Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Last Mass Email

Hi guys,
My mailing list has grown out of control, and I get emails every day from someone asking me to "forward" it to them, or add them to the list. I have also had one person ask to be removed from the list, which I did. I get no end of mailer daemons when one of you changes your email address, then I get mail saying you didn't get my last email! Some of it has been just funny and I laugh a lot.

I will continue writing, and have been posting regularly already on the blog, In fact, you guys have already missed several posts. I think you'll like the medium. You can still email the post to someone, as you've been forwarding my emails, just by clicking on the little envelope at the bottom of the post. You can compliment me or blast me, or add some pertinent info just by clicking the comments link.

I haven't figured out all the ins and outs, that's for sure. I was trying to figure out how everyone got links into their writing without it saying "http blah blah blah." It just said, "this article" and blammo, click on it and you're at the article. I'm not sure if I'm right but a light bulb went off over my head about 3AM, so I think I might have figured it out. That would be great. No more attachments to emails!

Pictures can also be posted on the site, so that should make it easier for those of you who for whatever reason, spam filter, etc. haven't been able to see some of the photos that were either embedded or attached.

I also haven't figured out how to jazz up the page yet, but give me a little bit and I will. For now, all the posts from the last few days are there. I truly hope that you guys will continue to read what I'm putting out there, and this will let you do it at your leisure, or not at all if you don't want to. I've also found that the "blog" community is a wonderful, humorous, thoughtful, encouraging and helpful bunch. It's really amazing and the flow of information is remarkable. I think you'll find it that way too. There are some links on the right side of my blog page to other blogs. Those will grow as I go.

Either way, thank you all so much for reading the emails these seven months. And please let me know if you're still reading. Your email comments have always been wonderful and I'd still like to have your feedback. New Orleans still has a long way to go, and David and I are still struggling determinedly along. We're not going anywhere. It's been you guys that kept us going so many nights, and your forwarding of the emails has kept the New Orleans/Katrina experience in the forefront of folks' heads who might have forgotten what happened here. It is more appreciated than you know.

See you all at I hope!
Love and Light,
Bec and David

Monday, March 26, 2007

Broken People and a Lost Little One

Hi all,
In the last three days, I've heard these stories. There are reports of progress being made here with houses being gutted, people trying to return, the strong spirit of the people here. There are also reports of Corps of Engineers reports contradicting themselves, laws that keep the Corps from being sued, insurance companies refusing to pay. Mostly these stories are about stuff. Homes, money, jobs. But there are ancillary stories connected to all of the above, and I've heard them this week.

We took Zola up to the levee so he could see people and bicycles. We watched as they shot a scene from the Denzel Washington movie, "Deja Vu", on the Ferry (which Disney rented for a month causing no end of problems with commuting from the Westbank). A woman came up to us with some binoculars. Everyone, it seems, is waiting for a glimpse of Denzel, but so far no one has actually seen him. We started talking with her. She lives on Powder Street here on Algiers Point, a street that we delivered lots of food and water to in early September. There was an entire family that hadn't evacuated and they had nothing. One of the women we met up there was an elderly woman, about 83 as I recall. She was one of the women who needed her medication refilled and was part of the surreal tea party under the Army tent at Blaine Kern's as she waited with the others for a ride to West Jefferson. Her hair was black, her makeup severe, her laugh raucous and wonderful. I can't find my notebook (been searching all morning, her name is in there), but I think her name was Joy Boudreaux, a very common surname here in New Orleans. She told me that she had been born on Powder Street and had lived on Powder Street her entire life. She was a fascinating woman. She died this week. Evidently she had other ailments, as her list of prescriptions could attest to, but her heart gave out.

The woman we were talking with was probably in her late 50's, also lived on Powder Street. She said she had a circle of girlfriends that consisted of 12 women. They'd known each other for years. Five of them have died since the storm, of heart attacks from stress. Four others had moved out of New Orleans because of their jobs. She just shook her head, still not believing her personal human loss.

