Monday, March 13, 2006

Letter from New Orleans

"What can you do? Read between the lines when you see an article about us."
-- Tom, from New Orleans
During our recent absence, an email arrived from "Tom," a friend in New Orleans who spent some weeks on evacuation in the Pensacola Beach-Gulf Breeze area after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.

Tom's email offers an update on how things are looking from his home in the French Quarter. Here it is:
Well, it has been over a month since I sat down to share with all of you what it is like to live in a disaster zone.

We have had Carnival. It was covered by many journalists, including one from Belgium who knocked on my door and asked if he could come to the cocktail party I was going to host for my Krewe de Craps the night before we paraded. I have also been interviewed by the Canadian Broadcast News which was part of a telecast a couple of weeks ago.

We've had the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival announce that they are going to hold this year's event, and also announce the major acts for the festival held at the end of April and beginning of May. We've had our first major sporting event when our displaced New Orleans Hornets came back to the Arena last week. We've had another visit by the President and many members of Congress.

Our city and area been the subject of numerous articles that have disected our lives and the way we've been living or trying to live. We've had mayoral and city council elections announced and we are looking forward to them being held next month.

We are now past six months since Katrina hit. What is really going on down here?

There's still so much to do. At times, I almost forget what has happened but then I get in my car and drive a block or two and reality hits me in the face. I almost forget -- but how can I, when every night on the television the lead story is still Katrina?

Every newspaper is the same way. I have seen so many pictures and videos of the flood that I feel like I never evacuated.

I still don't have any grocery store within five miles. I still am not receiving anything but first class mail. I still have to pay cash for most of my restaurant meals as they still don't have phone service to run a credit card. I still panic if there is anything wrong with my car.

I still don't have a dentist. My glasses broke the other day and I have no idea when the super glue breaks down where I will have to go get new ones. I still don't know if my garbage is going to be picked up this week or next. Despite a respite of a couple of months, my newspaper is still being stolen at least two days a week.

[My wife] still has no doctor and the lines for any kind of medical care are miles long. A month or so ago they had a free health care clinic, where you could get eveything done from a physical exam to teeth pulled. They stopped accepting people when they had more than enough for what they could handle that day. When did they stop accepting folks? 8 am in the morning. People were in line before daybreak.

We still have many large areas that are unhabitable. We still have many areas where only one or two families are trying to remake their lives. We now have trailers sprouting up everywhere. Some take up the only green space in neighborhoods, some sit in front of homes with the sewage pipes snaking around the house.

We still have the Army Corps telling us that they will have the levees up to the level pre-K by June 1st, but no one believes them. We now have 23 people running for mayor including one kook who has compared herself as to Gandhi and Rosa Parks and that doesn't include candidate, Manny Chevrolet, who is running because he needs a job.

We still are worried that we will not get the help we need, and when it does go through Congress half of it will be siphoned off to other states that did not receive half the damage we did. We still worry what our polititians are saying here in "Chocolate City."

I still have not received my insurance money and have had to pay for all of the repairs I have managed to get done on this house out of my pocket. The last I heard was that they never got my info from their adjuster.

Is it lost or do they just want to delay paying me as long as possible? My private adjuster is trying to find out as he doesn't get paid until I do.

I am not very optomistic. My hurricane ziplock that has all of our important papers needed during an evacuation is still right along side me, ready to leave at the moment's notice. Why put it back in the safe when we know we're going to be running for our lives again sometime in the next 4 or 5 months?

Our friend Eric is still waiting on contractors to begin his repairs. His huge hassle with his mortgage company scares the piss out of me.

I've got to thank all of the small independent stores and restaurants in our neighborhood who have reopened. The big boys don't care. Who knows when or if they will reopen?

Some stop lights have been repaired but there are so many that still need to be fixed. Everytime I drive -- that's right, every time I drive -- I see someone dangerously breaking the law, whether it is going down a one way street the wrong way or turning left at a no-left-turn, etc. Most of all, running stop signs. We may not be the murder capital anymore, but you take your life in your hands when you drive in this

What makes us happy? We had a ball when our friend, Carolyn, came to visit for Mardi Gras. Through her presence, she forced us out to do things during Carnival that we might have skipped or overlooked.

Was it our best Mardi Gras? No, it was actually our worst, but that isn't saying a lot since Mardi Gras is always fun and I did make the best mask I've ever made. We saw lots of music and even caught a parade or two. It was a great gift to the city to be able to let loose for a day or two and try and forget our troubles.

Our garden is as pretty as it ever has been. The water irises love all the extra sun they now get due to the downed trees and are rewarding us with lovely yellow flowers a week or two early. My petunias have been beautiful as has my lettuce. I have spent the last few weeks buying even more plants for the Spring season.

We have had our living room and the floor on the gallery painted and they look wonderful. There is nothing better that a new coat of paint.

We have another series of concerts on Sunday afternoons this month and that is good. I've been playing golf as much as I can fit in and have had three consecutive 82's, which ain't bad for someone who only took back up golf just prior to the storm. I am going to break 80 in the next month or so, I can feel it.

I'm still doing my radio shows and just before Mardi Gras, did a three hour tribute to the Mardi Gras Indians. Yes, they did come out on Mardi Gras and we look forward to seeing them later this month at the Indian Super Sunday festivities.

We are now in the festival time in Louisiana which will be capped by the French Quarter Fest and then Jazz fest next month.

What can you do? Read between the lines when you see an article about us. Sometimes the reporters mean well but just don't understand us, some already have a vendetta against us and you can't believe anything they write.

Write you congressman and senators and ask them to come visit us. You can't believe how their minds change after they have seen the still devastated areas. Most of all, make plans to come visit. Don't feel guilty. We would love to have you come with your pockets full of cash. There are now over 500 restaurants open and more opening everyday. That doesn't mean that their menus aren't limited and you have to pay cash and may have to wait a bit longer as they are understaffed or just don't even have the staff to open that day. The hotels and B&Bs are open and new flights to the city are being added monthly.

It's been a month since you've heard from us. We are still fighting. We are still crying. But things are happening slowly and in their own time. Patience and flexibilty still rule.

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