New Orleans is gone.
I left it behind me on Saturday, with my two kids in the backseat, the soundtrack to Shrek on the CD player. My wife, a pediatrician, was on call for the weekend and stayed behind.
She joined us in Acadiana on Sunday evening after a harrowing odyssey along the southern route of Highway 90, driving without her glasses or a cell phone, our three cats roaming in the back of a shaky Volvo.
Together that night, we watched the same show that all who'd gotten out were watching. The straight line for our city. The familiar "Cat-4" and "Cat-5." And for those of us who thought we'd seen this before, the much-hoped-for right turn.
It didn't matter. It hit. Even those who could read the tea leaves in John McPhee's The Control of Nature or John Barry's Rising Tide, or who had seen the diagrams of a bowl-shaped city, are in disbelief. New Orleans is gone, along with the newspaper where I work, the home where I live, my kids' beloved school, my neighborhood sno-ball stand, my neighborhood anything.
On The Times-Picayune's Web site and on cable news, I see my former home's dark and distorted reflection: submerged rooftops; a battered Superdome filled with the desperate; looters grabbing guns and VCRs and racks of shirts; a house scrawled in red with "diabetic inside"; the breach in the levee.
The future is recited: a bowl of toxic stew. The gas, the sewage, the dead.
On the local news shows in south Louisiana, the crawl beneath the picture lists statewide evacuation centers in Rayne and Opelousas, and announces that "Evacuees in need of dialysis should call ..." Above these details are shots of aerial superheroes in short red jumpsuits or head-to-toe military green, alighting on rooftops and loading old women and little boys in wire baskets for their ride out.
Scan along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and it's tragedy and timber. A man holds his two boys. "I can't find my wife," he tells the reporter. "Our house split in two."
This is all via TV. Direct information is harder to come by. Cell phones aren't working; contact with others is haphazard. I haven't been able to talk with my publisher yet. But this morning, my wife reached her boss. This is a man who embodies the New Orleans peculiarly dark joie de vivre to such an extent that he dressed as the tsunami for this year's Mardi Gras.
On the phone, he was blunt. "I don't know if we're going to have a practice to come back to," he said. "What families will return to the city with their children?"
Other cities are mightier. Los Angeles, Chicago, New York. But New Orleans is where I wanted to make my home.
I first hitchhiked to the city as a college dropout who wanted to hear jazz and see Mardi Gras. The ride I got was with a preacher who warned me about sin and temptation. Just like every drunk tourist on Bourbon Street, that's exactly what I was looking for.
Soon after, I heard zydeco and followed the blast of brass bands on the streets, and started writing about musicians who seemed like magicians, the way they could conjure a mood. I even covered Hurricane Andrew, drove straight toward it, fueled by recklessness and a USA Today day rate.
For the past 20 years, I have moved in and out of New Orleans. This last time, the roots buried deep: job, house, family, school. Early notions of the city of good times were tempered by the closer looks at poverty, illiteracy and crime I obtained as editor of the city's alternative weekly. Being a parent in the public school system brought me even closer. Long before the rain started, New Orleans was a troubled city.
But it's still the hallowed ground of Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong, of Mardi Gras and jazz funerals that send off the dead with "Didn't He Ramble?" Of lesser-known purveyors of high spirits in bleak houses. I love New Orleans more than I've ever loved a particular place.
Most recently, I loved my neighborhood. Every morning, friends passed by our corner on their way to school. We'd hurry up tying our shoes to join them.
Of the thousands who evacuated to the towns surrounding Lafayette, a handful are from my street. We fled on the buddy system and hooked up when we got here. We've met for pizza and seen ourselves in each other, and we've drawn some comfort from that.
Now, as the TV news reports rising floodwaters and worse, it is becoming more difficult to speak to each other about our plans and how long we can hold on.
I haven't told you about Katy Reckdahl. She's a staff writer I hired a couple years back, and she writes about the hardest-hit citizens of New Orleans, including those who put themselves on the trigger side of a gun. She cares about all kinds of people. She knows this city better than most, and I am better for having worked with her.
On Saturday, when I was driving my kids out, she was having her first child, a boy, in Touro Infirmary.
