Sunday, April 29, 2007

Road Trip – Some Good Stuff

OK, so Wednesday was emotionally rough for me. But the rest of the week was much better.

Thursday night my sister and I had dinner at Peppermill’s, a suburban restaurant we both like and the site of many a family outing. For a few years during the 80s and 90s, every visit home included Sunday brunch there with her and our parents. The last time she and I ate there was with Mom on the day of Dad’s funeral more than five years ago. There are good things happening in my sister’s life in spite of the difficulties with rehabbing her house so we had great things to talk about.

On Friday I called my best friend from high school. We still exchange Christmas and birthday cards every year but it had been at least ten years since we had seen each other. He and his wife are both retired now (in their 50s – how DID they do that?) and I spent several hours with them.

Saturday was my day at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. It had been twenty years since I went to Jazzfest. I met another friend there and we sampled the music, food and ambience that make this such a great event. I met two local artists whose paintings I love and respect and I bumped into two people I worked with when I live here who bought the best sno-ball place in New Orleans 28 years ago. I also picked up a few souvenirs and got a little sunburned. What a great day!

Through all three days in the New Orleans area I spent quality time with the cousins who I stayed with. I spent a week with them on my last visit here too and we’ve had a chance to get to know each other and catch up on the nearly thirty years in which we had little contact.

This morning I met my sister for breakfast and now I’m on the road home.

Although the timing of this road trip centered around Jazzfest, the purpose was more than music. I wanted to continue the “reconnect with my past” project I started around my 50th birthday. I chose driving over flying because I wanted to feel the distance and ... s l o w ... d o w n ... t h e ... p a c e ... o f ... m y ... l i f e ... a ... l i t t l e.

I’m feeling good today.

Road Trip - Rehab Progress

Here's my sister's house six weeks after Katrina, taken early on the first of many days spent dumping all of her water-logged posessions.




Here's the house this week, jacked up a few feet to comply with new insurance requirements. Note that the houses on either side have been demolished.

Road Trip - New Orleans Impressions: East and West

If you drive into New Orleans from the east, you see remaining evidence of Katrina’s devastation (see my previous post). But if you enter from the west, you get a completely different impression.

Metairie and Kenner, two of the major communities west of New Orleans, had much less damage and flooding than the Crescent City. That damage is mostly repaired now and the drive along I-10 looks much like it did before Katrina. That is the view seen by tourists who arrive by plane (the airport is in Kenner). It is possible to land there, take a hotel shuttle or rental car to a downtown hotel, see dozens of tourist attractions, drive past universities, sample great food and drink and never see a flood-damages house or business.

Combine that view with the rosy news stories about JazzFest, Mardi Gras and the Saints and it’s easy to see why many people think the Big Easy is OK now.

It isn’t. It will be, but it isn’t yet.

Try driving in from the east for a more balanced perspective. Or walk 12 blocks downriver from Bourbon Street. Or drive up Canal St. away from the river to it’s end, take a hard right then a quick hard left and proceed north on Canal Blvd.

There is a lot left to be done.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Road Trip – New Orleans Impressions

When I visited here eighteen months ago, six weeks after Katrina, I was understandably depressed. I spent most of the week helping my sister throw away a lifetime of flood-soaked possessions and wrapped up that week with my Mother’s funeral. I drove around the town where I spent the first twenty seven years of my life in complete disbelief that week as I took in the utter devastation.

Today I’m just ANGRY.

ANGRY ANGRY ANGRY ANGRY ANGRY!!!!!

I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHERE TO DIRECT ALL OF THIS ANGER.

I drove into town through New Orleans East, a part of town that was nearly 50% wetlands even before the storm. Seeing the inhabited part opened the door to my ANGER. Signs of rebuilding on one side of I-10 included several bright, sparkling new car dealers. Signs of rebuilding on the other side are almost non-existent… just mile after mile after mile of uninhabited apartment buildings with broken windows, intermingled with mile after mile of uninhabited houses with boarded up windows. Occasional new construction and FEMA trailers are sprinkled through the area along with one brand new bright orange apartment complex.

ANGRY THAT ALL OF THIS HAPPENED? MAYBE ANGRY THAT A YEAR AND A HALF AFTER THE HURRICANE THIS MASSIVE PART OF THE CITY DOESN’T LOOK MUCH DIFFERENT THAN IT DID A MONTH AFTER KATRINA?

As I took the exit onto a main boulevard through Lakeview, the neighborhood of my youth, I saw something that is very different from when I was here last … there are no trees in the wide median on Canal Blvd. Those massive oaks were a defining characteristic of this street and they all died. New skinny trees have been planted and perhaps a future generation will enjoy them.

ANGER AND DEPRESSION!

The worst was yet to come. I knew my sister’s house, the little Dad-built cottage we grew up in, had been jacked up another 4 feet. I knew the houses on either side had been torn down. But I still wasn’t prepared for the shock of seeing this!

DEPRESSION AND ANGER.

There are ten vacant lots on her block alone. There are fewer than ten occupied houses in her block, and some of those occupants are living in trailers while their houses are rehabbed.

WHO SHOULD FEEL MY ANGER? FEMA? ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS WHO APPROVED SHODDY WORK ON THE LEVEE? CITY OFFICIALS IN THE 1930S AND 1940S WHO THOUGHT THE MARSH LAND NORTH OF DOWNTOWN WOULD MAKE A GREAT PLACE FOR NEW HOUSING? MY DAD FOR BUILDING HERE EVEN THOUGH HE KNEW THE WHOLE NEIGHBORHOOD WAS THREE FEET BELOW SEA LEVEL?

I admire my sister’s tenacity and determination to help rebuild Lakeview. I praise her neighbors who have already moved back in. They are all pioneers in their own way.

