Personal Writings

Dallas I could not get a first hand report. I was in San Francisco so the time zone was no friend and the continued communications challenges to New Orleans left me in the lurch. The second hand report indicated that a crew, Ryan Hansen, Barbara Faherty, and Chih Chan had managed to get to the office to recover documents; the “S” drive which has human resources information, and other critical materials. The roof seems to be gone from the 2nd hand reports. This had also seemed to be the case from Google maps, which is amazing in itself.
Councilwoman the In-Effective, Jackie “mother of the movie star” Clarkson, as usual was a barrel of information and assured us that no one could get into the city until EPA and others issued a health permit which was not expected until the end of the week at the earliest. We will send another team in today for future picks and reconnaissance.

Reading the New York Times last night on the plane into Dallas continued to be a source of weird information and amazement.
Since Katrina there is now a new neighborhood in New Orleans in addition to all of the new “lakefront estates” that seem everywhere. There is something called “North Bywater.” This is a total fiction on several fronts.
First, the boundaries of the Bywater neighborhood — now a famous “working-class district” in the Times (tell me how many times you have ever heard an American neighborhood referred to as “working-class” in the paper of record? …but, that’s another story!) are clearly from the St. Claude River (nee Avenue) to the Mississippi River, and then from the Press Street Railroad tracks to the Industrial Canal.
Secondly, this weirdness called “north Bywater” is actually the 8th Ward. Incidentally, Bywater is named not because of its proximity to the Mississippi, but because this was the name of the telephone prefix before numbers took over and ruled the day in the phone vernacular of modern times.
Finally, as the real proof of this outlander absurdity there would never be a neighborhood of any kind in New Orleans called “north” or “south” anything, because there is hardly a citizen who lives there who has any idea of north and south. I have watched a million times as tourists of all stripes have tried to ask locals for directions and have tried to use compass points as if they were common knowledge in any kind of local use. Everything is geographical rather than directional. Directions are given by the flow of the River or the relationship of the River to the Lake. As everyone in America knows, this in fact is what is fundamentally important in New Orleans. North and south are meaningless. You can be directed towards the Lake (north) or towards the River (south). You can be directed downtown (east flowing down the River) or uptown (west flowing up the River) with Canal Street being the demarcation line.

