Archive for August, 2008

On The Road

We packed up our two cars last night and left the city around 6:30pm. We heard about the mandetory evacuation while on the road. With a toddler it just did not make sense for us to stay plus we have over a week of free Hilton points racked up from my husband’s job so we reserved a room at the closest Hilton family hotel with availability and took off. The first two hours on the road were near hell. We moved 12.3 miles in two hours. It did not get a lot better until we reached Interstate 65 in Mobile. A trip that should have taken us 5 hours took 12 and a half. We arrived at the Hampton Inn in Troy, Alabama a little after 6:30 this morning. The baby slept through most of the drive so we have not had an opportunity to get much sleep here yet but we are holding together and hoping for some sleep tonight though with twenty-four hour weather channel coverage I am not sure how much sleep will actually come tonight.

We have run into two other families staying in our hotel sharing our plight, one from New Orleans and one from Houma. The Hampton Inn is being very nice to all of us, they have also bending their no pet policy and are letting us bring our pets into the hotel.

Good luck to everyone who stayed behind.

Here we go….

We closed the restaurant at about 6 this evening to get the place cleaned up and get a few things out of the house befthe curfew descended at sundown. TBK and I will be sleeping downstairs in the dining room, where we’ve set up a blow-up mattress. The power went out when the first feeder band came across, cutting us off about 7:30. It was actually a good test run, to get the generator set up and the lines run in the semi-dark. We got everything organized and tested just in time for the power to come back on about 45 minutes later. That boosted our spirits, since now we’re back in the a/c and making sure everything is charged (and posting and e-mailing) and watching the TV while it lasts. I’d anticipate complete failure early tomorrow morning, once things start getting heavier. I look for landfall (at the current forward speed) about 10 in the morning or so. I can’t remember seeing the full force of a hurricane arriving in daylight, since the ones I’ve been through have nearly always arrived at night or very early in the morning.

The NOPD is serious about enforcing the curfew, at least until other things start getting in their way. We’ve parked all the cars on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, partly to get them onto higher ground and partly to form a shield against flying debris, possible looters and any other undesirable objects. We were sitting on the tailgate of the pickup just after dark when a police cruiser barked at us to get back inside under curfew — so we adjourned to the dark courtyard.

Oh — the NOPD has highly cool new caps. One of our beat cops said he’d get me one when all this is over. Thanks dude.

We’re actually SMOKING in the dining room, which would be a violation of state law if we were open. Ha fucking ha. I bought new cigars yesterday, so I’ll fire one up in a little while and break out the bourbon. We’re already missing ice — though we froze some in advance that we’re saving for later if we really, really need it.

We have loaded the guns, though we haven’t shucked shells in the chambers yet. We have also posted a sign in the front window, saying WE ARE HERE INSIDE AND HEAVILY ARMED.

The only traffic outside is police, usually going the wrong way on our one-way part of Magazine. We’re also seeing the occasional Guardsmen and it’s good to have them back in force. I was joking with one officer earlier today that what they need to do is park at the top of the Crescent City Connection bridge and keep any Westbankers from walking across the bridge into New Orleans. He shot back, “Yeah. We’re afraid they’ll clean the place up. We’ve got our pride.”

I’ll be doing Q-and-As this evening and early tomorrow morning with BBC-Ireland and with an Australian network (thanks Joe). I was also interviewed today by the Miami Herald and by Warren Levinson of the AP. Ari Shapiro of NPR also ate here (twice!) today. Being the only restaurant open on lower Magazine kinda made us The Place To Be. The ONLY Place to be. It was good to share some “do you know?” time with folks in my former profession and to talk a little of what used to be shop. Some white SUV drove by with a big “TV” plastered on it in black electrical tape. Given the deserted streets, I felt like I was in Beirut or someplace.

Some ningnong TV guy was just on the tube, still wearing his cap and damp rain gear, facing the camera and intoning, “Tonight, New Orleans is a city holding it’s breath…” Puh-leeze. Folks like you are part of the reason why I’m not in that business anymore.

We won’t be open tomorrow and, despite the weather, I’m looking forward to getting an actual Day Off. We all are. We might be hot and we might have wet feet or whatever, but we won’t be cooking. It will be a hassle keeping things cool, rotating two freezers and two fridges ointo and off the generator — so there will be enough to keep us busy inside while keeping track of things outside. We’re also a group made of largely of hurricane first-timers, so there is a lot of fear of the unknown. Stu and Kristen have been through several and I’ve been through quite a few, so we’re trying to be Cool Heads.

Not sure what the conditions will be for posting later tonight and into tomorrow while the bulk of the system moves through.

Good Day Sunshine

…now that I’ve put that earworm on you…

It IS a pretty day in New Orleans today, as is nearly every pre-hurricane day anywhere. It’s a bit humid and kinda breezy. We’ll keep the restaurant open until sundown, when a curfew goes into effect until dawn. This gives us the afternoon to get organized. getting the generator and other stuff in here and getting set up.

