Archive for September, 2008

A momentary distraction from meteorology

Ruthie the Duck Girl dies of cancer at 74

Ruthie the Duck Girl, a French Quarter eccentric who zoomed from bar to bar on roller skates, often wearing a ratty fur coat and long skirt and trailed by a duck or two, died Sept. 6 at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge. She was 74.

Ruthie, whose real name was Ruth Grace Moulon, had been suffering from cancer of the mouth and lungs when the residents of her Uptown New Orleans nursing home were evacuated to Baton Rouge as Hurricane Gustav approached, said Carol Cunningham, a close friend who watched over her for nearly 40 years.

“I’ve always looked at Ruthie like a little bird with a broken wing, ” Cunningham said. “She was always so dear to me.”

Miss Moulon, a lifelong New Orleanian, became a French Quarter fixture, achieving legendary status in a city that treasures people who live outside the mainstream. Along the way, she acquired a coterie of people like Cunningham who found places for her to live, paid her bills and made sure she got home at night….

Full obituary via the Times-Picayune

Ruthie’s life story at EccentricNewOrleans.com

Another apology to Houston

Houstonians:

You probably can’t read this right now, you’ve probably got other things on your mind, but on behalf of everyone in the 504, I want to apologize for the insensitive, assholish comments of our Numbskull-in-Chief–you know, when he encouraged you to seek shelter from Hurricane Ike at a hotel in New Orleans and to ask for the “Mayor Ray Nagin special rate”.

Based on Hizzoner’s previous nonsensical outbursts, I’d hoped that none of you would take him seriously, but sadly, I’ve been proven wrong. Unlike the rest of us, who have learned to ignore the schmuck, you took him at his word–hell, you don’t live with him, you’re in a pinch, so I can totally understand.

Of course, it’s just as frustrating (to us, anyway) that his damn press secretary–She of Who Rarely Speaks, Ceeon Quiett–can’t even be bothered to make a public apology on chrome-dome’s behalf. No, poor Steve Perry, whose office at the CVB has essentially been running PR for the city since Katrina, has had to cover his ass. That is not an easy thing to do, because Nagin is SUCH A BIG ASS.

But this isn’t about us, it’s about you. Again, I’m sorry that you misunderstood him. I’m also sorry that the hotels themselves didn’t step up to the plate and offer cut rates to evacuees on their own. We pride ourselves on being a thoroughly hospitable city, and if there’s anyone we should feel hospitable toward, it’s y’all.

If you need anything from us–aside from a hotel room, obviously, please let us know.

Sincerely,
Richard

A sincere note to our friends to the west

Hi, Houston:

I’m sure you’re aware of Hurricane Ike by now. I know it took the news outlets a while pick it up, what with that fascinating story about lipstick and a goat or something taking up front-page real estate, but now that journalists have heard the words “certain death”, it’s pretty much all Ike, all the time.

Over the past two days, I’ve spoken to a few of you who aren’t especially worried–and to be fair, you’re probably way better prepared for Ike than New Orleans was for Katrina. For one, you’re on higher ground, and for two, your mayor isn’t retarded. As far as I can tell, anyway.

That said, I also understand that you guys haven’t been through anything this severe in, like, 20 years, so I’d just like to point something out:

Do you see where New Orleans is on that image? Right below Lake Pontchartrain, next to the Louisiana/Mississippi border? Where that pretty blue radar imagery is hovering? Well, that’s the light stuff, and lemme tell you: IT IS NO PICNIC. In all seriousness: IT IS MAJORLY FUCKED UP OUTSIDE RIGHT NOW. And y’all are going to get more than the pretty blue stuff.

I’m not trying to be alarmist, I’m not trying to amp up the fear factor, but I’m concerned–especially because you all were so considerate and generous and giving when we found ourselves in need just three years ago. I know I speak for all New Orleanians when I say that we would love the chance to return the favor (despite the dumbass, glib comments from our dumbass, glib mayor), but please don’t head our way now. Think San Antonio, Austin, El Paso–anyplace west. Or stock up on non-perishable items, bring the pets and potted plants inside, and hunker down at your place. Either way, please take it seriously, and be prepared for a nasty 24 hours.

When all this is over, it’s our turn to take you guys out for drinks. We at least owe you that.

Good luck, and we’ll see you soon!

xoxo/Richard

I can see clearly now…

…another earworm from Johnny Nash….

