Drained but still marching
Dumaine at N. Roman, photographed Ted Jackson for the Times-Picayune
"It makes me think of what my friend Rev. Goat just told me: 'Let me say this before it goes any further; New Orleans didn't die of natural causes, she was murdered.'"
-- Dr. John in the Herald Tribune (9/8/05)
Everyone I've spoken to from New Orleans lately is both tired and ready to work harder. It's an inspiring combination, especially at the late end of a hard week. Below are scattershot links, updates, and interviews for those who view this disaster as bigger than one story. To my New Orleans friends, you'll stay in my thoughts this weekend.
At Blotter, I just posted the entire transcript of my interview with ReBirth snare drummer Derrick Tabb, remembering the days after Katrina hit, when the buses didn't show up:
It was all right 'til the police came with the press. Once the press came, things changed. The police was down with you taking food and all that, 'cause they was trying feed everybody. Then when the press came, they made it look like people was just looting. A lot of people wasn't looting just to be looting. They were really feeding people. You didn't want to see a lot of old people and babies crying for water and stuff. I watched my mother-in-law cry for some water. That part was just sad. I had to watch a couple people die. I watched more than a couple, I watched like about five people die, because I was walking back and forth the whole night. The police shot a couple people. It was about the worst situation in my life.
Tabb stole a van to evacuate his family and elderly folks to the Convention Center, then drove it to Houston. Of course, by the time his band mates were telling the story onstage in Minneapolis last Saturday, the van had become a bus, and it arrived in Houston with a police escort. The real story is less flashy and more poignant.
In other NOLA brass band news, the Houston Press has a heartfelt column about last Thursday's funeral for Katrina, at the club they're now calling "Treme, Texas," though happily, it looks as if James "Big 12" Andrews has been found since the article ran:
After an opening set of New Orleans R&B, blues, funk and jazz from a crack ad hoc band backing up a steady stream of vocalists, the New Birth Brass Band, who had slipped out of Sammy's unbeknownst to the patrons, made a grand parade-style entry led by a natty marshal in a tailored suit, fedora and--get this--a funeral sash bearing the name "Katrina."
Keep up with more brass band gossip at ILM and at the ReBirth Brass Band's crucial message board. If you happen to be in Houston (we have at least a couple readers there), check out this huge hip-hop Katrina benefit on Saturday.
In Minneapolis/St. Paul, meanwhile, there are concrete ways to help and have fun at the same time: an Arise! benefit for hurricane relief in the Entry tonight, one featuring Lolly Pop at Club Underground in Northeast on Saturday, and one on Sunday starring an old ReBirth/Ruffins pal, Kid Merv Campbell, at the Dakota (see photo below). Campbell might be known at City Pages as the New Orleans evacuee who just had a baby with former staf writer Katy Reckdahl. Also on Sunday, there's a benefit for New Orleans musicians at the Cabooze. Get a full schedule of local events at Complicatedfun.com's Katrina Benefits page.
Obviously, I have trouble separating the cultural catastrophe from the human one. I even think Bush's invocation of the "second line" last night was necessary and astute (though I'd love to know the behind-the-scenes story of how somebody explained to him what a second line was). Then again, it was never a good idea to separate New Orleans the idea from New Orleans the people. Tabb's story, I hope, will merge the two in some minds forever.
As usual, the key links for the story remain the WWL-TV blog, the Times-Picayune blog (see the archive), WDSU, the Interdictor group blog (and message board), Fox, CNN's Katrina blog, NPR radio, Josh Britton's blog, Home of the Groove Audioblog, WWOZ (back up and running), VatulBlog, Democracy Now radio, City Pages Blotter, Talking Points Memo, Crooks and Liars (video), Times-Picayune photos, and our modest contributions at City Pages Culture to Go.
From WWOZ's blog on Sept. 11, posted by general manager David Freedman:
WWOZ's studios and record library were spared severe damage in Katrina and only suffered moderate flooding and no looting. But in recent days, David's been struggling to protect WWOZ's record library and equipment from being destroyed by subsequent rains - Katrina left OZ's studios and library exposed to the elements.
David also discovered that the WWOZ broadcast tower was in fact severely damaged, contrary to their first observations from a distance. In the course of dealing with these issues, David observed pockets of normalcy in New Orleans next to armed checkpoints, and he also reports on the non-state of forced evacuations.
