The Elevator Ride 10.8.2005
Subject: The Elevator Ride Date: 10/8 2:54 PM
I must write a correction. As per MJ: "Tommie is a girl, her name is spelled Tommie, and she's not nasty, just temperamental." There ya go, MJ. I said I'd correct it!
It's been ups and downs for the last couple days. My friend T came in to clean out his apartment in Uptown. Hadn't seen it since he evacuated. Everything was fine, and even better, he found his cat. He had thought she'd been lost but she turned out to be fine. She went back to Pennsylvania with him and his brother this morning.
Heard at the Walgreens: "Hey MAN, how ya doin!" "HEY, good to see ya. A storm came through and shook us up a little bit, but we're gonna be okay now!"
Still trying to fax FEMA. Their fax line has been busy for three days. Got through to the Red Cross. HURRAY you say! I had hit redial on my cell phone for about 1/2 hr then heard something I hadn't heard before in all the calling for the last 37 days. It says, "You've gotten through to the Red Cross Disaster Relief line. Your expected wait time is 45 minutes." Okay, no problem. I hook the cell phone up to its charger and sit there to wait it out. Put it on speaker phone. Fifty two minutes later, guy answers. I'm thrilled to hear a human voice instead of a busy signal. I explain that I've been trying to call for more than 30 days, this is the first time I've gotten through. We then start the process. He asks me if I was impacted by Katrina or Rita. I say both. He asks me where I am. I say New Orleans. He says, "Well they just changed the rules on us. You are no longer eligible because you are home." HUH??? I confess I got mad. I said that because I could not get through on THEIR line for all this time, and now I am home, I no longer qualify? He says that yes, that is unfortunately true. I said get me a supervisor. I then talk to his supervisor, she tells me the same thing. I am furious. Actually yelling at her, probably not the best tactic, but it was insanity. She says, "You're home now so you don't qualify." She then says, "Let me see what I can do." I was then put on terminal hold. Literally. I kept the cell phone on speaker, we went to get something to eat, still connected to the Red Cross. Two hours went by. I had spoken with these people a total of 3 minutes in that two hour period. Yesterday someone told us that we should go to Kenner where they've set up a Red Cross Disaster Financial Assistance center. We were told we should go out there about midnight and that by 9AM we'd have the ATM card. Our neighbors who evacuated to Atlanta also wouldn't qualify because they are home and our neighbors on the other side of them wouldn't qualify because they stayed through the storm, never left. WHAT??? That's not what the answer really is from all reports but we're not sure we're willing to sleep in our car for 8 hrs for $650 bucks. On the other hand, the principle of the thing is infuriating. Because THEIR line was busy we don't qualify. Awesome in its audacity! What we've learned is that we had done this when we were out of state, it would have been a done deal. The supervisor actually told me to "go to the local Red Cross office." Is she kidding? I told her there IS no local Red Cross office, just field stations which don't HAVE the paperwork necessary. This call was placed at the end of a very long, very strange day.
The day started with us taking all the medical supplies from Barnhill Bolt to the Clinic. They were so delighted. Photography isn't allowed inside the clinic for privacy reasons, but I have attached pictures of the outside. They have now hooked up with FEMA and are able to get the pharmaceuticals in. This is a huge deal and it took a month for it to happen. They are really doing great work there. There is another Common Ground station about two blocks from our house. They are housing people, providing food, clothing, other things. End of September one of them was arrested and beat up. (Article is on their website as well. Same link that I sent you in the last email.) He was then jailed. Truly the big guns don't like them. They've been argued with by FEMA, Red Cross, pretty much anyone who has a large organization. These people go straight TO the people and most of them are young volunteers. They were particularly happy about the toys in one of the boxes. Said they'd had a lot of kids coming in who would love them. They also said they are in need of multivitamins but don't ever ever need more hydrogen peroxide! They have gallons of it now, which is remarkable since they started out with nothing but bottled water to clean out a wound. They are hoping to make this clinic permanent. I hope they manage it.
We went from the Clinic to the grocery store and did a little scouting trip to see if a WalMart or something was open. We definitely need a new tire. (Not a huge surprise given what we'd been driving over for a couple weeks.) Grocery store open, Walgreens, no WalMart yet. Lowe's and Home Depot are open and a lot of the gas stations are starting to run at full steam. We buy what we need, drop off the milk at home and head to the Quarter to drop off some things at the shop. After that we went to check on our storage unit. It's on Tulane, right down the street from the huge Police Headquarters. No power over there yet and the water level was easily 6 feet. (We took pictures that day. I'll put together another album tonight for you.) If I'd been standing where my storage is, the water would have been over my head. UHaul had done a smart thing and parked a truck inside the electronic doors and three outside to prevent looting. David went and looked inside through the doors. He came back kind of ashen. When I asked him what it looked like inside, he said, "Like six feet of water had been in there." We don't know if anything survived but our unit was almost in the dead center of the building. Some things might have been spared. Hope so. Most of the family pictures, among other really important items, were in there. Three steamer trunks full of stuff, and innumerable boxes. We still have to pay them even though we can't get access and since we want some control over what happens with the stuff, we'll pay them.
