As recently as this past Monday evening as I walked home from work, I saw an older black couple gutting a house in my neighborhood, some seven-plus years after the events of 2005. No volunteers, no fancy apparatus, no wrecking ball. Just two people, a truck and flatbed, and work gloves, overalls and dust masks, the pungent mold wafting from across the street. Where this house is, it’s unclear if the water came up or the water fell in, as the raised-pier home may or may not have taken flood water, and the roof while appearing to be halfway past its useful 30 year life did not appear to be damaged or compromised. The how is almost moot. Water up, water down, it doesn’t matter (unless you’re dealing with some damned adjuster). Water damaged the home. Whereas the why is more than evident. So many years later some may ask Why now? Why not choose to sell or abandon it all together? This home means something to them, and now in 2013 they’re here, they’re able-bodied, and they’re doing it, seemingly unassisted.
One takeaway should be this: our journey in recovery is far from complete.
When the aftermath of Katrina unfolded, I’m guessing the last thought in anyone’s head was Will we ever get to host the Super Bowl again? All the debating over whether the city should be rebuilt, and if so, how. All the toil and turmoil of demolitions, crippled city services, and scarcity of supplies, and all the wonder of How is all this gonna shake out? And does it even matter? The how. We’re here, that’s almost all that matters. Just show up. The underlying unity of returnees forged in the common, new world of MREs, curfews, and no sanitation or mail delivery.
I distinctly recall in October 2005 sitting outside Cooter Brown’s one night with my family. We took up but one table while the party adjacent to us was a three-, maybe four-generational gathering of dozens, the patriarch a nicely-dressed smiling man sort of welcoming all his kin. I recognized him as a local figure, and I can only describe him as “The Scooter Store guy” from TV. They took up the rest of the tables. And it was lovely to watch them all together, almost as if nothing had happened to facilitate such a homecoming. Meanwhile a slice of the carnival of the then-present population fully revealed itself when a couple of fully strapped DEA agents walked by, followed by a handful of passers-by on horseback who sauntered by offering an evening’s greeting. An outsider’s point of view might’ve mistaken the lot of us all for extras casting in four different productions shooting nearby. And while some of us might’ve then been curious about a Saints game or other NFL triviality (but again, likely not New Orleans hosting the big game), most of us I believe were more concerned with when gas service might return to our block. When a hot shower might happen again. When an MRE won’t be the soup du jour.
Ramp it back up to now. For some like that rebuilding couple, Katrina was yesterday. But for many of this week’s visitors to our fair city, Katrina happened only on TV. How do you rectify that? You don’t, or at least, you can’t.
In the mean time, we move forward. We progress into the unknown. Bidding on events that can demonstrate to the world, Katrina did happen and not just on TV. And we’ve rebuilt. And are rebuilding. But to us, this hosting thing is old hat. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love it and everything that comes along with it. So, through all the blue roofs and swinging hammers, rolling out the red carpet for the NFL again might not have been anyone’s foremost thought, but we probably all knew this day would come. New Orleans hosts Super Bowls. Period.
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.