Saturday, September 24, 2005

How New Orleans fared after Rita seems to be debatable. The areas reported as reflooded yesterday got worse overnight, and buildings in Chalmette and the 9th Ward are toppling over now since they were already weakened by Katrina. The Industrial Canal was breached yet again yesterday, which caused the reflooding, though it doesn't seem to be quite as high as it was a few weeks ago. I haven't heard about any other flooding in the city itself, but some parts of Jefferson Parish didn't do so well.

Lafitte, which is generally a fishing community, was flooded waistdeep, according to the Times Picayune. Many homes are raised there, but many are also close to the ground, so some are flooded. My family has ties to the city, which is a twenty minute ride from my parents' house in Marrero.

My brothers have gone to school in Lafitte for at least ten years. My mother put them out there because she liked their schools' special ed programs better. Over the years they've made many friends out there. My parents' across-the-street neighbors know quite a few people from there too, since one is a shrimper and the fishing community is tightly knit. My friend Mike is from Lafitte and still lives out there. He'd already left to stay with his girlfriend, who lives closer to my parents,' and, if the water is only waistdeep like they're reporting, his and his parents' places should be okay.

These people in Lafitte have already been through a lot. Even if their homes weren't damaged by Katrina, all that sludge water drained from the city and dumped into the Gulf has all but destroyed the seafood industry for at least three years. How these people are going to make money, I don't know.

The most frustrating thing isn't the reflooding, or even the new flooding in Lafitte. It's knowing that another one of these can pop up in another week or two and do even worse damage. A few computer models of Rita have it actually turning around and going back into the Gulf, just under New Orleans! It wouldn't be the first time a hurricane has hit land, went back into water and restrengthened.

I haven't even talked about Lake Charles, which was on the east side of Rita. I don't have nearly as many ties there, but a few friends have parents there, and if Lake Charles took a near-direct hit, Lafayette probably has some damage too. Lafayette is where Michelle and I were trying to get a place to live, and so many N.O. people are staying after Katrina.

Hopefully I'll have some more info the later in the day we get.

Friday, September 23, 2005


The New Orleans area seems to be doing as well as could be expected right now. There is some reflooding in the 9th Ward and a little bit in Chalmette, the surrounding areas of N.O. hardest hit by Katrina. Everyone is evacuated from those areas, so there shouldn't be any loss of life.

Marrero is faring well. Obviously the internet is still on, as well as cable and power. I've read that officials believe some neighborhoods may lose power and the sewage system may stop working for a bit, but they're not too worried about flooding in populated areas. We've had some heavy rain and wind gusts, but nothing big, yet.

Just since I started typing I've gotten firsthand accounts of houses losing power, but it seems isolated.

Our friend Toby, who we stayed with in Houston when we first left New Orleans, is riding out the storm at his place. We're a bit worried about him. I think I'll call him now.

Thanks go to Xeni at boingboing for linking the blog, thanks to Susannah for all the encouragement and help, and thanks to everyone who's given me all sorts of kind words over the past few days.

I've always been hesitant to accept help. I guess I never want to admit when I could use some. I've gotten some neat offers for help today. Some people want to replace some of my destroyed comics. Which, in and of itself, is a great gesture. Part of me wants to decline and instead tell everyone to give to the Red Cross. Susannah, the great enabler and also displaced from New Orleans, says I should accept any help offered because "we all need help" and "taking help is a really amazing feeling."

It's been weird at points. On the road after evacuating, I'd hear spots on the radio detailing the Katrina devastation and asking for donations toward relief. I'd see firefighters in the streets with boots in their hands, collecting money to give to the Red Cross. I'd see stuff like that and say, "I should give something when I have a chance." Then I'd remember that the disaster they're trying to relieve directly affected me.

So yes, if you're inclined to help I could put it to good use. BUT. I refuse to take anything I cannot repay some sort of way. Let me write something for you, send you a print of a picture I've taken, print your name in the next AntiGravity, something.

I've placed a PayPal link to the right. My Yahoo e-mail is listed since that's where I run my bill info through, if you notice the difference. I promise that any funds donated will go towards future issues of AG or other AG material, or to things directly tied to my survival or that of the magazine.

I say thanks to everyone reading this. Those who give, I humbly accept. Just let me know what I can do for you.
Well, we're staying to ride out Rita. As of 10 a.m. this morning it's tracked to hit somewhere between Galveston and Lake Charles, which means we'll definitely see tropical storm winds and rain. According to what the Army Corps of Engineers said yesterday, the levees in New Orleans should hold, though you can see here that some areas of New Orleans area already beginning to reflood. They may be beginning to doubt themselves about that levee comment.