You've read about our friend Louis from up the street. He's the one with the amazing evacuation story that took him to Utah after being refused entry to the Westbank by the Gretna police which was really just the second to last chapter of his harrowing story. Louis is in his 50's and always rode his bike to work in Metairie, which is a long way by bicycle. Before the storm, he lost a grandson, 21 yrs old named Christopher, to kidney failure. While in the Convention Center for four days, he lost his nephew, shot by police while getting water for some older ladies. His nephew died in his arms. Yesterday he buried his 20 year old son. Coroner said heart failure due to stress. No drugs in his system. TWENTY YEARS OLD?!?! He now is trying to raise money to return to Utah to get his car. He has to leave day after tomorrow and he has no money because his landlord, a man named Mr. Cooper who owns many properties in this area and has rented them out Section 8 for years, has raised their rent from $900 to $1500. Louis, Marie and their grandson Christian, are planning to move to Baton Rouge or maybe Houston. Shoved out of their hometown by greed after suffering so much loss. You can see it in Louis's eyes. He's not the same man that we knew before the storm. Something is broken inside of him.

The doctors told him that they were seeing very large numbers of heart attacks due to stress in the New Orleans area. While everyone is busy talking about money, insurance, FEMA, they are overlooking the people that these delays and lack of money are affecting. Can they come home? Will they be safe if they do? Will they be able to rebuild? Many people are still searching for missing relatives. A local tv news station reported that in addition to the two bodies they found in the Ninth Ward this week, they also found a child's body at an intersection off of Forstall. My god, this is an area that we've driven by over and over when we went to the area. We no doubt drove right by where this little one was found. Who's looking for that little one and what agency will find the people who are looking? The impersonal rules and regulations simply aren't taking into account the toll, physical and psychological, that this is taking on human beings who are just trying to get by after an historic catastrophe.

It's not just the money and the delays. It's the loss of family, through death or because they're still missing. It's the loss of their neighborhood, their social safety net. It's the loss of friends. We will be losing two of our dearest friends to Houston this coming week. Company setting up shop in Houston, not in New Orleans. This happens every day here. "We are moving. We have no choice." And most really don't have a choice. The reasons vary but the void is still the same.

Yes, indeed. The people of New Orleans have a wonderful, tough spirit. That's what's going to see us through all this, I think. A sense that one doesn't just abandon their home because it's too hard. But somehow in the midst of these commentaries on the billions of dollars, the levee failures, the loss of the structure that was home, there has to be some way to really address the post-Katrina loss of life that all this has contributed to.

Hearing about seven fatal stress related heart attacks, in people ranging from 83 to 20, over the course of three days is overwhelming. These seven came from every ethnic and socio-economic group. The stress is an equal opportunity killer, it seems. When you see all the reports about structures and dollars, please remember the humans involved. They seem to be getting lost in the shuffle now that they're off the roofs and off your TV screens.

And pray that the ones who died when the levees broke are reunited with the families who are looking for them.
Love and Light,

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Old River, Lost River. . . . A Roadtrip and a Return

Hi all,
Sorry to have been out of touch. David and I went on a road trip. Why would we do that when we're still living hand to mouth and hoping that Jazzfest helps? Because our dear friend in Albuquerque, whom we helped with German Shepherd rescue before we moved, called and said, "I have your dog here." We had just lost Jasper and had decided we were not getting another dog for a while, but here was the same story that brought us Jasper. Puppy mill jerk, 18 German Shepherds, living in filth and starving, seized by the county, needed homes. And one of them looked like he was probably Jasper's grandson, great grandson, grand nephew, something. Or so she said. Well, us being us, we couldn't turn that down and she knows us and what kind of dog we tend toward. So we got in our car and drove to get him. He's back home with us now, learning about people and struggling to figure out that most of them won't hurt him. He's handsome and smart and somewhere between 2-3 yrs old, but he's got the experience level of a 3 month old. He's fabulous and we're glad we went for him.

It was also the first road trip we'd taken together that wasn't a family visit in years and years. And it was our first long trip since Katrina hit. I had gone back to Albuquerque in November, but flew in, worked for two days and came back. It's a different thing from a road trip. We headed out having decided to take the "short" route through Shreveport to Dallas to Amarillo to Albuquerque. No problem. We'd done it before and we knew that Texas is the endless state. We both abhor driving through Dallas but managed it with few issues as long as we paid attention to the cutoffs. We got to Albuquerque, had no time to do a lot of socializing but got to see a couple people briefly, and that was great. Spending time with Kathy and her own pack of dogs was really a treat. We were also surprised by how many people we met in stores and gas stations who upon hearing we were from New Orleans, seemed almost compelled to tell us that they were ashamed and appalled at the federal handling of Katrina. It was interesting to hear what they had to say. Most of them, however, had no idea that about 30% of New Orleans still has no power. They were stunned.

We loaded up the dog and headed home via the "long" way: Albuquerque, El Paso, San Antonio, Houston, Baton Rouge, home. We did the TexasWorld Tour. Yes I did mean for TexasWorld to be all one word. Anyone sensitive about Texas might not want to go on reading from here!

