedy even more horrifying. I remember Mayor Nagin, the governess, and Mike "You're Doing a Heckuva Job, Brownie" Brown on TV declaring Katrina a natural disaster ON SATURDAY BEFORE THE STORM. I will type that again because this is something that I have not been able to get out of my mind since August 29th - KATRINA WAS DECLARED A NATURAL DISASTER BEFORE IT HIT. How in the hell can a supply train and supplies, troops, etc., etc., not be in place to help remedy A PREDETERMINED NATURAL DISASTER? It boggles the mind. Bureacracy sucks. And Homeland Security sucks because the whole entire operation was designed to facilitate communication between governmental agencies. However, all it has done is complicate the issue. Nice layering.

I feel particularly bad for Aaron Broussard. He is a fool and a politician and I am not sure when you can tell the difference for anyone. But in Metairie, after he gaffed and asked for an evacuation for a storm that missed the area, he took his job seriously. He created a plan. Were input or suggestions offered or gathered? I don't know. But we knew of the "Doomsday Plan." He implemented this plan. Yes, Metairie flooded. It sucks. Who knows how things would have been if the pumps had been on. Would the levees in East Jefferson have been able to handle to load of Katrina's surge or was the back flow into the canals enough to alleviate the pressure and maintain the integrity of the levees as the storm passed? I don't know. It's not my job to know such things. But I bet someone does. Aaron Broussard did his homework and he did his job and for that he is going to get screwed. At least people evacuated. A crazy man, a buffoon, a clown - maybe. But he was clear to everyone - Get the hell out. (I have to say that I am rather confused by the blocking off of the Crescent City Connection. You know that in situations like Katrina, we have to remember that we are all in this together. Leaving those people, no matter how dire the situation in Jefferson (it certainly wasn't worse than in Orleans) was criminal).

Don't Shoot That Looter! He could be the police.
Nagin told his men they could take anything they needed. He did. I heard him. He said they could commandeer anything they needed in the pursuit of their duties. Cars, boats, furniture, Gap clothes, you name it. They had the authority to take it. Did they have to take it? No. Could they? Sure. Da Maya said so. In the scheme of things, what they did was wrong. But was it as wrong as the Orleans Levee Board chintzing on the sheet piling on the 17th St Canal? Was it as wrong as the Corps of Engineers not double checking the previous work? Was it as wrong as the insurance companies who won't pay for houses that have been damaged by the negligence of the government (on many levels)? People did what they had to do to get by. Maybe you don't like the Times-Picayune, but it's all I got here. And I look at the pictures everyday. And I can't believe how many thousands of people's lives are scattered, shattered, flooded, wind-damaged, washed away, and lost forever. And people are mad at the handful of cops that stole DVDs. They have been fired. They may now go back to their homes. Plenty to do at home and the insurance money is on the way. Of course, I have heard of no firings from the Corps of Engineers or the Orleans Levee Board. Those people get to keep their jobs and income. Cool. (Just to be clear, I am not defending the police who looted stores. I am just not sure of how to accurately judge the weight of the crimes.)

What are people doing down there? Who in New Orleans is working? What kind of work is it? Are people going downtown to work in the high rise buildings? Who's cleaning and repairing these buildings? What about the parts of New Orleans that were washed and blown away? Weren't there buildings and jobs there? Where are those people? If I had to guess, I would bet the French Quarter contingent is pursuing the tourism/out of state contractor dollars. What are the folks whose jobs have moved to Houston, Atlanta, Birmingham, Baton Rouge, and other southern cities doing? I bet with all the old houses their is a veritable fortune to be made in the roofing industry (especially with all the asbestos tiles on the older homes).

I was looking at pictures from "Down By the Riverside." I saw two people of color in the 7 or so pictures online. One was the gentleman in the band. The other person of color was in the very far distance of the picture so I could be wrong. That seems like we have lost some of the flavor of our fair city. Honestly, it was weird to see pics of an all white party going on on the river...

In an effort to better help me cope with this stuff, I have in my mind to write a song or two or paint some pictures (Mother-in-law told me about a plan to have the kids that are still in NOLA to create art documenting their journeys. As I looked online for info, I saw a picture of the daughter of a friend pondering her own "Trail of Tears.")

Answers, questions, comments, inspirations? Please share.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Story

I remember the day that I left New Orleans. I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay. When can you see the effects of a Category 5 hurricane once you have left your city and moved to the Northeast? But, as my friend told me over several beers at 1 in the morning, you can always come back and see what happened. And as Ron White said, "It's not THAT the wind is blowin', it's WHAT the wind is blowin'."

When Georges hit in 1998, I stayed. I was 27 or 28 and thought I could be of some help if something disastrous happened. I had no wife, I owned very little, and I didn't really think anything could ever be that bad. What could I really have done with a refrigerator full of beer? Whom could I have helped? What did I even have that was worth saving? I could barely afford my rent, had a truck that was running on borrowed time, and rented an apartment next to someone drunker than me.

So in August as I was visiting New Orleans for the first time since my wedding, I did not want to leave. I couldn't get a flight; Everything was cancelled on Saturday night. I was going to have to evacuate with my mom. I got home late as was my wont. I knew I was going to have to get my belongings together as soon as I got home because in the morning my mom and I were going to drive to Jackson, Mississippi. We had been watching TV all day and heard public official after public official admonish all of us who had not left yet. We were hoping and watching and praying that the bitch would take a last minute turn.

When we awoke, she had not turned and she was not going to. It was time. The contraflow was on. Without getting prolix and overly verbose and to make a long story short, I was stuck in Jackson for a few days. It sucked. But I was on my way home. I had a home to return to. I had a wife who was worried for me. I had a job waiting for me. And a warm shower. And so many other things that I knew all of the people of the metro New Orleans area were not going to have for a looooong time. But when I got to Allentown Airport and into my car, I broke down and cried. And I am still crying. There are times when I don't know why, but that doesnt' console me. I am sad. very sad. I read every day. I look at the pictures. I watch every television program. I have fewer thoughts than I ever have had in my life. I am empty. I am not creative or energetic or enthusiastic. I don't smile or laugh like I used to. For the first time in my life, I don't have an answer or solution or a thought on how to fix anything. I want to help. I don't even know how.

It's been three months now. I have been back once. And it was to help my mom with the relatively minor flooding she had in her Metairie home. I feel unfulfilled though helpful. What can one person do? How can I do more? Where do I begin?