Thursday, September 18, 2008

When Tired Meets Mad

I have lots to write about and lots to say, but I'm exhausted. Spent the day loading and unloading debris from our renovation--debris the contractor should have disposed of but left in the name of preservation. Yeah, thanks for the mountain of termite-eaten hollow-board, dude.

Anyways, I can't write now because I really am exhausted, but I wanted to post a link to the Voice of the Wetlands site. Community activist Karen Gadbois posted a link to it on her Twitter account, and the sentiments expressed on the site are the same I've been hearing everywhere: IF WE DO NOT DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE WETLANDS NOW, COASTAL LOUISIANA IS IN REALLY BIG TROUBLE. And that, my family and friends in less threatened locales, spells trouble for you, too. (And not just because you'll have to hear from me about it.)

Gawd, I really have been asked a kabillion times, "Why do you STAY there?" to which I am forced to respond with the same romantic B.S. you have already heard (the people, the music, the culture, the food) and have likely grown tired of hearing. Because these comprise a good portion of my personal reasons for being here.

But that is really beside the point.

The point is that we are not asking our fellow Americans (and the world, sure, yes, the world) to save our wetlands and our hurricane protection systems because we are dumb enough to think that our reasons for wanting to live here are also yours. We know they are not.

But when you ask us this question, "How can you LIVE there?" you ask the wrong one. We feel the same sense of "What the F?!?"--the same dumbfounded incredulousness about your living where you do.

Last week I had a conversation with my friend Bill Loehfelm lately about making Why Coastal Louisiana Matters cards. They'd fit in your wallet, and we'd be able to pull them out whenever people ask that question: "Why do you LIVE there?"

When we got asked that question, we wouldn't have to blubber on about the sentimental crap that allows folks to tightfist their cash--to think, "Why should I save their asses just so they can eat and hang with their 'community' when I can take my vacation elsewhere?"

We'd be able to answer that question in terms that would impress you.

First on the "Why you should save our asses' list": we supply 30% of your gas and oil. You get our coffee and sugar because of our ports, too. As Bill put it, try living a day without gas, coffee, or sugar. Then we'll see how much people care about restoring our wetlands.

Okay, so I really AM exhausted, which evidently inspires ranting...

When I am not so tired, I will beef up this list. And then, when I have more money (and less important things to handle than actually dealing with the impacts of storms that would not have impacted us do terribly had our wetlands not been squandered--had our federal levees held)--I will make that "Why You Should Shut Up Talking and Save Our Asses, Already" card.

Really: good night. I promise to post a non-rant post soon. It really was a long and very eventful week, and I want to process it on the page and share with you, dear readers, even if I am mad at you sometimes for not understanding why we matter--really matter--and not just to our damn selves.

To prove that I love you anyways: big hug from my house (whose address is a heckuva lot closer to the Gulf than it was just a week ago.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

After We've Recovered from the Toxic Gumbo...

When I opened an email whose subject was "Electricity?" today, I realized I hadn't updated my blog since we'd been home. So here I go, back...

The drive back to New Orleans seemed interminable, although it was uneventful in comparison with the one on the way out. I saw several Louisiana families on both I-85/65 and I-10 who were also headed home. They looked tired, as I am sure I did. My cat Ray was so "over" the car ride that he jammed himself between a box and the rear passenger window and stared ahead so resolutely and pathetically--without sleeping or blinking--that I worried he was dead.

When I got to Mississippi, the adrenaline had worn off, and I was just f-ing ready to get home. I was tired of listening to Elizabeth Gilbert talk about how spiritually enlightened she was (I'd promised to finish Eat, Pray, Love, and could only manage to do it via audiobook), I was tired of eating gummy bears and drinking Diet Mountain Dew, and I was even tired of texting Twitter updates (which are now appearing in the margins of my blog). So I smoked cigarettes to stay awake, even though I am really and truly one of those "social smokers" that real smokers can't stand, and I reset the cruise control for 77mph. Poor Ray thought there was a fire, and he let out a howl to rival even the most feral and in-heat of cats, so I motored along with both the A/C on and the front windows cracked.

