Wednesday, August 31st
A lot of Wednesday is a blur. I watched the news nearly every waking moment, figuring that Michelle's and my home was underwater, knowing that New Orleans would never be the same, not knowing if it would simply ever be anything again. I kind of came to grips with the notion that not only was my business in ruins, but all the money and effort and love I put into collecting all those comics over a span of over 15 years was likely washed away. I read that Bayou St. John started to overflow, and that the American Can Co. building had water up to cars' bumpers. We held hope that Mid-City hadn't flooded, but that only lasted until Michelle saw a picture of Jesuit High School, which is only blocks from our house. It had five feet of water in it.
With New Orleans starting to take a turn for the worse, I thought about the people I knew still in the city. Al was at a hotel in the CBD. Worse, Donald was at Lindy Boggs Hospital with his girlfriend. She was considered an "essential employee" and couldn't leave, so he stayed with her. The hospital is near our house, and I also read that its basement flooded. The Times Picayune story called it a "minor annoyance," but it was bad news for our place, no matter how easily they dealt with it. How would they get out?
Besides those two it seemed as if everyone else I knew had gotten out. Dre was already in Dallas with her sister. Rami'd left for Lafayette and his brother's house. Even AJ and his family left, and they refused to leave for every other hurricane. Phone service to the 504 area code was down, so it was nearly impossible to get through to anyone. Maybe one in a hundred calls went through.
As the situation in New Orleans worsened, Michelle and I began to think about our future. Would we stay in Houston? Go to Austin? Our friend Chris could put us up there. Lafayette? It seemed like most people we know ended up there. Baton Rouge? It was quickly becoming a clusterfuck with the sudden influx of people.
I debated the future of AG. I knew I wanted it to continue. We'd all worked too hard to get as far as we had just to let it slip away. Still, our new office at Handsome Willy's, four blocks from the Superdome, was likely rubble. It has open parking lots on three sides, leaving nothing to block the wind from hitting it.
Our staff, scattered throughout the country, had members contemplating not returning. But, I figured, if we could do even an online edition, or a smaller format, and it would brighten up someone by reminding them of home, then I had to do it. I knew then that AG would continue at some point. When and where I still didn't know. We were planning to expand into Lafayette and Baton Rouge anyway, so it made sense to try to set up shop in either city.
My parents, when they left New Orleans, went to West Memphis, Arkansas to a hotel room. They were joined by my uncle Johnny, his daughter and her family, and my uncle Eddie and his family. After being there for a few days they wanted to leave the hotel, so they decided to accept an offer to go to St. Louis, extended by Bob and Ann. Bob and Ann are old friends of my parents, and they left New Orleans around 15 years ago to move to Belleville, which is actually about ten minutes out of STL, much like Marrero's relationship to New Orleans. My mother almost immediately began to bug me and Michelle about joining them up there.
I basically had to credit card it from New Orleans to Houston, as I only had a tad more than $100 in my checking out. I had a bit more in the AG account, but refrained from touching that, not knowing when I'd need it. If we went to St. Louis, we'd at least have food and stuff paid for, and FEMA wasn't exactly beating our door down to give us our temporary relocation money.
I thought it would be more prudent to go directly to Lafayette and try to find a place, figuring once people got over the shellshock of being displaced all the apartments and houses would be snapped up. That would prove to be exactly the case, but looking back it's not like we could've done that if we wanted to, because it's not like we had money to put down for a deposit. The only money Michelle had was in the form of her last bartending check from TwiRoPa, less than $50.
The odd thing is we'd been in Houston about a month before, when we evacuated for Hurricane Dennis. That was an absolute vacation compared to this, though. We liked Houston, I guess because we were already passingly familiar with it. I visited the comic shop I'd been to before, we got coffee from the Starbucks by the Galleria (yes, I absolutely despise Starbucks, and Michelle and I got into a fight about it in San Francisco when I refused to lend her two dollars so she could buy a Starbucks cookie, not wanting my money to go into their pockets....but there weren't any indie coffeeshops in Houston that we knew of, and coffee needs outweigh morals, I guess), visiting the House Of Pies....we could certainly see a life in Houston, if that was what we wanted.
It was about this time that defections started to annoy me. I can't blame people for feeling like they can't go back to New Orleans. It's been a difficult time. A lot of people have lost everything. A lot of people have lost almost everything. A lot of people (myself included) don't yet know what they've lost. It's hard to envision New Orleans being normal again. That said, I know that my heart is in New Orleans. For better or worse I'm married to the city. It's treated me well at times and made me work my ass off at other times, but I can't imagine living anywhere else. Wherever I go I compare that place to New Orleans, and nowhere compares favorably. Some people don't feel that way. They've already washed their hands of the city and claim they won't return. Maybe it's easier for people who grew up in other places to stay away. But I can't agree with anyone who called New Orleans home and won't return to rebuild. I think staying away is taking the easy way out, and, to be honest, I could never look at those people, whoever they are, the way I once did if they return AFTER everything is rebuilt and working again. Take part in the process or stay away. It's just how I feel.