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Author Topic: Shocked after visit  (Read 9757 times)
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« on: August 15, 2006, 11:03:09 am »

 I lived in New Orleans for about three months almost twenty years ago.  I've just come back from a conference there (I spent most of the time driving around, looking at what there was to see of what I remembered). I'm shocked, and scared for the city of New Orleans. It seems, from the areas I drove around (Metairie, where I used to live, Jeff. Parish, Garden district, CBD, etc.) that about 1 in 2 houses is occupied, many with trailers in the front yard; many others are abandoned, or "For Sale/For Rent" signs are posted in front.  The community I used to live in is impossible to imagine at half-occupancy; won't the unoccupied houses become magnets for animals/bugs, or become the target of vandalism or places to do crack?  The labor shortages are apparent everywhere; not only do things close randomly (presumably understaffed), but many of the people doing jobs are clearly untrained/inexperienced at them. It makes even the small tasks I needed to accomplish frustrating, but I can only imagine the frustration that must come from having to deal with this on a day to day basis, about really important things like home repairs or school enrollment; I wound up feeling like there would have to be a rise in violence, out of the sheer frustration and hopelessness of trying to do things in an impossible/very difficult situation.  It also made me feel like drug use would have to rise; it seems like escaping, however you can (mentally, if not physically), might be something reasonable people would do.  Many places are not taking credit cards, only cash; dust is thick everywhere, restaurants store cardboard boxes of goods in the middle of seating areas; the sidewalk is uneven and covered with debris. (I had packed closed-toed shoes fearing this and was grateful- you can't walk in a construction zone in sandals.)  Even downtown, many buildings are unoccupied, abandoned or burnt out, even next to beautifully rehabbed law offices or swank hotels (themselves staffed by people who sit, stuffed into pretty uniforms, on break on the loading dock, chain-smoking and slack-jawed, staring into space as if reliving trauma.  Given the amount of PTSD that must be present, in some senses its incredible that anyone is working, and perhaps no one should be, although that's not a luxury that can be afforded.).  The scars are going to be enormous, and I can't see how to fix it. I want to believe it will work out, but the city is in many senses non-functional at the moment. At Riverwalk, two out of twenty or so food court stands are open- an amazing accomplishment, measured against the scale of the disaster, but far from functional.  I worry that there will be a second wave, this time of economic dislocation; it is one thing for people to come back, perhaps because they want to return to their job, but if not enough people return to employ them, there's a problem.  (I ran into a tour guide operator working in a gift kiosk because he said he had been starving as a tour guide, because no one was there to take tours.  He said, "That's just how it is now." I heard a lot of that.)  Restaurants are reopening, perhaps run by young and/or single people who can make do with fewer amenities for a while (e.g. schools, safe parks, etc.), but if not enough people return to eat in them, there will be a second wave of economic dislocation which will also be ugly. I don't know what to do. I want to help, and I gave $$$ when Katrina first hit, and I can and will give again, but on some level I want to do more, and I also want to connect with others who have seen this; I need some validation for my reactions. (I suppose on some level I hope it isn't so- that's the basic denial that always accompanies the first stage of mourning, I suppose.)  Sorry for the length of this.  All responses deeply welcomed. Anyone else been there and had reactions?  (I know those who lived there at the time of Katrina have had very different reactions, as have tourists- I'm sort of in a funny, neither fish nor fowl< category.)
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