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Crescent City Blues

Posted on | September 7, 2008 | 5 Comments

NEW ORLEANS–This is a sad city in the most honest, emotional sense of the word….made sadder by the pounding it’s taken because of and since Katrina.
I haven’t been here since the last Design Automation Conference here in 2002, which was well before Katrina. I’m back here for three days of management training. It’s a completely different world. The population of this town is half what it was pre-Katrina. Today, I wandered the arts section and the French Quarter, it was a ghost town. Partly this is because its denizens are just trickling back into town after Gustav laid a glancing blow here last week. Partly it’s because Ike is raking Cuba and headed this way. Partly it’s because people are wising up… sort of.
On the ride in from the airport last night, I chatted up the taxi driver. He lost everything–home, cars, equipment, everything except his life–in Katrina. He left and worked around D.C. for a bit, then “settled” in Dallas. His wife pushed to come back, and so they returned, but only last March.
Last week, he got pushed out again. For Gustav, he fled to Natchez, Miss., up the river where his son lives. He came back Friday when power was restored to his neighborhood to clean up his home and yard, which wasn’t too badly damaged. He’s resigned to getting kicked out again if Ike bears down directly on the Crescent City. He turns up the hip-hop on the radio louder and speeds toward the French Quarter.
I wandered the city this morning, at first to hit the museums. They’re all closed. Maybe they’ll reopen tomorrow or the next day. There’s no one around to staff them.
That was disappointing, but New Orleans is such a wonderfully visual town, that wanderin’ around ain’t so bad…. even when it’s 85 degrees and 90 percent humidity. But it’s dead. Sand bags cover covered doors. Plywood is up on big windows here and there. Bourbon Street was almost quiet. Cop cars sit on the trolley tracks along Canal Street, apparently for no reason, but their blue lights flicker desperately, giving you the sense that something is continually wrong here.
Soldiers in Humvees patrol the French Quarter. Yes, they hop out to grab coffee or shop in the open markets, but their M-16s are slung over their shoulders.
At a bar on Jackson Square, I talked up the bartender, a local, and picked away at my burger. He’s left and been back countless times. He’s got a place that’s relatively “above water” but nothing really is around here. It turns out he wouldn’t have come back after Katrina if he hadn’t been able to get insurance for his home. And therein lies the issue.
If global warming really will line up Cat 4 and Cat 5 storms and spin them this way consistently for the foreseeable future, we have a simple choice: Death, misery and billion-dollar taxpayer-funded repair bills. Or we can begin to encourage people economically to find higher ground. No matter how much we reinforce the levies, Mother Nature wins at some point.
The Hohokam indians learned this 700 years ago in the Arizona desert. They set up a very sophisticated community south of Phoenix. They built a magnificent community with sophisticated irrigation to make the most of the the desert’s miserly rainfall.
They vanished after just 100 years, perhaps because conditions around them changed drastically. What’s left is pictured above.

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5 Responses to “Crescent City Blues”

  1. Abbie Kendall
    September 8th, 2008 @ 12:16 am

    A trip to New Orleans was a visit to a foreign land of strange and magical sights. Now it’s such a pitiable place.

    I wonder how much the Feds. would have to pay the remaining residents to move out for good so the land could be given back to the sea.

  2. wretch
    September 8th, 2008 @ 2:33 pm

    Before Katrina, I used to say there are two unique AND indispensible cities in the U.S.: New York and New Orleans.

    By way of contrast, Las Vegas is unique, but if it were to suddenly get up and move to South America, nobody would really miss it all that much, and Chicago is a great town I really love, but if it had never existed I’d just go to Philly and never notice the lack — I’d say the same about San Francisco and Seattle.

    New Orleans, back on the first hand, is just too singular, too interesting, too dynamic, too vital to merely write off.

    Before letting the sea reclaim it,it might be interesting to determine first if restoring the bayous (now criss-crossed with canals) would restore the buffer from the weather that New Orleans used to have.


  3. Loring Wirbel
    September 8th, 2008 @ 4:50 pm

    Aw, c’mon, you know there’s too much moneyed interests in the delta to save NO by opening up the marshes. If the oil companies are already waxing positive about the North Pole ice melting, so they can drill for oil at the pole and transship oil across the new Northwest Passage, you know they don’t give a shit about saving New Orleans. Money talks, bullshit walks. And all those funny French Quarter ruins, as Brian says, will be treated as Anasazi dwellings or Mayan temples:

    “What strange set of events ever caused the people to abandon this site?”

    (I still remember Walko and I going to NO in March 2005, eating at Mulate’s across from the Convention Center, and Walko calling me super-early on Sept. 2, 2005 saying, “Good God, there’s guys with semi-automatic guns standing in front of the restaurant we were at.”)

  4. wretch
    September 9th, 2008 @ 9:57 am

    What a clusterf**k, tho, no? The canals are there so the oil companies can get to New Orleans. If New Orleans is abandoned, they don’t need the canals anymore.

    Or do the oil companies just continue to use the canals for getting around the delta and take the unrefined oil … where? Mobile? Galveston? [not a rhetorical question. Anybody know?]

    Is it really that simple? We write off New Orleans so as not to inconvenience the oil companies?

  5. Greeley's Ghost
    September 18th, 2008 @ 8:44 pm

    Whoa! Whoa!! San Francisco is not a memorable American city?? Please, please… it may be a shadow, personality-wise of its former self, but it has a vitality and personality that make it the No. 3 city in the country, IMHO, behind New York and Chicago. Boston is No. 4.

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