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Published: February 15th 2006
No Gas For Sale
No Displayed Prices=No Gas For Sale
Block after block of abandoned suburbia stretched out in front of me at the foot of the interstate off-ramp. To the left stood a shuttered shopping plaza, plywood covering the windows of the oversized department store. The random parking lot litter of shopping carts was replaced by flood-damaged cars and trucks that more often than not did not rest upon four wheels, but leaned up against light poles or lay flipped over in the grassy median. And of course, there were the boats.
Judging by the number of bass boats, ski boats, sail boats, speed boats and boats in general, just about every resident of New Orleans must have owned a boat. Turn a corner, and there’s a bass boat protruding from a church window. Turn another corner and a sailboat lies atop a pickup truck, both truck and boat covered in a thick, caked coat of mud.
The mud was everywhere. Thankfully I arrived in New Orleans months after the flood waters had receded. I can only imagine the stench as centuries of decaying organic matter coated the city, and then baked in the sun.
Aside from the high ground of central New Orleans, the business district
I always enjoy the extra reading material in exit row seats.
and the French Quarter, New Orleans feels more like a cemetery than a living community. Sure, contractors trolled up and down the streets in their extended pickup trucks, and here and there a house was being gutted, but the temporary workforce by far exceeded the permanent population.
I spent eight hours in the New Orleans before I saw a police officer. Without any population to protect, the cops have retreated to the comparatively unscathed city center, protecting the only economically viable neighborhood let in New Orleans: the French Quarter.
Yet even the French Quarter seemed a fragile shell of itself. For years now I have heard tales from family and friends of the debauchery of Bourbon Street, but I was driven more to drown my sorrows than to imbibe in revelry at the site of empty bar stools all along Bourbon Street. In fact, the cops outnumbered the open containers of alcohol in the French Quarter. Much to my surprise, I saw not a single drunk.
I looked everywhere for authentic New Orleans Pecan Pralines, but I could find none in any of the few open stores. No industry, no workers, no tourists…no pecan pralines. It wasn’t
Chocolate City My Ass!
Mayor Nagin apparently wasn't speaking to his white constituents.
until I made a last ditch visit to a newsstand at the airport that I finally found a package of pralines, albeit at a premium price.
There were some signs of hope and recovery: Only half of the traffic lights were still out, and all around the city the street corners were filled with stacks of flood-damaged television sets. In some neighborhoods the TV sets seemed bigger than the houses… Only occasionally did I see any standing water, and the biggest sinkholes were marked with traffic cones and warning tape. Harrah’s Casino was employing three shifts of workers in preparation for Mardi Gras, although for the life of me I couldn’t figure out where the party would be, or who would be partying. The state unemployment figures for December were released, showing a reduction from 12% to 6%, but apparently half the jobless people left Louisiana in search of jobs elsewhere. Burger King was offering a $500 per month bonus for all workers, although it was debatable whether $500 would cover the increased cost of living. There are probably thousands of FEMA trailers ready to house the displaced, but somehow the distribution system has broken down, and the trailers
A Man's Home is his Castle
stand empty, surrounded by towering walls of barbed wire fences on the edge of schools and malls.
For the displaced residents of New Orleans, I fear the worst is to come. In each hotel that I stayed in a notice had been posted prominently in the lobby, notifying all concerned that FEMA temporary housing benefits would expire at the beginning of February.
“I know some people think we’re lazy and don’t want to move out of the hotel,” I was told by one survivor of Hurricane Katrina lucky enough to be renting a studio apartment, “It’s not that they want to stay in the hotels, but what else are they supposed to do? You’re house was flooded and condemned, so you can’t move back in. But you can’t rebuild yet, at least not legally. And there sure isn’t a market for flood-damaged houses, I’ll tell you that.” My guide to New Orleans looked out across Lake Ponchartrain and the levies that had failed, “We’re screwed. I hate this place. You don’t know how much I hate this place.
We drove across the old bridge to St. Tamany, a white flight community protected from the “animals” of New
Orleans by Lake Ponchartrain. My guide stared out the windshield at the straight strip of asphalt in front of us, “My rent’s gone up two hundred bucka a month since Katrina. The only thing open in town is Walmart, and there’s thirty people in every register line because there’s nobody left around here to work the register! Sure, Burger King’s open, but it’s always a half hour wait to order anything there because it’s the only thing that’s open…We’re screwed.”
I’ll leave the pontificating for the rest of the bloggers…Lord knows there’s been enough of that. But given the fact that the White House had at least 36 hours of warning that there would be major flooding, and then the President came out saying that no one could have foreseen the scope of the disaster…well it’s gotta make you question the integrity of our government. While billions are being spent on a war halfway around the globe, Americans are strangers in their own land, homeless and, in some cases, hopeless.
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