Links from days 11 through 19 of an American disaster:
Cafe Degas, near my old place on Esplanade, has a tree through it (Nola.com bulletin board on Sept. 19)
Roundup of Katrina quotes from the first 12 days (Rhythms 247, Sept. 12)
Notes from under water: The struggle to survive the disaster in New Orleans (Weekly Standard, Sept. 10)
Brown successor is that duct tape guy (Bloggermann Sept. 12)
Grim reports from the Astrodome (Jeff Chang via hiphopmusic.com)
FEMA, slow to rescure, stumbles in aid effort (NYT Monday)
Steve Perry: Let them eat Brownie
The game show "The Price is Right" is taped weeks, even months, in advance, leading to last Thursday's deliciously ironic "Showcase Showdown": The prizes included a trip to New Orleans and a speedboat.
An eyewitness account of police behavior in New Orleans
Al Gore, better ex-candidate than he was a VP, quietly helps Katrina victimsShould living paycheck to paycheck be a crime punishable by death in floodwater?
Living too much in the bubble? A bungled initial response to Katrina exposed the perils of a rigid, insular White House. Inside Bush's plan to show he isn't isolated
More on "George Bush doesn't care about black people": New Orleans rapper Master P and First Lady Laura Bush weigh in.
Corey "C-Murder" Miller is alive and well in a Louisiana prison.
Nona just called me. All of her extended family had evacuated before the hurricane struck. They are in Houston. She is with relatives. Everyone lost their homes and everything in them. She says among her relatives there are about 100 people, with 27 homes lost. She doesn't know about any of her friends. She is coping day by day. Says the people in Houston have been wonderful and their immediate needs have been met. She is in a daze, trying to deal with insurance companies and FEMA. Can't reach FEMA, of course. The plan is to figure out where to go for the next 3 - 4 months. They'd like to get back to Louisiana. She thinks she and her daughter's family may be able to stay with a relative of her daughter's husband somewhere in Louisiana. Of course, no one can work, as all the businesses were flooded out, too. When her family gets relocated, she'll l et me know whatwe can do to help.
Survivor Story: "I am distinctly a minority right now."
I've been posting emails about my friend Machelle Lee on this blog, one of the few civilian "hold outs" who remained in New Orleans as late as September 7, the day after the mayor authorized forced evacuations. She stayed voluntarily in her Garden District neighborhood, bicycling up and down deserted Magazine Street until worried long-distance calls from her family persuaded her to get out. A Tulane law student and former Minnesota resident, Machelle says she regrets leaving, and plans to return Monday to begin her part of the job of rebuilding the city.
"I can't imagine going back to school right now," she says. "There's so much to do, but it's exciting. We've got money coming into New Orleans for the first time." Here's an oral history-style, edited transcript of our interview about the ten days that shook New Orleans:
My friends Felicity and Jude and I spent the hurricane in the mansion where Jefferson Davis died. We actually watched most of the hurricane from a glassed-in back porch, even though that was pretty dangerous. We kept running out when we'd get scared and close the doors.
The day after the hurricane, on Tuesday, we road our bikes all over the place. We went to the Quarter because we wanted to see if it had been damaged, and check on some of the landmarks. The electricity went out during the hurricane, but there were still quite a few bars open and serving, with people standing around talking. "What's going on?" Where had people seen flooding?
As we were coming back across Canal Street, the police stopped us and told us that we couldn't cross. "The levees just broke and it's starting to flood." We convinced them that we had to get across because we needed to get home. They said, "Well, you can cross Canal, but if you go left or right, you'll probably get shot."
At night we went over to my building, which is right on Jackson and St. Charles Avenue, the historic street with the streetcars. There were about 20 people there, having basically a big party by the swimming pool. So we stayed there, drinking and talking and going swimming. Two policemen who live in the building were hanging out with us. All of a sudden one of them came running out. "The water's risen. There's all sorts of craziness. People are coming out the neighborhoods. We gotta go." Something like that. And they took off.
At that point, we still weren't afraid of the dark, so we stayed until pretty late, and left. That night I stayed in my own bed, which I hadn't slept in for a couple nights.
When I woke up, I couldn't flush the toilet. I went downstairs and St. Charles Avenue was full of people coming up out of the flooded areas. It was this stream of people, desperate, carrying what they could carry, and heading downtown. You could see this was going to be a terrible situation. There were people trying to steal cars all up and down the street. There were some very scary-looking people, young men that looked like they had nothing to lose. It was the look in their eyes. There were guns everywhere.
