The following is an excerpt from my memoir, “The Kid Who Got Away.”
As we drove over the Causeway that night, we hit a rise. From that point, all of New Orleans was visible, laid out before us like the great big party that it is. The view was different this time, though. It was dark, black as the night we’d driven so far through. I was late. There was an 8:00 P.M. curfew preventing anyone from entering the city. The National Guard was manning all the checkpoints. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I began to weep for my broken city.
As I sped through the darkened streets of New Orleans with tears streaming down my face, all I could see was the tons of debris piled high along the sides of the road, the shattered remnants of natures wrath. Natural powers combined with the stupidity of man had wreaked havoc upon one of the great cities of the world. The difference was, it was MY city. MY beloved New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina was long gone, flown away on her murderous Wings of Death and Destruction.
What she left behind was unrecognizable.
You don’t live in New Orleans. You LOVE New Orleans. Watching the news reports as they showed video upon video of the levee breaches. Watching this was like standing alone, so very alone, watching a naked child torn apart by wolves…YOUR child. The screams, cries, death and destruction painted vividly upon your consciousness for eternity. As my friend Fred Goodrich (Freddie Blue) told an NPR personality, “There is no POST in our Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
As we approached the checkpoint, I was unable to breathe let alone talk. The soldier asked me a number of question about curfews and such. My responses were garbled, lost in my pain. He’d apparently had similar experiences. He let us through. I drove to our temporary crash paid at the home of my friend CJ.
It was then that the work began.
I am mad. Not as in angry. I am mad, daft, coo-coo, whacko. My curb does not go all the way to the curb. I am actually leaving New Orleans during Mardi Gras while most people are traveling to New Orleans.
Mardi Gras is that special time of year when locals pull out all the stops. In New Orleans, a place with very few “stops,” that’s saying a lot. Forget about getting anything serious done. It ain’t gonna happen. Two weeks before Ash Wednesday, people forget their woes and remember where they put that mask. As my dear friend and former neighbor Al “Carnival Time” Johnson says, “It’s Carnival Time and everybody’s havin’ fun!”
I wish I hadn’t forgotten my camera back in Ol’ MeHeeKo because the colors and the sights are breathtaking. Huge floats, glamorous Kings and Queens, colorful throws, tasty King Cakes and children (along with some adults) entreating, “Through me sumpin’, mistuh.” marching bands and throngs of people add up to one helluva site, day or night.
Many music clubs are open 24-7, pumping out some of the funkiest music one could ever hear, serving up the unique rhythms of New Orleans to one and all. Revelers dance their cares away in an array of costumes made in China, at home, or elaborate wardrobe studios. Bourbon and Frenchmen Streets come alive with the Second Line sound.
I’ll have a little time while I’m here to be a part of the party. I’ll enjoy every minute of it. It’s nice to feel at home in New Orleans. You haven’t lived fully unless you experienced at least one Mardi Gras.
Be excellent to each other and remember: Think twice before hitting “Send.”