Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hurricane Katrina Fifth Anniversary part 5

Po Boy Views
Beethoven’s Fifth
Away We Go
I reckon that it’s only fitting that I squeeze a fifth installment out of this subject; after all, I’m sitting in the shop that we opened five years ago without the benefit of customers or cash, just me and my computer.
Business in The Big Easy is anything but easy; Summertime and the livin’ is anything but easy, there are no fish jumpin’ unless they’re already heavily oiled.
After the ‘event’, naturally business was bad enough, prospects were dim enough and economic hopes were not springing eternal enough so, the light at the end of the tunnel was extinguished. We came back to more than half of businesses closed and moved or moving away. The city was a shadow of its former shadow and rather than picking up the pieces and moving on a lot of folks just pulled up their pants and moved out. It didn’t help that landlords were doubling rents and in some cases people came back to find their belongings on the street; FEMA worker’s rent money was being planted in town and the landlords were eager to harvest. The bars and restaurants that were able to open quickly enough did very, very well. When I called from our exile to see about re-employment the question that I had was about whether the beer trucks were delivering; when I was assured that they were, I knew that I could come home and that the city’s recovery was a possibility.
Yes, we did make it out of New Orleans after the storm and flood, albeit six days afterwards, and we left like the proverbial bats out of hell. Literally.
On that Saturday morning after Kevin had it settled in his mind that he could leave his three dogs with a friend that was determined to stay here and after Kevin gave me the keys to the car, Debbie, he and I set off to see if the cars actually existed and whether it was able to be driven as an escape vehicle.
We reached the garage where the gates had been left unlocked and on the first four levels we saw cars that had been vandalized. At the fifth level with Debbie waving and yelling that we were not looters to unseen forces we found some cars left intact and among them was the 2005 Corolla which opened with the keys that Kevin had provided, the engine started right up and the gas tank read full. Getting the car out of there was going to be an ordeal of different magnitude, the street was littered with debris and the water was calf deep all the way to the Canal St. median.
We walked back to Canal St. thinking possibly that we could push the car through the water if worse came to worser and let the engine dry off enough to eventually start it.
I had noticed a water line on the walls of the buildings higher than the level of the standing level and I was assuming that the water was in fact receding; we were told that the level of the water rose and fell with the tide in the lake, ‘swell’, I said, ‘all we have to do is wait for low tide’. A policeman informed us that this was, in fact, ‘low tide’.
We went back to the car and plan b. The pushing plan. I drove the car down to the first level and to the sidewalk wondering if I could just drive the sidewalks where it was more shallow. Too narrow. I put the car into drive and took my foot off the gas. I racked my brain for someone reliable to send up prayers to.
As we all know, the depth of a street is lower by the curb and higher in the center so that rainwater might travel from the street to the drains. The car, with me at the wheel and Kevin and Debbie scooting debris out of the way ( to prevent tire punctures) dipped into the street up to the grill and my heart sank from my chest to my stomach and I felt the need to void my bladder. With still my foot off the gas petal and the car in gear and moving on impulse power alone, she came out of the water and kept on going, like a frigging ship of state at sea. Tears came to my eyes; and ever the pessimist, I allowed the car to roll, on its own, to the middle of the street where it sloshed through water that was higher than the hubcaps, up to Canal St. onto the median where Kevin and Debbie got in and we drove to Royal St. and up Royal, the wrong way, to Conti where we let Kev out so that he could pack and then up to Dauphine where we were already set to get going. My heart had re-inhabited my chest and was singing the Ode To Joy.
We stashed the car behind the locked driveway fence to pack the trunk; the day before we had been warned by police not to be on our bicycles because of jackings taking place aimed at anything with wheels for transportation out of town, and we were taking no chances. Wouldn’t you know it that at that precise moment the National Guard finally made it into our neck of the woods.
Animals are easy to pack, all seven of them, critter food was ready as were our belongings and we were wearing the traveling clothes with the money sewn into the waistbands; we bid adieu to our sanctuary within twenty minutes, picked Kev up and headed down Decatur towards the bridge to freedom with the National Guard waving us toward our destination which was anywhere but where we were. It was then that I knew that if we had been young and black we might not have had such an easy way out. On the way out we saw the body bags.
We were headed towards Shreveport where the safe house had been set up for us by Gallivan and where we would reunite him with his dog; I was following any road sign the said that we were headed north and west. We were dirty, we were weary, we were motley. We were crowded. We were ecstatic. Kevin wanted a Carl’s Jr. burger, Debbie wanted to use a lavatory. We stopped at a filling station and Kevin got something in a large cup that had ice in it, he had the smile of a child as he enjoyed ice for the first time in almost a week. Debbie took a long time in the rest room and I was beginning to worry until she emerged with the explanation that she had been mesmerized by the flushing and re-flushing of the toilet, and that she had washed and rewashed her hands just to feel the running water.
We eventually, that night, made our destination, which was only the first leg of our exile that took us all the way to San Francisco; on the way we had many more adventures that some day over a couple of cold ones, if you get me in the mood, I’ll relate. Right now, I’m exhausted just finishing this thus far… say goodnight, Gracie.


Two by the Sea said...

Wow, powerful stuff. Gotta love Toyotas.

Sandie said...

Well, it sounds like you are processing the experience. The thought of the quarter smelling worse than it usually does is enough to make me sick. I can only imagine how it really was. I'll stay in touch.

Chez Loulou said...

Your story still amazes me. And I'm so happy that you two came back!