Things really have changed in my fair city of New Orleans since Katrina came through and turned everyone’s lives upside-down. While we still have many challenges to overcome on our road back to normalcy, I was fortunate enough to witness over the break my city showing some signs that it was coming back to life.
For one, just before New Year’s Eve, the National Guard lifted the 2 a.m. curfew that had prevented locals from staying out in the recently reopened bars and clubs until six in the morning. Not that it really mattered, though, since we would just start consuming earlier in the evening to drink our post-Katrina sorrows away. It was just weird being kicked out of one of my favorite bars – Fat Harry’s on St. Charles Avenue – at 1:30 a.m. “What am I, in D.C. or something!?” I thought. Ridiculous.
Just as the city continues to rehabilitate, so too do its citizens. We’ve all changed, but just as 9/11 brought New Yorkers together in a time of need, Katrina has formed a special bond among all New Orleanians, whether they still live there or not. Everyone loves to tell their own story, because each Katrina experience is unique. “Yeah, my grandma’s house got five feet of water,” I tell people. “I was just visiting her in Chicago, since she was displaced there while we tried to fix up her house next to Tulane University.”
Most interesting, though, is how people are dealing with all of this. Some people have just cracked – like the mayor, Ray C. Nagin, who declared, “It’s time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans … This city will be chocolate at the end of the day. This city will be a majority African-American city. It’s the way God wants it to be. You can’t have it no other way.”
Ummm … OK. Oh, divine God, thank you for speaking to Mayor Nagin directly. True, the city was 67 percent black pre-Katrina, but we need to encourage everyone, not just blacks, to come back and rebuild – blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, crack heads, hookers, college kids – everyone.
Someone even responded to the mayor’s comment by starting a Web site, www.imnotchocolate.com, where they sell T-shirts with Photoshopped pictures of the mayor dressed up as Willy Wonka that say “Willy Nagin and the Chocolate Factory.”
Don’t get me wrong, though. I love the mayor, I think he’s doing an excellent job, and this just shows that he’s real – he says what he wants, what’s on his mind – not like most politicians.
I bought myself a Hanukkah present while I was in town. It’s a black hoodie that says in large white print on the front, “MAKE LEVEES, NOT WAR!” I like to wear it whenever I can, because it makes people smile. Even if people are pro-Bush and pro-war, they see my hoodie and say to themselves, “Ahh, yes, that’s clever, and yes I suppose we should build better levees in New Orleans.”
I wore this hoodie on an airplane flying back into New Orleans from Chicago, and as I was the last person to board the plane, sitting in the very last row, I walked down the aisle as 100 or more people stared at my sweatshirt and then laughed. I didn’t know why they were staring at me at first; I guess I had forgotten I was wearing it. Then I remembered what it said, and that practically everyone on the plane lived in New Orleans.
I was assigned to the middle seat in my row, between a fat, sweaty guy and a small Asian woman. The man laughed at my shirt, chuckling in true N’awlins diction, “Say, bra’! Where’d you get that at?”
“Over on Magazine Street, down by the Flying Burrito, a place called Metro Three,” I replied.
“Niiice. I’m gonna’ get me one of them. Hahaha!” That’s all he said to me for the rest of the flight.
The small Asian woman also looked at my hoodie, but she did not react. She looked at me, made eye contact, yet she said nothing. So I just sat down in my seat. Now, I have to admit that I do have “airplane snoop eyes.” If someone is reading something or working on a laptop next to me, I’ll glance over to check it out. I mean, I’m usually pretty bored anyway, and when it’s right next to me, I can’t help but look. Besides, if anyone were to catch on, I could just pretend like I’m staring out the window.
So long story short, I’m staring at the papers on this woman’s tray table. They look like blueprints for something along with a map. Actually, I realized it was a map of Louisiana. I looked at the top of the sheet to see the title and … Damn! She just looked up! Stare out the window! Stare out the window! Good, she didn’t notice. I looked again.
It says at the top of the sheet, “Army Core Engineers – Levee Construction Plans for Safeguarding New Orleans from Cat. 5 Hurricanes.” She’s an engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers. And she’s going to build us a new levee system. And I’m sitting next to her in a smart-ass hoodie that says “Make Levees, Not War!”
God has a funny way of telling you that everything’s going to be OK. He may have talked to Mayor Nagin directly, but for me, he put me in the middle seat between a fat sweaty guy and a really cool Asian chick.
-The writer, a sophomore majoring in journalism and music, is a Hatchet contributing arts editor.