My favorite part of the drive home is always when I make it over the top if the I-10 "high rise" in New Orleans East. You can't see the city until then, and so you climb and climb up this artificial hill (it's the only stationary bridge over the Industrial Canal), and then once you get to the top, there is the whole bowl of New Orleans all spread out before you. To the south, the lights on the Crescent City Connection dip and rise like Christmas lights strung between porch posts, and when the sun is setting--as it was when I drove in on Sunday--the Mississippi River undulates pink and orange and blue-Gulf-gray. I can remember seeing that view for the first time almost eleven years ago, how both my brother and I were like, "Holy shit," and my heart beat fast.

This time, I had a similar reaction, only my body wouldn't stop. My heart raced. My fingers tingled. I started to sweat from even my forearms, and I was sure I was about to either throw up or faint. The Franklin exit comes up quickly, so I begged my body to cooperate until I could exit the interstate. I drove the speed limit. I hung on.

At the bottom of the exit ramp, things felt better for a moment, and the cats, aware of the sudden stillness, started up with their cries. I had to get home. Had to had to.

On Franklin I saw dead tree limbs that'd been cleared from the road and piled onto the neutral ground. There was a power line down across from the home of a family who was all out gathered on the porch, the steps packed with sisters braiding brothers' hair. It was a typical Sunday picture, nothing much had changed.

When I finally got to the Judge Seaber (sp?) bridge, I looked left toward the back of town and saw the same canal walls that'd been on TV so much. The water'd gone down. On the lower-9 side of the bridge, I saw that Brad Pitt's houses had survived without a lick of damage--not a single solar panel was blown out. On Tennessee Street I took the potholes slow. I saw a big tree down just before Reynes. It'd already been cut up and its thick middle removed from the street. I passed by empty houses whose destruction was familiar, who had no new scars to show for Gustav. This made me sad for some reason.

As I passed the now-abandoned Holy Cross practice field, I saw black tar paper in peeled-back curls atop some of the old school buildings. I couldn't remember if this was new damage or old.

I turned onto Deslonde and saw that the CFLs on our front stoop were on. I was so shaky and vomitous-feeling when I pulled up by the house that I remember being very methodical: a) put in park; b) cut off ignition; c) open door; d) place one foot and then the other on the ground; e) retrieve cat carrier; f) go inside. Simon was unloading the back of his truck (he'd left an hour before me because his truck only goes 60), and Mr. Taylor was there, smiling, being our neighbor.

"How you derrin'?" he asked (this means "How you doin'," but people say "derrin" here).

"Oh, my nerves are shot," I said, the words falling out of me like I was drooling tacks.

"I'm tha same way," he said. "The same way."

I said to Simon, as low as I could, "I'm sick. I'll be inside." Then I went to the bathroom, stripped down naked, dry heaved, and took a cold shower.

I lay in bed for an hour before I felt better. Then Simon and I ate carry-out Mona's at our dining room table, only I didn't eat mine because it tasted sour and bad, like the hummus had been frozen and thawed too many times, the salad dressed in stale vinegar. We guessed their power had gone out, too.

I cracked open a beer from the freezer, and then took to the task of washing the few moldy spots that had grown in the fridge during the week we'd been without power. It was nothing, nothing, so bad as it was after Katrina, when the dried-up rice grains of coffin-fly carcasses peppered the refrigerator seals, when we had to have a group of roaming Scientologists help us carry the whole affair to the curb.

After dinner, Simon brought in more of our stuff: our art work, my wedding dress, the contents of our file cabinets, the new rug we'd bought at IKEA. I wanted Simon to take the boards off the windows and doors because it felt like we were living in a box, but there was too much else to do, and I was worthless for carrying stuff.

At one point, Simon came in and told me to come outside, he had to show me something. There, a tiny orange and white kitten was curled up on the sidewalk, cushioned by our ridiculous weeds. There were two more, Simon said, and a mama and dad-cat, too.