We should be safe in Marrero, though. There were no levee breaches here so we shouldn't have to worry about flooding, only power. We have a generator, so if need be we can plug in a TV and an a/c unit, and we have propane for our barbecue, so we can cook if necessary. We're fully stocked with food and water too.

Internet access may go away soon, so if I don't post again today I will as soon as it kicks back in.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Overnight Louisiana seems to have come back into the cone of probability. Yesterday we were pretty safe, today we're expecting to get some tropical storm winds and rain. Which, as you can imagine, is not a good prospect for our area.

If it holds to this track, we could be okay, but if it moves more easterly we may have problems. They do have some models that would take it into Lafayette, where thousands of New Orleanians fled to when evacuating for Katrina, or Lake Charles, where there's more of the same. That would put New Orleans and the Westbank, where I'm at now, on the eastside of the storm. The canal in Gretna, the bigger city closer to Orleans Parish, is already high and can only take another couple feet of water, and we're supposed to expect at least three feet of storm surge, more if Rita keeps heading North faster than it heads West.

And the satellite:

Our tentative plan is to leave tomorrow afternoon / evening. My preference is always to leave as late at night as possible to avoid traffic, but my parents don't like driving at night and I'm pretty much stuck leaving when they do, so....

Well, I was looking forward to writing a bit about rebuilding N.O. and how I feel about some evacuees already deciding not to come back to the area, but somehow it doesn't seem appropriate at the moment, especially knowing that if Rita comes close to us we may not be able to come back here, even.

I'll have more sooner than later, hopefully.
Before I talk about Rita, this is for my friend Dre.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Well, now that we're basically caught up to speed it'll be nice to talk in the present tense.

People have been flipping out over Rita, and understandibly so. Just yesterday it was a simple tropical storm, today, as of 3 p.m. central time, it's a 5. Another 5! And it's still got quite a bit of the Gulf to go over.

Nagin already called off all residential and business re-entry into New Orleans. The Army Corps of Engineers had a mandatory meeting this morning to discuss whether they're going to evacuate the city. Everyone's worried that if Rita comes too close it'll send in a storm surge that will break the levees again. Shit, even if we get some heavy thunderstorms it might happen. Besides calling off re-entry, Nagin's telling all Orleans Parish residents already back to leave. A good chunk of those people have decided to stick it out, figuring if their area survived Katrina it can survive this. You have to wonder if it's ignorance keeping them or if they're just plain tired of running. New Orleans has been lucky since Katrina in that the weather has been cooperative. Almost no rain in three weeks. If something does come our way and the levees break again, who knows what'll happen.

Us? We've got hotel rooms booked in Tunica, MS starting tomorrow. We'll wait until tomorrow morning to make a decision either way, but if it turns towards us we're good as gone.

So far, all of Louisiana except the most southwestern parts are out of the cone of probability, which bodes well for our area. We simply can't handle even a small storm, much less another Cat 4+. It sucks for the Houston area, though. It's almost hard to believe we were there just a couple weeks ago. Our friend Toby is flying out on Friday to the Small Press Expo, so at least he'll be out of the area. We do know some other people staying there that we've yet to hear from, so hopefully they'll be okay.
Monday, September 19th (Part 2: Back at the House)

After leaving Molly's, we tried to head into the 9th Ward and towards the lakefront, but the military presence was heavy due to there still being too much floodwater in those areas. Figuring it useless to even try, since there wouldn't be far for us to go in the car or on foot anyway, we headed back to our house to grab my grandmother's plates.

Michelle didn't want to go back into the house, so I put on the last pair of rubber gloves we had an went in. I climbed over all my ruined comics, again, and gathered as many plates from the cabinets as I could. It took four trips, but I got most of them, along with some mugs and bowls. I opened our dishwasher to see if there were any in there, and there was one but the smell made me give it up.

The last thing was a big serving bowl, but it was next to the stove and full of floodwater. You can see it by the bottle of wine we'd forgotten.

I grabbed it and dumped out the water. What rose up was the foulest smelling odor ever to work its way up my nose. Even through the mask it was raucous. I grabbed it, ran out of the house and placed it in the plastic bucket we brought with us. I went back and shut the door.

We went back to the Westbank, showered, and found out people were practically shitting themselves over Rita.
Monday, September 19th (The French Quarter / Oh Shit, it's Hurricane Rita)

I realized that I'd forgotten a major item at our house. Before she died two Februarys ago, my grandmother gave me a set of dishes. Floodwater didn't get into our cabinets, and I kicked myself for forgetting to grab the set. We were plannning another trip into the city anyway, so we decided to go back to the house.

