Friday morning was the first day that I was allowed access to Isle de Jean Charles. A first responder brought me pictures the night before, but I had not yet seen the Island personally. So my husband Mike, my 11 year old daughter Felicite and I, wearing our rubber boots, headed to Isle de Jean Charles, one of the hardest hit communities. Island Road, the highway that leads to the settlement, lay covered with dead trout, drum and red fish. We parked our truck at the beginning of the Island and walked several miles to the end. The pictures did not prepare me for what I was about to see. We witnessed homes off their foundations that had floated on levees and piles of rubble that were once homes. After years of coastal erosion and without a good protection levee this community was very fragile. Hurricane Gustav showed no mercy. I became very angry that something had not been done sooner to protect the barrier islands that would have given my community a fighting chance. I remember stories told to me of how there were acres of land on which children played baseball, and pastures where horses roamed. To see the state of the Island now was overwhelming.
Of the 100 or so people who live on the Island we met with approximately 4 families. The rest had not yet returned to see the fate of their homes. We stopped at what was left of every home, walking through a foot of swamp mud and leaving contact information so that we could try to offer assistance.
As we approached the end of Island, we saw a stark contrast as camps owned my non residents were often left totally intact, without any visual signs of damage. We met one of the camp owners on his was out who exclaimed that although the hurricane was bad he thought it was going to be a lot worse. He must have repeated those thoughts a half dozen times. I could not believe what he was telling me. NOT THAT BAD…COULD HAVE BEEN A LOT WORSE…FOR WHOM? Surely not the residents of the Island! As we continued to walk the next camp owners spoke from the balcony of his perfectly intact camp and expressed with pride how his camp has withstood the last three hurricanes without any damage because it is built with 32,000 wood screws. Our people can’t afford HOMES built with 32,000 wood screws. So we are left with homes totally destroyed and may have to consider relocating, leaving the land we love while non residents with resources can build CAMPS that will sustain hurricanes force winds and coastal erosion. Why hasn’t something been done sooner to protect our community? Is it because the Island is a poor Indian community so it doesn’t matter what happens to us?Greg also reminds us of the other communities affected by Gustav:
The Houmas are not alone; all of Terrebonne parish was badly hurt, as was neighboring Lafourche parish. Assumption parish will be out of power longer than Baton Rouge. Vermilion parish, flooded and battered by Rita, was hit again, while Cameron was spared this time, but still hasn’t recovered; neither has Calcasieu parish.
Supplies are low. Ike is coming. Don’t forget this time.
Oh, and some cardinal rules for reentering residents to ANY community hit by a storm:
1) Buy local.
I cried briefly this morning. I’m not usually prone to that but….
Those of you who know the restaurant know that our biggest seller is our redfish sammich. One of the reasons for this is that it’s made with ciabatta bread we get from La Boulangerie up Magazine St. This bakery is owned by a Frenchman named Dominique (we met his parents during a catering gig a few months back) and we’ve been consistent customers nearly since we opened. Dominique closed his shop before the storm, posting a sign in the window, and I just assumed he wouldn’t be back until this weekend or so. We had plenty of fish in-house and we’ve just been serving it on regular hamburger buns or on whatever cheapass French bread we could find. I called La Boulangerie Tuesday and left a message for Dominique to call whenever they got up and running again. This morning, Dominique appears about 9:30ish at the restaurant with 15 loaves of this wonderful ciabatta. Needless to say, I was beyond touched and, I guess, I could have kissed him (him being all Gallic and all). But suffice to say I ordered MORE for pickup tomorrow. Sweet.
This is why I do as much business locally as I can. Dominique goes out of his way to help us without being asked. Our crawfish guy (David from Lafitte) shows up religiously — no matter how little I happen to buy from him. The wonderful folks at Rouses have pushed to re-open and are pretty well stocked. Our main supplier (F. Christiana) has come back on line and already made a major delivery. The BreauxMart on Magazine is blowing and going. Where is Wal-Mart? Where is Sam’s? They’re still closed — as are most of the big national chain joints. Bite me.2) Be patient, and nice, and courteous as all get out to the people serving you. This goes double to infinite in importance after a storm.
Speaking of bite me — it’s been pretty easy to tell who stayed during the storm and who evacuated. Those who stayed have been patient and shown a good sense of humor as we’ve come back up to speed this week. They’re just glad to have someplace to go that has power and a/c and is serving a semblance of a normal menu. A lot of them don’t have power at home yet, so they’re pretty much just happy to show up. But a lot of those who bugged out are just coming back — and they expect (they sometimes DEMAND) that things be just like they were a week ago, before the storm kinda threw everything out of whack for awhile.
I threw one of them out of the restaurant yesterday. We were crazy busy for breakfast and, for the most part, folks were understanding that we were short of employees and inventory. We were the first place on Magazine to re-open after Gustav passed and we remain one of the very few with any breakfast at all. It indeed took a long time to fill this woman’s (to-go) order. The to-go folks are automatically bumped to the back when we have a house full of sit-down customers. But this woman pissed and moaned and bitched and griped and got on everyone’s nerves until she finally got her order and TBK comped it for taking so long. She continued to bitch about the service and I went out and apoligized and she kept griping so I finally told her that if she wasn’t happy she could go to the freaking McDonald’s on St. Charles (which hasn’t reopened yet). She continued bitching and I told her just get out. Get out of my place and go tell her friends who are just like her that I don’t want them in my restaurant and I don’t want her in my place again. Kristen also yelled something as she was slinking away. It was great. The customer is always right until they’re an asshole. Then they’re just an asshole.
I think we’re each put on earth to do one of three things: 1) to make someone smile, 2) to make someone think or 3) to help someone who needs help. If we’re lucky, we can accomplish all three. I’ve been extremely fortunate in the past week to see all those traits in a lot of wonderful people. It’s just a shame some folks don’t get it — and, frankly, I don’t want them in my place of business no matter how green their money is.It all goes back to Rabbi Hillel, y'all: What is hateful to you, do not do unto your neighbor. All the rest is commentary, now go and study.
Amen to that.