Later, Simon came in to tell me that he'd seen Mr. Washington from across the street. Mr. Washington said he'd gone up to stay at his house in Shreveport for the storm, but he'd been home already for days. "You seen that movie, that 'Alice in Wonderland'?" he asked Simon. "What's that the girl says in it? 'No place like home'?" Simon nodded and Mr. Washington went on, "I took that shit serious."

I guess that's really the best way to put it, too, isn't it? Here in New Orleans, we take this home shit serious.

And so--thank God--now we are home.

Still, on Monday I felt empty and all shook up. I "taught" if you can call it that, but it felt like I was tripping over thinking, over picking up chalk, over talking about "the importance of description in fiction writing." I put my writing workshop students to work on a craft exercise in "showing versus telling," and I asked them to use their five senses to show readers their evacuation experience. One student described the sight of "clouds moving faster than cars," another, the discomfort of her foot being "wedged between the gear shift and a crock pot." I shared the sound of "love bugs banging against the radiator" (a detail I don't remember, really, from my own evacuation, but I had to offer something, and there are the love bugs now--the love bugs everywhere, like there were ladybugs when I lived in Ohio and fireflies when I was growing up in Georgia, only lovebugs lack the charm of either, save their name.) There was, of course, lots of "sweaty skin sticking to the seat."

Later in the day I started to feel a bit more human. My friend Kim came by my office to bring me a copy of the textbook we'd worked on all summer. I flipped through it and felt vaguely proud, vaguely remembering that we were concerned about textbooks once. I told her about how sick I'd felt when I came home the night before. She said it was probably some weird form of relief, of release. As in, I'd seen the city, finally--all okay like I'd been told it was. But then there it really was, and all the stress I'd been holding in all week came flooding out. It was toxic, that stress, and so it made me sick. Sick like I'd eaten a bowl of "toxic gumbo".

On Monday night, after my Intro to the Short Story and Novel class (which went wonderfully, thank you bejesus), I went to the Parkview to have a beer with some of my school comrades. We shared stories of this storm. AC and Bill had gotten eaten by ticks while hiking in Tennessee. Jenni had begged her way into an overpriced hotel after 18 hours of driving. Joseph and Amanda had weathered the storm in Baton Rouge, which turned out to be a mistake, and so they returned to New Orleans on Thursday to sit in the still heat of their own home, at the very least. We all talked about watching TV, about how the reporters got their geography wrong, how someone actually, for real, used that blasted Katrina-phrase again: "toxic gumbo." Then we laughed some and seemed generally glad to be home again (although we all seemed still to be doing a bit of sleep-walking, to be grinding our teeth).

I slept for ten hours Monday night, and on Tuesday and Wednesday I began--slowly--to feel human again.

Now I am sitting in my office, and outside the winds of Hurricane Ike--still two days from Texas--are whipping the leaves of the banana trees so they look like raggedy combs. I know that at home the wind chime is making so much noise that all the cats--Carrot Soup, White Stockings, Sammo, and the still-intact, still-kicking Miss Stripeypants are all huddled beneath the porch. I read on Jeff Master's weather blog that Ike will have surge bigger than Katrina's, and that there's already 5 feet of surge in the Industrial Canal.

But tonight I can't look at no stinkin' flooding in no stinkin' canal.

Tonight I will go to the neighborhood association meeting. Then I have a Ben and Jerry's ice cream cake party to attend at Markey's bar. Then I think I might just keep it going at Vaughn's, since I'm feeling like me again, finally, and since I am home, dammit, and since I, too, take that shit serious.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Heading Home...

Here's another piece in the Times-Pic on the nightmarish evacuation and re-entry that some experienced, and yet another from WWL-TV on the concerns of our clown/mayor that residents may not leave (should we be asked to) in advance of Ike.

