Bear with me on this. There are some things that need to be observed and said about our broken city. As unique as New Orleans is in so many ways (positive and negative), I think it’s now a living laboratory for how any American city deals with a general tragedy, on the personal, political and economic levels. While homes and businesses are being demolished or rebuilt or temporarily left to gape slack-jawed at the street, I’m wondering how some things are going to manifest themselves over time.
1) Mistrust of authority. Not that anyone in this city has ever had a belief that Gubmint is there to actually help them. From renegade cops to local and state politicians on the take to federal snakes (of both major parties), New Orleanians have generally thought of anyone on a public payroll as being less a servant and more the stuff of comic relief or safely-observed tragedy. But I think most figured if they paid their taxes and acted pretty much as adults (except on Fridays, during Jazzfest or Mardi Gras and at Wednesdays On The Square), most things would wind up pretty much okay. The general system failure at all levels of government and in the insurance industry before, during and in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have demonstrated even that minimal trust to have been badly misplaced. No one’s going to forget.
2) Self-reliance. Faced with the reality that public institutions and large private entities won’t or don’t help, individuals and small businesses are relying more on themselves and each other for relief. Can’t get a permit? Entergy can’t get a crew out to your place? Can’t get insurance money? FEMA ain’t coming through? Screw you, buddy — we’ll do it ourselves. We saw this from literally the first day after the hurricane, when small stores began opening back up without power, folks loaded shotguns to guard their stuff and many used their own feet to cross a bridge to safety (if they weren’t stopped at gunpoint by Gretna police). This is now a city rife with technically illegal activity — uninspected businesses, parking everywhere, wrong-way driving. Katrina ripped the top off Pandora’s big ol’ box and folks aren’t going to just accept being told what to do anymore.
3) Self-medication. I have no numbers to back this up, but it’s clear there are more people scarfing down anti-depressants and other chemicals than ever before in this city. New Orleans has always had its alternative reality, of course, but, for the next long while, lots of folks aren’t going to see a reason to moderate themselves. Just the acts of living in a gutted neighborhood, battling the various government agencies, standing in long lines to accomplish anything, seeing yet another company or family member or neighbor move away or having to spend hours doing what used to take 30 minutes is enough to send nearly anyone to LaLaLand. I fear too many aren’t going to be able to go back to dealing with daily life unless they have their friend in some kind of bottle.
These are the things on my mind as 2005 wraps up. The last 120 days of the year have laid this city as open as the gutted Sam’s Club in New Orleans East — nothing but studs and a partial roof. But there are some pretty cool things to be found inside — such as a deeper appreciation of friends and neighbors, a clearer idea of where we want to go and a stronger pride in what makes us New Orleans.
Thanks to The Beautiful Kim, Anita, Stan and Nancy, Heather and Ty, Bill and Susan, Tom Shepard, Jimmy Robinson, our CFYM friends, my fellow New Orleans MetroBloggers and our neighbors in the Irish Channel Reprobate Society. You’ve made it all wonderfully bearable.
Happy New Year y’all.