Nagin had previously announced that business owners in the CBD, French Quarter, and Algiers (which is actually on the Westbank) could begin heading back into the city. I expected to see business owners beginning to restart their activities, but earlier in the day Nagin called off all re-entry because of Tropical Storm Rita, which was set to hit the Florida Keys in the next couple of days.

Because of that the Quarter was pretty much deserted. Part of the reason may be because it was spared damage, for the most part. No water, little wind was amazing that an entire area could be fine while other areas, maybe ten to fifteen miles north and east, were flooded completely.

Jackson Square had actually been manicured recently.

Cafe du Monde was uncharacteristically empty. Usually it's full of tourists and locals alike, everyone wolfing down beignets and coffee.

On Frenchmen St., near the Spotted Cat, someone had set up quite a refuge.

Molly's at the Market is one of my favorite bars. Usually I order a pint of Guinness and love it when the bartender makes a star on the head, but no Guinness today. They did have cold beer, but I had to settle for a Miller High Life. It was good.

I talked to several people and everyone had the same sentiment. "We'll do what we have to do." Everyone wants to rebuild. Everyone wants to go home, but not everyone can. Some people are staying with friends, or their parents, like I am. Everyone felt lucky to be back when so many people don't have the means to get back to New Orleans right now. A couple of people recognized me from AG and wished us well in resuming publishing. They're anxious to see what we're going to do.

That's why I can't wait to put out an issue, even if it's an eight pager, a fraction of our previous size. If I can give people even a slight sense of excitement by showing them something from home, then goddamn it, it's worth it. Even if I spend every penny I have left in the business account, even if I have to take some money from our housing funds to do it. It'll be worth it.
Sunday, September 18th

Ah, real rest and relaxation for the first time in almost a month. It was almost like old times. A few friends came over and we spent the day watching football. My mother made a huge pot of Gumbo and it's the best food I've had since August of '02, when, driving back to New Orleans from working the San Diego comic con, a rental truck I was driving blew a front tire and almost went over a cliff in Texas, giving me back injuries. After the accident I had a hamburger steak, and after coming fifty yards from flying into treetops in a truck full of comic books it was the best dinner I'd ever had. The gumbo comes close.
Saturday, September 17th (Part 4: Uptown)

Uptown New Orleans is the hub of most of my actitivies as a publisher. We go through quite a few AntiGravitys at coffeeshops, restaurants, bars and other places in that fifty block radius. It was a relief to hear that most of the area was spared flooding, and driving around Uptown reinforced how well off the area was.

That's not to say it got off easy with wind damage or looting. Many buildings had wind damage, but surprisingly few instances of trees falling onto cars or houses.

The Delachaise is a local favorite. Good wine, cheese plates, and it's where I had my first glass of Hitachino, a great Japanese beer.

A traffic light, mangled but still working.

Older buildings, especially high ones, didn't fare as well.

Most buildings ended up like Rocks Off, the official record store of AG. Damage to the overhang, but the store itself is okay.

There were very few people on the streets besides Entergy workers and clean-up crews. One place that was already open, though was Slim Goodies, a diner on Magazine St. Kappa Horn, the owner of Goodies, stopped in Baton Rouge on her way back to the city to pick up supplies. She fed several Entergy workers and soldiers who patrolled the streets. She then offered us ham sandwiches, which was great because by this time we were starving.

The restaurant itself wasn't open yet, as they were still bleaching the floors and freezers in an attempt to get rid of the horrid rotted meat smell.

Kappa was anxious to get Goodies back up and running, planning to as soon as Entergy got the power on. Unfortunately there weren't many other people around. The only other business owner we saw was Jerry, proprietor of the Rue de la Course coffeeshops. Only one of his four locations was looted, and he actually planned to have at least one of them open in the next few days.

We drove around for awhile longer, but exhaustion and a weariness from seeing so much of the city at once took over. There'd be more, for sure, but for awhile, we'd had enough.

Next: The French Quarter
Saturday, September 17th (Part 3: Mid-City)

My house is a few blocks off of Carrollton Ave. and Canal St. and one of the joys of living there is that there are so many things within walking distance. For the price of a five minute walk, you could get to a Mediterranean restaurant, a burrito place, a 24-Hour diner, one of the best seafood restaurants in New Orleans, a grocery store, one of the oldest ice cream shops in the city.... To say it's a great place to live is an understatement.

That's why driving around was so difficult. Businesses in the immediate area also didn't do so great. Major Video had its window busted and was no doubt looted. The Robert's grocery had its sign ripped off, probably a few blocks away. Lil' Ray's, the 24-hour diner, had more water than we did. To see the Angelo Brocato sign on the ground and the shop itself wrecked.... How many times did we get ice cream there?

It's a bit difficult to see here, but the pond at City Park, only a short car ride from the house, was still pretty much full. The N.O. Museum of Art fared pretty well, but it's also raised about fifteen feet.

