September 3, 2005

Grief, Denial, Bargaining, Compassion, Guilt, Relief, Repeat

It's past 4 in the morning on a Saturday, I've been through 6 beers and I'm working on the bottle of Gordon's Gin my parents likely won't miss.

Hello, Hi, How do you do? As you might know I was visiting my parents in Wisconsin when all hell broke loose. For the most part I had been in denial most of this last week. I had cried off and on at the news coming out off my adopted hometown, but tonight I was a sobbing, snot-dripping, dry-heaving fetal position wreck and you're going to laugh too, but it was prompted by Geraldo Riveira!!

Backstory: As soon as you live in New Orleans for more than a week you will hear about "The Big One": a storm that causes the levees to break and the cereal bowl to fill. Each person you meet in town will embellish that basic geographic inevitability. It's like a Rorshach test of what scares the person telling the tale the most.

Last year at about this time, Hurricane Ivan was bearing down on the city and I saw on the news at my favorite bar a certain Louisiana public official advising from Arkansas, where he and his family had evacuated, that the people of a certain Louisiana jurisdiction should evacuate. This was a grim red flag for me to get the hell out - this was "The Big One". At the time I had no car, so my friend Kimmy and I got out on her meager resources (at the time I was experiencing identity theft). We got out on the road, were stuck in traffic for 4 hours towards Slidell, this would have been longer had we not heard advisories to take the Highway 10 bridge. From there we tracked through back roads towards Jackson, slept in a parking lot. That morning I called my friend Rodney and asked if we could go to his family's home near Memphis. They were generous enough to house and feed Kimmy and I until the all clear was sounded.

The people I have met in the South are among the most generous I have known. Sure my acquantance's generosity was tested more because I was so close to rock bottom, but then so many other people around me were too.

Had Ivan been "The Big One" and I had not known Kimmy, my pasty white ass would probably still not have been limping down I-10 hoping to cadge some water from Hoda Kotb, because of the people I know who would not have let that happen.

I can't fathom how so many people could be on a level of society in America where not one person they know could have carpooled them out of the city. Sure there may have been stubbornness, hopes of a change in the storm's course, faith that the levees were being maintained properly, but really a lot of it boils down to no wheels.

I left New Orleans two weeks ago with a suitcase and some books, blissfully unaware of the storm. I had added NOAA's National Hurricane Center to my My Yahoo page and last I had checked the storm seemed to be going off into the Atlantic. I saw it had gone through Miami and didn't think much of it. The maps seemed to indicate that it was going to hit Pensacola again.

Saturday I get a text message from Sande asking if I was still in Wisconsin. I was. "You might not have an apartment to go back to." I thought about it for a while, was it because of the rent? Then I realized it was "The Big One." I started paying a lot of attention to NOAA and began freaking out. My flight was cancelled and my folks were mainly concerned with what I can do with that. I worried about my car flooding. I had an elaborate system worked out to get my keys back from Kimmy who was to leave town to visit her family in Canada, but also looking after my apt before she left. I called any one I knew who had no car and offered it to them. Sure it was somewhat selfish, but kinda generous too. Sunday night, Monday morning the storm hits, I can't sleep. Most of the day Monday the media reports that the city had dodged a bullet. I was pretty relieved. I called my airline and they said that service might be back as soon as Thursday.

I was watching the 24-7's and the situation was very bad as tornados and floods went through Georgia and the damage of the Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts became apparent. I watched Special Report Brit Hume and heard the craziest damn thing. Tony Blankley talked about Midwesterns who shovel snow getting sick of bailing out people who live in paradise. I was pretty pissed off about that, but I was able to go to sleep.

The next day, of course, the levees broke. I was largely still thinking about my stuff. I kind of wished I had been there to evacuate. I read a lot of stuff online that night and found my first instance of what will likely be a major theological debate: An explaination of how this hurricane was sent to punish the city for Southern Decadence. I tend to disagree. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed very quickly and the survivors were turned to pillars of salt. If it is what the clergy says it is, God is getting sadistic in his old age.

In any event, I then found that had I been reading the Times-Picayune all this time I would have found out about the slow strangulation of FEMA, and the slashing of the Army Corps of Engineer's budget. Coulda, Shoulda Woulda, lots of that this week.

I'm tired. I will try to talk about the reaction from my own private Lake Wobegoen after I get some sleep.

Posted by Spicolli at September 3, 2005 4:40 AM