Posts Tagged ‘New Orleans’

“People are People” has been playing in my head the last few days and sort of sums up my experiences out on the road working this week. I’m in sales by the way, in case you haven’t deducted that from following this blog any length of time. I’ve found that in sales, in particular, your attitude has a tremendous influence on the outcome. I think that’s true with many things in life. It’s not simply that having a better mindset improves your own outlook and makes you more effective, but I’ve also found that it has a tremendous impact on those you encounter.

Despite having several days in a row of bad news and being generally disgusted with my job and the current economic plight we find ourselves in, I woke up feeling pretty good yesterday morning. (Thanks to the extra-long good morning hug from a four year old.) I had a few stops in South Louisiana which were really pleasant conversations. Yesterday evening when I got to the hotel on the North Shore where I was staying, there was a guy talking to the front desk clerk who seemed rather frustrated. As I waited in line, I heard that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to check in now or go into New Orleans and come back later that night. The clerk was growing impatient and didn’t want to answer his questions.  I talk to strangers all day long everywhere I go and interjected myself into the conversation. I learned that he was a farmer from Illinois and his landlord recommended he stay on the North Shore while he was in the area rather than New Orleans.

He asked me very nervously, “what’s it like?”

I said, “Well, today is Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras ended last night and most of the tourists are clearing out today. I just came from New Orleans this afternoon and the traffic was fine. You won’t have a problem getting a hotel there if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m staying in New Orleans tomorrow night and had no problem making a reservation, so you should be fine.”

He still looked frustrated and told me his landlord recommended he stay here but he and his wife were thinking about going into New Orleans but wasn’t sure if they should.

“Oh, are you worried about whether it’s safe?”

He said, “Yeah, I mean I don’t know where to go, and I’m not sure if it’s a good idea.”

“I work down here two to three months a year since Katrina. It’s fine. The French Quarter is a tourist trap and one of the safer areas you can visit. I took my wife and kids to New Orleans last summer. They had so much fun my kids are begging to go back. I think you’ll be fine.”

So he left the hotel and headed to his car where his wife look exasperated from waiting in the car, waiting on her husband to make up his mind, or both.

This morning I was up early and loading my stuff before heading off to a meeting. As always in south Louisiana, there are a lot of laborers leaving for a job in the morning loading their gear into trucks next to mine. I went back to the room to steal a phone book and left the door open. An older weathered hispanic worker stopped by the room and asked, “Hey, are you staying another night?”

Thinking he was one of the guys doing the remodeling on the hotel I said, “No, I’ll be out of here in just a minute.”

“Do you have any coffee left?” he asked.

“Well, I drank both regular packs, but I got some decaf left. You want it.”

“Oh yeah, if you don’t mind, I’d love to have some more,” he said gratefully with a smile as I handed him the coffee.

As I followed him out to the parking lot he said, “We’re headin’ up to Seattle, and this will come in handy,” he explained as he stuffed the decaf coffee into a black garbage bag in the back of a small pickup and climbed in the cab with three other guys.

I could tell those same stories about the waiter today, the cashier at the drive thru, the hotel clerk tonight, and on and on. I finished the day eating chargrilled oysters with my supervisor. We talked for an hour and a half about just how screwed up things have gotten with our company and how fed up I was with all of it. We talked about how each of us and the powers that be see things differently but also about how we can work to make the necessary changes to improve things for everyone. I appreciate that he listened and that we found common ground to move forward on, even though many things have yet to be resolved. If you look people in the eye, listen to them, and talk to them like they matter, their entire disposition changes, including mine. We can even disagree with one another without destroying one another. Whenever we encounter people in different places or people who are different from us, too often we do so with the baggage of suspicions and sterotypes.

So we’re different colours
And we’re different creeds
And different people
Have different needs
Its obvious you hate me
Though I’ve done nothing wrong
I’ve never even met you
So what could I have done
I can’t understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand
People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get along so awfully

Since January I’ve worked in some pretty rough neighborhoods in a few cities. I’m a fish out of water in a big urban town with all the traffic and the one way, no u-turn, four lane roads, but I’m naive enough to be the only white guy in a McDonalds and make small talk with the cashier. I’m brass enough to ask a stranger if he needs help with directions. I’m also considerate enough to realize that a migratory hispanic laborer enjoys a good cup of coffee just as much as I do, whether he’s legal or not. I also realize that a young gay black guy working a drive-thru window is working just as hard as I am to make it in this world.

Coincidentally enough, I just watched Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine film on tv this past weekend. I’ve heard all the trash talk about him and his movies, but I was curious. I actually enjoyed the movie. It’s just clips of Michael talking to people. Yeah, just talking and asking simple questions. No brain washing. No arm twisting. He actually asked a lot of the same questions that I would have. He stood on a street corner in South Central Los Angeles with an expert talking about actual crime statistics versus our misconceptions. Which I thought about when I met the farmer worried about going to New Orleans for a night on the town. What I realized most from watching it was just how much people are being manipulated by fear in this country. Fear of terrorism, of aids, of crime, of young black men, someone taking your money, of being sick, and on and on. Worst of all is that we’ve been conditioned to be afraid of each other. That same fear drove the last election cycle and cost John McCain the presidency. (That point was driven home again by an HBO documentary that I stayed up too late to finish last night called Right America: Feeling Wronged | Some Voices from the Campaign Trail, which I highly recommend you watch if you can.)