Last I heard, they were moving people from floor to floor in Touro and will now be evacuating them, along with others stranded in hospitals with no air conditioning and sealed windows, generators running out of gas.
Where is Katy?
At The Times-Picayune's Web site, stories like mine pile on top of each other. Looking for grandfather. Want to hear from my friend. What do you know?
It's harder to access pleas that aren't online.
Meanwhile, the TV stations traffic in comparisons: a war zone, Hiroshima, the tsunami, a third-world refugee camp, 9/11. I try not to think like that, but Woody Guthrie's Dust Bowl ballads keep coming to mind. He wrote them about another time when the forces of man and nature sent refugees into America: "So long, it's been good to know you."
As I write, what's left of New Orleans is being swallowed up. Gov. Kathleen Blanco ' whose maternal concern has helped me through each day ' is removing the last of us from the flooding city. The next journey belongs to the tens of thousands in the Superdome, now on to the Astrodome in a fleet of buses.
A couple hundred miles away, we have new household decisions to make. "I'm getting pretty bored of not having school," my 7-year-old daughter announced today. A week ago, her life was filled with first-day-of-school excitement. Now, there's maybe a Catholic girl's academy. The public schools are also taking in the children of New Orleans. My wife returned from a registration session, speaking through tears about the warmth and efficiency.
We're staying with friends who just keep saying "as long as it takes." Last night, one of their neighbors showed up with smothered steak, rice and gravy, cabbage and sausage and bread pudding. Another showed up with margaritas.
Decisions. Maybe we'll call my daughter's first-grade teacher, who evacuated to a nearby town, and we'll set up a home school. The Saturday we left, my daughter was in his classroom a block up the street, playing on the computers while he put together lesson plans. "I want to go to Mr. Reynaud's," she'd beg every week until we relented. That's one of those memories that seems untraceable now. It leads nowhere.
I also have a 4-year-old son. Last night, we were unfolding our hide-a-bed and putting blankets on the floor. "Did you see this?" my wife said, holding a book he'd made last month, before this hurricane had begun to form. He had drawn the pictures and recited the story, and my wife had taken his dictation. It was titled "Miles and the Sun!" and it goes like this:
"One spring day, Miles came out of his house in New Orleans. The sun was happy to see Miles. The sun was wearing sunglasses. Miles moved to his new house and the sun got very very hot. Now it was even hotter! A fearful wild storm came with lots of monsters. Luckily Miles wasn't in it. The water splashed all over it."
The drawing for that last page was all deep, hard-pressed scribbles.
Last night, he sat on my lap and looked at the TV and the people walking through the water. "Are those the people who didn't evacuate?" he asked, carefully enunciating his new word.
New Orleans is gone and I can't say when it will come back. My neighborhood, my job, all of it might somehow return.
Yet I don't know what a rebuilt New Orleans will look like, and I don't know if I'll be there for it. For now, we're living on the generosity of others.
That's what it's like to be a refugee. You never know what's next.
Michael Tisserand is editor of Gambit Weekly and the author of The Kingdom of Zydeco.
We can safely assume incumbent Chief K.P. Gibson isn’t too worried about this challenger.
Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to win Senate control. The most competitive races, many in states where Obama lost in 2012, remain too close to call.
The Baton Rouge Republican has repeatedly battled a perception within his own party that he perhaps wasn't the best choice to carry the GOP banner.
Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.
A former campaign manager for Senate candidate Rob Maness is striking at the Republican contender's tea party support, saying Maness only sought to appeal to conservative organizations because he needed money for his campaign.
Ninety-two percent of public school teachers were rated either effective or highly effective in a report the state issued marking the second year of a new statewide evaluation process.
Corporations spending in state elections; Kenny G and Hong Kong; states resist gay marriage and more national and international news for Thursday, October 23, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.
President Barack Obama is turning to black radio listeners to plead for midterm votes, a targeted approach to drum up Democratic support at a time when many candidates don't want him around in person.
"I am extremely disheartened by the political machines that are attempting to hijack my efforts along with others that advocate for children."
Landrieu, who is fighting to keep her seat for a fourth term, said that Ebola is serious and precautions should be taken, but she accused Republicans of using the virus outbreak in West Africa to "create fear" here at home.
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.