Cars on Esplanade Ave. were worse off than cars on Canal St.

After driving around City Park and Esplanade Ave., we went back to take Jeff Davis towards Uptown. On the Jeff Davis / I-10 overpass we saw remnants of people living there. Chairs, ice chests, and garbage were gathered on the shoulder, along with this sign. Can you imagine getting put in a position to write this?

We also got to see a side of the Superdome most people haven't gotten to see, since the media likes to show the angle that makes it look like the roof was totally ripped off.

Next: Uptown
Saturday, September 17th (Part 2: Our House)

I will say this: the power of the press is large and far-reaching. When Michelle and I pulled toward Canal St. after getting off of HWY90 at Claiborne, a trooper stopped us and asked, "You want a free tetanus shot?"

"What," I asked.

"A free tetanus shot. Have you had one in the last five, maybe even ten years?"

"Yeah, I think."

"Okay, you're good to go. Drive safe."

And off we went into a part of the city that's not supposed to open for weeks. We took a left on Canal and headed towards our house.

Canal St. is busted up pretty bad. There are cars with dust all over them, and boats parked in the median.

Wiped out cars are parked on curbs (in an effort to get a few inches higher, I guess). Windows of cars and buildings are blown out. The worst thing we saw was the water line. It's like some giant had put three huge crayons in a vertical line in his hand and walked down Canal St., making lines on the buildings the whole way.

We went the wrong way down the one way that is our street. No one was around to give us a ticket, anyway. We saw a maybe potted plant weighing maybe eighty pounds turned over. The hundred pound outdoor chimney my mother bought us was turned on its side. Michelle's car was still parked in the driveway. It turned out to be a total loss. And she only had liability insurance.

The waterline outside the house was just a tad under my chin. Our keys didn't work. The door's wood was expanded from over a week of being submerged in water and then more than a week of drying in the humid and sunny heat. I had to kick it in. It wasn't difficult, either. It took only four or five tries, I think.

We knew we had water in the house. Obviously, if we didn't think so before we made the trip in we knew by the time we saw the water line. We were optimistic, though. We thought, all but knowing that we had over 5 feet in the house, that a decent bit of our stuff would be salvagable. Not our furniture and not our clothes, but maybe, if we were lucky, those books higher on our shelves and things on top of the bookshelves.

Before we left, for reasons I can't remember, I took pictures of our place. The first picture is of our living room and study area, the second is of our bookshelves.

The minute I kicked in the door, though, all expectation changed.

To say words cannot describe a situation like this is just wrong. The easiest thing to say is that it's fucked up. Demolished. Destroyed. Catastrophic. Cataclysmic. Some words may seem overbearing, but when you're standing there looking at all your possessions scattered about like Neptune flailed about your house, no situation can seem worse. It makes you wonder whether it'd be easier if a tornado simply hit the house and flung everything to another city. At least then you don't have to walk on things that used to be on bookshelves.

Seeing my comics strewn about was the hardest. I've never been a mint freak, meaning I didn't really care if my comics were in the best condition. If I could read them, that was the important thing. I do have a theory about books though. They're like furniture. You buy a book to read just like you buy a couch to sit on. Sure, the book or couch will be messed up eventually, but you like to keep it in the best condition possible for as long as possible. To see my books in the worst condition they could ever be in, and to walk on them, seemed preposterous.

The rest of the house didn't fare any better. In our bedroom, our chest-of-drawers and my desk were flipped on their backs and full of mold. Our refridgerator was turned on its side. Our couch was pulled three feet from the wall, also full of mold. Oddly enough, our coffee table was in the exact position we left it in, and papers I'd left on top were not only where they were, but dry.

The side of the fridge.

There were a few salvageable things, but not nearly as many as we'd expected. Some posters, some pieces of art that were high enough.

I took exactly one comic from my house. I happened to have a TRANSMETROPOLITAN #1 in a hard case hanging on the wall, and it was above the water line. That was the one comic I took, out of all the others that lay on the ground there. I took some of the posters, too, and some action figures that were above the walkway. One comic.

After we took what we could, we decided to go explore.
Saturday, September 17th

After Jefferson Parish began to reopen, N.O. mayor Ray Nagin announced plans for business owners to go back to the CBD, Uptown and Algiers. It was amazing to think of the progress made in less than three weeks. Only two weeks before, we were being told that there would be no commerce in New Orleans for at least three months, and that it was possible no one could live there for up to six. Half a month later, people were going to be allowed to go back!

Sure, there are areas of the city that are uninhabitable. But the heart of the city, the CBD, the French Quarter, and Uptown, was intact, we were told. If those parts of the city could reopen, how bad could our place in Mid-City be?