Anyway, thanks to our friend Rae for taking me to the Saints game yesterday. Focusing on football was a badly needed break from focusing on food supplies and service and all the other things that have absorbed attention for the past week. Frankly, I’d have gone if it was McNeese vs. Louisiana/Monroe — anything to take a break and just be diverted for awhile.

Looks like this Ike thing is gonna blow into Texas. Sucks to be them, I know, but, for now, it’s certainly a relief here. I don’t want to wish ill on anyone, but things here need to get recentered on the day-to-day. It won’t be long before the weather moderates a bit and people start coming out of their summer funk and into a more sociable fall attitude. It will help us all to look forward to things like Halloween and the holidays — if even in the mode of store decorations. New Orleans shines best in the fall and spring — and the winters are pretty damn neat too.

A couple of notes — yesterday at the Superdome the scoreboard’s “KissCam” focused on the usual collection of teens, middle-agers and elderly. But one shot showed a couple of hot women kissing each other. They held it too. The crowd went wild. We also got a chance to boo Hurricane Ike’s progress.

Gustav knocked over our big hibiscus out front. It’s still alive, however, and efforts to re-establish its domain are already underway. It was also good to see the school kids out and waiting for their buses early this morning. And, God bless the RTA, the streetcars are already running again on St. Charles.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the national chains are having a hard time coming back after the minor bump that Gustav created in our daily back-and-forth. The Wal-Mart on Tchoup is open, but with limited hours. La Madeleine at the St. Charles turn hasn’t yet re-opened. There are many other examples, while the local/regional folks seem to be pretty much back to business as usual here in Orleans Parish. Please remember this when you’re shopping. You might pay a few cents more per item, but at least you know they’re there — and will be the next time as long as you continue to support them.

“…High black water’s like the devil’s daughter
She’s hard and she’s cold, and she’s mean
But we’ve finally taught her that it takes a lot of water
To wash away New Orleans…”
–Leon Everette

That said, continued prayers tonight for folks in Terrebonne, Ascension and other parishes much more tartly affected. There’s some serious hard times for a lot of people down in Da Swamp this evening, and anything that can be done is appreciated.

Relief. Maybe.

We are not out of the woods yet. However:

I am tentatively beginning to consider the possibility of potentially unpacking half my suitcase. Maybe.

Home.

So here we are, sorry I didn’t update sooner but the internet has been a bit spotty. We arrived home last Thursday. It did not take as long to get here as it did to get out but it was still too long. Other than internet there is no real damage to report for us. everything in the fridge is still good too so I guess our power wasn’t off too long. Now we are just trying to get the city back to normal again, God it seems like we’ve been trying to do that forever.

Evacucation

Cassie gets her first evacuation shirt   My New Hello Kitty Chainsaw

I am tired. That’s all I have to say. I pre-packed on Friday, packed up the last of my stuff before leaving town very early Saturday and got my niece (who attends school at Tulane) and the cats and we all headed out for our evacuation destination. A couple people I know stayed behind waiting for the mandatory call to leave.

On Sunday my neighbor called, he was on the road and needed a room and he had his two labs in tow, which I was happy to hear. He had to move his fleet of limos to safety before he could get out since he is a chauffeur for the rich and glamourous in New Orleans. Luckily, we had rooms at the pet-friendly Drury Lodge. So I saved him one and we got them unloaded.

We met a lot of nice people in our hotel and I must thank Mike Zickmund from WWLtv and his charming wife, Lisa. Their son drove by our properties while we were stuck far away. Their son works for Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office so we were so happy to hear that things were fine and we knew in advance that we were one of the first people with power.

Cassie and I got back Thursday afternoon and worked on cleaning up a whole lot of tree branches and raking our yard and in front of Nick and Josh’s house too. At first they were like, “let the landlord do it.” But I put my foot down because their landlord is in his 60’s and I made them get on the job of cleaning up their yard.

It’s been a lot of work with a whole lot of lethargy in between. Just like Richard said, it’s a roller coaster and the sitting around waiting to come back and eating and watching television is a part of it I did my best to avoid. I found a park and ran most days did some schoolwork but was still deadly bored by 5pm everyday.

I am not in the mood to do this all over again next week but Cassie and I laughed when I dropped her off at Tulane today . . . see you Thursday. I know we’d both just rather stay if Ike makes a visit near here but I mostly worry about not having A/C for my little cat Ted, he’s kinda fragile. However, if we have to do it, I can say, we have the drill down. We didn’t get stuck in traffic and we had a nice place to stay and no real damage. It was nice to have our neighbor with us too.

