August 28, 2015
GUEST POST: REFLECTIONS ON KATRINA BY A SUFFICIENTLY TALENTED FOOL
Guest post by KENNETH W. BICKFORD
Exactly ten years ago tonight, my family and I were enjoying an unscheduled visit to Houston, Texas, where we wined and dined with old friends. For a very long time, New Orleanians have planned their hurri-cations with nearly the same off-hand and casual demeanor one would use to plan a dinner party. One simply goes through the checklist — are the groceries bought? Is the tank full of gas? Do we have batteries? Are the suitcases packed? Check. Threats to recalcitrant children? Check. Strong language for wives who over-pack — for crying out loud, woman, we’ll only be gone for three days! Check.
You’d pardon me for being rather blasé about the “big one,” but you see, in those days the world seemed to operate like a well-oiled machine. True, there were some nasty surprises here and there — but FedEx got my packages to me overnight, State Farm insured my car, Chubb insured my house, the FDIC guaranteed my checking account, and the liquor store guaranteed my prescription was ready for pick-up. What else could the 21st century man — the man of 2005 — want? We’re self-reliant, lift-ourselves-by-our-own-bootstrap Americans! We have everything we need — we’ve got FEMA!
Six weeks later, I drove down a desolate St. Charles Avenue.
The sky was utterly blue while the city was utterly dead. I shared the Avenue with no other living soul. Katrina had even killed the birds. An impenetrable cocoon of silence had blanketed the city — the kind of silence that one only finds deep in a dark and evil wilderness, or sees portrayed in movies where a virus has wiped out the species.
It is a sobering thought to imagine a city — your city — so full of life one day, and laughter, and criminal activity, and good deeds, and hail-fellows-well-met, and pretty girls, and gnarled old women, and quarrelsome children running headlong just to see what’s around the next corner — to see your hometown in all of its run-of-the-mill ordinariness and then . . . to wake up one morning and suddenly know that you’ll never step into that river again — that it is all gone for good.