I used to love telling people I lived in New Orleans. I’d come home for Christmas break or visit friends at other schools and watch people’s reactions when I’d say, “I go to school in New Orleans.”
“Oh man! Is it crazy?”
“How is Mardi Gras? I hear you can drink in the streets!”
“Is it really like ‘Girls Gone Wild’?”
I’ll be honest; I loved that people were jealous of me for living in such a cool city. I’m sure UC Davis has its subtle charms, but it probably can’t compete with Dunbar’s fried chicken or Ms. Mae’s one dollar well drinks. And in response to everyone’s questions:
“Yes, it is crazy. Strangers say ‘hello’ to you when you pass them in the street. They put the emphasis on weird syllables. UMbrella. TUlane. INsurance. They eat crawdads…I mean…crawfish.”
“Mardi Gras is kickass. It goes on for weeks, and the parades just get bigger as Mardi Gras Day gets closer. People will cut you for blinking beads or painted coconuts. Costumes are encouraged, if not mandatory. And of course you can drink in the streets; you can do that every day.”
“No, you fool. Only dumb, drunk frat boys from Ole Miss act like it’s ‘Girls Gone Wild.'”
Since Katrina, the reactions have obviously been a little different. Instead of envy, I get pity or concern or, my least favorite, morbid curiosity. I was patient with people’s questions in the months following the storm. I understood that, as a New Orleans evacuee, I could offer a perspective people might not get from watching the coverage on Fox News.
Two years later, I’m tired of talking about how quickly the storm came down on us and how I threw three days’ worth of clothes and my camera in a backpack and left the city that Saturday afternoon. I’m tired of recounting how we were all on the phone to our friends and families, making sure everyone was safe, then watching hours and hours of CNN footage (when we had power, that is). I’m tired of talking about the evacuation to well-intentioned people because, well, it doesn’t matter. I was lucky. I had the means to get out of the city early; I had friends kind enough to let me sleep on their floor for five days; I had a home somewhere else to go to.
Instead, let’s talk about the mind-numbing incompetence with which Katrina was handled. Let’s talk about why Louisiana has to fight tooth and nail for more relief assistance, while we’re throwing money into Iraq like it’s goin’ out of style. Let’s talk about why half of New Orleans’ population is still displaced and parts of the city look like the aftermath of the blitzkrieg.
I may be living 2,000 miles from New Orleans right now, but my thoughts are with y’all today. I’ll be the one rocking the fleur-de-lys necklace, drinking an Abita Amber on my balcony and pissing off my neighbors by singing the Jazz Vipers and Cowboy Mouth at the top of my lungs.