When the news made landfall that Hurricane Isaac was heading toward our city instead of helping set a new record for soggy American flag wear in Tampa, I, like many in New Orleans, dutifully ignored the lump of concern in the pit of my stomach, gathered some plywood, bought booze and cigars, and hunkered down for a hurricane party. Idle chatter about pump capacity was made over cocktails. Calculations of wind speed and window strength were batted around. And yes, the K-Word was whispered outside of polite circles. But when, after a day and night of light carpentry, porch sitting, and storm watching, the hurricane finally hit, the optimists seemed to have won the argument.
Yes, the power (expectedly) went out all over the city, but flooding and damage seemed much less severe than we had expected. Most of the city is dirtied by debris and leaves, but otherwise unharmed. (Though no worse than your average Mercredi Gras.)
Yes, there was some looting -- primarily by what seemed to be the opportunistic – (the front passenger wheel of my car is missing all but one of its lugs, from a failed attempt at its removal) – but police and the National Guard (in overly armed Humvees) were patrolling everywhere, and for once, authorities didn’t seem to be wasting their energy on petty harassment of law abiding citizens.-
After much anticipation and speculation, the waters didn’t rise. And for the most part, people in New Orleans, (densely socially connected, preternaturally generous, and voluble communicators), are very, very good at dealing with this sort of thing, assuming incompetent governance doesn’t make the challenges insurmountable. With most of our jobs on hold, we reassured worried relatives, texted our acquaintances across the city when an ice delivery was made to our local corner store, and bartered quickly warming Tillamook cheese and quickly cooling hot coffee. One of my neighbors fashioned a 12-foot forked stick and made it his mission to raise a drooping electrical line when a truck needed to pass.
On Wednesday, notwithstanding lack of electricity, most of us drained our bathtubs of emergency toilet-flushing water and allowed ourselves the luxury of showers. We cleaned up our sidewalks and streets. And then, we looked around nervously for something to do, something that doesn’t happen very often around here. But with an evening curfew throttling our favorite night spots, a lingering darkness in the skies and in our homes, and no real disaster to deal with, we all got kind of … bored.
As an operator of a food truck, I had a unique vantage point on the antsy residents of New Orleans. On Thursday, Latin music blaring as it rolled slowly down the street, the Empanada Intifada food truck was met with roughly equal measures of gratitude for breaking the monotony of the calm after the storm, and for bringing food to folks who hadn’t had a hot meal in a few days. People emerged from their darkened homes to eat, compare notes, chat, or just listen to someone else’s music for a while, until the truck rolled forward. But as we all broke bread together, and discussed the merits of rakes vs. shovels for clearing storm drains, we gave thanks for the little unspoken fears that proved unwarranted, the floods that weren’t, and a surprisingly banal day that will yield to the rhythm of life again soon enough.