Whew. Today I am enjoying a day to myself and anxious to get back in the groove. I can’t believe that small event sucked a whole week of productivity out of us! I have been wanting to post but I have had kinda slow internet and loading photos just didn’t sound like any fun. Nick and Josh went to Atlanta for their evacucation. They spent the first days of Katrina in the Superdome but now they have a car but I know money is an issue for them but I was just happy they were able to leave and we were all really happy to see each other again once we got back! They were a big help in cleaning up.

Temporary normalcy

…so we’re back to this kinda semi-regular situation because all these folks are now back in town and they want to enjoy being back in town and they want to go to their regular places (who can blame them?) but, fact of the matter, we might be all doing the same drill this time a week from now. This time I’d bet a lot more people are gonna stay put. I don’t know if that’s a good idea, but who can blame them for not wanting to go through Exodus again? I mean hell — what did our forebears do? They stayed because they didn’t know all about what was coming and no one was there to give them uberwarnings about it and so they just stayed. A lot of them died, sure. But how many wanted to just put a gun to their heads (or to the heads of someone else) while stuck in traffic last weekend?

Not me, that’s for sure. I’m not advocating staying for anyone but me. I know what I have to deal with and, being a business owner and stuff, it works for me. ‘Nuff said by this irresponsible and incessant questioner of the Status Quo.

Anyway, I apologize for some of my words in the previous post. I don’t mean to characterize those who evacuated as being me-firsters. We have plenty of friends who felt they had to go and they’ve come back and they’re wonderful and they’ve faced their own hardships and, believe me, I know how much it sucks to be on the road and watching everything from hundreds of miles away. I was overgeneralizing and was talking about those who are me-firsters anyway. The last few days have been very, very good for us and, despite the fatigue, Life Itsowndeamnself is excellent. Thank you — especially to Jack, Rae, Dangerblond and an entire long list of others.

I got through with work this evening and decided to take time to walk down to the Garden District Pub and have a sazerac. I’d have honestly like to fire up a cigar, but I figured that (though legal) it would have been a smelly and selfish act. So I’ll save the cigar for another time. But there were some folks a few barstools down who were talking about things they want to do and things they haven’t done and why they “can’t” do them (including staying here during a hurricane. Might get hurt. Might have to go without power for an extended period. Might have to learn to survive without the Day Job, etc.).

I think most of us know what a Whiffle Ball is. It’s a plastic ball with holes in it that’s the size of a baseball and it comes with a yellow plastic bat and the idea is to take this ball and bat out into the yard and play “baseball,” but the holes in the ball give it all kinds of crazy action when you throw it and, if you hit the ball with the plastic bat, it’s hard to catch and, basically, it boils down to lots of activity and potentially lots of fun for something that’s not going to hurt anyone because the ball never has any speed or weight. I mean, it’s a freaking WHIFFLE BALL, fergodsakes.

I got to thinking about these folks down the bar and how sad it must be to live a Whiffle Life. Author P.J. O’Rourke mentions it in one of his books. It’s a life with no hard floors and no sharp corners and no real baseball that can bounce up unexpectedly to hit you between the eyes — or even if it does it doesn’t hurt. There’s no risk, no failure and no chance of, well, Real Success.

I know “success” is a highly subjective term. But, at least to me, it has to do with pushing one’s limits and raising the sail and putting yourself in unfamiliar waters where you’re not comfortable and you can’t predict what’s next. The success comes not in conquering (though that’s great) but in the Being There. You’re on the floor of the arena and not just a spectator. It’s easy to boo the participants when you pay your money and sit in your seat and expect to be entertained or provided for or otherwise satiated in some capacity.

I think we’re a city, a state and a nation with too many spectators.

Ten worst things about evacuating for a hurricane

10. Fear

9. Anxiety

8. Depression

7. Weight gain (3.5 pounds and counting–in just one week!)

6. Evacuation traffic

5. Re-vacuation traffic

4. Having to see/hear our numbskull mayor hold forth on TV, radio, and the interweb for days on end

3. TIE: The mind-numbing stretch of I-65 between Montgomery and Mobile; also, the mind-numbing stretch of I-49 between Alexandria and Shreveport

2. Having no food in the fridge when you get back (’cause you remember Katrina and cleaned everything outta there before you left town)

1. Not really being able to unpack until November 1

Collected notes

The last couple of days have been busy, to say the least, and I’ve left the laptop at the shop. The one we’ve had there has crapped out and we haven’t had any Internet service at the house until today. It’s useless for me to try to post from the shop, since I get all diverted and can’t focus. It’s much easier at home. Forgive me if the post is a bit all over the road, but a lot has happened in the wake of the storm.

