All too often in life, we hit that speedbump – a sudden, drastic change that interrupts all plans and leaves nothing but chaos in its wake.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, or ignoring the links I so thoughtfully included, Robby’s plow came a’visitin’ in 2005. Only it wasn’t a plow, it was a Category 5 raging bitchstorm. And the field was New Orleans.
One Big, Easy Mess
I was born in Metairie, Louisiana, 1,970 years after we started keeping count. That makes me 41. And in all that time, I’ve never been run over by a plow. Never been flooded out of my house. Never faced the prospect of starvation. And never had to leave behind anyone I loved just so I could go on living.
I’m willing to bet 99% of you probably haven’t either.
So, how could we possibly imagine how almost half a million residents of the Big Easy felt when their city was turned upside down and their lives indelibly changed?
I remember when my cousin came to Houston 5 days after Katrina with my aunt and Mad Max stories of gunfire and primitive living. They got out by making a run for it while the looters were momentarily distracted by the smell of food next door. I remember the look of absolute hopelessness in my cousin’s eyes — he had just lost two homes and any semblance of a normal life. How could he go back?
But he did. And that blew my mind. He could have scrapped it all and not a single soul would blame him. Instead, he went back 24 hours after he got to Houston (warmth, safe running water, air conditioning) to God knows what.
And that’s when 223,000 people started the biggest re-branding effort I’ve ever heard of.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
I’m not going to rehash all the bullshit that took place after Katrina. I want to talk about now. I want to talk about the spicy concrete phoenix that rose out of that godawful human gumbo to sit beside the Mighty Muddy today.
I got the chance to spend a few days back in the Big Easy over Christmas. And I was struck by how different it was. This was a whole new city. All the blocks surrounding the French Quarter had either a new, vibrant building on it; an old, vibrant building on it; or a crew of construction workers whom I bet had blueprints for some manner of vibrancy. I walked around dark streets and felt an absolute absence of dread, unlike the years pre-storm, when I played Old Yeller for my family – a herd of honkies hustling from French Quarter to hotel at a dead run sure we were about to be mugged. Now, every local we met, from the concierge at the hotel to the liquored up bum on Bourbon Street, thanked us for visiting and being part of the rebirth. Literally. And strangely enough, it was genuine. Sure, there had to be some sort of self-preservation motivation in there somewhere. But the warmth and pride with which it was delivered struck a cord with me.
These people had every reason to give up. They chose, instead, to rebuild. To take nothing, put a better face on it, and convince the world, one tourist at a time, that this NOLA is something new. They made their brand as resilient as they are. Not because it was easy, but because it was hard. And because it was the right thing to do.
To A Mouse: F the Plow
But sometimes, we don’t have the courage, the fortitude, the time or the money to do it right. That’s when we need to find our Mardi Gras and be the new NOLA.
Do something hard. Plant a flag. Rebuild a city. Forget the plow.