We head home today. As we hug the necks of our hosts, we will hope not to see them again any time soon--not because we don't love them, but because we need Ike to leave us alone.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Preparing to Return to Our Home of Uncertainty...

Yesterday our good friend Adam called from Holy Cross. He was standing outside our house, where he confirmed the reports of several other friends: all is well. There were several cars on the street, and the drone of a generator provided the afternoon soundtrack. Mr. Taylor sent a hello to us from his porch, where he was seeking relief from the heat in his home. Was there anything we could bring him when we returned from Atlanta, Simon asked (via Adam)?
"Yeah. A generator and a case of Heinekken."

"That could get expensive," Simon said. "How about we bring you one or the other?"

"Okay, then bring me a generator so I can keep my Heinekken cold."

Yes, the power was--and is still--out in our neighborhood. In other areas, electricity has been coming on fast. On Twitter, a friend posted, "all sitting in the dark and stuff and woof! The power comes on."

I remember how that happened all the time when we returned after Katrina. We'd be just settling in to have no power for several hours (again), and then it'd startle us when it returned.
Being home right after that storm (I feel like I can't call it "The Storm" anymore, now that there's Gustav) had an adventure-ness to it. We cooked on our Coleman stove with the doors and windows open. We drove to friends' houses to take showers. We talked about where we'd been, who we'd lost, and how we hoped the city would move on. At night, when the power went out, we emerged from our houses onto our stoops and watched the moon turn slate rooftops silver. Or at least this is how my memory colors it now, and that's probably just because this time around I am much less enthused about returning to the outages, to the heat, and to the iffy future.

In Atlanta I've been playing Auntie Sarah. Auntie Sarah has the mojo when it comes to her nephew. She sings him R&B songs about "nekkid time" when she changes his diaper. She puts his ass to sleep, like pronto. Auntie Sarah loves being Auntie Sarah. She'll miss it when she goes back to New Orleans tomorrow.

I've also been trolling the internet for any kind of useful news and finding none. has posted an "Entergy updates" page which tell me nothing specific about my neighborhood. Today it says that all of Orleans Parish should have power by tomorrow, but it said the same thing of Saturday two days ago. I hope Adam will return to Holy Cross to give me updates.

In the meantime I have gotten a message from my employer that reports that they are "excited" that power has been restored to the UNO campus, and then, "You must report to work at 8 a.m. on Monday, September 8th." Is it too much to expect my employer to acknowledge our not having power yet--too much to ask the Chancellor to express some gratitude for my returning without A/C, hot water, or refrigeration? Or am I being a whiner?

Also in the meantime: Hurricane Ike watching. New Orleans is now in Ike's "Cone of Uncertainty" (or "Cone of Error"). I feel like that would be a better name for this blog: "Blog of Uncertainty," especially now that I am realizing that I'm writing in a post-K and post-G era, not just a post-K one.

I worry that folks won't evacuate if we stay this way--in the path of Ike--after having had such a hard time evacuating for Gustav. Here, in fact, is an editorial about what many see as a botched evacuation:

...The girl from across the street just came over. Her cat died last night and she wants to see ours... My next post may be from New Orleans, my home of uncertainty.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Evacuation Continues...

We are still here (living in my parents' basement in Atlanta). The cats are pissed. We are homesick and bored. And yet... none of this is as bad as sitting in a hot house with no power. We did that for many, many days after we returned from our Katrina evacuation, and we were "fine" with it then (relatively speaking), but then we'd been living in my parents' basement for six weeks then. So much was different then.

Yes, the power is still out at home. Here, we've been eating a lot, drinking nice cold beers, giving love to our nephew, and generally being spoiled while we wait. Because we've had friends check on the house, we really don't feel any sense of urgency to get back, although I have begun to feel the homesickness creep in, big time, especially as our friends who live Uptown start to return and report their happy homecomings via Facebook.