We then went down St. Claude toward the Lower Ninth Ward. In the neutral ground was an impromptu art memorial to the Lower Ninth. First I shot pictures, then I just cried. Toxic art they called it. It was improvised and heartbreaking. We tried to get to the Lower Ninth, but still can't get in there. We want you to see pictures of it without the water to the roofs. We've heard from people who have been in there that there are no insects, no birds, nothing alive.
TOXIC ART PHOTOS. St. Claude Aveneu October 2005----KEEP READING!
Heard everywhere you go: "How's your house?" "Gone." "You coming back?" "No, we're staying in Dallas, you?" "No, we're staying in Houston. Got the kids in school already." "Hey you coming back?" "Yes! We'll be back"----------from here it varies from next week to six months to January to end of the school year. Three of our missing friends, Rod, Ryan and Chuck found us yesterday. All three of their houses are just plain gone. New Orleans East.
Yesterday the Royal Carriage buggies were back on Jackson Square. It was a beautiful sight. The people who live across the street from the stables applauded as the buggies rolled out. I rode the bike down and took pictures of the first buggies back on the Square. Then the drivers started tooling around the Quarter just to let people know they were back. I got to ride with David through the Quarter and we tossed beads to stunned out of towners. They loved it. The locals were cheering as we went by. The drivers worked all day yesterday and most got at least one run. Some of them were taking people to their hotels for $20, something not usually allowed. We hung out down there just grinning and happy. Usually the area of the hack stand is jammed with people and artists and traffic on Decatur. Cafe du Monde is buzzing. Not yesterday. But seeing those buggies and the joy on the faces of the drivers and the locals was fabulous. I rode through the Quarter all day yesterday just kind of checking on what was open and what wasn't yet. I'd come around a corner and here would come a buggy. Seemed almost normal! One guy hollered out his car window, "Hey man, I never thought I'd ever be HAPPY to be stuck behind a carriage!" For now they're only going to roll three days a week to see what happens and see if it's worth it. A lot of the contractors are bringing their wives down on weekends and little by little as things open again it might be worth working them all week, but it will be a while. One of the local carriage companies (there are four, but Royal is the largest) is never coming back at all. There were six drivers out there yesterday. The first ones back. And there was one out last night on Bourbon Street. A weird image: Bourbon Street at night, Humvee driving past a carriage.
NOTE: 10.08.2005 Blogger is giving me fits with the photos. I'll get the rest uploaded tomorrow.
Oh yeah, the big red dog that the Army helped us rescue has a name. His name is Jake. We went down to the house where we found him and his owners, an elderly couple, were there. They were thrilled that we knew their dog. Their son called and I gave them the number of the woman who knows whether Jake is in Utah or Cincinnati. When I told the people that their dog was fine, the lady just grabbed my hand and wouldn't let go. She'd been so worried and was so happy.
On the news yesterday: "Many owners of pet snakes just let them go as the Hurricane arrived. Here is a picture of a 12 foot python, formerly someone's pet. This python had just ingested a 6 foot alligator. Officials are concerned that these pet snakes could become problematic." The picture was amazing. That snake had to have been uncomfortable after eating that gator! As for problematic? Yup. I'm thinking so!
There's much more for you. But enough for now. I'm praying for the people dealing with the earthquake in Pakistan. I heard a woman say to her friend, "Forty years I lived in that house, and my whole life changed in one day." That's how it is here. That's how it is in Pakistan this morning. I'll never be able to look at a disaster the same way again. It's not an event. It's a process and the process is like an elevator ride, up and down. Joy and hugs of gratitude punctuated by tears when you least expect them. I loved kaleidoscopes when I was little. Still do. Unfortunately, right now everyone's emotions move like those little colored glass pieces, quickly, jolting, into a new pattern. No one is immune.
I'll get the pictures out to you later today.
Love and Light,
Bec and David
The buggies are still rolling, but few of the drivers can actually make a living at it as they could in the old days. The tourist industry has slacked by 85%. Yesteryear's is still in business. I keep my fingers crossed every day for them.
Tommie, if I recall right, didn't make it but my memory might be faulty on that. I think the trauma was too much. I'll double check my facts.
The Lower 9th is now accessible and I'm working on a piece about going there now. It's eerie. I still can't look at the photos without sobbing like I did as I stood on the neutral ground taking them that day. Those images will stay in my mind on my deathbed, of that I have no doubt.
Oh yeah, and T, who showed up to clean out his apartment came home. He is now a cook at a prestigious hotel/restaurant and seemingly happy but I don't have as much time to see him as I'd wish.
Blogger is giving me fits tonight as I race to the ten minute deadline to get this published in real time. It's not uploading photos as it should so check back tomorrow and we'll have all the photos of what I'm talking about. Amazing that I could find them, but I did!
So weird, looking at the photos and re-living it all.
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