Having seen almost all of the major cities in Texas in a six day period (two days each way), we were astonished. The roads are, by and large, wonderful. Something that cannot be said of New Orleans before or after Katrina. We noticed the Texan intent on being BIG: big auto dealerships, big flags, big steaks, big vehicles. We were fascinated by some of the tiny little towns, a lot of them agricultural or ranching towns, that had nothing but a few trailers strewn together in some semblance of a village. There's a lot of that in New Mexico too, but we didn't expect the huge contrast between these little burgs and the bigger cities. Trailer colonias and a truck stop out your window, then the blazing overdone glass of Dallas. We'd seen that before as we had gone that way on other trips across Texas. But we saw the same thing on the southern route. It seemed that the gap between the rich and poor in Texas was huge and obvious. I did say they like things big there.

The first five to ten miles of any one of the cities we went through were endless parades of franchises. Everyone is represented: Applebees, Chilis, McDonalds, Burger King, Target, Walmart, Home Depot, etc. We talked a lot about the homogenization of America. If someone dropped us in the middle of a good size city in Texas, it's virtually indistinguishable from Kansas City or any other city in America. The franchises have taken over, and only the trees and the freeway number will tell you where you are. Home Depot and a palm tree? Probably Miami or San Diego. Applebees and a cactus? Probably Albuquerque but could be Phoenix. Nothing distinguished one city from another. It's happened all over this country and it's made our country a bit boring. We really had to look hard to find a small, non-corporate owned local/regional restaurant amid all the mega-chains. Since we didn't stop a lot going or coming, it didn't really matter to our stomachs but it did matter to our psyches.

The roads are packed with newer model cars and many of the major freeways are being expanded. Lots of money in Texas it seems. The contrast between Texas and Louisiana was stark. Texas was very, very generous to our evacuees, and for that we will be eternally grateful. We also understand why some of them decided to stay put and not come back. The cities LOOK affluent. Of course we didn't see the crime problems, the gang problems. Local problems can't be seen from a freeway driveby. What did strike us was that we felt like "foreigners." Our political views certainly weren't in evidence anywhere that we could see in Texas. We know that the entire state of Texas isn't ultra-conservative, but that was what was most in evidence. We also actually had a concern that our car, with Louisiana plates and an "I love New Orleans" decal on it, Mardi Gras beads hanging from the rearview mirror, might make some people think that we were "that element from New Orleans." I am truly sick of the word element. It's become a euphemism for so many things.

As we drove out of Houston, where the weather started feeling like New Orleans, we passed a sign that said, "Old River, Lost River" and it appeared that two rivers joined up there. It was beautiful, and wow, what lovely, romantic names these rivers had. We couldn't wait to see "our" river. We got home and were very happy to be here, even as we drove in still seeing hurricane damage and ravaged cars under the overpasses. It wasn't pristine but it was home. Once here we caught up on the local issues, which we couldn't do a driveby on.

Crime is up here. Apparently some of the Houston gangs have moved in. As David says, "Don't forget, nature abhors a vacuum." Two real gems, B Stupid and his buddy, Man Man (no, guys, I am NOT making this up) were finally caught. These two lovelies were here trying to set up a new drug network. Man Man evidently was standing on a neutral ground shooting a gun in the air. I think it was on Esplanade. B Stupid was picked up by a cooperative (imagine THAT!) effort between the NOPD and the Kenner cops. In an interview when asked how he got the name, he said sort of intelligibly, "The street gave me that name." Oh, not your behavior? Well, at least they got these two, but it appears that the Houston/NOLA gang foreign exchange program won't let up for a while.

The elections are much contested and amazingly haven't gotten nasty yet. Mitch Landrieu is so far behaving like a real class act, and most people I've spoken with think he's pretty much a shoo in, if not based on his ideas, which so far have been a bit vague, by his connections at city, state and federal levels. The consensus seems to be that he can probably do a lot as Mayor just because of his connections. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that, but I think he'll probably win. I have to go to his website and see what he's really saying. Meanwhile, there is a question about whether or not the elections should be held in April at all since so many of our citizens are out of state. The racial issue is also being introduced into this argument as the demographics of NOLA have changed significantly since the storm. By some reports, we went from 80% black to 60% white. The argument is that the black citizens, who seem to have been more significantly scattered than the white citizens, would not have a real voice in this election. Given the mail service and the idea of absentee ballots, oh yeah, and the nutbar we have as county clerk, I think some of the arguments are valid. I'm not at all sure how long we should wait though. Will the situation change enough in one month, two maybe, six (?) to make people feel that the election should be held? I don't think so. It's been nearly seven months now and things are still moving at a snail's pace in terms of rebuilding and repopulating. I'm not sure postponing the election will accomplish anything. On the other hand, holding the election and having it appear unfair will only lead to more negative press locally and nationally, not to mention some hard feelings along racial lines. I've read arguments on both sides, and they both make sense. This is a tough issue.

