My father picked me up from Louis Armstrong International Airport on Christmas morning. I had boarded the plane on Xmas Eve at 11:30 p.m., rather inebriated on rich food, expensive whiskey and a smidgen of my homestate's finest wacky weed. After a red eye flight, with a two-hour layover in Chicago, I was dead dog tired, exactly how I'd planned it; I was bracing myself. After all the reading, watching and listening, I was soon going to see first hand the effects of Katrina's rage.
Coming west on Interstate 10 to Ocean Springs, Mississippi to where RMAC live (that's Robert and MaryAnn Clisby, my brother and his wife), it took us about an hour or so. My father is retired 34 years and, therefore, is the slowest driver alive - this was the one time I didn't mind. We swung past the AstroDome and parts of downtown, lots of building fronts gone. Already I could tell that the blue tarp was going to be a familiar site. Heading out of town on the above highway, I could look down into neighborhoods clearly forgotten, most with spray paint still on the front declaring the number alive or dead. I plan to revist New Orleans later this week. I have a beloved friend - a radio station actually - that I need to check on.
It was the side of road that held the most ghoulish images for me. Still strewn with bits of trash and every ten miles or so, a stove or refridgerator, smashed into a ball. It is strangely disturbing seeing indoor items . . . outdoor - there is a certain vulnerability you feel when you come upon someone's bedroom dresser in the open air and there are leaves on it. There but for the grace of God, and all that jazz.
Already, I've become accustomed to seeing piles of debris, twisted metal and tree after tree snapped in half. There are lots filled with FEMA trailers (which leak, I understand) and row upon endless row of damaged cars, all sadly sitting in the sun, silent and useless. Motorhomes are parked willy nilly and signs are blown out - even Micky D's hasn't gotten around to fixing their golden arches.
Once I arrived at RMAC HQ, they wasted little time in loading me into the dunebuggy (which is more of a deluxe gocart) and they took me around the neighborhood. Though RMACE lost the entire first floor of their beautiful Gulf Hills home, many of their neigbors did not fare so well. "Devastation" is the only word that truly fits here and even then, words fail. One neighbor defiantly parked their trailer right into the shell of their former home, refusing to leave. Spray-painted plywood signs express rage at insurance adjusters and their ilk.
Nevertheless, there are bits of optimism everywhere - lots of "We're Hiring!" signs and entrepeneurs offering much needed services: "HOUSE GUTIN" (gutting). The stubborn pride of Southern folks and the spirit of the season has resulted in a singular mission: persevere.
As we left the scene of one former home, Robert spotted a perfect yellow sunflower, poking up defiantly through a pile of trash. Its spine was straight and its face a perfect sunny yellow. It is sobering to think that the flower and the hurricane both have the same ancestry and share the same Mother Nature.