When I booked the airline tickets, I hadn’t realized that my plans to visit one of my college friends in New Orleans coincided with the NCAA’s Final Four basketball tournament, also taking place in – where else – New Orleans. I don’t remember my flight to Newark, so I’m guessing that it passed rather smoothly. That all changed with the connecting flight to New Orleans, though. The flight was overbooked. Seriously overbooked. There were also other problems. I can’t recall what they are (hey, this goes back more than ten years!), but I do remember that they were serious enough that they considered canceling the flight. I’m sure you can imagine how well that news went over with a large number of sports fans (a number of whom were bookies – one of whom, I had the distinct “pleasure” to sit next to on the plane. He was involved in a variety of card games for the duration of the flight). In the end, we took off, and I made it to New Orleans, several hours late, but I got there.
I remember it being a beautiful, exciting city, with lots to see and do. I can remember having coffee and beignets at the Cafe Du Monde, right by the French Quarter. I tried my very first (and last) crayfish in the colorful marketplace. One end of it is really spicy – wish I’d known that before eating it, though was pleased to be able to provide entertainment for the locals. The food in New Orleans was spectacular, and needless to say, I ate quite well.
I was only there for the weekend, but I can still remember what a vibrant city New Orleans was, and what a wonderful time I had there. This makes it all the more difficult to see the horrible images being shown on television, following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina across the Gulf of Mexico. It is truly frightening to watch, and absolutely heartbreaking to hear the stories of loss. Who could have imagined such utter destruction, where so many Americans are suddenly turned into refugees? The scale of the damage is simply incomprehensible.
I’ve got lots of family on both coasts in Florida, and while everyone has been really fortunately so far, they are certainly no strangers to these monster storms. Aside from intermittent power outages and broken tree branches, my family in Florida got away scott-free this time around – a nice change from last year’s battering, but nevertheless, having family in the hurricane-prone areas has turned me into an avid storm watcher, and I have seen with my own eyes what these storms can do. Last Winter, we drove from family on the West Coast of the state to family on the East Coast. It was already several months after the end of the hurricane season – several months since the last deadly storm. Yet, during this drive down the highway, we saw electricity poles that had been snapped in two, towns where all buildings still had blue tarp covering them, as the roofs had still not been repaired. We saw highway road signs that had been destroyed, whole towns that had been destroyed. It was an arresting sight, to say the least. And now, this all pales in comparison to the destruction wrought by Katrina.
I heard on the news this morning that the mayor of New Orleans is saying that people may not be able to return to the city for six months or so, and it is difficult to fathom. And of course, we shouldn’t forget that it’s not only New Orleans, but also big parts of the rest of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, parts of the Florida Panhandle, etc. It is difficult to make a connection between the beautiful, lively city I once visited and what remains of that city today. May the waters recede as soon as possible, may the destroyed cities and towns repair and recover, and may the South rise up and return to its former glory.