Storm Surge

Well, it’s arrived.  Hurricane Season.  Kicks off today.  June 1, 2006.  (Also the anniversary of me moving into my condo, but that’s a celebration for another time. Wahoo!  Homeowner.) 

It’s been 3 weeks since I’ve been in NOLA, and awhile since I’ve posted anything here.  Had to finish the semester: papers to write, proms to attend, 35 yr old prom dates to admire, it’s been a busy – and fun – couple of weeks at home.

And now I’m back, for my longest stint down here since January.  Just under 3 weeks.  The few friends/colleagues I have here have left, it is just me and my messy, scattered roommate and the locals with whom I need to get reacquainted.  Finally post-disaster federal $$ is available, for housing repair/restoration or buy-outs**, and we have a mayor, and local neighborhood groups have been working over the last couple months to pull plans together for the redevelopment of their ‘hoods.  So in theory the ingredients are coming together to actually start to rebuild – beginning with clean-up in some places – this city. 

But for the folks who’ve returned to damaged neighborhoods with limited services available, few institutions open for places to go, and limited job opportunities other than your usual service sector dead end work – most being outside these ‘hoods and requiring cars to get to – there’s not a lot to do but hang out.  I live Uptown by Tulane – white, dry, populated – and work mostly downtown -  low-income black communities surrounding the FQ and at risk for gentrification – and most nights drive through parts of Central City to get home.  The ‘hoods I go through are moderately damaged and predominantly black.  I’ve been taking this route since February, and the population has visibly risen while the physical damage is mostly unchanged. Especially since I’ve been working in NOLA, I had started priding myself on my comfort at literally moving through black communities.  But last night, sitting in my car behind one stopped in front of me at dusk on Danneel St, and noticing how many men and some women were hanging out on stoops and corners, I felt the old insecurities of being a white woman alone in these urban neighborhoods.  I disappointedly realized that the demographics of the last few months have had a lot to do with my ease of roaming through these neighborhoods.

I’ve experienced directly the rage and frustration of residents here.  But the prospect of harm (to anyone) from the collective anger, exhaustion and trauma in a city with too few resources and too much time on its hands is far more unnerving than these isolated moments I’ve witnessed or felt.  My friend Rachel who is headed to Seattle after working here since December believes the city is backsliding.  More streetlights out, more broken water mains, more trash moldering on the streets.  The city smells as the trash bakes.  And anecdotally, and from prelim. stats, it seems crime is on the rise.  It is going to be a long, hot, tense, summer, as New Orleanians brace for storms of all kinds.  At least my fruitcake roommate is 6 foot 2. Even if I have to drag him out by his ankles from underneath his bed to protect me. 


** Given so many homeowners are displaced and were un- or under-insured, many will not have the ability to actually come back and resurrect their homes – the $$ will not bridge the gap, and they can’t or won’t come back at this point.  Like Hoover’s promises of “a chicken in every pot” during the Depression, I have heard this payout to folks who can’t make real use of it referred to as “an Escalade in every driveway.” 


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