Since Hurricane Katrina, no other writer has tapped into the emotions of storm-weary Louisianans like Rose. His first post-hurricane column, "Who We Are," introduced the rest of the world to displaced south Louisiana residents with a mix of sincerity, humor and gratitude that resonated so deeply it sparked more than 3,000 e-mails to Rose.
And the avalanche of reader response hasn't slowed down. As a result of the 50-plus columns he's written since Aug. 29, Rose has received more than 10,000 e-mails from around the world. "It's uncomfortable for me to talk about, because I entered a realm I did not seek," Rose says via cell phone while taking a break from painting his house in New Orleans. "In the early days [after the hurricane], I just got on my bike and started riding around Uptown through the Garden district, the French Quarter and [Faubourg] Marigny, and I fell into this surrealistic chronicle. And everybody here had a story. I just sort of became the emotional flashpoint for everyone's stories. There's the sensory overload of it and then the emotional fallout of this thing."
For longtime readers of The Times-Picayune, reading Rose's recent work is akin to witnessing a remarkable artistic transformation. In the last decade, Rose had settled into a comfortable groove as the paper's gossip/entertainment columnist. He covered Britney Spears relentlessly, interviewed visiting celebrities in a "Sixty-Second Interview" format, and chronicled the boom of Hollywood films using New Orleans as a prime shooting location. His columns were mostly light, with plenty of one-liners, and whenever a superstar like Jamie Foxx got into trouble while carousing in the Crescent City, Rose provided all the tabloid details.
But Rose was part of a remarkable team of Times-Picayune reporters who provided some of the most important and compelling journalism in the wake of the hurricane. As Editor Jim Amoss temporarily moved the paper's base of operations to Houma and Baton Rouge in the immediate wake of the storm, Rose huddled in New Orleans with an unlikely group of colleagues that included New Orleans Saints beat writer Jeff Duncan, art critic Doug MacCash, music writer Keith Spera and restaurant critic Brett Anderson to provide a ground-level view of the chaos in the city. That exhausted crew of sports and arts-and-entertainment writers helped catalog some of the horrors at sites like the Convention Center and Lakeview.
When the immediate danger subsided, Rose was left to ponder the emotional blackness that filled so much of New Orleans. And he did it alone, as his wife and three children had evacuated to Maryland. In one stretch, he wrote a number of columns that painfully captured the psyche of the city with searing details. "The Storm that Keeps on Killing" detailed the suicide of a new neighbor he'd just met a few weeks before the man killed himself; "1 Dead in Attic" was a harrowing travelogue of sorts that found Rose driving through the Ninth Ward, unable to escape the questions and images that plagued his mind when he saw FEMA markings such as "1 Dead in Attic" on houses.
"As time went on, I became a little unglued there," remembers Rose. "That dark stretch there, I started getting e-mails from strangers asking, 'Are you OK?' I just hit an emotional note over and over and over. People were reading about levees and looting and reconstruction and FEMA, and in the end a lot of them seemed to be getting a visceral feel for what's going on in my columns. The whole process gave me a deep and profound understanding and respect for mental illnesses. I spent a lot of November and December with shaking hands and curled into a fetal position. I couldn't will myself out of it. When my kids came back [to New Orleans], I got cured. I needed to have something to hang onto.
"What kept me going is the response from the stories," he continues. "The stories were getting out there, not only here in town, and I felt like I was part of the lifeline for folks out of town. Those e-mails make me feel like I'm doing something important."
As numerous Louisiana political and editorial writers experienced a renewed sense of civic engagement and took on politicians and politics-as-usual with fury and emotion, Rose also headed into new personal and professional territory. In another one of his memorable columns, "Lurch Lessons," he described an unexpected confrontation in a drugstore parking lot:
"I was at my local Circle K the other day, sitting in my car in a borderline catatonic state when I witnessed a guy in a truck in the parking lot wadding up a ball of trash and throwing it out his window," he wrote. "I have silently witnessed this sight a million times over the past 20 years. On Broad Street, on Magazine Street, in the French Quarter, everywhere. It's almost like litter is a part of our heritage.
"Well, I snapped. I got out of my car and approached the offending vehicle and I tapped on the guy's window. During my walk to said vehicle, a very loud voice inside my head said to me: Don't do this. You are not well. It's none of your business. But there are lots of voices in my head these days â?¦
"We looked at each other. And then I said ' or maybe I screamed: 'You can't do this anymore!' â?¦ The guy was frozen in his seat. He was no doubt wishing he had gone to Winn-Dixie or the Stop-and-Go or anyplace else but this Circle K. But here we were. I laid it out on this poor sap. I said, 'We've got to change. We can't go back to the way we were and the way we were was people just throwing crap in the streets like it doesn't matter. We need to do better. We need to change.' â?¦
"There is no lesson here," wrote Rose. "No moral. Other than we have to erase all the bad things we used to do around here ' big and small ' if we want to survive. We need to be civil. We need to be clean. We need to change. We need to respect ourselves and our city."
While Rose half-jokes that he "got a little preachy there for a while" in some of his columns, he knows that old journalism models won't cut it in post-Katrina New Orleans. "This whole thing has tossed out the notion of objective journalism," he says. "We're fighting for the survival of our jobs and our city."
As New Orleans and Louisiana tries to keep that message alive in Washington, D.C., Rose will help beat the drum with the release of his new book, 1 Dead in Attic, a collection of his finest post-Katrina columns. The first printing of the book is 7,500 copies and will be available at Rose's Web site (www.chrisrosebooks.com) and his book signings. "There have already have been [Katrina] books, but I think what I've got here is something others don't, which is immediacy," he says. "It wasn't ruminated over. I went out, did it, and wrote it. It has an emotional edge that no one else is going to capture and I thought it was a worthy literary component to this whole ordeal. Historically, it tells a small story, but it's emotional, and I think people want to have and remember that."
Local and state agents Thursday night raided The Keg, the popular college bar located in the area known as The Strip, leading to the (at least) temporary closure of the venue.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, April 18, 2014:
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
C & C Technologies, HIT Fitness, R3 Sciences, the Acadiana Symphony Association and the United Way of Acadiana recognized for innovation.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
The Acadiana Symphony Orchestra has decided to end its traditional Independence Day spectacular known as Red White & Boom.
Under the deal, Teche shareholders would get 1.162 shares of IberiaBank for each share of Teche stock.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.
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Dave Perkins, LCG Comp Plan honored along with local architects and designers at the 2014 INDesign Awards
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Longtime Lafayette retailer ventures online.
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Regional bank bids farewell to Downtown May 30
ABiz takes a look back at the most noteworthy moments for the local banking industry over the last year.
Most experts say short-term interest rates will be unchanged through 2014, but long-term rates are inching up.
Largest recruitment event in Acadiana returns May 21 to the Cajundome Convention Center
A lawyer’s ad should only be a starting point, as there is much more to consider when seeking quality representation.
Thanks to the inaugural 2012 INNOV8, a design for lifting heavy objects was brought to market.
The annual juried competition recognizes excellence in architecture, interior design and historic preservation in Lafayette and the five surrounding parishes.
Cypress Bayou GM hosts open house.
New hires, promotions, transfers in Acadiana business
The scion of a landmark Four Corners restaurant climbs back into Lafayette’s culinary scene as franchisee for a popular burger chain.