We were anxious to get to our house and check it out. The more information we dug up, the more sure we were that the house had gotten more then five feet of water in it. Surely some things would be salvageable, like books high on our bookshelves, Michelle's postcard collection. The only problem was getting into the city.

Luckily we had a way. One of the owners of Handsome Willy's was trying to get a freelance gig for a magazine in Baton Rouge, so he had a press pass. He'd actually been back into New Orleans a few times, exploring the area and talking to people. He suggested that I make passes for AG, and offered to print them for us. I designed one for me and one for Michelle, and that Saturday, when all the Willy's guys drove in from Breaux Bridge, they brought us our laminated passes.

Saturday morning we were on our way to our house.
Friday, September 16th

This was the second year in a row that we'd be driving home from a hurricane evacuation on her birthday. Last year, it was Ivan and Nacogdoches. This year, I handled it a bit better. Last year I fumbled her birthday present (not all my fault, really it wasn't) by giving her a pair of shoes she'd picked out weeks before, but I told her I had something else on queue for her. That something else never came through, and I had to eat crow for it later. This year, we'd evacuated over two weeks before her birthday, so I didn't even have a chance to get something small.

My only shopping choice was Wal-Mart. So, the day before, as Michelle sunned at the pool, I ran into Wal-Mart and bought some art supplies. I figured the supplies she had at the house would be ruined, so I got her a sketch pad, some pencils, good pens, better paper for drawing on, and a portfolio. It went over well. Yay me.

We left our hotel at 8 a.m. Instead of heading straight to my parents' place, we decided to go to Greenville, Arkansas to visit Michelle's mother and stepdad. They'd evacuated Slidell the day after we left New Orleans, and wound up in a Red Cross shelter in Mississippi. Someone offered them use of a trailer in Greenville, which is just over the Arkansas border, and since their house in Slidell was demolished, they took it. Michelle had no idea when she'd see her mother again, so we decided to go out of our way to visit.

They seemed happy, Michelle's stepdad had some leads on jobs, and their trailer was quaint and more importantly paid for for a year. We stayed with them for a couple of hours, and at 1 p.m. we were on the road again, finally going someplace familiar.


Because I-10 was unpassable in points, we couldn't take a straight shot home. Instead, we were on I-55 South, which we took until we got to Highway 51, which we took to Highway 61, which we took to Interstate 310, which we took to Highway 90. Highway 90 is a stretch I'm pretty familiar with. We drove that stretch from Lafayette into the N.O. area after Ivan last year, and in the N.O. area, when I still lived with my parents, I made that drive almost every day for the dayjob, from Metairie over the Huey P. Long bridge into Westwego, into Marrero.

Around 7:30 p.m., when we got into Avondale, things began to look different.

The weather was pretty clear, and I immediately knew the skyline was different. Without noticing anything specific, I could tell trees were missing, making the skyline more open. Very few buildings were drastically damaged, but almost every building had roof shingles missing. It was impossible to tell how bad off the roofs were. Traffic, oddly enough, flowed almost freely. We got into Marrero with no problems.

My parents' house was pretty much okay. The stench was terrible, but my parents' gracious neighbors, the ones who checked on the house, had already emptied the freezers and refridgerator, sparing us the foul task of burying all the spoiled food. The street was littered with tree branches, roof shingles, and garbage. Nothing that couldn't be cleaned.

Not only did we have electricity, but the cable and internet was on! Having seen the destruction of New Orleans on television, the differences between the Eastbank and the Westbank seemed phenomenal. Power AND internet? It was as if only a simple storm had passed.

It was all good until 11 p.m., when the power abruptly went out.
Monday, September 5th-Thursday, September 15th

By the time we'd traveled the 30 miles back to Bob and Ann's the next morning, my father decided he'd also had enough and wanted to leave. We were lucky enough to find a couple of hotel rooms outside of Memphis, and left Belleville that afternoon.

Our plan at this point was to start working our way close to New Orleans. We found out that my parents' house in Marrero was virtually undamaged. Neighbors checked the house for them, and even though a gigantic tree in the backyard fell, it missed the house. We figured that as soon as Jefferson Parish reopened, we could get back there. At the same time, Michelle and I tried to find a place of our own in Lafayette, but to no avail. Lafayette seemed to be the new New Orleans, with the people who couldn't fit in the overcrowded Baton Rouge jammed into there.

Relief started to come, though. Cellphone calls began coming through a little easier. We finally got our $2000 of FEMA money. The Red Cross was paying for our hotel rooms.

