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Gulf Coast region begins the year in recovery
Published Jan/Feb 2006

A second line parade winds its way through New Orleans’ French Quarter. The city, as well as others along the Gulf Coast, have small reasons to celebrate in the middle of a massive recovery effort. (Louisiana Office of Tourism photo)

 


By Don Redman
Associate Editor


In mid-November, I attended the debut performance of New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield’s original composition, “All the Saints,” dedicated to the victims and survivors of hurricane Katrina. His composition embodies a New Orleans jazz funeral in three major movements: a traditional jazz funeral; a memorial service; and a celebratory procession, or second line, taking the city from death to resurrection.

“Jazz is a tool for healing and rebuilding,” Mayfield said. “Music feeds the soul.”

Prior to hearing “All the Saints,” I hadn’t realized just how starved my soul was. By the soaring end of the piece, I was not alone with tears welling in the eyes. Mayfield’s choice to mimic a jazz funeral was more than appropriate, for many of us in the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast truly feel something deep has died. Some, like Mayfield, lost a loved one to the storm (his father’s body was recovered less than a week after the debut of “All the Saints”). Others lost their homes and jobs.

I fall into a murky category. I did not lose a loved one and I am still employed. While my home in Slidell received substantial damage, it is fixable. I did lose friends, not by death, but by relocation. Some say they’re coming back in a year or two, but who knows? I read in an article that Cyril Neville, one of the famed Neville Brothers, has purchased a home in Austin, Texas, as have several other New Orleans musicians, including members of the Iguanas and the Radiators. It is an unprecedented migration of talent.

I spend time these days driving from Pascagoula to New Orleans, looking for signs of progress. To be sure, there are signs of hope–mountains of debris are finally being carted away; businesses are reopening; and FEMA trailers are beginning to arrive in droves. But progress nonetheless seems to be moving at a snail’s pace. I have to keep reminding myself that it has been only a little more than four months since Katrina laid waste to the area, but until it’s seen firsthand, it is difficult to fully appreciate the enormity of the destruction.

While I try to shelter my 4-year-old daughter from the devastation and provide her with some sense of normalcy, I am nevertheless amazed by how much she picks up on. She was recently playing imagination with her toy kitchen that I had rescued and dutifully disinfected. She asked me what I wanted to eat. Macaroni and cheese, I said. She shook her head no. Peanut butter and jelly? No. Chicken nuggets? “I’m sorry, sir,” she finally said, “but we have a limited menu because of hurricane Katrina.”

With workers in short supply, most restaurants have been forced to limit the hours they are open and the menu selections, but some limitations border on the absurd. After idling for 30 minutes in the drive-thru line at a burger joint, it was finally my turn to shout an order into the speaker box. I wanted a hamburger combo (a hamburger, fries and a drink). The kid taking my order said that they had a limited menu because of hurricane Katrina.

“So, you don’t have hamburgers?” I asked.

“Oh, we have hamburgers.”

“Do you have fries?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And do you have cold drinks?”

“Yes.”

 “Let me get this straight,” I shouted into the speaker box. “You have hamburgers, fries and Coke.”

“Yes, sir. But we don’t have combos.”

“What’s in a combo?”

“A hamburger, fries and Coke.”

“Then can’t you give me that?”

“I’m sorry sir, but like I said, we don’t have combos due to hurricane Katrina.”

Patience is also limited in a post-Katrina world and I wanted to lash out at the kid, but horns started honking behind me. People were hungry to order their combos, too. Through clenched teeth I ordered a hamburger, fries and Coke and went on my merry way.

Meanwhile, many of us are dealing with wild mood swings that are rooted in uncertainty about the future. Shortly after the hurricane, there was great uncertainty whether Congress would lend financial aid to the city to help rebuild. Commitment from some Washington officials seemed lacking and some questioned whether New Orleans was worth rebuilding. That caused a lot of angst. Obviously, job loss created untold anxiety, as did questions about housing. And then there was the uncertainty whether the New Orleans Saints would ditch us for San Antonio, which caused less angst and more consternation.

There remain many unresolved questions, like coastal restoration, levee protection, housing development, tourism, and long-term employment. But despite these unsettled issues, we do have cause for hope.

Congress passed a bill for an additional $51.8 billion in aid for relief and recovery from Hurricane Katrina. The Saints are packing up and moving back to their facility to Metairie from San Antonio. The Metairie facility is due to reopen Jan. 16.

The New Orleans French Quarter was only bruised by Katrina and remains the heart of the city. Café du Monde, a favorite of locals and visitors alike, is open. Other attractions like the famed Audubon Zoo, D-Day Museum, Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the Natchez Steamboat are also open. And more are opening almost weekly. On Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, several casinos are again up and running. We can see signs of our former selves, which give us untold joy. We are returning.

“It’s going to get better,” Irvin Mayfield assured us back mid November. He’s right. It just takes time.

Meanwhile, I’m taking down the Christmas decorations from my FEMA trailer and preparing to replace them with purple and gold in time for Mardi Gras.

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez? No, it’s not quite time to let the good times roll, but I can’t wait until it is.

Editor’s note: This is the first column by AAA Southern Traveler associate editor, Don Redman, who will give a firsthand account of recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast region. His column will appear each month on this Web site.


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