Wednesday, February 28, 2007

How I Passed The Time At The In-Laws (part 2)

All right.

Ms Maitri is down in the dumps. Next time I head out to see the in-laws, I'm taking her with me, so that she can study the San Andreas fault (which, incidentally, is not far from where my in-laws live; I'm always telling them it's all their fault...). Since I can't do that right this very second (plus, I just came from there), I'll have to break my self-imposed ban on posting twice in the same day. So here goes...

Frontline's The Storm recounts former FEMA director Joe Allbaugh as having identified three of the most likely disasters facing the US in an effort to help streamline FEMA: "an earthquake in California, a hurricane hitting New Orleans, and a terrorist attack in New York." Two of the three have already happened, with FEMA performing fairly well in NYC and miserably in New Orleans.

We who live here in New Orleans are not taking most of this crud lying down (well, only when we're sleeping, sick, or falling down drunk, but that's another story) as evidenced by the traffic jam at the Army Corps of Engineers' headquarters here today, because this is the last day to file a claim in a class action lawsuit against the A.C. o' E. Though people here are rebuilding their own parcels of property, even jacking up their homes, they are being dropped by their insurance companies like hot potatoes, even though they have faithfully paid their premiums for decades. So that's corporate America AND federal agencies trying to stick it to everyone who just wants to go back home and live in peace. Nice. Who the heck is going to empathize with us, since the media as a whole seems to be blaming the victims?

Try the people who live in the one place that has not been through a massive natural disaster under Dubya. That's right. The nation-state of California.

Let's cheer on Governator Ahnold and Dianne Feinstein for seeing a need "to take a major leadership role in its own destiny" and fund some levee improvements - in California's capital city of Sacramento, where 19 levees in the area are poorly maintained by the A.C. o' E. And don't get me started on the whole earthquake thing in No-Cal, and all o' Cal. These people know that they are at risk, believe me, and in some ways, it's worse than a hurricane heading down the pike, because the Big One there could be happening right this second, or next week, next month, or next year. Who the heck knows? My father-in-law estimates that if he's hearing a certain radio program that broadcasts closer to the fault and they indicate in their broadcast that they've felt something, he's got five minutes or so before he feels the tremor in his own home. Five minutes, y'all. Yeah, that's advance warning for you...

Because these people are living with the proverbial sword of Damocles above their heads, some of them are bound to care about some folks in a little ol' hamlet on the Louisiana coast, and I seem to have met a number of them on this trip. I attended a brunch with my mother-in-law, at which, when I told the other attendees where I was from, one of them immediately took me aside and engaged me in conversation about the situation in my neck of the woods. I ended up telling a number of attendees about the problems, which were not necessarily about global warming, as one of them thought - it's the coastal erosion and the politics, people. I emphasized the need to be prepared for anything that comes your way, that it doesn't matter if people think you are paranoid or scared of the world - recent events have shown that we all have good reason to be, to a point. Shoot, I even told these people about Helen Hill, and about how the justice system down here is seriously messed.

On the flight to Dallas, a fellow in the seat next to me engaged me in conversation and noticed my t-shirt, which is waaay better than "Make Levees Not War", in my opinion. I laid out the same ol' same ol' for him, we talked about the Saints' season (he said he and his friends in Cali were rooting for 'em, and considering Sean Payton's birthplace, that ain't all that surprising) and about Barkus and potbellied pigs. I even passed on some NOLA blog URLs to the guy. I get the feeling he, and some of the other folks I've talked to, will at least take a peek.

I didn't mind explaining myself to these folks, maybe because I don't feel as traumatized any more (thanks, Saintseester - there is some power in being sad, but not world-on-your-shoulders sad). I also felt like these were people who were really listening to what I had to say, and not just asking about New Orleans to be polite, or to simply confirm what they already thought. Yeah, I could be wrong about that assessment, but I also know that if I don't speak up, I'm not sure who the hell will. The government is doing its best to cover its rear. Insurance companies want to wash their hands and incubate themselves. Organizations that once convinced us all that they could hold back nature have been caught without any clothes on. And yet, there are a number of people here who are here because they want to be. Because it is home. Because no place else is quite the same. Because you don't take lightly a decision to just walk away from a life fully lived.

It's tiring, yes. Maybe I just need to burn all the reasons for me and others here to stay onto small calling card CD-ROMs and pass 'em out when people ask. I know, however, that I'm not alone, that there is a certain amount of security I've found since I've found all the NOLAns who are blogging about their experiences, their takes on the news, their number-crunching, their bullshit detecting. That's power, y'all, and that is not to be underestimated. Use it wisely and well.

Maitri, I'll take you to Los Trancos Preserve sometime, where the beauty and the potential earthquake energy of a part of the fault area can be fully explored. I'm glad I've returned to New Orleans all the same, however, because it is home. Living here is truly presenting one big middle finger to the forces that would see this place die. And I'm getting sick of despairing...

9 comments:

Maitri said...

Thanks, L, you're the best! And thanks for this vote of confidence on my birthday no less.

So when are you and I doing dinner some time soon, given that we both live in the LGD and haven't met IRL, for Pete's sake?

(Who is Pete anyway?)

Leigh C. said...

Damn, honey, happy birthday!

I think Pete may be referring to Adrastos 8-).

Email me! We'll get it together at Surrey's or somethin'.

Maitri said...

Sssssh, Adrastos doesn't want his SuperShecky identity revealed.

Leigh C. said...

He's ALREADY come out as a St Louis cardinal. What the heck else has he got to hide?

Maitri said...

The truth.

...

...

But, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Amongst our weaponry ...

Adrastos said...

Hey, I resemble that remark. My not so secret identity is on the Google now, y'all. But I don't use the diminutive, that's reserved for my favorite Uncle and Pete Townshend.

Glad to see another NOLA blogger commenting on how many people are sympathetic to us. It's been my general experience that people from my home state, California, are wit us all the way. And I do think quakes are scarier because there's no warning whatsoever. I recall being awakened in SF one morning by books falling off the shelf and landing on my pillow. Smack.

Leigh C. said...

The way the gov'mint and everyone outside of the Gulf Coast is going on about how we shouldn't be living there makes me wonder what they'll be saying when California gets hit. Not in my back yard? The rest of the country won't have a choice...

Sophmom said...

Great post! I honestly believe the ones who're prone to blaming the victim, do so as part of an intricate rationalization with which they convince themselves that nothing so horrible could ever happen to them (it *must* be their fault, or else... NOOOO!). The folks in Northern CA just can't do that. The truth is too close, too real. You said it better, but you know what I mean. Great post.

Leigh C. said...

We are indeed reaping a certain kind of whirlwind - the idea that science and engineering are going to remove the uncertainty of nature's effects from our lives.

I'm not saying that we should go back to the Stone Age and live in caves. I just think that we should be working towards solutions that are in better harmony with the environment AND our living needs - and be mindful of the realities. It's a delicate balance that cannot simply be addressed by the tried and tired, "You just shouldn't live there."

Some things are much bigger than those five little words.