I don't have any faith that we will have power any time soon, and both Simon and I are feeling that our having moved to the other side of the Industrial Canal has everything to do with it. We are geographically separated from the city. In fact, our geographic neighbors are the residents of St. Bernard Parish, where power is also entirely out, and where the parish president has called the lack of electricity the biggest obstacle to recovery. Entergy has acknowledged (see first link) that geographic isolation is a big problem in restoring electricity. So as you might imagine, we are not at all encouraged to learn that St. Bernard is not promised power until September 15th.

Tomorrow: generator shopping.

We DO NOT have "generator money" budgeted, and so we'll pull from our savings in order to buy what we imagine will become a necessary, uh, "appliance" in our Lower Ninth Ward home. Our employers are expecting us to return to work on Monday, and we don't know how we can do so (sanely--since it promises to be a very challenging return) without having a good hot shower and a cool room to sleep in. I know people do this, but

Lest you think we're a bunch of whiners, may I remind you that New Orleans averages temps in the mid-nineties this time of year--and humidity levels are darn near the same. Thank goodness, then, for the cool(ish) Atlanta September, and for my parents' willingness to put up with us... Thank you five million times, Mom. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

On Relief and Not Being Ready for "Re-Entry"

About five beers in, and after hearing at least a dozen erroneous references to "levee overtopping in the Lower Ninth Ward" by reporters on CNN, I cooked up some evacuation steaks, had a silent dinner with my family, and went to bed before nine-thirty. I slept for twelve hours, woke up, slept long enough to have a dream about struggling to synchronize swim, and got up, feeling much, much, more human today.

By now it's clear that the city avoided the worst. We still don't know exactly what has happened to our house, but we feel largely relieved about the impact Gustav had on New Orleans. Simon says he hopes the only result is that the wind pulled down the dead limbs from our backyard live oak--the ones that have been tangled up in themselves ever since Katrina. I joked that I hoped it mowed our lawn, too.

We have heard from several friends, and it seems that this storm has inspired a lot of writing... from Ken Foster, another resident of Holy Cross, comes this story in the St. Louis Beacon. Two friends blogged: Tara Jill Ciccarone began this Gustav-blog (from the city, itself), and our neighbor Ariane (who's pictured helping us board up in a previous entry) posted these thoughts on her friend's blog. In fact, there's a whole wonderful network of New Orleans bloggers, many of whom have been sending regular and blessedly accurate accounts via Twitter. I learned about this Gustav-related entry from another New Orleans blogger via those Twitter posts...

I've been grateful for the comments from some BBC-viewers on this blog. I love my mom, and all, but it's much easier to devote time to the sometimes-difficult task of writing when it's more than just your mom reading. So thank you for the well-wishes, all!

Today we have heard this good news from a friend who stayed:

"All -

I made a trip down to Holy Cross this morning (stayed in town during the storm) and am happy to report that the neighbor is in good shape.

Some limbs down, a lot of leaves and debris. But no trees fell on houses.

The only damage I saw was a collapsed house in the 4900 block of Burgundy - it had been framed but was not clad. There was another in the 700 block of Flood which had been framed and not clad and collapsed. Another house in the 700 block of Flood - a cottage near the corner of Burgundy on a big lot - looked like the side wall had fallen

I checked on the houses of Greta Gladney, PRC, Sarah Debacher and Simon hand, Ken Foster, David Whaley, Ann Schexsnyder, Katie and Jason, Rashida Ferdinand, John Washington, Emil Dumesnil, MArna, David Fields, Kevin Mercadel and did not see problems anywhere."

The mayor has asked that no one return yet, and while I hear from our friend Terrence (via text message) that he's "going crazy" and "can't wait to go home," we feel very much like we can wait on the re-entry. The prospect of returning to a house with no power or air-conditioning is bad enough, but we also have to unpack our belongings, re-hang our art, and re-enter our real lives. We're not ready to do any of this right now. We both feel like yesterday was a week ago, and two days ago, a lifetime. And--like someone who's lived a lifetime--we feel tired, tired, tired. We want rocking chairs and beers. We want more time to recover (emotionally) from the evacuation, even though we evidently will not need to repair any real physical damage. Luckily neither Simon nor I have to return to work until Monday. Luckily we have a comfortable and free place to stay. So we plan to take at least another day to repair our fragile nerves before making the trek back home.

