Support This Site Design and Sell Merchandise Online for Free

Monday, September 26, 2005

Heart & Soul of New Orleans, Part I

(I have moved "Part II" of this story to show up below "Part I" so that should anyone have the misfortune of stumbling across my babbles . . . they'll be able to follow along a bit easier. --Misery)

The Tuesday night following Labor Day weekend, knowing I had quite a bit of work to do, I felt compelled instead to grab my Bible and head out to the Reese Center where the Katrina Evacuees were being housed.

Upon arriving at the abandoned hangar, their temporary home, I stopped by the central "command post." It was really nothing more than two folding tables set-up in an "L" shape in a corner and peopled by three Red Cross volunteers working from their laptops and cell phones.

Directly across from the "command post" there were two other folding tables placed in a similar manner. They were heavily weighted with packages of snacks, sodas, waters and the like and brigaded with boxes of additional food waiting to be handed out.

Looming above these tables was the office area of the hangar. Standing tall and high in the air, at its height it was walled with glass and in the left-hand window was placed a hand-painted sign reading, "Kid's Play Room."

Chaos immediately confronted me when I entered the hangar. I seemed as if what might have begun in the "Kid's Play Room" now had spilled out in to the entire hangar and the airstrip beyond. Children slammed past me, giggling and playing tag. Adult evacuees walked aimlessly about. Volunteers milled everywhere, attending to the children and adults alike. The mood was a mixture of mirth, business, and boredom.

Unlike my expectations, there was no discernible pain or sorrow anywhere around.

I leaned in across the table at the command post so that my voice could cut through the din of noise around me. And I asked about anyone who might need to talk. With a few names in hand and a general understanding of where I might find them, I tucked my Bible under my arm and walked into the left wing of the hangar.

Queen size air mattress were laid out, row upon row, each marked with masking tape on the concrete floor and labeled by the surnames scribbled in black marker. Small televisions mounted on boxes were scattered about. Here and there a man lay on his mattress, the rabbit-ears on the television positioned just right so that he could catch something decent on t.v. In other areas groups of women were gathered on their mattresses, some around televisions while others not, braiding hair and talking.

Children weaved in and out of the maze of mattresses playing and laughing. Many of them were followed by volunteers with yellow vests. The volunteers laughed and smiled, as well, as they chased the children and hoped to keep up.

At the far end of the left wing stood a row of tables littered with boxes. Each box was labeled: Men's Shirts; Men's Pants; Women's Shirts; Children's Shoes; etc . . . Behind these tables stood a few small, cordoned-off areas that served as dressing-rooms. The volunteers standing nearby were probably the most bored of the group as only a couple takers lingered and shuffled through the boxes of stuff.

I walked down the ramp into the wing and searched around me, Bible proudly-held, and smiled at any whose eyes met mine. No one paid much attention to me and I began to feel the part of the outsider. This was now their home and they'd become one very large family. I was an intruder, or so I felt, and I tried not to appear the part of the voyeur-- only come to watch how they lived.

Instead, for a few seconds, I focused on the playing and laughter of a group of children. They whizzed around me and eventually ended up wrestling on an air matress bordering the central aisle. Two college-age female volunteers finally caught up and gathered around them to make sure no one was hurt by a fall onto the hard, cold floor.

Resuming my search for the names I'd been given at the command post, I went from looking at those around me to scanning the name tags everywhere on the floor. I had no luck, however, as the only surnames matching those I'd been given belonged to empty beds. So I repeated my efforts with the right-wing of the hangar before returning, empty-handed, to the command post at the entrance.

My attention was quickly diverted, however, by the sounds from outside. Not since I had walked the streets of the French Quarter had I heard anything like it.

It would become absolutely evident over the next hour that while these evacuees showed up with very little of their former lives in their arms, they had no problem carrying the soul of New Orleans with them to the dry, dusty plains of West Texas.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Listed on BlogShares