So I've decided to actually keep a journal for once. I haven't posted in my old LJ, "facialhair," for awhile, partly because the system locked me out of it for some reason, partly because I was too busy to keep up with it. I figure I should keep a log of where I've been and what I've done of the past week and a half, because it'll be difficult to recall it all in the future. I think it'll be good to centralize my thoughts about all this, too. I'll date everything I can.
Saturday, August 27th 2005
Business as usual, as odd as that sounds. We were aware of the storm, but as most people, we figured it would turn eastward and spare us, much like Ivan did last year. I did take the day off of work, since so many people were evacuating it would've been difficult to get out to Metairie, and I did want to watch the news. Michelle and I decided to wait at least until the 11 p.m. tracking map came out before we made plans to leave. In the afternoon we went over to Noah's house to work on AG, and we did little work before conversation turned towards leaving. Noah and Eden had a houseguest, a friend from Austin. I was all about leaving if the track map didn't change, because at that point the map had New Orleans set to take a direct hit. Michelle and Noah didn't want to leave. They had the same mindset that a lot of people did, I think. It would turn, surely, like every other storm in our lifetimes did. We figured that it'd be better if we left, though, because we needed electricity to run our computers and internet access to turn in the magazine when it was time. Just to be sure we had a place to go, I called our friend Toby, who lives in Houston, and he said we could stay at his place if we needed to.
Noah, Eden, and their houseguest took a vote, and they decided to leave. Michelle still didn't want to leave, but agreed to wait until that 11p.m. tracking map. She wanted to go to work, at TwiRoPa for Latin Night, because we figured we'd still have to pay rent whether we left or not. We left Noah and Eden to pack their house, went home and cooked dinner. I actually continued work on AG. Our deadline was Monday the 29th, and if we wanted to stay on schedule, or close to it, it needed to get done. Michelle left to go to work, and I watched the news.
The more I watched the news the stronger I felt we needed to leave. At that point the only thing stopping Nagin from calling the first ever mandatory evacuation of New Orleans was some antiquated law. Now that landfall was inside of 48 hours, they all felt that the tracking map would hold. The 11pm map was unchanged, so I started packing. In hindsight I should've packed a lot more, but I guess I still felt that it would turn at the last minute. I never thought that we wouldn't be able to go home for awhile, and at the same time figured that moving stuff around in the house was futile. If it flooded, a foot here or there wouldn't make a difference.
Michelle wound up getting cut from work at midnight (because, who'd've guessed, Latin Night was dead). She'd already packed a bag, so I packed mine, filled our ice chest with groceries we'd bought earlier in the day, packed the dogs a few bowls of food, put all my business papers and checkbook in a bag, and grabbed my laptops, then loaded the car.
Back in the day when I'd evacuate for hurricanes with my family, I'd load all my comics into my mom's van. Fifteen years ago that was just a box or two, consisting of maybe a thousand comics. Now it's dozens of boxes consisting of maybe 50,000 comics, not counting all the hardcovers, novels, statues, posters, original art and other assorted stuff that I've collected over the years. There was no way I could take all of it, and I brought no books with me. There just wasn't room in the car for us, the dogs, our essentials and comics. The only thing I brought was a piece of Andi Watson original GEISHA art I bought in San Diego '02. Why I grabbed that I don't know. I didn't even grab my book of autographs. The only other thing I took was a pop-up book Michelle made for me months ago.
We left New Orleans around 1:30 am, sat in a bit of contraflow traffic, and arrived in Houston around 8am. We took Toby to breakfast and basically watched the news all day Sunday. Monday there was nothing to do but wait for the storm, so we watched the news while Toby was at work, then after he got home went to a Landmark and saw THE ARISTOCRATS. By then the storm was over, and we knew the 9th Ward was flooded and St. Bernard too. Still, New Orleans had dodged another bullet, as the storm met a front just before it hit land, weakening it a bit and pushing it just eastward. We figured we'd get to go home by the end of the week at the latest. But, before we went to bed, I said, "Well, we still need to hope the levees hold."
Tuesday I was woken up by my mother, who asked if I'd heard the news. The levees broke. I rushed to my computer and opened the WWL TV page. One thing still running in New Orleans was WWL, broadcasting from their French Quarter studio and also from an emergency studio in Baton Rouge. They were broadcasting through the internet, and luckily Toby has DSL. No stream up, only an announcement stating that the 17th St. Canal had broken and the tidal surge threatened to flood the city. The dreaded "bowl effect" was going to happen after all.
The day or two after that is a blur. I watched the news nearly every waking moment, figuring that Michelle's and my home was underwater, knowing that New Orleans would never be the same, not know if it would simply ever be anything again. I kind of came to grips with the notion that not only was my business in ruins, but all the money and effort and love I put into collecting all those comics over a span of over 15 years were likely washed away. I read that Bayou St. John started to overflow, and that the American Can Co. building had water up to cars' bumpers. We held hope that Mid-City hadn't flooded, but that only lasted until Michelle saw a picture of Jesuit High School, which is only blocks from our house. It had five feet of water in it.
With New Orleans starting to take a turn for the worse, I thought about the people I knew still in the city. Al was at a hotel in the CBD. Worse, Donald was at Lindy Boggs Hospital with his girlfriend. She was considered an "essential employee" and couldn't leave, so he stayed with her. The hospital is near our house, and I also read that its basement flooded. The Times Picayune story called it a "minor annoyance," but it was bad news for our place, no matter how easily they dealt with it. How would they get out?
Besides those two, though, it seemed as if everyone else I knew had gotten out. Dre was already in Dallas with her sister. Rami'd left for Lafayette and his brother's house. Even AJ and his family left, and they refused to leave for every other hurricane. Phone service to the 504 area code was down, so it was nearly impossible to get through to anyone. Maybe one in 100 calls went through.
As the situation in New Orleans worsened, Michelle and I began to plan our future. Would we stay in Houston? Go to Austin? We know someone there who could put us up. Lafayette? It seemed like most people we know ended up there. Baton Rouge? It was quickly becoming a clusterfuck with the sudden influx of people.
I debated the future of AG. I knew I wanted it to continue. We'd all worked too hard to get as far as we had just to let it slip away. Still, our new office, four blocks from the Superdome, was likely rubble. Our staff, scattered throughout the country, had members contemplating not returning. But, I figured, if we could even do an online edition, or a smaller format, and it would brighten up someone by reminding them of home, then I had to do it. I knew then that AG would continue at some point. When and where I still didn't know. We were planning to expand into Lafayette and Baton Rouge, so it made sense to try to set up shop in either city.
More in the next post.