Today I stayed away from the internet and the TV, which helped. I spent time holding and rocking my six-month-old nephew. I napped with my cats. I allowed myself to believe that we were a-okay because I really, really needed to feel that way for a moment. And then, when I logged on and learned from Stephanie that we really are, I was mightily relieved.

Off to bed. I'm not setting no stinkin' alarm. I'll re-enter this evacuation phase when my body and dreaming head are good and ready. Until then, good night...

Monday, September 01, 2008

Water in the Industrial Canal

This video is taken at the Claiborne Avenue bridge, looking north. (The bridge you see that's down is the Florida Avenue bridge).

We don't have a gate to protect the canal as they do at London Ave, 17th Street, Harvey, etc. When their gates go down, there's less area to relieve water pressure in the Industrial Canal. Also, as I have said before, the fact that the useless debacle that is the MR-GO has yet to be closed (even after congressional approval, and THREE YEARS after its surge took the lives of hundreds of New Orleans residents) makes residents currently living near the Industrial Canal (unforgivably) vulnerable to excessive flooding.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but one does have to wonder: if the residents of the Lower and Upper Ninth wards (north of St. Claude) were not lower-middle class black Americans, but were instead wealthy white Uptowners, would the sense of urgency be greater? Would the work move more quickly?

If you examine the areas of concentrated recovery efforts so far, post-K (and I should find a graphic to support this, as I'm sure there is one), you'll find that the Corps' recovery efforts have been focused not on the most vulnerable areas first, but on the areas where the wealth is. (God Bless America.)

Just so you know, I live where the wealth is. Mine's not a wealthy neighborhood (far from it... the construction of the Industrial Canal effectively guaranteed that by cutting Holy Cross off), but as with all areas in New Orleans, the concentration of wealth is greater the closer you get to the river. Simon and I live on high ground, next to a secure earthen levee. My house did not flood in either Betsy or Camille--storms that led to deaths in the "back-of-town" side of the Lower Ninth Ward. So we knew to expect some flooding from Gustav...

It really is better that I stay away from the TV. The national guys don't seem to know the difference between the east and west sides of the canal. Our local boys, thank goodness, do. This local info (from makes me feel a little better:

"Waves are crashing over the Industrial Canal walls in the direction of the Ninth Ward. The walls are holding solid at this time and the water going over the walls is not flooding homes. An Army Corps spokesperson said they expect the walls to hold."

My mom has returned from the store with beer. Simon is tearing apart the truck, looking for our toiletries. I'm going to have a beer and shower, in whatever order is convenient to more news and information-prowling...

New Post from Fellow NOLA Blogger


Video of Water in the Industrial Canal

"The biggest problem we are having at the moment," according to Nagin, is here:

Oh, no.

We live near here. The waterway that runs perpendicular to the Mississippi River is the Industrial Canal.

I have just heard (on FOX 8 news, of all places) that the surge is overtopping the Industrial Canal levee walls. Evidently it's on the western side, which means folks in the Upper Ninth Ward will be getting water.

Our improved levee on the east side is holding. I think.

I need to be careful not to allow the TV news-folks get me all worked up... Especially since I am on essentially no sleep.

This Really IS Deja-Vu...

I didn't sleep but an hour or so. The cats were busy establishing their territory in my parents' basement. Simon is passed out. I have been watching TV with my dad, and I am relieved to learn that things don't seem as bad as had been predicted.

But then again, we had a moment like this after Katrina. We thought we'd dodged the bullet. So no celebrating until tomorrow, when we can be sure the levees have held. Let's hope that the Industrial Canal can weather the barge-beating, too (talk about deja-vu):

Here's the link to WWL 870 a.m. Click on "Listen Live." It's got way better coverage than CNN or the Weather Channel, although I will admit that I do like me some Anderson Cooper, especially when he's all windblown and standing on Chartres Street in the Quarter, next to landmarks I know. And who can resist the hilarity of Jim Cantore in his blue parka, screaming even in the thinnest of breezes.

