Since it’s August, it’s time to dig in the archives for some storm related posts. I decided it was best to use the New Orleans municipal flag as the featured image. I didn’t want to be accused of triggering anyone as the double whammy anniversary of 8/29 approaches. Katrina and Ida can go fuck themselves.
This is one of the first posts I wrote for my original eponymous blog. It tells the story of how Dr. A and I snuck back into town and how tricky it was to do so. That’s one of the lesser-known things about our Katrina exile: how residents were kept out of the city until October while all sorts of alleged do-gooders were on the loose. It’s a detail that still irks everyone who lived in New Orleans in 2005.
The post was originally titled Dr. A’s Life Of Crime. Let’s set the dial on the Wayback Machine to 2005.
This post consists of excerpts from an email that I sent out after Dr. A and I snuck into NOLA on the day that the mandatory evacuation for Hurricane Rita was announced, Wednesday, September 21. The email was sent from exile the following day. It was the first time we’d seen our house since August 28th.
<cue theme from Dragnet> All names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Note: This is going out to both fellow New Orleanians as well as my and Dr. A’s friends and family scattered around the world so some of the details will baffle some of you but be important to my fellow exiles. This is also a rough draft so I didn’t clean up the language; something that will bother me more that you lot.
We finally saw our house yesterday; not seeing it and our neighborhood was making everything worse so I came up with a plausible cover story. Dr. A was to tell them at the checkpoint that she was on the faculty at LSU Med School (true) that classes were starting soon In Baton Rouge (also true but the class she helps to teach meets in the spring) and that her work was on her home computer (a whopper, all her work is on her work pc.)
Unfortunately, Dr. A is so honest that she told the truth to the Louisiana Guardsman at the checkpoint at Oak Street near the River Road. They turned us away so we headed over to the parish line at Jefferson Hwy/South Claiborne. This time we got an Oregon Guardsmen and Dr. A lied like a Greek rug trader so we were waved in.
I hate to use clichés but this one is true: Uptown New Orleans is a ghost town. As we drove down Claiborne to Napoleon, we saw extensive damage: trees were down, sheds crushed and there were flood lines on the houses.
As we drove up Napoleon it became clear that the flooding peaked at Claiborne and flood lines were less apparent. Still, it was an eerie feeling to be driving up the broad avenue and to see no other cars. Also, the traffic lights aren’t working Uptown so Dr. A’s life of crime expanded to include “running” lights and, later in the day, driving the wrong way on one-way streets to avoid debris.
There were crews trimming trees at Napoleon and St Charles so we turned right and drove up Valence Street; ancestral home of the Neville Brothers and home to a bunch of people reading this. When we got to the 800 block of Valence, we saw the terrible damage to Valence Street Baptist church. There was a gaping hole in this lovely and highly unusual Queen Anne style church. That was the downside, the upside was seeing our friend the Bookseller’s car.
Before entering our house around the corner, we went to visit the Bookseller, a group hug and some tears ensued. The Bookseller’s opening line was a classic: “What’s going to become of our city.” I only wish I knew; especially since we’re going to at least get some collateral damage from Hurricane Rita <fingers crossed that the turn to the east is temporary> [2022 Note: Rita jogged west and didn’t hit New Orleans.]
We exchanged post-Katrina stories and then went home to Constance Street. The street side of our block looked pretty good, but it was deceptive: most of the damage was in the back.
The front of our house was, as reported by several people in good shape. No broken windows but the railing on our porch was cracked and falling apart. There wasn’t any mold in the front of the house. The back of the house especially the roof, however, had sustained some damage. There was a spot on the ceiling in the sitting room next to our bedroom that was spotted, and the weak tree next door had snapped in two and is currently lodged between our roof and the fence. We tried to move it, but it was too heavy. It appears to have only caused minor roof and rain gutter damage, but it is also above our air conditioner compressor, which means our house is uninhabitable until it can be removed and even then we may need to replace our AC system. The back area is our one area of major concern in regard to Rita.
Now on to the dirty details of our return: the refrigerator and freezer. We never expected to be gone for 23 days so there was food in both. The fridge wasn’t too bad but the stench that emerged when I opened the freezer was overwhelming, unforgettable and unspeakably vile. Making it even nastier was the fact that there were maggot larvae therein. Let’s just say I did my share of gagging. Dr. A was facing the same thing down at our friends the SCAD grad and Harvard Boy’s house. Between the stench and the heat 90-95 degrees, Dr. A felt pretty terrible for the rest of the day. I soldiered on but didn’t eat anything between 6:30 AM and 10PM because I was so queasy. I promised details and I delivered. [2022 Note: If we evacuate or lose power indefinitely, we empty the contents of our refrigerator.]
I would advise anyone from NOLA who is reading this to do what others have done: seal your fridge with duct tape or whatever and put it out on the curb. If you haven’t already emptied your refrigerators by now, they’re bound to be totaled. Ours probably is: I’m thinking of sending the Mayor the bill for a new one.
It was too hot to do more than clean the refrigerator, pack up some stuff (computer, hard drive, clothes and some cds) and get the hell out of there. After we left our house and bidding adieu to the Bookseller, we drove around the eerie and deserted streets Uptown.
DECEMBER 2005 POSTSCRIPT
The damage to our house wasn’t quite as bad as I thought at the time. Our AC compressor survived the assault by the neighbor’s tree and the roofers are coming next week. And the insurance company paid for our deceased fridge. We were very lucky indeed.
The 2022 last word goes to Allen Toussaint: