My husband, Beaven, travelled to New Orleans several times on business in the 80's and 90's. I used to say I wanted him to take me there. "You don't want to see this city," he told me. "It's dangerous and dirty. The porter who takes the trash out carries a gun when he does it." This didn't stop my curiosity and I planned a trip with our daughter. When Beaven saw we were serious about it he decided to go with us, I think for our protection more than anything.
We went. Yes, it was kind of dirty in parts of town. And there seemed to be an emphasis on consuming massive quantities of booze. You could tell this was the perfect place for college fraternities to party. On our last day, Sunday, you could smell vomit on the sidewalks. I mentally crossed New Orleans off my list. Been there, done that.
As of today, I've lost count of times I've visited New Orleans. I went to my first Mardis Gras parade last year. And now, in God's special sense of humor, I live in New Orleans.
This is one of those times when I'm so glad I have a video to show you. And when this goes into the book I can only hope I find the words to do the scene justice. Let me take you back a week or so to Friday, August 29, 2008. The third anniversary of Katrina. The night I fell in love with New Orleans.
A couple of days before, the TV started showing the projected path of a new hurricane named Gustav. All of them, the Weather channel, CNN, ABC, CBS...I watched them all and they all agreed that it was coming and it would be big. My boss sent out word to evacuate all the PDA camps. Most camps have two managers but the other manager for New Orleans wasn't expected for another two weeks. So I did most of the evacuation stuff by myself. While I was packing up the logistics crew arrived to strap down the new shower trailer with metal hurricane straps.
I received a call mid-week from the Project Homecoming staff. This is an agency that partners with us to find rebuilding work for our volunteers. They had a party planned for Friday, August 29th to celebrate the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. They wanted to know if I would still be there to unlock the doors because they still planned to party, hurricane or not. So while I was packing up laptops, files, copiers, blackberry phones and food then carrying it all out to my truck, they were bringing in food, helium balloons, door prizes and a banner that read, "Recover, Rebuild, Rejoice!" Like my daughter said, it was "In for Katrina, Out for Gustav."
The Project Homecoming staff was a little worried if anyone would come and with good reason. The city was supposed to be leaving. There would be a mandatory evacuation order the next day. There was even a city-wide ban on parties that night. But nobody seemed to care. They came. Bringing in plates of fried chicken and potato salad. I looked in the parking lot and saw a small group of old black men with well-worn uniforms and musical instruments unloading a truck. It was the Tremme neighborhood band--veterans of many a Mardis Gras parade, I'm sure.
We ate and laughed and hugged and bonded. One gentleman named Rodney thanked me for all that we had done for him. He told me in great sincerity that his home,(and he told me his address right down to the street number), was always open to me. And I knew he meant it. A few people left now and then with polite apologies of packing up to leave town but for the most part they partied like they didn't have a care in the world. Gustav who?
Then the band struck up "The Second Line" and we danced. One woman swung her mother's wheelchair out from under the table to parade around the room. Older women showed us how to wave a white handkerchief while we danced. Like a loving grandmother convinced their child would catch on eventually, they showed us we could use a napkin if we didn't have a handkerchief. This was the Big Easy at play. The people whose philosophy is "Let the Good Times Roll." This was the night I fell in love with New Orleans.