We’ve had a series of customers today, most of which have announced they are also staying. They’re grateful there is SOMEplace open, even if they’re on their way out of town, since EVERYplace is closed. You know things are serious when both the Wal-Mart and the Discount Zone convenience store are closed. But we’re cheered a bit at the latest storm tracking report, which shows landfall of the center a little farther west than anticipated. Every mile west that landfall occurs puts us farther from the strongest winds.

I’ve talked with about everyone I need to talk to, informing them we’re staying. I finally turned my phone off last night to simply stop the calls and the texting and the explaining. We both slept very well, though we were up early to get things cranked up down here.

The city isn’t a ghost town. Traffic is more like early Christmas morning, with only occasional vehicles. We’ll park where we want to block the front doors tonight. But it’s apparently still a mess on the main highways getting out. Glad we’re not fighting that.

I’ve been contacted by some media organizations to do a little radio work, so maybe I can make a few bucks. That’s cool.

Mandatory evacuation

There’s a mandatory evacuation ordered for the Westbank tomorrow beginning at 8am, extending to the Eastbank (i.e., the City of New Orleans) at noon. At least for now, projections call for landfall Monday afternoon somewhere around Morgan City, putting our city in the most dangerous northeast quadrant of a Category Four hurricane. We are under a 10pm curfew (a shame, since it’s a lovely evening, all the neighbors are out and it would be a great night for one of our periodic street parties).

This “mandatory” thing means, essentially, you’re on your own if you stay. No one is going to come drag you out of your house at gunpoint and throw you on a bus to Boise. What it means is, in the most serious parental tones, “don’t come crying to us when your walls collapse, your roof flies off to Alexandria and you’re climbing a phone pole to get away from the rapidly rising Gulf of Mexico. We warned you, you freaking idiot.” Some officials also back this up by telling people to leave the names of their next of kin with police so they can be contacted. It’s kinda the ultimate in constabulary cut-direct.

Four of our employees have already left town. A fifth might leave tonight. The worst I can accuse them of is having good sense. We know that tonight might well be our last “normal” night for, oh, God knows when. By “normal,” I mean a night in our own home, with air conditioning and full power, secure in the knowledge that we can sleep until we get up at a reasonable time tomorrow and go in to work and do what we do.

Read the last sentence again. Its operable words are “in our own home.” Everything else is pretty much expendable. We have spent much of today discussing this, in various forms or another, between the staff at work and our own family and close friends and good neighbors. No matter what the particulars for each individual, this is what it comes down to — that despite the uncertainty, the dangers, the hassles, the lack of personal comfort and the very real peril to our own very lives — we are staying because we fear that if we leave we will be prevented from completing our work. We came back after Katrina to rebuild — and we are seriously pissed off that despite all we have done, another storm and all its contingent officials, rules, bullshitters, Naginizers, FEMAtropes, post-storm looters, selfish thugs and other assorted trip-up devices are going to be thrown in our way.

A hell of a lot of us have managed to wrest a living and a life out of what was left at the end of 2005. We’ve managed to do it with the help of family, friends, neighbors and, in a lot of cases, mysterious folks who just seemed to want to help. Note that I didn’t mention “government” in there. We’ve done it despite our government(s). And it’s not done yet. It likely will never be “done.”

Now we have to deal with this latest threat. We have put too much into what we have (personally, professionally, physically) to simply sit in a motel room someplace and watch it all get washed away again. We wouldn’t be “in our own home.” I agree that to stay is a type of madness. But it’s preferable to the madness we felt in our Being Away the last time.

A lesson in branding for the NHC

Attention, people at the National Hurricane Center:

I know it’s a little late for this, but my partner, Jonno, and I have some suggestions for future storm names. Not that there’s anything wrong with the ones you’ve chosen but…oh, who are we kidding? They totally suck.

Seriously: Gustav? You’re trying to get people interested, to make them pay attention, and you’re going with Gustav? Do we really need to tell you that NO ONE KNOWS Flaubert? He’s like someone you’re supposed to read in French class, but you slink by with the Cliffs Notes summary, and Madame Washington is none the wiser. And of the (maybe) 12 people who remember him, NO ONE remembers his first name.

That said, we have some great suggestions that ought to liven things up. They appeal to a broad demographic, including literary types, pop culture junkies, and ‘tards. Check out these babies:

• Hurricane Ignatius P. Reilly (A storm any bookworm would love!)

• Hurricane Jan Brady (They still run that show in syndication, you know.)

• Hurricane Kenickie (Everybody remembers Grease!)

• Hurricane Linda Lavin (It’s alliterative!)

• Hurricane Marcelle Marceau (Also alliterative!)

• Hurricane Nanette Fabray (I lobbied for Nana Mouskouri, but no dice. Sad face.)

• Hurricane Otis Spunkmeyer (But only if he sponsors it.)

• Hurricane Pussy Terwilliger (A celebrity, but only in in my mind.)