I knew at that point that the police were understaffed. They were rescuing people and trying to fight all this crime, and you knew all these people were heading down to the Superdome and the convention center. So many desperate people heading to one place, and a lot of people were with families, a lot of women with their children. People were carrying stuff in garbage bags, or in a backpack. I saw several little children walking, carrying a 2-liter cola.
I've never seen that many people on St. Charles in my life. You could easily see 100 people at a time within a couple blocks. There were no buses. There were some people who had cars, but most people were walking. On the radio, before the hurricane, you heard over and over again, "Come to the Superdome," so I guessed that's where they were headed.
To this group of National Guard badgering us, we were saying, "This is really hard for us. We wanted you guys to come so badly, and instead of showing up and saying, 'Let's work together,' you're telling us to get out?"
I left and I went over to Felicity's house. I was telling them that I was thinking of leaving because of what I saw on St. Charles that morning. They said, well, Felicity had gone over to her apartment, and she ran into two people who had tried to leave the night before, and they were car-jacked. They had to walk home in the dark. That was when I decided to stay.
I came back with Felicity's brother and her friend Jude to get my car and some things from my house. When we got there, two separate groups of young men were stealing vehicles right outside. We were walking toward my gate, and we were scared of them. They were obviously trying to break into this car. They broke through the window to get in through the door, then they broke the steering column trying to steal this SUV. But they didn't know how to steal it, so all they did was damage it. When we came back out they had given up. A doctor in my building told me that someone had tried to steal my car, but she had told them to go away.
People were siphoning gas out of everywhere. After the initial wave of stealing cars, all the gas tank things were open on all the vehicles. We went out to my car, and took a tree that had fallen over the street, and parked the car underneath it. We covered it up with branches so it looked like it had been crushed by a tree in order to make sure that it didn't get stolen, so we could use it if we needed it.
We were well armed. At my building, the policemen who lived there armed people in the building. I stayed with Felicity at her aunt's house at that mansion where we spent the hurricane. Felicity's dad is a gun collector, so he has lots of guns. I had an AR-15, a semi-automatic M-16.
For two days, we didn't go further than a block away. During that time, someone we knew went biking by, and he's a chef at a really good restaurant. He had all these fillet mignon and really good shrimp that were going to go bad. So he came over and we grilled it all up. We sat by the swimming pool at a mansion, and we had really good wine. It was just so surreal. We said, "This is crazy," with all these people that we knew down in the convention center. We knew what was going on down there. There was nothing we could have done. But it seemed so callous to be sitting here, with this almost "let them eat cake" attitude.
I know Nagin made a speech the next day on the radio, Thursday. I almost cried when I heard that speech. It was everything that we were all thinking. We had been on the phone yelling at everybody we knew to call their congressman, tell them that we need troops. Nagin said, "Where are they?" That's what we were yelling on the phone, because it was just insane down here.
I had friends in the Warehouse District, and one night they heard a whole bunch of gunfire right by their house. They looked out and there was an armed gang of young black men, and they were yelling, "Kill all the white people." There was not much of that element, but there was some of it. And there was some element of people walking by and saying, "Oh, look at all these houses, the rich white people. They still have their houses, we should just go in there." Which in a way, maybe they should have, rather than head to the Superdome.
There was also a certain element of being a middle-class white person. My racism, that's something I really struggled with. I became quite racist during this time. Not like, "This is their fault," like they're somehow innately bad, but this sense of "I am distinctly a minority right now." There were no white people outside in New Orleans. Most people I saw, they weren't going to hurt me. But we didn't see any police at all. There were almost no people in the city. If someone did something to me, and I cried for help, no one was coming.
Saturday, the troops showed up. We were on the widow's walk on top of the house. It's a four-story house where you can stand on the roof. We kept looking out, and finally I saw a military truck coming. We could see smokes from fires, and people walking by in our neighborhood. Someone would be on the widow's walk and someone would be on the front porch, and we could yell to each other, "Someone's coming down First Street," and then the people on the front porch could go out and either talk to them or not, depending on what they wanted to do. We would usually say hello even if we thought the people were kind of scary.