Then the biggie came through. I finally got in touch with Jose, who lives on the second floor of the house next to mine. He claimed that someone in the neighborhood saw satellite photos of our street and that they could see the sidewalk through the water! It meant that if we had water, it wasn't the filthy muck water that filled most of the city, and it maybe meant we hadn't flooded at all! It was the best news I'd heard in awhile.

But it was shortlived. I finally heard from Donald, who was stranded in the Lindy Boggs hospital on Jeff Davis, about a half-mile from my house. The hospital had been evacuated, and they rode out on airboats. He said it looks like "a city springing out of a river."

My heart sank. I'd thought I'd lost everything. Then I thought there was a chance that we'd lost nothing. Now I was hearing that SUVs were barely visable in the water. At the same time, I was glad Donald was okay. He was the only person I'd yet to have heard from, and that meant everyone I know was out of the city.

I tried to distract myself. I spent a lot of time online, reading up on the news. Jefferson Parish was going to start reopening soon, and my parents were already making plans to go back. NFL football started on Thursday the 8th, and the Patriots won (I won't go into it now, but the Patriots have been my no.2 team since 1993), and the Saints followed suit that Sunday. I travelled to a couple of comic shops, eager to get my mind off of wondering about home.

Finally, after a week and a half of sitting around and waiting, we got the go-ahead to go home. A friend of mine, Jason, checked on the house for us and we knew it had electricity. Because my parents and I work at the same company, we were able to get passes that allowed us in early, so we decided to leave on Friday, the 16th, Michelle's birthday.
Friday, September 2nd

I don't think we even realized it was September until this day. At this point, even eight hours of sleep wasn't enough because there was no way to relax. Not knowing about your living space is one thing. Not knowing about the status of friends is another. Not knowing how bad off New Orleans as a whole was going to get was the most frustrating.

On our way into St. Louis I kept the radio on whatever NPR or ESPN channel I could find. In the towns that carried neither, I stumbled upon other talk programs. People were bashing New Orleans! Why didn't someone do this, why didn't someone do that. One lady called in to this program in Tulsa and blamed the people stuck in N.O. for not leaving. It was infuriating.

What many people don't realize is that when evacuations were called it was only the 26th. If people were waiting for a paycheck slated to come on the 1st, they weren't going to see it. If they were waiting for a government check, like many people in the 9th Ward were, well, good luck with that. When you take for granted that you can hop on a computer and make reservations at a Hilton 500 miles away, it's easy to forget what it's like to be a have-not. I remembered having only $100 in my checking account. What if I didn't have credit cards? $100 wasn't going to buy that much gas.

We finally got into St. Louis around 5 p.m. We were excited to see my family, since they were really the first familiar faces from home we'd seen since we left. The excitement quickly dissipated, though. We were promised a room to ourselves, but what we weren't told was that it was 10 x 10, already filled with odds and ends (it was my parents' friend Bob's office) and it'd have a single-bed-sized air mattress in it. No problem, we thought.

It was a problem. When two people are used to sleeping in a king-sized bed, downsizing to a single isn't good for the relationship. Between us fighting over covers, falling off the bed four inches to the floor, and our dogs wiggling in, we were getting testy by the second night.

To make matters worse, it seemed as if we were there more on Bob's good will than Ann's. We got the vibe that we weren't really welcome, that she didn't want us in her house. Nothing was said outright, but demeanor says a lot, and I could tell she was roped into letting us stay there. We avoided her, but we were in Belleville, which isn't exactly a bustling place. For three days we did nothing but listen to my uncle bitch about the overall situation in New Orleans, read, and hope for when it was time to go to the grocery.

To make matters even worse, we were essentially kicked out of the house on Sunday night. Ann made arrangements for us to stay at her son's house, which turned out to be 30 miles away. The only comparison would be if you went to New Orleans to stay at someone's house and wound up having to travel to Slidell to sleep. It just didn't make any sense to me, and when we got settled in and were alone, I told Michelle that I'd had enough. And I did. I was willing to sleep at rest areas in the car until we got back down to Houston, or got to Austin. We were leaving Illinois Monday regardless.

Michelle and I decided that we'd go to St. Louis to see my family and wait for our FEMA money, which would allow us to go to Lafayette or wherever we'd decide to go.

That morning I spent four hours at a Saturn dealership getting my car looked at. I was already a few hundred miles over my scheduled oil change, and that, combined with having an egg in the front tire and a weird wobbling when the car went over 70 mph, made me a bit wary about driving 900+ miles without it being looked at. It's a good thing I did, because one of the back tires, which I'd put a Fix-A-Flat in a couple months back, had its insides nearly rotted out.

The Saturn dealership was a weird experience. When I drove up, this guy came out and asked what I needed done. I told him my situation, that I'd left New Orleans and was planning on going farther north and needed it checked out before I left. He said that was fine, and asked if I planned to wait on the car. Before I could respond, he said, "Well, I'm sure you are because it's not like you're going home any time soon!" All I could do is look at him while he laughed at his bad joke.

