I went on vacation, got out of town and visited Brooke and saw some other friends. (Here comes the annoying shout-out to people you don’t know – hi Sarah, Brandon, Laura, Benjamin, Jennifer & Jennifer’s funny drunk friend!) I meant to blog from there, but not surprisingly that didn’t happen. I should have put up a post like newspapers run, explaining their columnist is on vacation and will return and here’s a greatest hit from a couple of years ago. Though I suppose to deserve that, I would need a regular schedule like newspaper columnists …
At any rate, this was the first time I had left New Orleans since December. Everyone I mentioned this to agreed that six months is a REALLY long time to spend in this town without a break, and they’re probably right. One tends to forget what it’s like to be somewhere where everything works and the streets aren’t constantly lined with trash. Places where firefighters don’t have trouble putting out fires because the water lines are all broken and leaking or where restaurants and bars don’t have hand-written signs on their doors proclaiming their “temporary hours,” and it’s important to remind ourselves of stuff like that because if we do forget, then we don’t mind. We accept that things are just that way now, and we don’t stay angry, and we don’t turn that anger into resolve, and we don’t demand change. (Our ability as a species to adapt to just about anything is a double-edged sword.) The long march to a repaired New Orleans, that “bigger and better” one we kept hearing about several months ago, is a very long one, years long in fact, and we have to fight exhaustion and depression every step of the way.
So here are a couple of the things I got excited about while visiting Jersey and New York – no blue roofs! Flying in to Newark, the only blue visible was the light, translucent blue of swimming pools. Someday, I thought, New Orleans will look like that again from the air. Also – working public transportation! Not that New Orleans ever had great public transportation to begin with, but I really miss the St. Charles streetcar. Also, taking the train from Jersey to NYC got me really hopeful of the plans to expand the streetcar lines and add some lightrail commuter lines to Baton Rouge and the Gulf Coast. Just being where those things actually exist and work was a good reminder along the lines of, “Um, hey, we could do that, too.”
Here’s a funny thing about people that live Out There – they’re not obsessed with New Orleans. I know, I know, totally crazy but true. Don’t get me wrong, they do care; they’re just not obsessed with it to the exclusion of all else. People would ask how things are here, and I would launch into what surely would be an absolutely fascinating lecture of several hours full of telling detail and perceptive observations and strident recommendations, and then people would tune out after a couple of sentences. It was shocking and a little upsetting (why isn’t everyone totally centered on MY problems?!?), but it turns out they have their own problems. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to ask a cab driver if he or she thought we should rebuild New Orleans, but I really wanted to.)
Brooke took me to this musical, “Spring Awakening,” which I’m not giving too much away about by saying it was all about sexual repression, teen suicide, and death from illegal abortion. It was based on a play written in 1891 that was banned for seventy years. Not only was it very well done and extremely well-performed, but it was a good reminder that all sorts of old problems and fights are still here, that many things haven’t changed significantly, an idea they underlined by punctuating period scenes with songs with contemporary lyrics and music. (Some of the recent legislation passed by the Louisiana legislature also reminded me of the same old fights, but more on that later.)
I’ve been pretty tunnel-visioned lately, and it was good to shake that off a bit. A broadening of horizons, if you will.
In a kind of opposite directioned connection, there’s a production of “Waiting for Godot” up in New York that takes place on a roof surrounded by floodwater, where the implication is that the Godot the characters are waiting for is FEMA. If anybody’s seen it, I’d like to hear about it, because I like the idea of connecting the disaster in New Orleans with something beyond the disaster itself.
Here’s one last observation from my trip Out There: as we flew into New Orleans, I watched out the window as we soared over Lake Pontchartrain and came in over the suburbs. The last couple of times I did this, New Orleans was Blue Roof City, but this time, they were actually few and far between. I was so surprised I kept staring, looking around, trying to find all those blue roofs I had seen in December, but they just weren’t there. (Including my own, by the way, but again more on that later.)
From the ground here, while in the middle of it, I just couldn’t see much progress. In fact, I came back to a city where five teenagers were gunned down several blocks from my apartment last Saturday and the National Guard has returned, which looks and feels more backwards than forwards. That expanse of repaired roofs was the best evidence of progress I have seen in six months, and if I hadn’t gotten anything else out of the trip, that alone would have been worth it.