Worst yet, that same fear could cost us our very way of life and all that is decent and right in this country… each other. I hope that if any good can come out of this economic depression we are facing, it will make us realize, like after September 11, 2001, that we are all in this together. We rise or fall together.

I say all that to say this. People are people wherever you go. I refuse to be afraid. I refuse to be manipulated. I choose to hope. I choose to listen. Will you?

We survived Hurricane Gustav with only inconvenience. Only two houses in my family were lost or substantially damaged. At one point this week only two parishes in Louisiana had 100% power restored. As of today, over 800,000 people/businesses still have no power, a little less than half of the population. In addition to power outages local municipalities sustained significant damage to infrastructure. Many communities as far north as Central Louisiana where I live had no public water supply following the hurricane for days.

Two days after Gustav made landfall and passed through Central Louisiana the city of Alexandria sustained widespread flash flooding. Entire neighborhoods that have never seen flooding were under water. Those families lost automobiles and sustained major damage to their homes, many of which had no flood insurance. By some accounts this was either a 50 or 100 year storm for this area. My house is the highest on my street and saw no water accumulate in the street, so I’d like to think we wouldn’t flood.

It should not be understated that at least 18 people lost their lives in Louisiana this week as a result of the hurricane. One of the saddest I hear of is that the Sheriff of Moss Bluff and his wife died in their sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning from their generator outside their home. Supposedly there was only a crack in the door for the extension cord coming into the house, but it was enough to draw in the exhaust fumes and kill them while they slept on their couches in the living room with a window A/C unit running. Still others died when trees fell on their homes and crushed them. It’s just sad.

Louisianians learned many lessons following hurricane’s Katrina and Rita. Governor Bobby Jindal deserves much of the credit for the preparedness and implementation of hurricane plans for the state. It was a monumental difference from the last time. We witnessed perhaps the fastest exodus of the largest amount of people in history this past week as nearly 2 million fled south Louisiana in a four day time span, including moving thousands of hospital and nursing home patients by airlift. Those same evacuees are returning home now to find widespread shortages of food and fuel. The impact of the storm is far from over.

The national news coverage leading up to the storm was pitiful. The “story” was all about New Orleans, whether there would be a repeat of Katrina, and how this would impact the Republican National Convention. For those preparing for one of the worst storms to possibly hit Louisiana only the local news media was helpful in making decisions and preparations. I was very angry to tune in to the national news three days after landfall to find that the story was that New Orleans missed the big one and that it wasn’t that bad. The damage from Gustav far exceeded the area hardest hit by Hurricane Rita and Katrina. While we’re all very grateful that New Orleans did not flood again, it does nothing to minimize the impact felt by families all across Louisiana.

We lost power Monday afternoon. I didn’t expect to see it restored till at least this weekend, but we were suprised to have it back on Wednesday evening. Our water supply was never interrupted. During the outage we had record levels of humidity that only added to everyone’s misery. We didn’t complain and didn’t expect power right away, but after two days the need to get ice was becoming critical. The American Red Cross manned shelters across the area, but they were reserved for evacuees from south La only. Once Central Louisiana became part of the impact area, local high schools were opened for local residents as well. Basic supplies like bottled water, ice, and food were not readily available for several days following the storm.

There will be more lessons learned from this storm as well. I’ll keep more batteries on hand now. I’ll also freeze blocks of my own ice in my freezer for the days leading up to landfall, because we won’t be able to count on anyone else. Aside from a few idiots who always show themselves during times of crisis, the people of Louisiana are decent and resilient. We’ll get thru this one too. We always do.

I’ve been working in and around New Orleans for a few weeks now. I do twice a year. After a couple weeks the family came back with me last week. It’s a sort of working vacation. Money’s low, gas is high. Don’t know if there will be a real vacation this summer, but I don’t know that it could be anymore fun than this one.

In years past my trips to NOLA were limited to in and out, do what you came to do and go. I was always intimidated by big cities and far too judgemental in the past to enjoy the Big Easy. Not so anymore. I think I’ve finally managed to learn my way around including public transit. I feel accomplished, lol.

I’ve always been a student of people and places. There’s no greater classroom for that than this city. Having my family here has been a lot of fun. I’ll never forget the look of my four year-old sitting in the sunshine leaning on the window sill of a trolley on Canal Street taking it all in or my six year old asking a million questions on the Algiers Ferry. It’s been a blast.

For all the big box stores, fast food drive thrus and expressways we live with, it’s nice to come to a place that is unique unto itself and comfortable in it’s own two shoes, even if the soles are worn out. This is a melting pot of people like no other. Millionaires mingling with paupers and grit mixed with glitter. An out of the way trolley ride took us out of the tourist traps and our comfort zones. We saw the destruction and blight up close and personal. We also met people who had “salt in their character,” a lot of salt. They were good people.. helpful, friendly, and not so different than you and me.

The days have been blistering hot. The nights have been heavy and thick. The bourbon sweet. The smiles and laughs… unforgettable. For all, thru all, in spite of all.. I am thankful.