14 Hours Later

It's 2:39 a.m. and we have just arrived in Atlanta after a fourteen hour trip (ordinarily I make the trip in seven hours). The four cats are prowling around in my parents' basement, smelling everything, poufing up. I am having a glass of red wine, although GAWD I wanted a cold, cold beer, and then I remembered that you can't buy alcohol on Sunday in this godforsaken state. The wine is making my teeth feel chalky.

I'm on edge.

Yesterday seems like a week ago. After the trip to the Northshore to pick up our dining table and after the boarding up, I gave several interviews to the BBC. Simon was annoyed with me, I think. Here he was--securing yard debris, putting stuff in the attic and taking memorabilia and files down, and here I was--yakking about what it's like to be evacuating. I was asked twice if it all felt "a bit like deja vu," which I guess is a logical question, to which the presumptive answer is "yes."

But the answer is no. This time didn't feel anything like last time, or the time before that (Ivan), or the time before that (Dennis), or the time before that (Iris), or the time before that (Georges). I've lived in New Orleans for ten years, but none of the evacuations has ever felt this... this... BAD. In my interviews, I remembered to mention the failure of the federal levees as the reason for the devastation wrought by Katrina. And that failure (and its aftermath--the fodder for this blog) is what makes this time feel so different.

Also, I am a homeowner and not a renter this time. I mean, I don't guess that ownership is the real difference--it's more the process of finding our home; Of working through the long renovation process; Of eating (or not eating), sleeping (or not sleeping), and breathing (or smoking) that house for months upon months and then moving in, and then having to leave.

Last night, after our friends left our very short and not all that relaxing "clean out the 'fridge" BBQ, Simon and I packed in earnest. I packed enough clothes for a six-week stay. I made sure to bring interviewing clothes, just in case I'd have to find a new job. I packed art, photos, journals, letters, and my wedding dress. Then I showered and checked in with the 1:00 am update, and there was the technicolor swirl on the screen. There was the grimmest of predictions: 21 feet of storm surge; catastrophic flooding.

I was waiting for a BBC interview that would air on their live morning program, but I was so spent and emotionally overwrought that Simon thought I should turn off the phone. When he asked me if I was okay, I started to cry, hard and snotty. "We're going to lose our house," I said. Then I turned off my phone. Then I turned it back on.

We slept. I woke at seven. I was worried about getting out. On the news they were talking contraflow. They showed pictures of the I-10, blocked for miles and miles. Then the Dawn Brown said it was important to get a move on before the weather conditions started to deteriorate.

Down the street, Tasha was packing her truck on her own. Her son Ejean played a tie whistle on the stairs. She kept yelling at him. She asked us for rope. Simon said he'd leave some if we had any left. It was already 11:30 by then. I'd already had another hard cry. "I think we're going to lose our house," I told Simon. He nodded and then hugged and shushed me.

I kept thinking of more things I wanted to bring. Outside our pile grew: next to my car was the pile that had to stay dry. In Simon's was the stuff that could get rained on. The sky was turning gray already, and there was a stiff breeze. I worried. How stiff could the breeze get without lifting our roof off? Simon wanted to put more things in the attic, but I had too many windblown movie images in my head--of roof tiles flaking off like fish scales. We compromised and moved things to high shelves in our closets. I made signs that read, "Hand Family Caravan" and taped them to our rear windows so people would know not to separate us if we got into a wrong lane in the contraflow.
The cats were the hardest part. The last time we took Ray--our post-Katrina kitty--on a trip in the car, he pushed himself against the cage so hard that he rubbed of patches of fur and bloodied his tiny nose. I put him in a harness. The effect was paralyzing. He sort of sat there on the bed, looking worried, wondering what that harness meant. Anna went relatively cheerfully into her carrier. Both Sammo and Georgie required heartbreaking pushing and prying. (Later we gave them breaks, although stressed out animals, I've discovered, do not want to eat, drink, or use the bathroom. They want to sit on your lap and be reassured.)
And then we had to leave Miss Stripeypants, Sammo's sidekick. She's a feral cat who's part of the SPCA's "Catch and Release Program," which we figured out on account of two things: her notched ear and her running away even after we've just fed her fancy organic cat food (peas and duck, Miss Stripeypants! Peas. And. Duck.)

