Light and Dark

Personal Writings Rebuild New Orleans

New Orleans          It poured in Shreveport and there were rain delays around the Houston airport, so it was no surprise to find the front moving into New Orleans.  At 9PM there was a light drizzle and the streets were wet.  Traffic was flowing quickly, the rain was just enough to stop the construction on the interstate coming into the city.  We needed the rain, so this was all good.

When I turned off on the Franklin Street exit of the I-610, I drove into blackness.  Somehow the clock had flipped backwards by many months and there was no light anywhere other than the beams of cars signaling life and movement on the streets.  In aftermath of Katrina we had stop signs near the dead traffic signals, but now in a more optimistic world there was nothing but darkness, so cars crossing Franklin were tentatively trying to sort out who was stopping and who was starting.  Police emergency vehicles could be seen on St. Claude as I crossed over into the neighborhood. 

Turning onto Dauphine to head downtown into Bywater, I put on the high beams to cut through the night.  Ironically, I had been thinking earlier in this trip that I still needed to buy a generator for just this reason, but a month or so had gone by without power outages, and one is easily lulled into a false normalcy.  I reviewed the post-Katrina New Orleans drill.  Grabbed by big flashlight and walked my bags through the rain fumbling for my keys.  One candle was on in the foyer.  Welcome home.

A half-hour later the phone rang!  Picking up in the pitch dark of the house, the caller asked for me and identified herself as an employee named Celeste, working at the main post office in New Orleans.  Confusedly, I asked her how I could help her.  It seemed she had been calling all afternoon, and that they had found a US Treasury tax refund check made out to me — and endorsed by me — on the floor of the post office without an envelope.  The check was dated in mid-February.  It had a story all its own, but the bottom line was that Celeste and her supervisor wanted me to know that they had found the check, found my name in the phone book — a lesson for open listings! — and wanted me to come get it before 1130 PM at the end of her shift.  I thanked her profusely, but explained that power was out throughout downtown New Orleans, and there was no way to come get the check then.  We worked out a time to pickup the check when her shift would begin on the next day.

This city doesn’t work.

Thankfully, the people still do.

April 26, 2006

Three months after the storm, Jefferson Parish (on left) was awash in lights while Orleans Parish was still largely shrouded in darkness