Another article was sadder. Two fellas were taking a flat boat into the Lakeview neighborhood to recover prized personal things for residents in the still flooded area. Lakeview was a middle class to upper middle class area in a city that did not have much of any kind of middle class one way or another, but was mainly rich and poor. The land had largely been created in many sections by the Levee Board filling in wetlands towards the Lake. Part of the sad sea cruise being reported in this story was in a part of older Lakeview between Bayou St. John and Old Spanish Fort and what I’ve always called the Harrison Avenue Canal, which is the wrong name, but is a canal that runs along the western boundary of City Park. The reporter trying for a lighter more quizzical tone liked the sound of quaint street names seen as they floated by. One they mentioned was Fleur de Lis. It must have been underwater.
I knew the street. The old French grandmother of my ex-wife, Florelle Church, had lived on the street. At that part of my life I had driven there to pick up my ex-wife or drop her there to visit her grandmother on the street in the 60’s just out of high school when we were dating and I was working in the oil fields out of Leeville as a roustabout. Not a block away on the same street 25-30 years later one of my daughter’s best friends families had re-built a house on the street that to the delight of all of my daughter’s posse even had a small swimming pool where a front yard might have been in other circumstances. All of us had made the journey many times on drop offs or pickups to Alexandra Stewart’s house until thankfully Dine’ could drive herself there. I wonder if there is any chance their house survived. The reporter ended the story as they floated down Memphis Street, which would have been several miles south of their earlier stops and where my former in-laws house used to be — or may still.
Our daughter had spent her elementary years at Hines Elementary on Harrison Avenue at the Canal so her grandmother could pick her up after school every day. Our son had also gone there for a year or two. Bound to have been destroyed. The church where our son spent many weekends at scouting events on his way to being an Eagle Scout would have been two blocks over from Memphis Street. I wonder if it survived.
I asked Drummond Pike, President of the Tides family of organizations, whether at the end of our special board meeting yesterday I might be able to go “desk-to-desk” with him to visit with the staff and thank so many of them for their kindness about Katrina. Many had emailed me expressions of concern. Many had donated to the ACORN Hurricane Rebuilding and Recovery Fund. Tides had created a Rapid Response fund which had also raised about $200,000. I wanted to personally say thanks to as many of them as I could.
They assembled on the upper porch deck of their building in the Presidio for a minute for me to speak with them.
I got a lot of hugs. West Coasters are big hugging people, but it was ok. Several asked me about Blanco, and I wondered if I had done the right thing mentioning that our old dog didn’t make it, but somehow it still seemed ok. I was able to personally whisper a thank you to some of these dear, kind people who I knew had donated more maybe than they ought to have, because they had been moved in a way that happens to people of good will and character. A whispered thank you during a hug seems to be a nice way to say thanks without everyone being embarrassed.
I kidded them about their happiness at getting a break from work at my request. I made some jokes about not being a very good “victim,” which many of them appreciated since they mostly had known my rougher side.
I reminded them that it was not just us stupid poor and working people, black and white, who lived below sea level in New Orleans who were missing cards in the deck, but it was also people like them living on a fault line, people in LA, Phoenix, and Las Vegas living in a desert without water, and many others in our country and the world who had made mixed environmental judgments about our homes and families. I asked them to raise up the issues of race and class in their communities and to make sure that the people and lessons of New Orleans were not forgotten and that this was an opportunity.
I got to vent my rage about all of this, which they probably enjoyed less, but obviously I enjoyed more.
Drummond graciously handed me a special check to ACORN for $10,000 to help in all of this work even while the response fund was growing. They announced that the latest news from Groundspring which has been handling the donations for the ACORN Hurricane Rebuilding and Recovery Fund had passed $235,000 in individual contributions that day.
Ellen Friedman, Vice-President of Tides, and the fireplug who has led the Community Clinics Initiative, a hugely successful program of Tides, spoke movingly. I had to tell her not to cry to get her to not embarrass both of us in front of the staff, and she sucked it up — as always — in her usual gracious manner. She and some of the staff surprised me with a huge basket of things they had personally assembled. It was very moving. For me it included a Fat Tire beer, because they had read in the blogs that I had drunk a “beer of the year” in Colorado during the hurricane and it was a Fat Tire. Lynette Logan, who had been a super-supervisor to Dine’ when she was an intern at Tides as a youngster some time ago, slipped me her own Tides book bag because she had seen me using one until mine wore out to travel with all of my paperwork.
My staff has often asked me why I have continued to be on the Tides board all of these years. Simply put, it’s because their work matters and together we really have done good things here.
But, it is also because they are good people no matter what the politics of the matter may be from day to day.
Ellen whispered to me that she knew I was going to take this basket and pass out stuff to everyone when it got to Baton Rouge, but she also knew I would keep the beer and the Tides vest, because I do in fact ride for the brand.
They gave me a list of what was in the basket which says it all, I think:
Bottled water
German Mustard
Moose Munch
Puttanesca Sauce
Fat Tire Amber Ale
Jackson-Triggs White Wine
Cherry Chocolates
Capppuccino Wafer Cookies
Bean Cuisine Soups (2)
Forest Berry Oatmeal
Cheese Wafers
Oaten biscuits
House Blend Ground Coffee
Mardi Gras King Cake Mix
Mac and Cheese
Potato chips
Chamomile Tea
Pint Glass
Travel Steam Iron
Traveler’s Corkscrew
Tea infuser
Disposable Camera
Stress complex Vitamin B, C, and Zinc
Sweatproof Sunblock
Toenail Clippers
Nail file
Lip blam
Dental Floss
Tylenol PM
Aleve 12 hr
“Mapping our Places” coffee table book
Mini umbrella
Dish Soap
Putumayo CDs
Honey body wash
Tides Vest
Laundry Basket
We all try to leave our own footprints, but sometimes we find in life that they can be easily washed away.
Communities are different. They are something solid. They stay with you.
This will end up being the salvation of New Orleans, I hope. The fact that there is a special community that deserves to survive.
My community is there, but, thankfully, because of my work and life, I have been fortunate to find, help build, and be part of vast and powerful communities all over the country and the world. I can not imagine living without one. They are a special strength and blessing.
We need to build them everywhere and for everyone!