We took Alex home to Mid-City this evening. This was an area that was heavily flooded by Katrina (and where we used to live), but this evening all (or most) of the lights appear on and things are getting back to normal. That’s great, since the area has come such a long way since Katrina and was one of the big question marks for Gustav. We truly do love Mid-City.

I cried briefly this morning. I’m not usually prone to that but….
Those of you who know the restaurant know that our biggest seller is our redfish sammich. One of the reasons for this is that it’s made with ciabatta bread we get from La Boulangerie up Magazine St. This bakery is owned by a Frenchman named Dominique (we met his parents during a catering gig a few months back) and we’ve been consistent customers nearly since we opened. Dominique closed his shop before the storm, posting a sign in the window, and I just assumed he wouldn’t be back until this weekend or so. We had plenty of fish in-house and we’ve just been serving it on regular hamburger buns or on whatever cheapass French bread we could find. I called La Boulangerie Tuesday and left a message for Dominique to call whenever they got up and running again. This morning, Dominique appears about 9:30ish at the restaurant with 15 loaves of this wonderful ciabatta. Needless to say, I was beyond touched and, I guess, I could have kissed him (him being all Gallic and all). But suffice to say I ordered MORE for pickup tomorrow. Sweet.

This is why I do as much business locally as I can. Dominique goes out of his way to help us without being asked. Our crawfish guy (David from Lafitte) shows up religiously — no matter how little I happen to buy from him. The wonderful folks at Rouses have pushed to re-open and are pretty well stocked. Our main supplier (F. Christiana) has come back on line and already made a major delivery. The BreauxMart on Magazine is blowing and going. Where is Wal-Mart? Where is Sam’s? They’re still closed — as are most of the big national chain joints. Bite me.

Speaking of bite me — it’s been pretty easy to tell who stayed during the storm and who evacuated. Those who stayed have been patient and shown a good sense of humor as we’ve come back up to speed this week. They’re just glad to have someplace to go that has power and a/c and is serving a semblance of a normal menu. A lot of them don’t have power at home yet, so they’re pretty much just happy to show up. But a lot of those who bugged out are just coming back — and they expect (they sometimes DEMAND) that things be just like they were a week ago, before the storm kinda threw everything out of whack for awhile.

I threw one of them out of the restaurant yesterday. We were crazy busy for breakfast and, for the most part, folks were understanding that we were short of employees and inventory. We were the first place on Magazine to re-open after Gustav passed and we remain one of the very few with any breakfast at all. It indeed took a long time to fill this woman’s (to-go) order. The to-go folks are automatically bumped to the back when we have a house full of sit-down customers. But this woman pissed and moaned and bitched and griped and got on everyone’s nerves until she finally got her order and TBK comped it for taking so long. She continued to bitch about the service and I went out and apoligized and she kept griping so I finally told her that if she wasn’t happy she could go to the freaking McDonald’s on St. Charles (which hasn’t reopened yet). She continued bitching and I told her just get out. Get out of my place and go tell her friends who are just like her that I don’t want them in my restaurant and I don’t want her in my place again. Kristen also yelled something as she was slinking away. It was great. The customer is always right until they’re an asshole. Then they’re just an asshole.

I think we’re each put on earth to do one of three things: 1) to make someone smile, 2) to make someone think or 3) to help someone who needs help. If we’re lucky, we can accomplish all three. I’ve been extremely fortunate in the past week to see all those traits in a lot of wonderful people. It’s just a shame some folks don’t get it — and, frankly, I don’t want them in my place of business no matter how green their money is.

I’m going to the Saints game Sunday! Rae was nice enough to invite me and we should be staffed up enough for me to take a few hours off.

I can’t say enough about TBK and Stu and Kristen and all their work this week. We’re truly a family operation. Milo and Alex and Melanie and Matt are right in there with us and Jessica’s early return was a tremendous boost. We should be about back to full staff by Sunday.

Sleep now. There’s a lot to wake up for tomorrow.

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