Authors: Chris Rose
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This book is dedicated to Thomas Coleman, a retired longshoreman, who died in his attic at 2214 St. Roch Avenue in New Orleans' 8th Ward on or about August 29, 2005. He had a can of juice and a bedspread at his side when the waters rose.
There were more than a thousand like him.
Hard to believe it's been ten years.
Sometimes it seems like a million years ago, sometimes like it was yesterday. But it never seems like it didn't happen.
Even ten years afterâwith so much rebuilt, restored, resettled, reconfigured, and entirely reimaginedâthe specter of Katrina still colors life here, in some small way, even if just a muted gray.
In casual conversations or social settings, it comes up. Might take a while, but it
come up eventually.
That's not to suggest that the stranger sitting next to you is ready to collapse into a fit of despair, rail against the injustice, and then itemize everything he lost.
It's not like
anymore, thank God.
It was for a really long time, though.
And that time sucked.
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Looking back, the hardest thing to wrap your head around is remembering how many people said: Let it go. Let New Orleans wash into the sea.
This was not just the discontented grumblings from America's online lunatic fringe, but from established members of the media, the clergy, and Congress, most of whom made such vulgar pronouncements far away from the stink, the misery, and the wreckage.
The prevailing sentiment among such folks was that New Orleansâbless her charming, offbeat little powdered-sugar heartâwas not worth fixing.
Because not just the levees needed fixing. The roads needed fixing, the parks needed fixing, the schools needed fixing.
The jails, which needed fixing, were being jammed by the judiciary, which needed fixing. They were stressed to the breaking point handling the massive caseloads delivered by the NOPD, which needed a
of fixing, and who were not fit or equipped to handle this city's crime situationâwhich needed the most fixing of all.
You wonder: How could anyone have thought New Orleans was broken beyond repair?
(That was sarcasm.)
I acknowledge, looking back now from this side of the rubble and the floodâlooking back from this side of historyâthat even a conservative estimate of the projected cost of rebuilding this city, coupled with the dubious integrity and doubtful competence of City Hall at the timeÂ .Â .Â . it was not a sure bet.
But still: Let New Orleans die?
When destiny calls you home, when it's time to exit the stage, when your number is called (insert any other number of overused clichÃ©s for dying): There's not a damn thing you can do about it. Money and politics can't fix dead.
But we weren't dead. Or if we were, we didn't know it.
Here, in arguably the most death-obsessed city in the world, the natives are by turns unaware, unconcerned, and often unconvinced of our own mortality.
And whereas our geographical positioning might have seemed like a great idea at the timeâsay, 1718âit's now a challenge, perhaps even a risk.
And it's true, we are neither the most logical nor efficient municipality in this great land.
We're also not the most educated folks you'll ever meet, but one thing we
know: We were not going gently into that good night. We were not giving up on New Orleans.
And with the help of 500,000 of our closest friends around the countryâor hell, maybe a millionâwe put on some boots, pulled on some gloves, and got busy.
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If what the magazines and websites have been sayingâif what the analysts and futurists are predictingâis true, then New Orleans is the destination for America's next generation of young artists, entrepreneurs, and designers. Millennials, dreamers, and visionaries are here creating the next new business model, designing the next great app, fusing the next landmark technology, mixing the next banging cocktail.
We're the new Austin. The new Portland. The new Brooklyn. Hollywood South. Hipster City, USA. The New New Orleans, the bright new shining city on the hill. Except, well, without the hill.
We don't have any hills.
But you get the point.
And maybe that's all a load of piffle, I don't know. I reckon time will tell.
But I do know this: The more New Orleans changes, the more she remains the same. That is the nature of a place where irony is a birthright and contradiction is the dominant hand of fate.
It's hard to envision the day when the Thinking Class outnumbers the Drinking Class in this city, but we are approaching a necessary equilibrium between the old and new, the practical and the frivolous, the digital and the sensual.
We are innovation and tradition, high-tech and antique, fiber optics and gas lamps, new urbanism and the Vieux CarrÃ©, Uber cabs and streetcar lines, Airbnb and the Hotel Monteleone.
We're Dixieland jazz and sissy bounce.
New Orleans is today, as it was before, a place suspended between the physical world and the realm of imagination. The experience of everyday life here is magnified by emotional intensity and creative reverie, yet also reduced by the heat, humidity, and altitude to its most basic and primal elements: Food, shelter, and the Saints.
You can regulate our smoking and regulate our music andâhard to believe this day has comeâyou can even regulate our go-cups.
But you cannot regulate soul. You cannot legislate funk. And you cannot pass an ordinance that makes us ordinary.
The best things about us will never change.
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And one final word: Thank you, America. Thank you, from me and my cityâyou 500,000 (or hell, maybe a million) of our closest friendsâwho came down here over the past ten years and helped us rebuild this crazy, shambling, loveable hot mess of a city.
Because without New Orleans, where would all the Wild Things go in the night?
There's a bunch of old nicknames for this city and a whole bunch more now, but taking stock of this past decade of transformationâfrom our despair to our triumph, from our shame to our redemptionâI know where I live now.
Welcome to Lucky Town.
“If there was no New Orleans, America would just be a bunch of free people dying of boredom.”
Writing an introduction for a book like this is tricky business.
Intros I have read over the years are generally composed of personal anecdotes and references to the body of work that follows. But, in this case, what follows
the personal work, the veil pulled away, the soul of a cityâand a writerâlaid bare.
Newspaper reporters are used to covering death and disasterâit's our bread and butterâbut nothing prepares you to do it in your own town. Usually, we parachute into trouble, fill our notebooks, and then hightail it back to the comfort of our homes and offices.
Katrina changed all that.
Our comfort zones disappeared, turned into rubble, wastelands, and ghost towns. I went from being a detached entertainment columnist to a soldier on the front line of a battle to save a city, a culture, a newspaper, my job, my home.
Whether we won or lost the war remains to be seen. New Orleans is still a work in progress. The observations, lamentations, and ruminations that follow are the story so far, as it unfolded to me in the first sixteen months after the flood.
It's probably too emotional for conventional newspaper work. Too sentimental. Too angry. And way too self-absorbed, particularly for someone who weathered the storm remarkably wellâin a material sense, at least (I suffered a broken screen door and a loose gutter)âand whose career not only survived the storm, but actually thrived in the aftermath.