Oh When the Saints ….

I arrived in New Orleans with a general curiosity as to what life was going to be like in the Crescent City. I’ve heard stories from friends and neighbors about the crazy night life and the amazing art and music scene, but I knew I had to experience the city firsthand to understand why it’s considered a natural treasure. 

And, naturally, anyone traveling there today has to wonder about life Post Katrina. Has the city recovered? Is the damage noticeable? How are the locals recovering?

While driving in from the airport, I searched for visual signs of wreckage. The Super Dome looked fine, so did Canal Street. In the French Quarter it seemed like everything was back to normal — on a surface level, that is — with cabs, restaurants, hotels, tourists, all running and available like in any other city.

A walk down Bourbon Street’s main drag, and it felt like I stepped into Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island. Fluorescent signs advertise “DRINKS! NUDE! ALL NIGHT!” as people wandered from bar to bar, sipping cocktails and holding each other up so they don’t tip over. Seems like any other night, I thought.

The balconies that overlook the streets, spill over with tropical plants and lounge chairs. Storm shutters protect the locals inside from the street level sins. An open window and I get a glimpse of their world: the antique chairs, the grand chandliers, the Southern decadent lifestyle. The garden parties, the dinner parties, the Mardi Gras festivities. 

The more time spent wandering the streets and talking to locals, and the farther I travel away from the French Quarter, the more I noticed what hasn’t been fixed … and those things that probably never will be. The boarded up homes, the leftover FEMA tarps, the water damage, the closed businesses.

“Some things have recovered,” says the young man who works at the hotel where I’m staying. “But it’ll take time before everything’s back to normal.” 

Like many of the locals, he shares his story about Katrina with a sense of pride. He explains how he stayed behind with his father to wage the storm and to protect their home. Once the storm passed, he waded through deep waters and commandered a boat. Then the two of them paddled down Canal Street looking for other survivors and observed the wreckage, doing the work local and national officials ignored to do. 

Eventually, he says, they got to Interstate 10 and flagged down a school bus that was transporting people to Baton Rouge. They even helped load others onto the bus, including a woman and her 5 children. She caught “the Holy Spirit” once on board, he said, blessing everyone and everything until she couldn’t breathe anymore.

These are the heroes overlooked by the media. The every day man just trying to survive but still willing to take the time to help each other, I think to myself.

This is a New Orleans saint, I realize. And I’m sure, no matter what, he’ll keep marching on!

 

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8 thoughts on “Oh When the Saints ….

  1. What a beautiful essay, Ryan! Wow! I’ve never been to N.O. but I feel I just traveled there as I read your post.

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  2. What a great story paying homage to a great city. I was able to visit New Orleans pre-Katrina and one of the things that struck me the most about this city is its pride. I can imagine that now that pride is even stronger and more evident. Sure everyone gives kudos to Harry Connick Jr, Brad Pitt and other celebrities who have helped the city but the real heroes or “saints” are those that are living it and dealing with it even now.

    Most people think of this town as a party city but it is so much more than that. Thanks for sharing your story and I look forward to reading many more.

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  3. What a nice way to start the week. I have never been to NO but your words are a nice view into a great city. They got hit hard…hopefully time will heal NO

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  4. Wow Ryan, That was an impressive entry! I appreciate that you looked at the natural, unimportant man! Their stories are usually some of the greatest! Thanks for sharing, mate@!

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  5. Get out of the quarter as much as possible. I’ve been back twice in the last three months and absolutely love that town. Get over to the magazine and garden district. Eat, eat, and talk with as many people as you can. They all have stories and all are worth listening to. I enjoyed reading your posting. Happy and safe travels.

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  6. fantastic writing. my daughter was in college at lafayette during katrina. they took in hundreds of refugees there. i think it was that experience that caused her to transfer to a college in a different state. we’ll be in louisiana this week, natchitoches (where they filmed “steel magnolias”). it is a beautiful state. and it’s a true shame what has happened there. thank you for illustrating the spirit of those who are working to make it beautiful again.

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  7. Enjoyed the essay Ryan! I left New Orleans 8/28/05 for Katrina with my dog & 2 cats and headed to stay with my son in Florida. I lived in St. Bernard Parish where I had over 14′ of water at my house.

    New Orleans had been my home for over 20 years when Katrina struck. I was born & raised in Houston, but moved to the Big Easy because that city would call me in my sleep. Everything about it had my name written on all over it. I loved living there because, as you are learning, people in New Orleans are so unique and loyal. As an outsider moving to the city without knowing a soul, it was tough getting acceptance, because outsiders are shunned in the beginning, until they start to “get it”. You know when you’re finally accepted as you use their language, play by their rules and “know where you got your shoes”. If you haven’t learned that one yet, good luck to you, my friend!

    Anyway, New Orleans definitely moves at it’s own pace – slow. For all the wonderful things New Orleans offers, I can probably come up with an equal list of things that New Orleans does/doesn’t do that pisses me off. Even Katrina couldn’t wash away this city’s stubborness.

    I still cry when I go back to visit. It’s raw all over again when I drive through my old neighborhood. I have been forever changed by living through all the crap that New Orleans’ dished out – but I’m thankful and proud to have once called it home.

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  8. I have lived in California and southern Louisiana. L.A. is like you said, so fast paced. Southern Louisiana is like stepping back in time and the people are the best I have ever met! They are totally laid back people with the sweetest mannerisms of any that I have ever met! I went to Mardi Gras in 2004. I am so grateful to have experienced that. The music, the food, the spirits both drinkable and ghostable, the street entertainers, etc. at the French Quarter are all awesome. Thanks Ryan for allowing me to relive that wonderful year of my life with fresh memories. Next time visit the bayous, Avery Island (check out the gators) and plantations of New Iberia area and be sure to have a fried crawfish po’boy sandwich!

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