Talkin' trash to the garbage around me.

17 January, 2008

Bombed out

I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to say about what I saw today. The good people working at the United Teachers of New Orleans took us on a bus tour of the city today, and some of what I saw just shocked me. Over the past 2 and a half years since Katrina, I've become sort of inured to the media depictions of the devastation visited by the storm. But seeing it in person...

The Lower Ninth Ward... gone. Literally. City block upon city block of nothing but overgrown weeds surrounding concrete foundations, a house or two spared. Piles of debris still littering the vacant lots. A whole neighborhood - just gone.

The sight of a gutted school, an adjacent athletic field freshly mowed, a surreal contrast to the wild overgrowth of the surrounding lots.

Around the rest of the city, renovated homes become the exception in neighborhoods full of empty houses.

The high water marks are still visible on many of the buildings in the city, in some places easily three or four feet above my head. The eerie tags of search and rescue crews still decorate homes. Entire strip malls stand empty.

And there I sit on a bus, gaping at the remnants, rolling past the people who are slowly trying to rebuild their homes, their neighborhoods, their lives. I'm a fucking disaster tourist.

But the city is still here, and it is rebuilding. Staying downtown, you wouldn't know that anything bad had befallen the city (although the amount of traffic flowing on the streets is noticeably diminished since the last time I visited in the mid-90s). We got to visit with some of the UTNO staffers who are working to rebuild a union devastated by a different type of storm which transformed public education in New Orleans after Katrina. They're an inspiring bunch (the staffers look suspiciously like graduate employee unionists). I get to go do house visits with them on Saturday.

The food in New Orleans is still phenomenal. But the Lagavulin at the hotel bar was criminally overpriced.

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