That’s all we’ve come up with so far, but we can totally go all the way to Z if necessary. Just give us the word.

I should be packing…

…but instead I am reading the newspaper or at least I was earlier today and I saw something that temporarily pulled me away from the Gustav frenzy. Turns out three years after Katrina there are still 85 unclaimed dead bodies, which until just this last Thursday also remained untombed. These are the types of things that do not fall through he cracks when you care about yourself, about other people or at the least your job and the impact it has on the world around you. It astounds me why City Hall and the City of New Orleans would keep these bodies in storage for three years. If I discovered that one of the bodies belonged to a still missing loved one of mine I would be disturbed to find they had been residing in a freezer for all this time. Two thumbs up to the funeral home owners who pushed to finally lay these bodies to rest.

I know this can be a morbid subject given the days ahead and for that I am sorry, lets add this to the list of things that should not be allowed to happen again.

Goodnight and good luck

The old Edward R. Murrow signoff has special meaning these days down here.

Last time, when we all said goodbye before Katrina, we all assumed it would be for a few days.

It wasn’t.

This time, we know better. The simple “g’bye!” is always followed by “good luck” and something like, “we’ll see you when we see you.” And there’s a lot of exchanging cell phone numbers. We’re hopeful and optimistic, but a lot more realistic as well. Plenty of folks are already headed out, getting an early start on their holiday weekend and leaving their return very, very open-ended. Hotel rooms are pretty much nailed down for anyplace within about six hours, meaning those leaving late and hoping for hotels will have to take the kids farther into Florida, maybe up to check out the tourist sites (both of them) in Dallas or, in the case of one of my employees, to Nashville to check it out. He’s never been, and figures now is good a time as any. He’s a Tulane student, and says the plan is for classes to resume next Thursday. We’ll see.

A customer pointed out last night that contraflow would likely begin sometime on Saturday EXCEPT for the fact that LSU plays in Baton Rouge Saturday night. It would be poor politics to tell the thousands of fans from New Orleans that, “Hey! You can go to the game but you can’t go back home!” So, assuming the system stays on the same general path, I’d imagine this would all start sometime (very) early Sunday. Or something.

I just got a phone call from some outfit in Texas, asking if a salesman could some by to see me Wednesday morning at nine. I told them sure, go ahead.

The National Guard has set up shop a couple blocks away at the Convention Center. Helicopters are landing and taking off and Humvees are moving around and there’s all these folks in uniform. It brings back a lot of memories and, well, the Groundhog Day Effect of everything happening again.

…and there’s that “goodbye” thing hanging over everything.

It sucks. But now I gotta stay. I have an appointment with a salesman.

Hurricane Preparedness Watch: Volume #3

George Bush
Has declared State of Emergency in Louisiana.

National Guard
• Is en route to New Orleans to provide coverage throughout the city.

St. Tammany Parish Officials
• Have already declared a State of Emergency.

Ray Nagin
• Took part in a joint press conference last night, at which he had apparently little to say.
• May be having lunch, because as of 12:55pm today, there’s no sign of him on the news feeds.
• Should really fire his freakin’ webmaster.

Jindal: 7
Bush: 1
National guard: 1
St. Tammany: 1
Nagin: -4
CityOfNO webmaster: -6

Something is up

Being in New Orleans on August 29, 2008 is a strange and magnificent thing. Obviously, there’s a certain anniversary to consider. A storm has its eye on the metro area. Banksy walks among us. And for some reason, there’s a lot of activity, a lot of buzz: helicopters and planes flying low in the air, sirens wailing. Frankly, it’s kind of exciting.

Which is fine now, but in a few days, I’ll probably be wishing for far less exciting times.

Blinking a bit

Excuse me, but I’m still a bit stupified. I almost never watch the news on television. It’s somewhat useful as a tip service, but even then only after inhaling a box of Morton’s Kosher salt. But I figured today might be a good day to actually take a few minutes to check in, given that the next couple of days might see some sort of evacuation order or some other intrusive type of activity. So, before leaving the house this evening, I requested we switch over to Channel 4 (The Spirit of Louisiana!) to get a few details about what might be happening in the next day or so. I discovered:

1) It’s a bad idea to stay in a FEMA trailer during a hurricane or tropical storm.
2) Gustav is on its way.
3) There are lots of buses (and, according to the video, at least one large, red dump truck) being readied to take lots of folks out of here.
4) Gustav is still a long, long way away and might not actually hit here. But it’s on its way.
5) The same woman does sign-language interpretation for the City of New Orleans and for Jefferson Parish government.
6) I can get sandbags tomorrow from 6am to 5pm if I need them.
7) Proactive. FEMA is being proactive. “Proactive,” the news anchor said, nodding gravely. “Yes. Proactive. Not reactive. We’ll be right back.”
8) Gustav (it’s coming!) won’t mess up the LSU football game Saturday. Imagine how that would screw up contraflow.

…along with a few other things.

Is it just me, or am I watching a newscast assembled by kindergarten teachers?

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