When the military arrived, we knew the worst was over, and I absolutely did not want to leave at that point. The phone was ringing off the hook, and all these New Orleans families who had evacuated were calling us, wanting us to check on their houses. We'd make lists of addresses and then go bike out and check on them. Then they said, "Could you check on so-and-so's grandmother?" So we started taking food and water to people. They pretty much didn't need it, they were all prepared, but still appreciated someone coming. When we told them, "The troops are here, you can go outside now," it was really exciting for them.
We didn't leave the Garden District and Uptown. I tried to cross Canal Street to save somebody's cat, and the police stopped me. They were in the process of evacuating the Superdome and the convention center.
After the military came in, it was surreal how completely quiet New Orleans was. We were running around talking about how, "We're the kings of New Orleans," riding around on our little bikes. There was nobody there, hardly. You'd bike for blocks and blocks and then you'd run in to somebody. One thing about it was, it was amazingly beautiful. The city was so quiet, all trees and squirrels and birds and stately beautiful homes, the beautiful part of New Orleans that I love.
Monday was the first day the police started telling us that they were going to forcibly evacuate us. I was walking out of my building with my bike, and this group of four police and four National Guard came out and were like, "You need to pack your things and go right now." They had this big city bus.
I'm said, "I'm not leaving."
One cop wasn't wearing a uniform but she had a badge around her neck. She said, "Don't you know women have been raped?" I'm looking at these people, and I'm like, "I was here, you weren't. You can't scare me by telling stories of things that happened days ago." It was really insulting. They were telling us everything we'd already been through. Then they said, "The Navy SEALS are coming in behind us, and if you don't go with us now, they're going to force you to go," which was an obvious lie.
I just got furious. I couldn't get through them with my bike, so I went back through my gate, and went around to the back of my building and waited five minutes. When they were standing half a block away, I made my escape. I got on my bike and zoomed across the street.
On Tuesday I got stopped by the National Guard, and then Wednesday the police were going door to door, telling people they had to leave. I didn't want to go, but my friend Felicity left that morning with her grandmother, and everyone else I knew was gone. It was starting to get boring just being by myself. I started smoking again.
The owner of the hostels behind my building rented out all his beds to the Oklahoma National Guard, so they were all right behind my building, watching us swim and whistling--there were two girls left in my building. They were trying to flirt with us when they were off-duty, which was kind of fun. I went down to ask if I could charge up my cell phone and they were totally friendly. There was the detail of people who were on duty, going around and knocking on doors, telling people that they have to leave, but no one else was telling you that you had to leave. I think that was mostly an excuse, like they have to tell everyone that they have to leave so that they can tell the people that they're targeting that they have to leave. Poor people, black people.
We had running water again on Wednesday. It's not drinkable, but right now this city has more food and water than we know what to do with. In Uptown, the Garden District, and the French Quarter, the city is quite livable. The 9th Ward, which all the news crews are showing, that's going to be a complete disaster. It's horrible.
Part of me never wanted to leave. To this group of National Guard badgering us, we were saying, "This is really hard for us. We wanted you guys to come so badly, and instead of showing up and saying, 'Let's work together,' you're telling us to get out?" That was one of the most morale-breaking moments of the whole thing. We wanted to get to work. We were ready to start clearing the streets, and instead we had to start hiding again, this time from the military and the police.
From the department of slightly related good news:
Did Bush's speech from New Orleans last night pull his loyal base to the political left? Comments at Little Green Footballs sure would suggest so.
PREVIOUS POSTS ABOUT NEW ORLEANS AND KATRINA:
Aug. 30: New Orleans is Drowning (interview with ReBirth Brass Band's Philip Frazier)
Aug. 31: More scenes from Lake New Orleans (links and photos)
Sept. 1: New Orleans is gone. Please help New Orleanians (more links plus updates from friends)
Sept. 7: Baby let me hold your hand: a month of benefit shows (schedule and archive of Minnesota benefit concerts)
Sept. 7: I get up early, early in the morning... (looking back on 10 awful days)
Sept. 9: "Yes We Can" (notes of hope from a traumatized city)
Sept. 12: New Birth buries Katrina; ReBirth Rocks the Cabooze (review of ReBirth Brass Band show)
Sept. 12: Welcome New Orleanians (more ReBirth photos)
Sept 16: Drained but still marching (more updates and links)
Sept. 20: New Katrina benefits page: Complicatedfun.com/katrina
Sept. 20: Katrina survivor stories at: Citypages.com/neworleans