Then I'm sitting in the waiting area, and some woman sat next to me. The receptionist, who evidently knew this woman, came over and said, "I just HAVE to forward you this e-mail. It's called "Why you deserve to lose everything you own in a fire!" I sat there and thought, "Maybe I'm just a tad touchy today, but I've maybe lost everything I own, and I don't find that particularly funny." But I said nothing because I didn't want to create a scene, or be one of those people who flip out because my world's upside down and others are normal.

On the bright side, the manager of the dealership only charged me parts, not labor, and didn't charge me for the tune-up and 20,000 mile checkup, which brought my almost $600 bill down to under $250, with two new tires included. Which almost made up for the (maybe) unintentional rudeness of his employees.

I left the dealership, went back to Toby's, and we packed the car. Toby actually came home to see us off, so after we said our goodbyes, we were on the road again. I didn't want to make the entire drive at once, so we shacked up at a Holiday Inn in Lake Texarkana for the night.

That night I got some disheartening news. Chris Watson, who owns the label Park The Van, was probably moving to Philadelphia. His girlfriend, Sabrina, who's actually from the Westbank, got a job offer to design album covers. The offered salary was a pretty hefty raise on what she was making in New Orleans, and they were seriously thinking about taking it. Chris had just signed up to sell ads for us, specifically to labels. He has great contacts because of his label, and we've always enjoyed working together, so it seemed to be a match made in heaven. This was the first time things felt different.

Other AG writers had already decided to stay away. Santos and his girlfriend went to S. Carolina, and was trying to go into photography school anyway, so this simply sped up his timetable. Miles had his house in the 9th Ward wiped out, along with Lizzie, who did publicity for the House of Blues. They said they'd likely end up in her hometown, Jacksonville, or in one of the Carolinas.

Somewhat depressed, I went to sleep.
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.
Tuesday, August 30th

At 7a.m. a phone call woke me up. It was my mother, who asked if I'd heard the news. I rushed to my computer and opened the WWL TV page. One thing still running in New Orleans was WWL, broadcasting from their French Quarter studio and also from an emergency studio in Baton Rouge. They were broadcasting through the internet, and luckily Toby had DSL. No stream up, only an announcement stating that the 17th St. Canal had broken and the tidal surge threatened to flood the city. The dreaded "bowl effect" was going to happen after all. And our house in Mid-City was in the crosshairs.
Monday, August 29th

There was nothing to do but wait for the storm, so we watched the news while Toby went to work, then after he got home went to a Landmark Theatre and saw THE ARISTOCRATS. By that evening the storm had passed New Orleans, but before landfall Katrina met a front, weakened a bit and was pushed just eastward, sparing the city the worst of its power. We'd dodged yet another bullet.

We figured we'd get to go home to Mid-City by the end of the week at the latest. But, before we went to bed, I said, "Well, we still need to hope the levees hold."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Until I get caught up, I'll post the dates this content happened on.

Saturday, August 27th 2005

Considering how close up against deadline we were, it was still business as usual with AG. We were aware of the storm, but as most people, we figured it would turn eastward and spare us, much like Ivan did last year. I did take the day off of work, though. Since so many people were evacuating, it would've been difficult to get out to Metairie, and I did want to watch the news. Michelle and I decided to wait at least until the 11 p.m. tracking map came out before we made plans to leave. In the afternoon we went over to (AG Senior Editor) Noah's house to work on the magazine, and we did little work before conversation turned towards leaving. Noah and (his girlfriend) Eden had a houseguest, a friend from Austin. I was all about leaving if the track map didn't change, because at that point the map had New Orleans set to take a direct hit. Michelle and Noah didn't want to leave. They had the same mindset that a lot of people did, I think. It would turn, surely, like every other storm in our lifetimes did. We figured that it'd be better if we left, though, because we needed electricity to run our computers and internet access to turn in the magazine when it was time. Just to be sure we had a place to go, I called our friend Toby, who lives in Houston, and he said we could stay at his place if we needed to.

Noah, Eden, and their houseguest took a vote, and they decided to leave. Michelle still didn't want to, but agreed to wait until that 11p.m. tracking map. She wanted to go to work, at TwiRoPa for Latin Night, because we figured we'd still have to pay rent whether we left or not. We left Noah and Eden to pack their house, went home and cooked dinner. I actually continued work on AG. Our deadline was Monday the 29th, and if we wanted to stay on schedule, or close to it, it needed to get done. Michelle left to go to work, and I watched the news.