Oh yeah, the mail. According to the Post Office, our mail service should be back to normal "by summer." We'll see. It does seem to be improving a little, but still not enough for papers that need to be sent back by a particular date to GET to you before the due date.

Housing and business, the two words we hear daily in some context or other are intertwined so intimately here, but amazingly few people are talking about the two issues as they relate to one another. Rents are out of control. Landlords, seeing the corporations as the geese laying nests of golden eggs, are gouging. Local message boards are addressing this issue, but the news media isn't. 6000 dollar "corporate apartments", "furnished one bedroom luxury corporate condo, $3900 month, all utilities paid." Well I should say so! Rents have doubled and tripled in some cases, but now we're starting to see them drop a little as the contractors go home and people who were renting while their house was being rebuilt finally get to go home as well. It's a slow process. In the meantime, it's not real people paying these rents. It's expense accounts. Prices like this are driving people out of New Orleans. This becomes a vicious cycle for businesses, especially small businesses. "I can't make enough money to keep my business open if I can't get workers and I can't get workers because they can't afford the rents and I can't pay them enough to afford the rents so they leave and I can't make money to keep my business open. . . . " On and on the circle goes. Many, many landlords are NOT gouging, our wonderful landlords included, and many are sick of the "corporate turnover" of two month leases. There are more and more people looking for "long term leases" in their ads. But the gougers really should be ashamed. This whole cycle is going to come back and bite New Orleans in the ass if something isn't done to curb it. Granted there is a supply and demand element, but what's happening is that some of these landlords have decided to make as much as they can while the corporate expense accounts hold out and locals be damned. It's a mess and something has to be done, but other than people just refusing to pay those rents, I don't know what will curb it.

The levees, MRGO, floodgates, FEMA, SBA, insurance adjusters all continue to be problematic and the daily reports on any one of those topics can alternate between excuses, resignation, and screw 'em. Can't put FEMA trailers in a flood plain, so we can't get them down here, besides we're doing the best we can, and oh yeah, another hurricane season is coming and these things could be flying all over the place if a good size tropical storm arrives, nevermind another hurricane. So the best idea is to rebuild. But if you rebuild you need the money to rebuild and the insurance isn't giving it to you and FEMA isn't giving it to you and besides we can't agree on the FEMA flood plains anyway and how high should you have to build your house off the ground? Raising them, yeah, that's the ticket. Oh your house wasn't completely washed away? It's still extant and you just finished gutting it and dealing with the mold? Well, we don't know what to tell you. You might rebuild it, if you've got your own money to do it, and then we might say you have to raise it. How high? Didn't you see yesterday's report? We haven't decided yet. We've given out a lot of money here, but we have to comply with the FEMA rules and you KNOW we're audited so we know the wheels grind slowly and it's frustrating, but it's a bureaucracy those of us on the ground are doing the best we can. Army Corps of Engineers can't be sued. Insurance companies saying "act of god," lawyers saying "act of man, negligent man at that", adjusters saying "not wind damage, house is settling." Oh really? The house "settled" into this giant mountain of debris? "Too bad, you're not getting anything."

I could go on, but I'll spare you. For now, anyway.

Many, many kids are not in school yet. They're on a waiting list. Waiting for a school that can accomodate them, waiting for a school to open. The latest is that they will be back in school by April but WILL NOT BE HELD BACK. Excuse me? So we'll have marginal fourth graders from a school system that was abysmal before the storm, becoming even more marginal fifth graders after missing 7 of 9 months of school? Are you kidding me? Keep them in school all summer. Help them catch up. Some of them are really traumatized. They're going to need help. Everyone is hoping that we will utilize this chance to make our school system better than it was before. If we do this, just ignore that these kids missed nearly an entire year of school, we will blow that chance inexorably.

Well, there is certainly more to say. And to those of you who have written me privately, I will answer your emails as soon as possible.
Love and Light,
Bec and David