Arrival

Flying into anywhere, looking around the plane, you can sometimes tell who lives in this city. The anticipation in their faces is different from the excitement of those on vacation. They’re not trying to take in everything out the window all at once, not bouncing around in frantic search of famous landmarks. They simply watch the landscape grow beneath their path, letting it pass until their eyes register one of those familiar sights that tell them, “You are here.” Then their eyes move, following that anchor until it passes behind the wing.

Sometimes they do it smiling: home at last! Sometimes they do it with resignation: damn, vacation is really over.

When it’s New Orleans, these days, sometimes they do it with a sort of longing mixed with dread. From the air it’s easy to see what homes are still lacking roofs, and how many front yards still have trailers in them.

The captain steps out of the cockpit to greet passengers as they disembark. “Are you from here? Do you live here?” she asks, deviating from airline script. The word yes prompts her to look you in the eye. “How are you making out?”

What do you say? “Fine”? Even if your family lost neither home nor life, a real answer would take too long. The passengers behind you want to get off the plane, head down the escalator below Louis Armstrong’s angelic trumpet choir, reclaim their luggage, get home and wash the airport tiredness out of their bodies. What are you supposed to do? Explain?

“OK, considering.”

“Getting better.”

“Doing fine.”

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