I have a less flattering opinion about the wisdom of moving back there but my sister doesn’t need to hear that from me. She needs my support. This is really all she has.

She is lucky. What about those two hundred thousand New Orleanians who have not returned? Many of them can’t return.

I’M ANGRY AND I WANT TO BLAME SOMEONE.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Road Trip - Asheville Impressions

I’m on the road to New Orleans to visit my sister and check out the progress (or lack of progress) on her house rehabbing. You might recall hers is one of the tens of thousands of homes flooded by Hurricane Katrina almost twenty months ago. It’s been nineteen months since I drove more than 300 miles from home and I’m using this time to try to relax and to visit with friends and family that I don’t see nearly enough.

My first night was spent with friends near Raleigh, NC. They used to be neighbors in Maryland and we’ve managed to remain friends through the eight years since they moved, even though we only see them once a year or less. It was great catching up with them and meeting their new puppy.

Now I’m in Asheville, NC. I’ve heard about this place for decades but this is my first visit. My wife and I joke about retiring here one day – joke because we’ll probably never retire. But two sets of older neighbors are considering the move and it’s obvious from who and what I’ve seen that this area is drawing seniors in droves.

My impressions of this city are based on only thirty hours spent here so far (and I’m leaving tomorrow morning) but here’s a sampling.

• Asheville is what you get when you combine Baltimore, MD, Takoma Park, MD, Sedona, AZ and Paris. Examples: quaint neighborhoods, strip malls, sidewalk cafes, yoga places, art shops and galleries, junk yards and rail yards, eclectic restaurants, mystics, boarded up buildings next to new construction, live music in the street and interactive art on the town square.

• This is a relatively small town (70,000 ?) but there are several high-rise buildings (15 floors or more). Some are deco style from the 1920s, some are modern reflecting glass.

• The middle of town is in a valley surrounded by mountains. It looks like it landed here. The scenery is beautiful and the view in every direction has a Blue Ridge background.

• A lot of people work downtown but the only traffic jam I saw during “afternoon drive” was the result of a construction problem. Sure, there was more volume at 5pm that at 1pm, but I haven’t heard one horn honk in thirty hours.

• Asheville is eclectic and a people-watcher’s paradise. Example: I had lunch at a pizza place called the Mellow Mushroom, soaking in a little sun while listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon gently playing in the background. Chicken Cordon Blue pizza was on the menu, but I opted for pepperoni pizza, a salad and a local, totally organic Pale Ale. My fellow lunchers included tourists in shorts, seniors in polo shirts, lawyers in suits and an Indian family in what I believe is traditional clothing in India. The d├ęcor included an old gasoline pump and various auto product signs from a bygone era. The waiter told me this was a gas station many decades ago.

• Artsy students, hippies from my age group, construction workers and bankers share sidewalk space with tourists.

• Three different times in thirty hours I found a parking spot on a main street within two blocks of the center of town.

To say I like the vibe here would be an understatement. Although my wife and I have vastly different tastes and expectations when it comes to choosing a place to live, I think we would both find what we want here. Too bad neither of can make the kind of living here that we make where we are.

Tomorrow I leave by way of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs right along the edge of the city. How cool is that? Next stop: Birmingham, a place I will probably have nothing to write about (sorry).

Sunday, April 15, 2007

1970 and 2007

I don’t usually buy into the stereotypes of aging, but this one is based in just enough truth to be funny for fifty-somethings. Almost.

1970: Long hair … 2007: Longing for hair

1970: KEG … 2007: EKG

1970: Acid rock … 2007: Acid reflux

1970: Moving to California because it's cool … 2007: Moving to Arizona because it's warm

1970: Tryin to look like Marlon Brando or Liz Taylor … 2007: Trying NOT to look like Marlon Brando or Liz Taylor











1970: Seeds and stems … 2007: high fiber

1970: Hoping for a BMW … 2007: Hoping for a BM

1970: Going to a new, hip joint … 2007: Receiving a new hip joint

1970: Rolling Stones … 2007: Kidney Stones

1970: Being called into the principal's office … 2007: Calling the principal's office

1970: Screw the system … 2007: Upgrade the system

1970: Disco … 2007: Costco

1970: Parents begging you to get your hair cut … 2007: Children begging you to get their heads shaved

1970: Passing the drivers' test … 2007: Passing the vision test

1970: Whatever … 2007: Depends

Just in case you weren't feeling too old today or you just want more perspective, here are a few more recent observations from the staff at a college in Wisconsin who puts together a list to give the faculty a sense of the mindset of this year's incoming freshmen.

- The people who are starting college this fall across the nation were born in the mid 1980s, the same year the CD was born.

- Their lives have always included cable TV, answering machines, screw-off bottle caps, microwave popcorn and AIDS.

- They don’t care who killed J.R. or know who he was.

- They don't know who Mork was or where he was from.

- Jay Leno has always been the Tonight Show host.

- They never heard: "Where's the Beef?", "I'd walk a mile for a Camel", or "de plane, Boss, de plane".

- They can’t imagine hard contact lenses or a TV without a remote.

- They’ve never thought about Jaws while swimming.

- And don’t know how to use a typewriter.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Way Too Busy

Busy busy busy. I'm way too busy. Busy busy busy busy busy drive work sleep drive work sleep, but not very well, busy busy busy.

Busy busy just too busy busy doing who knows what busy busy busy. Too busy to blog as much as I want to this month. Just too busy busy busy.

When did we get so busy busy busy? It's April already? Geez. Busy!

Busy busy busy all work no play busy busy busy.

Getting anything done? Too busy to know. Busy busy busy.

Way too busy.