The more I watched the news the stronger I felt we needed to leave. At that point the only thing stopping Nagin from calling the first ever mandatory evacuation of New Orleans was some law (it turned out that by law, if there's a mandatory evacuation, the city must provide transportation out of the city for those with none. As city officials have taken plenty of heat since, they weren't prepared to do that.). Now that landfall was inside of 48 hours, they all felt that the tracking map would hold. The 11p.m. map was unchanged, so I started packing. In hindsight I should've packed a lot more, but I guess I still felt that it would turn at the last minute. I never thought that we wouldn't be able to go home for awhile, and at the same time figured that moving stuff around in the house was futile. If it flooded, a foot here or there wouldn't make a difference.

Michelle wound up getting cut from work at midnight (because, who'd've guessed, Latin Night was dead). She'd already packed a bag, so I packed mine, filled our ice chest with groceries we'd bought earlier in the day, packed the dogs a few bowls of food, put all my business papers and checkbook in a bag, and grabbed my laptops, then loaded the car.

Back in the day when I'd evacuate for hurricanes with my parents, I'd load all my comics into my mom's van. Fifteen years ago that was just a box or three that consisted of maybe a thousand comics. Now it's dozens of boxes consisting of maybe 50,000 comics, not counting all the hardcovers, novels, statues, posters, original art and other assorted stuff that I've collected over the years. There was no way I could take all of it, and I brought no books with me. There just wasn't room in the car for us, the dogs, our essentials and comics. The only thing I brought was a piece of Andi Watson original GEISHA art I bought in San Diego '02. Why I grabbed that I don't know. I didn't even grab my book of autographed quotes, which I'd gotten dozens of comics pros to scribble in over the years. The only other thing I took was a pop-up book Michelle made for me months ago.

We left New Orleans around 1:30 am, sat in a bit of contraflow traffic, and arrived in Houston around 8am. We took Toby to breakfast and basically watched the news all day Sunday. Katrina was coming to New Orleans.
My name is Leo McGovern and I live in New Orleans. I haven't always, but I've always been close. I grew up ten minutes southwest of New Orleans, in a city called Marrero. I've always been well versed in the city, since my father grew up Downtown and, as a kid, we always took the long route to my grandparents' house in Chalmette, which was through the CBD, up Canal to Rampart, and Rampart to St. Claude, St. Claude to Judge Perez.

About two years ago I finally moved from my parents' house into my own place, a small shotgun in Lakeview. After eleven months my girlfriend and I moved in together after we found a perfect place in Mid-City, the bottom left part of a fourplex.

It sounds like the beginning of an online personal ad, but I've always loved reading and writing. I grew up on comic books and the hobby grew into a passion as I grew older. At the pinnacle of my collecting I had around 40,000 comic books and graphic novels. I'm a huge fan of alternative and independent comics and music, and that was a huge motivation when it came to me creating the Alternative Media Expo in June of 2003, and AntiGravity in June of 2004.

The AME was inspired by shows like the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco and sidewalk arts and crafts markets. It featured mostly New Orleans artists displaying their wares, everything from homemade clothes to web design to comics. AntiGravity was a natural extension of that. It started as a sixteen page magazine featuring interviews with and write-ups on local and national bands supplemented by reviews of comics and albums, the comic strips Too Much Coffee Man and the K Chronicles, and that's about it. In under a year and a half it grew to thirty-two pages, added comic strips by local cartoonists, movie reviews, and features on local independent businesses like coffeeshops and bookstores.

If you think an alternative monthly would be difficult to finance, you'd be correct. I saved a bunch of money to front the first few issues, worked hard selling advertising to make it work, got lucky...and it still didn't break even. My day job is in the healthcare industry. I work with people with disabilities, taking them out of their houses and into the community. One of my clients has mild developmental problems, one is half-paralyzed, and one has Down's Syndrome. After bills, extra money went into the magazine.

In August 2005, everything, as good as it was, was going in an even better direction. The September issue was the first set to turn a profit, and AG was primed to double its print run in October for Voodoo, a New Orleans music festival that attracts tens of thousands of people. The October issue promised to be the biggest yet, expanding to forty pages due to an unprecedented influx of advertisers. We opened our new office in early August, above Handsome Willy's, a fairly new bar/restaurant, after working out of my house the previous 14 months. To celebrate the new office we had a party on the 20th, a last opportunity to party before September deadline crunched us and things got even crazier with the October issue.

During the next week, one of the owners asked me if I heard about a new hurricane about to hit Florida. I said I hadn't, and he said that it was expected to hit Florida and head up the Eastern coast.

"Ah, I'm not worried about it, then," I said.

And then came the weekend, and with it the possibility New Orleans would be no more, and that at least the city would never be the same.
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