I'd bought a 16-pound bag of Friskies. I opened the top and put it on top of a cabinet on our raised porch. I measured the water line from Katrina to make sure it was high enough. Then I left two big bowls of fresh water and opened several small bottles of water that I figured she could tip over to drink if she needed to. She eyed me warily from under the porch. I blew her a kiss and moved on.

As we drove away, Tasha approached. She wanted to know where we were going. "To hell," I joked (as anyone in New Orleans knows that evacuating is its own special kind of hell.) When I told her we were really going to my parents' house, she said, "Oh, mother! Well that really is hell!" Ejean in the background looked like he might feel the same. He looked worried--like why is my mom packing everything, everything, everything and letting it get so late and leaving me here on the steps with this damn whistle when I know very well what's going on even if I was only two during Katrina? She told us to be careful. She said, "I hope it doesn't flood this time." I told her there was some extra rope on the side steps. She thanked us and we left.

The streets were empty. When we got to Franklin and I-10, the traffic I'd seen the day before was gone. We stopped to ask a cop if we should go that way. We wanted to get to I-10, but we'd heard they weren't letting anyone go on to I-10 past I-12. The map indicated that we'd get forced on to I-59, heading north. The cop shrugged. We decided to follow Mark's route. He'd headed up Causeway, then to highway 190 to I-12 to I-10 east. He reported it was smooth sailing. It sort of was.

There was, in fact, a lot of traffic that came in strange bursts apropos of nothing. There were no accidents to inspire rubbernecking or anything; you'd just be going 60 miles-per-hour one minute and then 15 the next. When it was slow I texted friends. "Dear Friends," I wrote. "Simon and I are creeping toward ATL with cats and wedding pics in tow. We hope to return to NOLA soon. In the meantime, please keep in touch, wherever you may be... XOXO SARAH." Jenn texted back that she'd been 15 hours en route to Birmingham, where she and her four dogs were not "hot and deeelerious" in a cramped hotel room. Dave took 12 to get to Arkansas. Adam and Ashley were in St. Petersburg, Florida. Scott and family: Memphis.

We (the Hand Family Caravan) mostly listened to WWL-AM 870 and called each other. On the radio, people called in all day to bitch about "contraband" (contraflow). Those who'd taken the route we very nearly did--I-59--were in "a parking lot." You could hear the frustration and anger. The southbound lanes were empty, but no one was moving. The exits had been closed. There was no place to use the bathroom or to get gas or a cold drink. Later, a woman from Uptown called to say that "someone should be held accountable" for the fact that she'd been in her car for thirteen hours and hadn't made it to Hattiesburg yet. Simon called me and asked if I'd heard the reports of gridlock on I-59 and we thanked our lucky stars we'd not gone that way. "We're charmed," he said. I wouldn't call fourteen hours for a seven hour trip a "charmed" journey, but we are here and safe, and even if I can't sleep and have wine-tooth, I am grateful we have a place to go.

Tomorrow we will watch TV, which is probably not a good idea, but what else can we do now that we are here and not there and our home is weathering the storm (we hope... we hope...) and our city is taking another sucker-punch to the gut (we hope not). In intend to stay sane. I was a rotten mess sometimes after Katrina...

(Also, I'll add some pictures to this post.)

Thank you to the readers who heard me on the BBC and who have offered support and wellwishes, by the way. Thank you for helping me to stay motivated to write about all of this, too... (We'll see how long THAT lasts!)