Flying into New Orleans the plane is quiet and everyone is bent over each other looking out the windows. At first I can see no impact, it looks like the city I’ve been to so many times these past few years. The first thing I notice is how few cars are on the streets. Then I see the Superdome’s patchwork roof and I hold my breath. Then I see all the tarped blue roofs, and the areas where there are roads with what appears to be piles of wood next to them. Finally, as we get closer to landing, there are expanses with trees all laid over sideways, telling the story of the storm paths.
Shana Sassoon meets me at the airport and we hop in her big pick-up after big hugs and she takes me to see. We drive towards Orleans parish and immediately I start to see the signs – literally. Every street corner is marked with signs for clean-up, odor removal, apartments to sell/rent/buy/raze, construction, roofing, legal services, etc. Then the big signs of big business which are missing huge chunks, leaving spotty advertisements for their empty services.
And then we’re in the 9th ward, specifically the lower 9th. Shana points out to me the markers for this particular graveyard. The water line is a brown black stain along the sides of churches, homes, playgrounds. Cars that are gray and marked ‘Please Tow’ were submerged in the toxic sludge and I can’t stop the thought – ‘How many could have gotten out in that vehicle?’ And then there’s the cracked desert chocolate surface of the ground, that’s the top layer the toxic sludge left. 6 inches minimum will have to be removed before folks could live here again, grow here again.
Night is coming and we’re still driving, eventually seeing some signs of life. Kids helping their father pull bags of garbage out of their home, a group of white activists who are setting up a medical center and food spot on a corner amidst the broken homes, dogs and cats that run up and slink away from the vehicle – pets or survivors all. And everywhere, everywhere are the piles of people’s lives: cheap soft couches and sweatshirts and shoes and pots and pans and dresses…and those are good signs. That means someone has been there. The other thing to get used to is fridges, taped and marked spoiled on every corner and in front of every home.
i had my first real cigarette in 10 months after 30 minutes here. i’ll write more tomorrow.